19 December 2010

The Story Of Mongolian Legends - How It All Started

Stories, myths and legends remain an inherent part of traditional life in Mongolia. This is the Mongolian legend of How Tales Originated among the Mongol People.

Have you ever played the game when someone starts off with the first line of a story written on a piece of paper. Having written the last word of their line on a new fold in the paper, they then pass it on to the next person. And it continues.

The result can be dire, completely non-understandable, weird or really quite funny. Yes, it's quite a pointless exercise - I guess stories help to increase our imagination, they are a form of entertainment, they can inform or inspire. Within the Mongolian nomadic culture, time was taken to tell a story, recite a proverb or to share a legend. Almost every story, tale and legend carried a lesson in the form of wisdom passed down from other generations and thus had value in itself.

On our travels - both on our adventures and our research trips,  I am always on the look out for local stories and legends. Once the snuff has been handed around, the tea poured and everyone is sitting (whether it be on the floor, a bed, a chair or squatting down) one of the adults of the household always find time to tell a story. This is one of my favourites:

The inside of a Mongolian ger
A ger has a vital role in shaping Mongolian character and family life. The small confines prevent privacy but compel families to interact and to share everything -  this inlcudes taking time for traditional tales and legends.

How Tales Originated among the Mongol People:

Once upon a time, the Black Death descended on Central Asia and began its assault on the people of Mongolia. Thousands fled, leaving the sick, and as they fled they said 'We must try to escape. Let Fate decide the Destiny of the suffering.'

Among the sick there was a young boy called Tarvaa.  For days Tarvaa's body battled the forces of death but finally, weak and feverish, the young man lost all awareness of this world. Tarvaa's spirit thought that young Tarvaa had died.The spirit left Tarvaa and rose up out of the boy's body and started the sad journey to the Underworld. On arrival the Great Khan of the Underworld said to Tarvaa 'Why have you left your body while it is still alive? Why have you come to my Kingdom?'

Trembling with fright, Tarvaa's spirit replied, 'Great Khan, all my family and all my friends who remained in that World stood over my body and said I was dead.  I did not wait for the terrible last moment, but simply left on my journey to you.'

The Khan was touched by the simplicity and honesty of Tarvaa's spirit. He told the spirit gently, 'Young spirit, your time has not yet come. You do not belong here. You must return. But before you set out on your long journey home, I will grant you one gift. You may choose and take back with you anything from my Kingdom that you desire.'

Tarvaa looked around, and saw all earthly joys and talents - wealth, happiness, laughter, luck, music and dance. 'Give me the art of storytelling', he said, for he knew that stories can summon up all other joys.

The Khan then instructed the spirit, 'Now return home at once. Use this gift well in life, and do not come here again until you have been called!' So he returned to his body, only to find that the crows had pecked out the eyes. Since he could not disobey the Khan of the Underworld he re-entered his body.

Young Tarvaa recovered from the Black Death and lived on, blind, but with the knowledge of all tales. For the rest of his life, Tarvaa would travel to the far corners of the Mongol lands recounting wonderful tales and legends to his people and bringing joy and wisdom.

If you're interested in learning more about Mongolia, why not have a look at my brief guide to Mongolia's country profile on the Eternal Landscapes website?