Dashing Eastern Nomads: Khori Tribe

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Khori Buryats in the late 1800’s.

Ahhhh, this is what black and white is missing. Color! A Khori family at Altargana 2014.

Ahhhh, this is what black and white is missing. Color! A Khori family at Altargana 2014.

A true beauty of Buryatia in a contemporary stylized take on traditional dress.

A true beauty of Buryatia in a stylized take on traditional dress.

There is something mystical about those who have gone before us. I can’t help but wonder about them. Who were they apart from the labels of race, color, sex and place we humans apply to one another? What I wouldn’t give to be able sit by their fire, and be privy to their real lives. To find common ground, mutual respect, and appreciation for their unique stories. These are the fancies of an idealist I realize. If one were to appear in some other place and time, the grappling to cope with a whole different understanding and worldview would be mind bending. A swift arrow in the eye might be the quick end of a well meaning visit to people from a century back.

Pondering their images makes me itch. Itch to have an intimate experience, a shared moment of humanity with them in laughter or mourning. Our gateway to the past is her descendants, we the people of now. Meeting the people of now is fascinating and harrowing. Fascinating because they carry in them those who came before. Harrowing because meeting new people, while exciting, is not always pleasant or easy. Certainly it is worth it. For people in any age are the real treasure of this hurtling ball of mud.

You will find in this post images of Buryats from central Siberia, and the great Mongolian plateau which stretches from the Lake Baikal basin in Siberia to China in what is known as Inner Mongolia. Grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee, sit back down, and dally over their photos while you sip. Consider their demeanor, their dress. Just imagine what their eyes might have seen. Buryats have covered the width and breadth of this land on horseback, camel-back, and even yack-back! Inter tribal strife and drastically changing political atmospheres have cast them far from their home steppe. And so, among the four main tribes, Bulagat, Ekhirit, Khongodor and Khori, you find groups of Buryats referred to by locality, such as the Shenehen Buryats and the Selenginski Buryats. This came about as a result of groups of Buryats picking up and migrating, in the case of the Shenehen Buryats to save their own lives. Many, though not all of the Shenehen Buryats are Khori.

Shenehen – “New Land”

From a new world perspective, a person can’t help but shake his head in wonder at the situation that forced Buryats to escape from Siberia, . . . into the relative safety and freedom of China! Who escapes to China? (Besides of course North Koreans.) While Shenehen Buryats made a prosperous life for themselves in Inner Mongolia (China) they pined for their homeland. With the abrupt change the termination of the USSR summoned, a gateway home opened in the 90’s, and they have been returning to their former homelands since, bringing with them many traditions that were lost here in Siberia while Communism ruled the roost. In Ulan-Ude, a walk along virtually any major street will soon enough bring you to a “Shenehen” cafe featuring traditional Buryat fare. When I appeared in Ulan-Ude circa 1998, there was nothing of the sort. Since that time, Shenehen has become synonymous with tradition, quality, and authentic Buryat cuisine.

Bayasal in the process of earning bronze for his vocal prowess at Altargana 2014. Singing is a beloved practice of the Buryats and they admire great vocal artistry. Which is why on our cramped bus returning from the far reaches of Khentii Aimag to Ulaanbaatar, Bayasal gave us an encore presentation! (Find out more about Altargana by following the links at the end of this article.)

Bayasal in the process of earning bronze for his vocal prowess at Altargana 2014. Singing is a beloved practice of the Buryats and they admire great vocal artistry. Which is why on our cramped bus returning from the far reaches of Khentii Aimag to Ulaanbaatar, Bayasal gave us an encore presentation! (Find out more about Altargana by following the links at the end of this article.)

Bayasal with a relaxing grin after his performance. His family recently moved to Ulan-Ude from Hailar in China.

Bayasal with a relaxing grin after his performance. His family recently moved to Ulan-Ude from Hailar in China.

Virtually all of these Buryats pictured are Khori, some of them Shenehen, and some not. They are all unique and beautiful, representative of the characteristics Buryats model to the world around them, industriousness, boldness in the face of peril, artistry, steadfastness, and a particular humor bred from living in the harsh regimen and fascinating allure of steppe and taiga. Acquaint yourself with them, they are the treasure of Siberia. Imagine a ride across the steppe with these characters. Maybe you will meet them in your dreams. They are good people to ride out a storm with, but If you upset them, duck swift, cause it’s that, or an arrow in your eye!

A young Shenehen girls’ escape to China can be read here. Escape to China

The Story of the Khori

The sons and daughters of Horidoi-Mergen, (Mergen means roughly a sharp shooting archer) make up the Khori tribe and descend from Horidoi and his wife, a swan from the heavenly realms. Three sisters, swans, would at their pleasure, descend to earth to bathe in the clean waters of Lake Baikal. Removing their feathered outfits, they frolicked in the fresh water sea. Horidoi happened upon them bathing, and was taken with their beauty. Horidoi, sneaky fellow that he was, hid one of the maidens feathers. Her sisters dawned their wings and rose on the dawn, but she (Hun-Shubun which means person-swan), without her feathers, was bound to earth. Horidoi took Hun-Shubun for his bride, and they raised a family. She bore him eleven sons who became the heads of each clan of the Khori tribe. In their golden years, Hun-Shubun asked her husband if she might once again lay her eyes upon her feathered clothing to try it on. Horidoi reasoned that after so many years, and so many children she would want to stay with her family and so it would be safe to fulfil her request. I think you can guess what happened next. In an instant Hun-Shubun dawned her outfit and took off for the smoke hole in their yurt. Horidoi shouted and one of his daughters, whose hands were black with ash from cleaning a pot near the fire, grasped at her mothers webbed feet as she flew out of the yurt. That is why to this day Swans’ feet are black with the soot of the kitchen fire from Hun-Shubuns’ home of long ago.

The swan is the most important totem animal of the Khori tribe, and is regarded highly by all the Buryat tribes. The Khori, largest of the Buryat tribes reside on the eastern shores of Lake Baikal in Buryatia, and east from there into the Chitinski province right up to the border with China. Many Khori Buryats live in Northern Mongolia, and as noted above some occupy the very north of China, known to the Buryats here as Shenehen. While life here on the Siberian steppe can be harsh, the Khori have excelled here. Truly, they are the heart of central Siberia. Their vibrance and beauty provide an exotic spark and the warmth of humanity both when spring blossoms flower or icy winds howl.

You may peruse a brief general history of the Buryats here.

The red marks mainly the traditional lands of the Khori Buryats, whose tribe counts for the majority of Eastern Buryats. Map found here: http://www.face-music.ch/bi_bid/trad_costumes_en.html

The red marks mainly the traditional lands of the Khori Buryats, whose tribe counts for the majority of Eastern Buryats.  Shenehen is the lowest red area on the right, located within China’s borders. Map found here: http://www.face-music.ch/bi_bid/trad_costumes_en.html

A Khori family taking in the sites of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at Altargana 2010.

A Khori family taking in the sites of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at Altargana 2010.

A Khori family, resplendant.

A Khori family, resplendent at Altargana 2014 in Khentii province, Mongolia.

What can be cuter than a row of Khori Buryat girls? Answer: Not a ding dang thang!

What can be cuter than a row of Khori Buryat girls? Answer: Not a ding dang thang!

These Khori Buryats have seen many a winter on the Mongolian Plateau. They don't look worse for the wear!

These Khori Buryats have seen many a winter on the Mongolian Plateau. They don’t look worse for the wear!

My friend Natasha representin' the Khori Buryat tribe on the Mongolian steppe.

My friend Natasha representin’ the Khori Buryat tribe on the Mongolian steppe.

These peeps are dressed in the outfit of Shenehen Buryats. The site I pulled it from claims they are Evenks, and certainly, Evenks have mixed with the Buryat people. The boy mid left looks particularly Envenki, but, they seem tall for Evenks from that time period. Just sayin' . . .

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These peeps are dressed in the outfit of Shenehen Buryats. The site I pulled it from claims they are Evenks, and certainly, Evenks have mixed with the Buryat people. But this family seems tall for Evenks from the 1950’s. Just sayin’ . . .

Shenehen Buryats. In case you don’t know, their hats give them away, the dark ladies, center, are wearing “working hats” which the Shenehen Buryats incorporated into their celebratory finery. All other Buryats do not wear them. Lastly, a word for the younger generation in the back row: (Holy) tallness Batman!

Once again, betrayed by her headgear, we see a Shenehen Buryat miss practicing her trade.

Once again, betrayed by her headgear, we see a Shenehen Buryat Ms. practicing her trade.

Many of these images were taken at Altargana, a festival of Buryat culture. I have written about it often, here are a couple of links you may follow to learn about it. Altargana 2014 and Altargana 2010.

All color images are mine, taken between 2010 and 2014. Black and white images are courtesy of the M.N. Khangalov Museum of History in Ulan-Ude, except the image of Shenehen Buryats which I found here: http://forum-eurasica.ru/index.php?/topic/4299-tungusy-verbliudovody/

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/warmth/

 

 

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Mongolian Rebound

The vaunted Wrestlers Palace in central UB.

Dear Friends,

While in Mongolia, I began to feel unwell, which precipitated several visits to several Doctors both in Ulaanbaatar and back here in Irkutsk. I seem to periodically suffer from excessive fatigue. It comes and goes, and it remains unclear what the culprit is. We continue to investigate. So, a post I began early in April, is now just hitting the presses!

I have survived my latest trek into one of Asia’s most beautiful and fascinating countries, Mongolia. It is pleasant indeed to be back in Siberia, with my favorite Native and wife, Yulia the lovely. But before I entirely take my leave, I thought I would share a side of Mongolia which maybe you have not yet seen. The underbelly!

Belly up!

Hold me back!

Solid.

Imagine twenty pairs of rippling/ample bellied Asian strong men in turned up toed boots, and blue or red speedos shoving, grasping, grappling, hoisting-suddenly-heaving their opponent over.  Like waves rolling onto a beach, the hubbub of spectating Mongols rises to a roar with each victory.

Ya, they wear pink. You got a problem with that? You wrestle them!

This is called Mongolian Boh, traditional Mongolian wrestling which is practiced in similar forms among all Mongolian peoples. From Inner Mongolia to Siberia, from Mongol ethnic groups in China to Central Asia to Kalmykia in Europe, this style of wrestling has been practiced for centuries. When in Ulaanbaatar, like a dusty moth to a glowing bulb, I am drawn to the Wrestler’s Palace, where most weekends starting in March, you can watch sweating titans go head to head, in two-man scrums, propelling each other to and fro about the ring like fighting buffalo bulls. But don’t be fooled! This is a sport of brains and strategy, not just brawn.

Heavy-duty face off. It's about to get rough up in here.

Bringing the thunder.

This is real wrestling, no hype. There is no jawing, no attacks with folding chairs, no explosions, just two serious athletes going head to head. In Mongolia, everyone knows the names of the top wrestlers of their region, and the nation. Champion wrestlers are afforded great respect and are highly honored by the people.

What's under that green 1970's turf like carpet? Cement.

To win a wrestler must compel his challenger to contact the ground with knee, elbow or upper body. There are no weight categories in Mongol Boh! Unevenly paired wrestlers must use strategy to defeat stronger or swifter wrestlers.

The winner will spring up into a traditional victor's dance, gracefully imitating an eagle in flight.

When a wrestler brings his adversary down he springs up, runs a few bow-legged steps, stops, and gracefully imitates a flying eagle. Then he returns to his conquered opponent who usually congratulates him, whereupon the referee crowns him with his hat, declaring him winner by calling out his name to the crowd. Our winner then runs to the flagpole in the ring, soars like an eagle around the pole, nodding to the flag before rumbling out of the ring until the next round.

Dance of a victor.

It is a thing of wonder.

Flower of the Steppe: Altargana

A steppe flower indeed.

Walking toward the entrance of Nadaam stadium, the central stadium in Ulaanbaatar, I was unsure of what to expect. Stepping through, a sunlit, grassy field opened before my eyes. Milling about on the green grass were Buryat wrestlers dressed in “gutal”, Buryat/Mongol style calf high boots with turned up toes so as not to scuff the ground, hats, and not much else! Amongst them sauntered wrestling referees in burgundy, sky blue or gray raiment, and conical red fringed, blue hats. At the west end, archers dressed in every color under the sun, though predominantly blue, a favorite of the Buryats, launched volley after volley of practice arrows. The view before my eyes reminded me of the famous picture called “A Day in the Life of Mongolia”.  Flags fluttered in the breeze under Mongolia’s famous blue skies. Buryats from Russia, China, and Mongolia cheered wildly for their favorite wrestlers, chatted each other up, and watched as Fffffffft! Fffffffft! Ffffffft! arrows whizzed from the line of archers to targets. In a color buzz, I went camera happy, snapping everyone I saw in this nomadic kaleidoscope.

Referees, coaches, and heralds, these men kept the order in wrestling matches.

Wrestlers preparing for the next match.

Matching whits. Size does not matter, mental quickness does. Wrestler in red was the champion at Surharban 2010 in Ulan-Ude. (He is small compared to most!)

Blue seems to be a favorite among Buryats.

Archers take a break from the rays of the burning steppe sun.

Enjoying wrestling, or catching a snooze.

I don’t speak Buryat! Yet. A working command of the language would have been handy, as it seems the schedule traveled by word of mouth only. Typical to native Buryats, (and native peoples in general), it was problematic for me as a foreign visitor, leaving me stranded and ticketless outside of several events amongst the Mongolian pickpockets systematically working the crowd. Sometimes I found Russian speaking Buryats, when I didn’t I had to investigate, and work out from advertisement banners hanging on theaters, stadiums and the Wrestlers palace the date and time that some event was in a particular venue. I missed a lot.

Did I mention it was HOT! This young man has fur on!

Checking arrow integrity.

Upon opening one of the double doors to the central Drama Theater, a no holds barred scrum ensued. A couple hundred nomadic Buryats from north Mongolia charged the door like a crash of rhinos, pushing, shoving, squeezing through said door three at a time. Picture Alex, sandwiched in this writhing mass, with old ladies leveraging their weight on his frame in a mad bid for good seats.  (Later, I discreetly picked up my left arm on the way out.) Having survived entry, I found a suitable perch, and watched the drama competition unfold. Buryats acted out comedies and dramas, centered around nomadic daily chores, giving daughters away in marriage, intrigue with neighbors, shepherding herds, and yes, drinking. The juxtaposition of technology and nomads led to a bizarre evening of laughter at Buryat comedy, interspersed with loud one sided cell phone dialogues of spectators chattering with relatives still on the steppe!

These are Western Buryats, distinguishable by flatter headwear and different stripe pattern on their outfits.

Slapstick, Buryat style.

Soaking up the rays of a four o’clock August sun, Buryats gathered under the watchful eye of Chingis (Genghis) Khan, who sits enthroned overlooking Sukhbaatar Square keeping track of his children. Families strolled in their finery or gathered in crowds to empty their pockets for ice-cream vendors. Ice-cream must be like the nectar of gods for nomads, who have no place to keep it. This is the memory that will keep in my mind of Altargana, colorfully garbed Buryat families promenading, each one licking ice-cream on a stick.

Cold creamy goodness!

Ice-cream behind the back pose!

Altargana means “Golden Rod” in Buryat. The festival was named in esteem of the hardy qualities of this flower, similar to the stalwart qualities of the Buryat people. Golden Rod’s extensive root system allows it to flourish on rocky mountain ridges, arid steppe lands, and sandy dunes, just as Buryats have done for centuries. In two years Buryats will again gather in the city of Chita (Siberia), like so many flowers in a mountain meadow, and we hope to be there, shining like stars in the universe, as we hold out the word of life.

Respect.