So I realize that its been a while since I last posted something (around four days… how dare I…) but I’m just going to say that was due to me being too busy. However, now that I am finally back in Bangkok, and have more reliable internet, I will catch you all up on what my last couple days in Mongolia have been like.
Monday was the official start of the National Nadaam Festival. The festivities start in Ulaan Baatar’s main square, where the National cavalry will ride out to the Government House to receive what are called the Nine Base White Banners, made of ox tails and horse hair, and carry these banners by horseback to the National Stadium where thewill start. This procession was also accompanied by a marching band (which made me quite excited, and they weren’t that bad either). I have a video of them playing which I will eventually post… just to prove it :-).
We then made out way to the National Stadium (an arena about 2 km south of the main square and which seats around 15,000 people) to settle down and watch the Opening Ceremonies. What we got were large choreographed dance numbers and different showcases of Mongolian historical periods (ranging from the height of the Mongol Empire to the Socialist Era). While there was not any English translation of the ceremony, one thing was very apparent…Mongolians are very proud of their culture, which they have every right to be. We are talking about the people who once had the largest contiguous land empire in the 13th through 14th centuries which held sway over about 100 million people. Those are serious bragging rights…Even while it was a long time ago. So its impressive that throughout most of Mongolian history, some form of National Nadaam has occurred throughout the last 2,000 years. This is even more impressive considering that during the Socialist era, there were often purges to eradicate the very idea of Mongolian culture. How to get around this? Nadaams switched their focus to the idea of Socialist revolution. Once the country switched to democracy however, Opening Ceremonies became much more about Mongolian culture and history.
After the two hours of the opening ceremonies, wrestling was going to take the stage at the National Stadium, with archery taking place at its own arena right next door, which we were able to watch a couple of hours of. Mongolian archery is very different then what I usually think of archery. Instead of hitting a bullseye target, the archers have to hit a low stack of baskets made from sheep guts. Basically the more you knock over the more points you get. What I found particularly interesting were the scorers who watch the target, will ‘sing’ to the archer, a good width of a football field away, whether they overshot, scored, etc. Here is a good website about Mongolian Archery. The third national sport, horse racing, takes place about 50 kilometres outside the city in a neighboring valley.
Just to enjoy the day, we mostly walked around the fair grounds to see the sea of people who showed up to the start of the festival. “Nadaam” is an all-encompassing word, which can be translated into party, festival, celebration, great meeting and just general good time. A common greeting during the summer will be “How is your Nadaam?” and if had a good time “I have Nadaam’ed well”. Considering the culture, Nadaam also plays a highly social role. With a culture of nomadic families traveling on the harsh Mongolian steppes for most of the year, summer comes a time of social interaction, good fun and partying. Hence the Nadaam festivities. Historically, with the emphasis on sports such as wrestling, archery and horseback riding, it was a method of keeping the Mongolian people strong and healthy, as well as ready for battle. I say ‘people’ because women often participate in the archery and horse back riding.
Anyways, this will be it for now. The next post will be about my experiences watching the horses (!!!).
Hope this finds you well.