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First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)

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Bone

Illustration of Word

English form: Bone

Mongolian forms:
Cyrillic: 
Classical:

 
Latin: yasu

 

Literary Analysis

Analytically, appearances of the word bone in The Secret History are rare to almost non-existent. The word itself comes up five times in the story. In each case, the word appears both in a physical sense but also in a metaphorical sense. It is clear that the metaphorical use is given far more importance and weight then the phyiscal presence. The word bone metaporically represents the Mongolian social hierarchal structure of lineage and the pride that is carried within those family trees. Each of bones five occurances are manipulatively used in The Secret History of the Mongols to show the overall impact in the text, but also in the word itself. The word is used in the introduction of Temujin’s sworn brother Jamuqa and also is found during his death, both of which are times of great meaning in The Secret History. Bone is simply the single word that symbolizes the importance of heritage and lineage in steppe culture.

Cultural Significance

In the Mongolian culture, Bone is a metaphor used to describe the hierarchal structure established by the lineage amongst tribes and families.The cultural significance of the word bone is really that it was the method for deciding ranking in Mongolian Society during the time of Genghis Kahn.This single word embodies the fundamental system of rank and standing within Mongolian culture that acted as a determinant for almost all factors in one's life. Ranging from order of eating during meals, to who takes control of what animals, to finally the giving and taking of wives, all of these things were controlled by ones lineage or bone. Bone represents this sturcutral support for the Mongolian society. One thing that is ineresting is that it does not appear in relation to war and death like it does in a Western sense. When linked to some aspect of death, it is usually incorporated with the blessing of ones descendents.This gives us insight on is how the Mongolians treated death and the spirituality that bones posesed. For example, there is no true sense of a Golgotha in Mongolian Culture, which shows bones emphasis away from the graveyards and towards a more metaphorical and spiritual value.

Historical Significance

How did the Western world come to associate the Mongols with destruction, vast fields of bones, and carnage? Well a simple answer is that Mongolians many time left soldiers, who have fallen, wherever they lie. As the Mongolian hordes invaded and killed many people, they ended up leaving the bodies to simply rot away. This in Mongolia is very typical but to the Western scholars, who associate death with bones, it seemed quite barbaric. As they looked out upon fields where future battles had taken place, they almost always documented on the vast numbers of bones that lay upon the fields because they had never been buried. Bones became a image in particular, that were used to show and mark the Mongolian destruction of the outside world. Over and over again, Bones were used as evidence for the murder of the civilized world by the Mongolian plague. These sources help illustrate how it occurred that Western world became very familiar with the word bone in relation to the Mongols in the devastation that they brought upon Europe and Asia.

What bearing did the word bone have on history? Well it is probably most closely related to the only loss that Genghis Kahn ever suffered. His loss didn't come on a battle field, a loss of a important city, the Great Kahn's most devastating defeat came at the hands of his own sons and grandchildren. For all the land he gained, people he brought under his rule, power he won, Genghis Kahn ultimately lost when he died because he was unable to lay the administrating and structural groundwork to keep the power centralized within his bone or lineage.

Cultural Artifact

Due to the fact that bones aren't really worked with or preserved in the Western sense, Mongolians have few cultural artifacts relating to bones. Many bones used in scapulmancy, the fortune telling using bones of animals, have been found. This pratice was actually originated in China, yet found widespread growth into Mongolian culture under the rule of Ogodei Kahn (Succesor and son of Genghis Kahn).

Games

Children in Mongolia for times dating back to before Genghis Kahn, have been playing games with the khucklebone or ancle bones of animals. The image below shows the four type of ancle bones that children normally collect. With these four different type of animal bone comes a hierarchy. Horse bones were given the most value followed by the camel, then the sheep, and finally the goat. There are many different games played with these bones throughout Mongolia. One of the most common is "who has the most horses." For insturction in how to play the game on the link below.

http://www.un-mongolia.mn/archives/ger-mag/ger-5.htm

Illustration of Word

 

More Information

For additional questions email me at pwright@macalester.edu

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