Academic ProgramsAnthropology DepartmentMacalester College

First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)

Homepage

blood

bone

brother

dog

drink

eat

falcon

fire

heaven

horse

light

mother

water

wind

wolf

woman

 

 

Dog

Latin form:

noqai

Mongolian forms:
Cyrillic
 
нохой
Classical

 

Literary Analysis

In The Secret History of the Mongols "dog" is used primarily as a marker against which humans are compared. People can be "hounds" in battle, fearsome and savage, or, alternately, so loyal that they "have dogs' faces". On occasion, dogs are also used as temporal references according to the shuixang system- ie, "in the Year of the Dog". For the most part, however, dogs are used in a comparative sense. The comparisons made are extremely varied, but in a general sense they deal with the conflict between a dog's innate wildness and its cultivated domesticity. Comparing human actions to the behaviors of a dog illustrates the opposing pulls within humans, between the civilizing forces of society that define the modern man and the instinctual responses that have helped humans survive since prehistoric times.

 

Cultural Significance

Culturally, dogs are important as one of the twelve animals of the shuxiang and by extension, as a means of preserving a societal memory of important events. "In the Year of the Dog" is commonly used in The Secret Histroy when the beginning of a military campaign is being described. As loyal companions to nomadic families, they were respected animals. However, dogs were not so overwhelmingly essential that they were safe from consumption by their owners in lean times. In general, however, the Mongols dogs as characterizations of many different sides of human nature. This balanced view is in sharp contrast with the usage by Europeans visiting the Mongols at the time, who almost invariably used "dog" in an insulting manner.

 

Historical Significance

Large and imposing, dogs have played an important role in guarding Mongolian herds, including yaks, camels and horses. Fending off threats from their wilder cousin, the wolf, required impressive strength. Historically, this was somewhat subject to exaggeration- one European visitor, Isidore, is cited by two later explores as having said that dogs in Albania are so large and fearsome that “they seize bulls and kill lions”. Interestingly, dogs were not used to do actual herding, which was accomplished horseback. Dogs were also important in hunting.

 

"The Land of Dogs", an article from Mongolia Today

Macalester Home | Directory | Site Map | Search

Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105 · 651-696-6000