Not the Substance, but the Movement
The significance of the word wind, is not in the actual subject
of wind itself, in the Mongol language there is much more emphasis
and description about how wind moves and behaves. Just like the Mongolians
have specific ways of describing horses, with colors and the specific
describing words, they have words to describe the way the wind behaves.
Wind is such a huge factor in the everyday lives of the Mongolians.
Mongolia is an extremely windy country. The average wind speed of
Mongolia is around 4-5 meters per second. This makes wind a strong
presence and influence in shaping the culture of Mongolia. Even when
orientating the set up of a ger, the wind’s influence
is seen. Mongolians set up their gers so that they face south;
this way the north blowing wind passes over the ger without
entering the ger. Mongolian experience with wind is especially
illustrated by their incredible ability to build a fire when the wind
is whipping around them. Mongols try to avoid any action that may
encourage an increase in the wind, like whistling outside. So in this
sense, it is the direction, and behavior of wind that is important
to Mongols than just the subject of wind.
Wind as seen in The
The Secret History uses wind in directional
and euphemistic senses, and in specific expressions. Euphemistically,
wind is used to express death or the annihilation of an entire people.
When the Mongols destroy other clans and tribes, this phrase is often
used to describe their fate. The phrase used, in the English translation,
is ‘blown [in the wind] like ashes.’ Mongolian culture
is very sensitive to death. The words ‘die’ and
‘kill’ are not used in the entire text of The Secret
History. Dying people are isolated from the rest of the population.
Another use of wind in the English text appears in §56: “Chiledü
is one whose hair has never blown in the wind…” (Onon
§56). In the Mongolian text keyisümser is used
to describe hair blowing in the wind to express suffering. In this
passage Hö’elün is saying, “Chiledü has
never had such a big loss in his life, how much he must be suffering!
What will he do without me? How will he manage?” This is no
longer commonly used, but it is a unique expression with a specific
meaning. I was told that the violent movement of hair being thrown
around, in wind or not, is a gesture of distress. I believe this to
be true because of the way Hö’elün’s hair said
to be thrown about her as she is crying for her love. The usage of
a descriptor instead of the general term for wind, in this passage
changes the meaning, and the expression is lost in the English translation.
There is also a passage where tumbleweed tufts are uprooted
and roll in the Steppe carried by the wind, these are seen from afar
and are taken for enemy horsemen and Qa’atai Darmala, the chief
of the Qa’at Merkit flees into the forest.
More information about Wind
in Mongol Culture:
Shamanism and the forces of Nature
Wind is also an integral part of Shamanism. Many ancient
Mongolians practiced Shamanism; “their deity was the sky, which
they worshipped together with the spirits inhabiting the sun, the
moon, the stars the mountains, the water, the trees and all natural
things” (The Secret History, p. 4). Shamans were people
who were said to have a direct relation to the spirits and deities
of nature and were used as liaisons to ask favors and communicate
by the general population.
Historically, the Mongols have a positive association
with wind. The wind is seen as driving the Mongol warriors
on to further conquest and victory. The spirit banner or
sulde is a very important and very powerful concept to Mongolians.
The sulde is a spear with the hair from the best stallion
the warrior has tied just under the blade. Warriors would put these
outside their gers to identify him and to act as a guardian.
This sulde was supposed to cannel the energy from the wind,
sky and sun, to the warrior. Wind moving through the hairs of the
banner is supposed to inspire the warrior. When the warrior died his
soul is said to live forever in the horsehairs of his spirit banner
“to inspire future generations” (Weatherford xvi). The
relationship between the wind and a warrior’s soul was very
intimately connected in the spirit banner, with the wind blowing and
caressing the horsehair.
Using wind to make music, though this is not found in
a text, is definitely a part of Mongolian culture. The Mongolians
have a special kind of music known commonly as throat singing, or
overtone singing, which is the main style of singing for folk music.
It is an ancient style, called khmööii, and was
probably used in the time of Chinggis Qahan. The sound is produced
by changing the shape of the mouth cavity to intensify the overtones,
which are always present, created by the vibration of the vocal cords.
These overtones can create sounds that imitate nature. Such as a rippling
stream or the wind sweeping along\ the grasslands.
Some songs are played by the wind; people hold up instruments,
and the wind blows through them and creates sound. Depending on the
slight directional changes and intensity levels, it produces different
pitches and created a melody. The sound is usually very soft, but
depending on the wind levels, can be louder and more intense.