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First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)





















English form:


Mongolian forms:




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 Secret History

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.

Musical Wind

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.


by Ashley Nepp

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