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  • Writer's pictureTsatsraa

Mongolian Customs Related to Hunting

Updated: Feb 8

Mongolian hunting customs and wild animals

Mongolia is a country that consists of wide-open steppe lands, forests, rivers, mountains, and deserts, and each has its own type of animal species. Therefore, from ancient times, Mongolians have traditionally created many ways and forms of hunting.

According to the wild animal types, it is divided into bird hunting, hunting, and fishing. Hunting is widespread in Mongolia. Mongolians hunt for stronger and bigger herding animals in hunting teams, but smaller animals such as sable, marmot, and squirrels hunt alone. Hunting for smaller animals has its own distinctive names, as does fishing, bird hunting, and marmot hunting.

There are unique customs and manners used during hunting. For instance, the appointed date for hunting is kept secret. It is only shared among partners through the giving or exchanging of horse manure as an agreement and arrangement of the hunting date. The partners should be friendly, have no arguments, and not say anything bad about the animals they mean to hunt. If no animals are around, this should not be said out loud.

Instead, it is said, ‘There are few animals around,” Maybe some around,” or “Animals haven’t come around a while.” Suppose the hunt is taking place in the Khalkh or central Mongolian region. In that case, some animals are given substitute names, such as unuukh jiikhgar (that squinted) for the wolf, tudqer (stumpy) for the wild boar, “flat horned” for an elk, “hat” for a fox, and turag (matured) for a deer.

How to hunt in Mongolia

During the team hunting, the hunters gather to worship spirits and give offerings to them for the hunt. Those hunting alone, in contrast, offer pieces of food or dairy products to the mountains and rivers of the area, asking for their blessings. When Buddha's teachings flourished in Mongolia, the words related to the practice of hunting changed to religious meanings. On the eve of the hunt, the hunters of the Uriankhai ethnic groups in western Mongolia invite an epic minstrel to perform Altain magtaal or "Ode to the Altai." Some experienced hunters take the epic minstrel with them to the hunting grounds. If having no quarry, the minstrel performs in the midst of the hunt or when the hunters return from the hunt. This is due to the belief that if Altain magtaal is performed and the animals and plants of the Altai are praised, the spirits of the mountains, and rivers are pleased and offer the quarries for the hunt. It is for this reason that the quarries of the hunt are called Khangain khishig or "the bounty of the Earth" among Mongolians. There is a tradition that during the night camp of the hunt among the Buriats, interesting tales are told for the spirits of the taiga. In some cases, the special storyteller goes with the hunters.

Usually, only experienced hunters and elders tell the tales. After telling the stories, older hunter

pierces a piece from the fat of a sheep's tail at the end of his gun, and other hunters put the pieces of fat in their wooden cups. Afterward, everybody says (khurai, khurai, khurai' for the bounty from the hunt. The Darkhad hunters believe that going out for the hunt at dawn will bring plenty of quarries. In the morning, the hunter worships the hearth and house spirit and sanctifies the gun with burning incense. After eating enough, the hunter saddles his horse and loads the second horse. The hunter starts from the north side of the ger, then goes around the ger three times in a clockwise direction, and then goes in the direction of the hunting. At the first stop, the hunter gives a benediction: Dear precious land Dear heavenly sky Dear rich earth Let the quarries be plenty as we go in Let the saddle-bags be full and complete as we come back Let me not be dismembered as I fall Let me be with no overflow as I drink Let me have plenty of quarries As he says this, the hunter sprinkles tea three times in; the hunter sprinkles tea three times in four directions. After having tea and extinguishing the fire, the hunters circumambulate the firebed three times and ride on. It is avoided if they come across a beast other than the one they intended to hunt. In some cases, beasts encountered are considered bad luck for the hunt. For instance, if a hunter encounters a wolf, it is supposed to be a good omen. If a hunter encounters a fox, it is considered a bad omen. So, it is necessary to kill the fox. If a hunter cannot kill the encountered fox, some hunters return from hunting. If a hunter finds a trail of the wolverine, he spits on it. If a hunter encounters the wolverine directly, he must kill it. So, he says, "The aimed gun never misses, the devilish wolverine is not able to piss," and shoots it. This is a custom. It is an honor for the Mongolian hunter to hunt for red stag, bear, or elk. In that case, there is a ceremony among Mongolian hunters. There is a link between the red stag, bear, and elk with shamanist totems. Börte-chino (miniver wolf) and Qua-maral (fair-doe) are two words in the Secret History of the Mongols. Scholars have concluded that they are totems. Therefore, Mongolians avoid killing deer without purpose. Some tales call the person who kills a deer a sinful killer. Two tales, Ulir tsagaan uvgun (Hackneyed white old man) and Khorin dörvön salaa evertei ukhaa dunun buga (Twenty-four antlered stags), describe hunters who killed a deer as feeling sorrow for killing such a beautiful animal and making her fawns into orphans. These tales attest that Mongolians worshipped deer from ancient times and aspired to preserve them.

Mongolian wild animals and wild goats

If it is unavoidable to kill a deer, we perform a special ceremony. The deer usually dies by placing its chin on the ground and raising its antler upright. If the hunted deer dies by placing its antler on the ground, it is a bad omen for the hunter. The head of the quarry is cut off before flaying its hide and placed on a white sheet without its antler touching the earth. One person carries the antler when the hunter returns home and places it on the roof of his ger. All the hunters are treated with tea. There are particular words to say when we kill a bear. These words mean neither to look down at this beast nor shoot it for enjoyment. These words mean to convey that "It was because of necessity that we shot you." For instance, as soon as the bear is shot, the hunter should run up to the quarry and say, "Oh my, I shot you without intention. The swerved bullet shot you. Please excuse me!" When we flay its skin, we say, "The coldness comes; my body is chilled. Warm me up." There are specific substitutions for the actual intention in some spells. It is taboo to hit a rock with the stomach of the quarry. When we cook a game, if its water decreases, we do not add water. First, drop some soup into the water that will be added. Hunters do not cut off a piece of meat from the quarry in the saddle bag. It is taboo to cut off saddle bags and to make games.

Mongolian wild life and wild animal

There is no tradition to distribute raw meat from a hunter's quarry. There is a view that if you break a tradition, the hunter's next hunting trip can fail. It seems like superstition, but this is intended to save nature's bounty and live economically. At the end of the hunt team, a unique practice for dividing the meat is carried out among the hunters. Individual hunters can give a share of the meat to their neighbors. If, during the hunt, an animal is killed, the head and its skin are given to the shooter as a way of acknowledging the shooter's skill.

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