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10 THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT MONGOLIA


 

1. SYMBOLIC MEANING OF MONGOLIAN BLUE SPOT

A few years ago, a young Japanese couple travelled with their infant to the United States. Then during their stay, they were unexpectedly approached by social services and detained as their child was taken away from them. As they did not speak much English, they got their embassy involved. As it turned out, some people had seen the infant’s blue spot and assumed the child was a victim of child abuse. While the nightmare of this particular couple was easily resolved and parents soon reunited with their child.

The issue of the blue spot remains a phenomenon largely unknown outside of Eurasia and East Asia. It is called “Mongolian spot-MS” given by Edwin Baelz in 1901 referred to what he termed the “Mongoloid race”, in other words Asians.

It has bluish-gray, flat skin markings that appear at birth or shortly thereafter during the infantile age in different sizes,located on the lower back and buttocks and at the base of the spine. They can also appear on the shoulders, upper back, arms, wrists, legs, ankles, lateral abdomen and elsewhere. Palms, soles, face and head are usually spared. 

Contrary to what is widely believed in Mongolia, it appears to be also quite common in other countries. The prevalence of Mongolian spots varies among different ethnic groups according to the overall depth of pigmentation. It has been reported for example Asian: 95-100%, East African: 90-95%, Native American: 85-90%, Hispanic: 50-70%, Caucasian: 1-10%.

Scientifically, the MS are caused by entrapment of melanocytes in the dermis during their migration from the neural crest into the epidermis in fetal development. Microscopically dermal melanocytoses are seen in all newborn babies irrespective of race. 
Differences in the number of dermal melanocytes may cause the racial variation. It fades away after a few years and almost disappear between age 7 to 13 years. Therefore, no treatment is required.

In terms of symbolism, blue color is important color in Mongolia. Mongolians believe that the Mongols has worshiped the eternal blue sky from ancient times and considered this birthmark as a heavenly seal for Mongolians only. Its main referent is to the sky and it has therefore important connotations to both nature and shamanism. 

To this day, blue remains the favorite color of Mongols, used for clothing and for all types of support of national sentiments as are witness expressions such as ancient historical books named “hoh dewter-blue book”, “hoh sudar-blue history-hoh tuuh”. Tied up in this color symbolism, the question of blue spot can be seen as highly metaphoric. 

Interestingly, rather than being understood as a sign of a common origin of both Mongols and others harking back to ancient history, the incidence of the blue spot in other populations tends to be attributed by Mongols to Chinggis khaan and to his conquering army. The significance of the blue spot as an allegorical device has been harnessed by both artists and nationalists, for whom it is a fertile symbolic terrain. Numerous writers have appealed to the phenomenon in their discussions of Mongolian identity. The famous rock band “ALTAN URAG”, also took on this symbolism with their song “Blue spot”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcnvmqypPk0

It occurs in many other ethnic groups worldwide and is equally rich in symbolism for them.

Koreans think it is a shaman spirit to whom people pray around childbirth, slapped the baby's behind to hasten the baby to quickly get out from his or her mother's womb.

In China, among common folk it is said to be caused by the Buddhist goddess of childbirth Songzi Guanyin (The Goddess of Baby Sending) when she is slapping the babies backside telling it to be born. Others say it is because the baby does not want to leave the mother's womb so Songzi Guanyin will kick it out, leaving the bruise. While a small portion of people, wrongfully, believe it happens when the doctor is slapping the baby's backside to make it cry.  The mark is also common among Maya people of the where is referred to as Wa in Maya, which means "circle".

In Ecuador, the native Indians of Colta are insultingly referred to in Spanish by a number of terms which allude to the slate grey nevus. 

In Spanish it is called mancha mongólica and mancha de Baelz.

In western countries, if a child is born with a “Mongolian Blue Spot” must be noted on the certificate proving that it is not harmful. Because the spots on the bodies of these children are mistaken for the result of violence. Such measures have been taken as a result of inspections by law enforcement agencies.

It is important to recognize that Mongolian spots are birthmarks, not bruises.

 

MONGOLIAN CULTURE

In Mongolia, people speak several different dialects of the Mongolian language. The language itself, in a way to form the words by vowel harmony and the structure of "Subject+Object+Verb", was categorized into the Altaic Language group which includes Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic.

 

MAKING AIRAG

Airag (mare’s fermented milk), is one of the national pride and highly appreciated beverage in Mongolia. Airag -mildly alcoholic white beverage is the unique drink derived from traditional techniques and knowledge that inherited from ancient times to the different ethnic groups of Mongol nation and being used and served as a main and holy drink during various fests and in making offerings and ritual blessings.

It could be considered that the entire Mongolian nation is concerned with this tradition but main bearers and practitioners of this element now are Khalkha Mongol herders who mostly live in the central part of Mongolia. These nomadic people are the true custodians of the traditional knowledge and skills regarding the unique technique of making fermented mare’s milk - Airag in Khokhuur (cowhide vessel or bag) and also making the khokhuur. Those families who bear the traditional knowledge and skills of khokhuur making also concern with this group of people. A variety of socio-cultural entities such as local communities and co-operations of herders, airag makers, horse trainers, associations of long song singers, Morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) players, schools and others also are involved in and support airag making and transmit this national tradition.

Mongolians make the Airag in summer and autumn seasons. Airag is being one of the main food products of Mongolians in summertime, and besides this, it is being used as a treatment product. Foaming tasty airag has a unique dietetic value and is an important part of the daily diet of Mongolians. It is a nutritious and easily digestible beverage that contains different proteins, fat, minerals, A, C and some B vitamins and a sufficient amount of amino acids essential for the human body. In addition, scientific studies reveal that it is very effective for curing various diseases such as tuberculosis, neurosis, anemia, arteriosclerosis and the decrease of gastric acid secretion and etc. Therefore, this medical beverage is today included in the menus of the numerous health resorts of the country. The first Airag treatment hospitals and nursing places were opened in Mongolian in 1946.


The milking season for horses traditionally runs from mid-June to early October. Daily milk yield of mares varies from 3 to 6 liters.

The basic traditional technique of making mare’s airag consists of milking mares and cooling freshly milked milk, and repeatedly churning milk in a khokhuur with starter left inside to assist its fermentation. The liquid must be churned 5000 and more times to make a good fermented blend of airag. Mare’s milk undergoes fermentation by lactobacilli and lactic acid streptococci, producing ethanol, lactic acids, and carbon dioxide. The airag - mildly alcoholic white beverage emits a delicious smell and its pleasant taste can make your mouth watery.

For making the khokhuur, first, the cowhide is soaked and hide’s filament is removed, then it is dehydrated in the wind and fumigated. In such a process, the cowhide turns to white flexible leather. The khokhuur is made from this white leather and consists of mouth (orifice) neck, corner, body and cords. The buluur is a long-handled wooden paddle that is used for churning airag in khokhuur and furnished with the bored blade of the board at the end. Khokhuur can hold 40 to 100 liters of airag.

Airag is used and served as a main and holy drink during various feasts and in making offerings and ritual blessings.

Mongolians have a strong connection with their horses, and this tradition is observed from the traditional technique of making Airag in khokhuur and its associated customs. Airag is one of the respecting and welcoming expressions to the guests. Therefore, Mongolian people often say as "If there is no horse, it means there is no Airag, and if there is no Airag, it means there is no joy". 

 

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