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The evolution of Mongolian national Archery- from the Stone Age to the invasion of Europe

The bow and arrow have played a distinguished role in Mongolia’s history as a symbol, a craft, and a sport. Archery has changed from being a tool for survival and a well-constructed weapon of war into a national sport. It used to be a male-dominated event, but now women and even girls test their marksmanship, using the opposite Mongolian bows. One of the Three Manly Games, a national festival of Mongolians, targets archery or modern competitive archery. Archery is the most popular game and competition among Mongolians even an integral part of Mongolian ancient history, culture, and tradition.

The Mongolian bow we know today is a fairly recent invention. The transition might have started somewhat earlier but maybe it happened in the 20th century and not earlier. The conquest-era Mongolian bow was a different beast entirely with long, rigid backswept ears. Under the Qing dynasty, Mongolian archers are almost always depicted with Manchu-style bows and arrows.

In Mongolia Uriankhai archery, Buriad archery, and Khalkh archery are commonly gamed. Buriad and Khalkh are tribe names of Mongolia. Each has its own style and specifics. The rules of competitions are made of three separate associations Khalkha Buriad and Uriankhi archery.

Khalkha archery is the most popular, it is a Mongolian type of archery that was formed from the late Manchu dynasty in 1876, the second year of the Manchu dynasty. The bow is backed with horn and tendon, and covered with glazed skin. The arrow has a horned head and four features. The main field for archery is called an archery range (zurkhai) in which its length is 4m and width is 3m. Targets are aligned at the exterior zone of which the interior zone is lined at a 3m distance. Targets in Mongolian national archery are classified as Khan sur and khasaa sur. Khalkha archery is considered the best among other types. In ancient history brave-hearted warriors used to shoot at so far distances. However, modern competitive archery is settled at the following distances: Adult(male) Adult (female), 15-17 years old teenager male and female, up to 14 years old children male 55, female 45. Khalkha archery takes place on July 10, 11, and 12 of the festival, with 16 soums on the first day, 12 soums on the second day, 12 soums on the third day, and a total of 40 soums.

Buriad archery is believed that one of the Mongolian ethnic groups, Buryats, has been using horn bows and arrows for hunting wild animals and combating each other with their vision and sense of wise for a long historical period. To make a bow, its main body is framed with birch and adhered with several layers of tendons in which a horn covered with skin is dominantly used to keep its flexibility or diffuse properties. The Buryat bow is long about 140-150 cm, and its arrow is 80-100cm. The length of the bow can be depended on the archer’s height. Buryats start a competition of archery in the spring and continued in team or individual competition forms. In individual form, every single participant shoot previously prepared targets 20 times in which the number of target hits determines the winner. Shooting distance can be 2 types, 40m-30m or 30m-20m. The field-aligned targets are a target line(zuraahai). It is squared at 4x4m. and the closer the targets, the better criteria for the archer.

Buryat archer, from Russian postcard. Unknown photographer

Uriankhai archery is considered as the original version of modern archery and it is from the period of Chinggis khaan. Uriankhai people gradually converted it from warrior utilization into a game or competition. It is said that two of the nine military generals of Chinggis khaan, Zelme, and Subeedei, were Uriankhai and they were the best shooters among other warriors. Altai Uriankhai tribe still keeps this type of archery with special warrior skills and respective traditional regimes of ancient Uriankhai. Thus, it is currently an integral part of the Mongolian national festival, Naadam, as Uriankhai Archery.

It is differentiated from Khalkha archery because just men shoot. As well as its targets are different in size or distance in which the target is about the node of leather straps weighing 350-450gr. Shooting distance is 40m. Every archer is approved to have three shoots with relatively heavy and big-headed arrows. Uriankhai archery is usually shot with a makeshift bow that is 1.8-2m long and made of bamboo. As evidence of the most powerful archery with a big bow in Mongolia, the arrow must shoot its target even pass over the earth pile behind the target. Therefore, archery has two different types: summer archery is to game in the national festival and ice archery is to shoot in ice field in winter. Uriankhai archery is usually gamed in influential celebration events in which traditional rituals are strictly followed by archers and joiners. Regarding the concept that shooting is just for men, it is still prohibited for women to shoot Uriankhai archery.

The History of Archery

The history of Mongolian archery starts way before the stone age and progressed steadily through the bronze age when the composite bow was introduced. In the 13th century, the skill of Mongolian archers and the design of bow reached its peak. And it served as the main weapon in Chinggis Khaan’s conquest of the much-known world.

It was used as an everyday tool for hunting and an inseparable part of nomadic life. Every Mongolian ger had a bow and every man was thought to shoot. Archery remained this way until the seventeen hundred when archery was suppressed by Manchu rule and the art of bow-making and horseback archery was almost lost. This changed in 1940 with the founding of the Archery Bureau. In 1959 Archery Bureau grew and changed into the National archery association of Mongolia 60 archers from the countryside.

Mongolian bow, once the cornerstone of the largest empire in the world, has gone through changes in almost every period of history. Researchers believe that the bow and arrow originated in the New Stone Age, and more than 200 countries around the world believe that the origin of the bow and arrow was created in those countries.

Mongolians are one of the countries with an ancient history of archery, which has developed into a kind of three men's games. History records that archery originated in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC during the reign of the Mongols, such as the Huns and Sunnis. During the Xiongnu Dynasty, archery was widely practiced.

Archery contest continues a tradition dating from the time of Chinggis khaan when they intended to sharpen military skills.

From early times and until today every Mongolian family has worshiped the bow and arrow in their home as a “weapon to protect their lives and livestock from misery”.

Here is a link to the documentary about modern-day archery making and rituals If you would like to get an idea

Archery rule, archers’ title, and clothing regime.

On the archery field archers wear traditional clothes and hats. They hang red tape revealing their degree from their hat’s back side and placed a medallion on the front side of the hat as a title. An archer who wins in the target archery of the Mongolian National Festival is awarded the title of state-honored archer. If he or she wins six times in a row in the national festival they are awarded with the titles State Honored Archer, Distinguishing Archer, the most distinguishing archer, extraordinary archer, the most extraordinary archer, and the Nationally Honored Highest Archery respectively. Depending on the archer’s achievements, athletic titles such as master and vice master can be granted.

Can a tourist participate in the archery competition?

Tourists can participate in local Naadam archery contests by registering with the Naadam archery organizing committees. Guests are required to use Mongolian traditional arrows and bows made by the traditional method.

Before the archery match archery praise song rituals play to encourage the participants. If you are interested in listening, click the below link.

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