The Mongols are today spread across regions of Central Asia but one still comes across a number of tribes that live with the continued practice of nomadic traditions. In some cases, their prevalence has trickled down but even the remaining elements can still be witnessed in the folks. These pastoralists would cross through the steppes and grasslands in close company with their flocks of sheep, horses and cattle. Each family would belong to a clan within a tribe. While these clans would be named after male ancestors, the tribe would take a name after the strongest clan amidst them. In this manner superiority vis-à-vis subordinates would be established. Those who emerged stronger would be appointed as chiefs for selected territories by the monarch.
So, what we today refer to as the Mongols is actually a larger set of an ethnic group which is made up of a subset of 20 different ethnic groups within it. Additionally, the descendants of the Bodonchar are said to have 19 tribes and those of Darligin are said to have 18. Thus, the definitive number of tribes from Mongolia cannot be claimed but today, we are looking at some of the prominent ones and also some that been proclaimed “lost” for the fascinating bits of our world are as much in their natural wonders as they are in its people.
On the list of tribes from Mongolia, everyone is most likely to first and foremost name the Khalkha. They comprise for about 80% of the country’s population and hold considerable control over the ancestral lands. This last bit is also on account of the fact that they are believed to be the ancestors of the most well-renowned leader of Mongolia, the man who rose from humble beginnings to go on to establish one of the biggest land empires of history. Genghis Khan. Today, the presence of the tribe is such that their Khalkha dialect is the official language of the country. It is called the Halh. Their sheer number and presence over centuries has led them to be perceived as the leading preservers of the ancient and traditional Mongolian culture.
The Buryat people have also been around for a considerably long time like the Khalkha folks. They were amongst the first to see the inception of the Mongolian Empire back in the 13th century. Their origin is traced around the area of Lake Baikal. Their name is coined from “bury” which means “wolf” and so, Buryat means wolf-father. Their bright blue outfits contain stripes which are indicators of the sub-tribe they belong too. For instance, the red is worn by the Tsoongoli and yellow is worn by the Khalibi. They live in yurts and huts both, lined with traditional carpets and interiors that reflect on their customary practices. People of the Buryat tribe are known to be hard workers. Every 2 years they host a festival called Altargana which showcases their authentic dance form, meals and overall lifestyle.
Meet the wandering tribe of the Kazakh. And no, my dear wanderlust-ing friend, their wandering is of a different nature. The fierce tribesmen from this one are said to be fine horsemen who rode through western Mongolia since the 19th century. Their most distinctive feature is that they are known as eagle hunters. When referred to as “eagle hunters” it isn’t to be mistaken that they hunt the vicious bird in the sky. But they instead train eagles to hunt for them. From foxes to sheep and more, the bird plunges down from the sky to capture animals’ unseen by the human eye and helps their master. The descent of the Kazakhs is more widespread and goes beyond the Mongolic to even Indo-Iranian and Turkish ethnicities. Their belief in pre-Islamic cults is continued with a belief in good and evil spirits.
The Tsaatan people, also called the Dukha, are some of the last remaining reindeer herders not just in Mongolia but in the world at large. This Tuvan-Turkic tribe lives on the border side close to Russia. They are often called a “lost” tribe as they continue to live in their traditional ways, separated from the modern world and its methods. So, while we were raised as kids by singing Christmas carols about reindeers, the children of this tribe grow right in their presence. Reindeers are used by them to hunt and travel across regions and are very rarely fed upon, only when the animal becomes useless to them for the key purposes. They pass through harsh terrains with extreme winters such as the Mongolia Taiga. As their numbers dwindle with lesser families, they have started resorting to showcasing their lives and crafts to tourists to earn money.
The Drubet tribe is also referred to as the Dorvod. They originated from China’s Dzhungaria lands and spread across Russia and western Mongolia. The seasonal migrants raise horses, cattle and sheep. Their ability of riding horses has led them to indulge in activities such as horse racing as well. They live in portable tents or gers made on lattice frames draped with felt material on top. Historically, they were shamanists and animists who saw marriage as a sign of adulthood. Interestingly, a large part of their history has also been preserved through poetry. The recitation rather than the written form of such poetry has been passed down through generations to keep their traditions alive. In ancient times they would practice a form of “sky burial” and no, buddy, that does not mean floating off into the sky through some magical power (I wish!). Its actually way more drastic as a body of the dead is left in open fields to be pecked upon and eaten off by wild animals. Ah, when its my time, just burn me please?
The Zakhchin are the tribe that earned their name on account of being seen as the “border people” in this Central Asian country. This Oirat-Mongol tribe was known for its prowess over the arts. Poets hailing from the tribe would travel from camp to camp with the purpose of performing not just poetry but even ballads that would narrate rich stories of their lands and lives. They were even lauded as singers and musicians. They would perform on the topshuur or two-stringed lute and sing their bogino duu or short songs sang in informal settings. Efforts have been made to reduce their local and folk musical culture within the digital form in order for the preservation of their culture.
Their name is derived from the word “Bayan” which meant rich person. So, in the ancient times, the now 3rd largest tribe was actually comprised of a number of rich people of the Mongol origin. They had played an instrumental role to the establishment of Mongolia and have held considerable influence since the old times. They lived in the lands near the Khatan or the Yellow River. Their colourfully rich attires come with headgears and jewellery. In fact, for regular days as opposed to weddings and elaborate occasions, they have different traditional attires. Their history is an elaborate one, taking the Bayad tribe to Iran and other regions as well.
The residents near the Sühbaatar province in the Gobi Desert area are the Daringanga tribe who lived upon a volcanic plateau there. Since the overlapping of tribes is natural and a number of the smaller ones have broken from the bigger ones, the Daringanga often come to be compared with the Khalkha. In fact, their own language is very similar to the one of the Khalkha, i.e., the Halh. Thus, they can communicate in it effortlessly and with natural ease.
So, there you have it, some of the tribes and ethnic groups from Mongolia, with some being similar to each other and some being rather distinctive. Which one would you be curious to interact with?
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