Mongolian Nomads – Lifestyle and Nomadic Life
Mongolian nomads do not waste animal products. They collect and store faeces for use as a fuel on fires (it burns more slowly and with less flame than wood), or to block holes between the logs in permanent homestead walls and roofs. Livestock are allowed to graze during favorable weather, often tended by a herder so they do not return to a corral every night. During winter, they are kept in covered sheds and let out to graze every few days. Depending on the area, hay may be available for milk-producing livestock.
If snow-cover prevents foraging, or the weather is too severe, Mongolian nomads will traditionally move to more favorable areas. Often these are recently harvested farm fields, or areas near lakes which have not been grazed during the summer. Small ruminants are slaughtered by making a small incision in the mid-line of the abdomen while the animal is held down on its back. One hand is inserted up beside the liver, and a hole is forced in the diaphragm, allowing the aorta to be torn from the heart. The animal rapidly bleeds to death. The blood is collected into a bowl and used to make blood-sausages with wild onions and salt. Larger animals are stunned by a blow over the head first before they are killed as described above.
Nearly 10 thousand years ago, when the nomads of Central Asia domesticated a wild horse called the Tarpan, the horse became a part of civilization. Half-wild horses that are capable of feeding themselves in the wild have greeted a whole culture of steppe nomads. Horses are not just a daily means of transportation, but are true companions during long journeys and their milk is used to make drinks.
Mongolian nomads consume horse meat during cold winter months. Horse manes and tails are used to make harnesses and ropes for tying up a Ger. The morin khuur, or horse headed fiddle, has string that are made of horse tail hair, and there is one in nearly every Mongolian household. Mongolians believe the sound of fiddle can rid a home of bad spirits. Horses are often praised in commonly performed songs and poems. Even the Mongolian national emblem is an image of a horse.
YAKS AND COWS
Cows (Oher) and yaks (sariag) are related and the two will interbreed. Their offspring are called heinag. Yaks have long, shaggy coats and tails, a fringe of hair over their head and may or may not have horns. Colours range from black, grey, to off-white and mottled. A yak’s call is a characteristic, nasal grunt. Cattle, on the other hand, have a much shorter coat, and usually have horns. Their tail is short-haired for most of its length but ends in a cluster of long hairs.
Heineks are generally large animals with long horns. Their coat resembles that of cattle but their tail is usually long-haired for its entire length. Yaks, cows and heineks are used for milk production (usually milked twice daily) and some are trained for use as draught animals to pull carts or sleds. Fibres, collected by plucking the hair after winter, and leather are vital by-products. Leather is tanned in salt water and whey solutions. For ropes, halters, etc., the treated hide is cut into strips and stretched by tying strands to a heavy weight like a rock, and suspending it from a tree or a tall tripod. The weight is .set spinning and a pole is then used to create a continuous reverse-spin for several hours.
SHEEP AND GOATS
Sheep and goats are valuable to livestock owners and can be distinguished by their tails: sheep have broad, heavy tails that point down, whereas goats have slim tails that point up. Both are kept in small flocks, and often tended by small children. Some of the animals are sometimes fitted with bells allowing the herder to find the flock easily. They provide milk, meat, leather, and dung.
DOGS AND CATS
Local dogs are used to guard against predators. Many have a black coat with beige and white spots. Most dogs accept human visitors to a homestead but will bark viciously when they see strangers. Some dogs do bite, however, so it is best to treat them with the upmost respect! Cats are seen around a few Gers and in the towns but Mongolians generally do not like cats, so they are uncommon.