Sunday, September 6, 2009

Storytelling in Mongolia

"Like all societies dependent for communication on word of mouth, the Mongols had bards, poets and storytellers who commuted between grassland camps and tent-palaces. They even became the subject of their own stories:

How Tales Originated among the Mongol People

Once upon a time, plague struck the Mongols. The healthy fled, leaving the sick, saying 'Let Fate decide whether they live or die.' Among the sick was a youth named Tarvaa. His spirit left his body and came to the place of death. The ruler of that place said to Tarvaa,'Why have you left your body while it is still alive?' 'I did not wait for you to call me,' he replied, 'I just came.' Touched by his readiness to comply, the Khan of the Underworld said, 'Your time is not yet. You must return. But you may take anything from here you wish.' Tarvaa looked around, and saw all earthly joys and talents - wealth, happiness, laughter, luck, music, dance. 'Give me the art of storytelling,' he said, for he knew that stories can summon up all other joys. So he returned to his body, only to find that the crows had already pecked out its eyes. Since he could not disobey the Khan of the Underworld, he re-entered his body, and lived on, blind, but with the knowledge of all tales. For the rest of his life, he travelled across Mongolia telling tales and legends, and bringing people joy and wisdom."

If later traditions are anything to go by, the performances of bards, poets and storytellers brought more than joy and wisodm. They were crucial in moulding a sense of identity. Mixing legend and history, they explained traditions, recollected origins and portrayed the deeds of heroes. The repertoire was huge, as was the range of instruments and styles. In some areas, it still is.

Page 31, Genghis Khan, Life, Death and Resurrection, by John Man

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