With a small population of about 3 million people, Mongolia is thought to be home to a single ethnic group. This is a common misconception. With 1.6 people per square kilometer, the Mongolian people are divded into 20 richly diverse ethnic groups.
More than 90 percent of the country is native Mongolian. Referred to as Khalkha, or the descendents of Chinghis Khan, Mongolians are distributed all over the country. The other major ethnic group, the Kazakhs, makes up about 3 percent of the population and lives in western Mongolia, mainly in the Bayan-Ulgii province. They are followed by Durbet, Bayad, Barga, Buriad, Zakhchin, Urianhai, Torguud, Darkhad, Myangad, and Tsaatan (reindeer tribe). Except for Kazakhs, each ethnic group speaks dialects similar to the Mongolian Altaic family.
Traditional Clothing - Deel (Дээл)
Mongolians like to wear colorful, richly decorated clothing, which compensates for their simple nomadic lifestyle. The nomadic wardrobe is compact but has many variations able to serve for different purposes, fits all seasons and needs. Their traditional outfit is called a deel in Mongolian. A deel is a long, loose gown cut in one piece with the sleeves. It has a high collar and widely overlaps at the front. Each ethnic group living in Mongolia has its own deel design distinguished by cut, color and trimming. The deel is worn with the traditional hat and shoes. There are over 100 types of hats, different in shape and purpose. The traditional shoes are long boots made of cow hide decorated with intricate designs with lifted toes. Traditional deels are worn by both men and women.
Traditional Home - Ger (Гэр)
The ger (similar to the Russian yert), is not only practical in daily use but holds many meanings for
Mongolians. Gers, perfected to meet the demands of nomadic life, are circular felt covered dwellings with lattice walls. They can be erected and
dismantled within an hour. The materials of gers are lightweight, making it easy for herders to transport them either on the back of a camel or a
horse-pulled cart. Mongolian gers are decorated with beautiful carved doors
and pillars as well as handmade fabrics. Two pillars hold the toono, a round
opening in the roof, which provides gers with day light and fresh air. The ger's
frame consists of one or more lattice wall sections, a door frame, roof poles, and a crown. The wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on
availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers.
The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is
kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by heavy stones hung from the center of the roof.
Felt is the earliest known form of textile around the world and more especially in Mongolia. For many centuries, felt has been made in Mongolia for various purposes, including decorated slippers, rugs, tents, and clothing.
Mongolian cuisine is primarily based on meat and dairy products. The most common meat is mutton, supplemented in the southern desert by camel meat and in the northern mountains by beef (sometimes yak). Dairy products such as airag (clotted cream) are made from mare, cattle, yak, and camel milk. Popular dishes include: buuz (бууз), a steamed meat dumpling; khuushuur (хуушуур), a fried meat pocket; khorkhog, a meat stew specially made for guests; and boortsog, a sweet biscuit.
Traditional Mongolian cuisine is simple yet filling, with hearty soups, cooked or broiled meat (beef, mutton), home-made pasta, and plenty of dairy products. Nowadays, the Mongolian diet has modernized and has started including various vegetables and salads. In addition to the traditional meals you will be fed in gers, you will find international dishes and familiar restaraunts in Ulaanbaatar and other major cities.
Mongolia is famous for three types of music. Morin khuur, a two-stringed fiddle adorned with horse heads has traditionally been used in rituals. The fiddle's significance extends beyond its function as a musical instrument and is an integral part of everyday nomadic activities.
The Urtiin duu or "long song" is a ritual form of expression associated with important celebrations and festivities. It holds a special place in the heart of Mongolian society. It is performed at weddings, house warmings, celebrations of birth, branding of foals, and other social events.
Mongolian khoomei or throat singing is considered as an art form by using one's throat as an instrument. Famous for its complexity, it is a rare skill that requires special breathing skills. While performing, the vocalist produces two simultaneous high and low tones with the vocal cords. These tones emulate sounds of nature, such as rushing waters, the whisper of the wind, and the song of the birds. It is one of the oldest forms of music in the world.
The oldest example of Mongolian literature is The Secret History of the Mongols. It contains not only the history of Chinggis Khaan and his empire but also passages of older poetry. Otherwise, few examples of Mongolian literature from the Mongol Empire have survived in written form. Fragments of songs about mothers, sons, and soldiers' graves at the Volga River in 1930 were found on old pages. Apart from that, Mongolian literature is normally passed from generation to generation orally in the form of ulgers (tales), including proverbs attributed to Chinggis Khan and epics about the Khaan's life. Beginning in the 17th century, a number of chronicles have been preserved. Notable examples are the Altan Tovch by Luvsnadanzan, and Sagang Sechen's Erdenii Tovch. While Mongolia was under the control of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese novels were translated into Mongolian. At the same time, social discontent and an awakening Mongolian nation lead to the creation of patriotic works like the historical novel Blue Chronicle. Beginning in 1910, many important Russian and European works were translated into Mongolian to add diversity to the growing nation's library.
The oldest Mongolian drama known today, "Moon cuckoo" (сарын хуүхүүуу), was created by Buddhist leader Danzanravjaa around 1831. The play was lost in the early 20th century, ans during that time, other theater groups had a chance to develope. The first professional Mongolian theater was founded in Ulaanbaatar in 1930. With signs of success, more theaters were built in each province. Since the 1990s, some privately owned theater companies, like Mask or Shine üe Prodaksh have found a home in Mongolia. They focus heavily on light comedies or skits and regularly produce clips that are distributed on DVD or posted online.
Prior to the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function. Therefore, Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts. The traditional Buddhist art includes thangkas which are usually painted on cotton or silk appliqué. Bronze sculptures usually show Buddhist deities. A number of great works are attributed to the first Buddhist leader of Mongolia, Zanabazar. Upon the victory of People's Revolution, art works began to be dedicated to publicity of the new system. The development of art continued after the democratic revolution in 1990 and brought the growth of numerous art galleries. Since then, Mongolian artists have become acquainted with European paintings and begun using both Mongolian and European drawing methods. As Mongolia expands its foreign relations, artists and architects of Mongolia are provided with endless possibilities in the fine arts, including abstract and impressionist methods.