Minority Peoples of Inner Mongolia (Inner Mongolia Museum virtual tour)
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Minority Peoples of Inner Mongolia (Inner Mongolia Museum virtual tour)

August 20, 2019


Welcome to the exhibit hall about the minority peoples of Inner Mongolia. In this hall you will learn about four of the important ethnic groups who live in this autonomous region within China. They are the Mongolians, the Daur, the Ewenki, and the Oroqen. Looking at the map here we can see where these peoples are located. Besides Inner Mongolia, the Mongolian people also have autonomous counties in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, and the Northeast. The Daur, Ewenki, and Oroqen are found primarily in the far northern part of Inner Mongolia in the region know as Hulunbeir. Many also live in Heilongjiang Province, which borders Inner Mongolia to the east. First lets learn about the Mongolians. The Mongolian people are traditionally nomadic herdsmen and raised five different kinds of animals for their livelihood. These animals are the horse, camel, cow, sheep, and goat. Probably the most important of these is the horse. The Mongolians are known as the Horseback People, and horses have played an important part in their history and livelihood. Here we have a lot of tools that are used in the care of the livestock. This is a horse’s saddle. These big scissors are sheep shears for cutting the wool. The wool can then be used to make felt to cover the Mongolian tents. The comb is for collecting goat hair. Goat hair is where cashmere comes from. Inner Mongolian cashmere is made into clothing and exported all around the world. The Ordos region of Inner Mongolia is especially famous for its cashmere. Do you see the big felt bag hanging on the wall? This bag is used to carry newborn lambs. In the late winter and early spring every year when the baby lambs are born, it is still very cold here in Inner Mongolia. If the herdsman doesn’t go out to get them, the lambs could freeze to death. A bag like this can carry three or four lambs! This saddle is for a camel. It goes between the humps. The camels of the Gobi Desert all have two humps. These kind of camels are called Bactrian camels. The camels in the Middle East have one hump. The are called Dromedary camels. You can remember that because the letter “B” has two humps and the letter “D” has one hump. Bactrian and Dromedary. These things next to the camel saddle are bells. They are also used for camels. Often camels are led by a herdsman in a long line. A stick is put though the nose and is attached with a rope to the camel in front. Then a big bell is hung on the last camel in the line. That way, while the herdsman is leading his camels, as long as he hears the bell ringing he knows that all the camels are there. The Mongolians are also hunters. This is a wolf trap. Wolves have a very keen sense of smell so the hunter has to be careful not to leave his scent on the trap. This horn is used to help bury the trap and set it. There is a great deal of variety among the Mongolian people. Just because they are all Mongolians doesn’t mean that they all talk the same way, have the same customs, or wear the same clothes. In Russia, there are the Buryat Mongols. In Mongolia, there are the Khalkha Mongols, and here in China there are several other different Mongol groups. Here we can see different kinds of headdresses worn by Mongolian women from different places. One of the most famous for its beautiful ornamentation is from Ordos, which we can see here. It is made with precious materials and can be very heavy. Of course, a Mongolian woman would not wear it every day, but only for special occasions like a wedding. If you ever have a chance to go to a Mongolian wedding, you shouldn’t miss it. The bottles you see here are snuff bottles. The custom of taking snuff also gradually developed into a form of greeting. When two people met they would exchange snuff bottles and then return them. Today, though, handshaking is the more common greeting. This utensil set has a pair of chopsticks, a knife, and a fire-starter. Mongolians would carry it with them so that no matter where they were, it would be convenient to prepare a meal and eat. This dress belonged to a married woman. How can we tell? First of all, only married women would wear the ornamental headdress. Then, too, there is no cloth belt for the waist. Instead, a second sleeveless outer robe is worn. One word for “woman” in Mongolian isbusgui.Busis the word for the cloth belt anduguimeans “without.” When a girl marries she no longer wears the cloth belt, so a woman is “one who is without a cloth belt.” The environment in which people live has a major impact on their lifestyle, customs, and possessions. Ceramics and pottery are well known products of China, but you will notice here that Mongolian containers are made of wood, metal, and leather. Ceramic containers break too easily and are not suited to the nomadic life of Mongolians. Have you had a chance to eat any Mongolian food, yet? You definitely don’t want to leave Inner Mongolia before you do. Because the Mongolians were traditionally nomadic and not farmers, they didn’t eat a lot of vegetables. Most of their diet consisted of meat and dairy products. Probably the most typical food is boiled beef or mutton. Other foods include blood sausage, butter, milk skin, yogurt, cream, and cheese. There are so many different dairy products that English doesn’t even have the words translate them all. The most common Mongolian drink is milk tea. Unlike the sweat milk teas in the West, Mongolian milk tea is usually somewhat salty. Mongolians also like to drink alcohol. The most traditional Mongolian alcohol is made from fermented mare’s milk and is called kumis. Marco Polo even described this drink in his book,The Travels of Marco Polo.You may think fermented milk doesn’t sound very good, but don’t misunderstand. It’s not rancid milk. It actually has a very mild flavor. Before us is a typical scene you might see of a traditional Mongolian family living on the grassland. The painting on the background represents the landscape of Inner Mongolia. Overall it can be characterized as having desert in the the west, grassland in the central areas, and forests and mountains in the east. Here in front of us we have a Mongolian tent, called a yurt. In some modern English publications it is also called ager. This word comes directly from the Mongolian word for house, which is ger. The yurt is specially designed to be moved easily. This is due to the fact that as nomads they have to move several times a year to find grass for their livestock to eat. A few people can put up or take down a yurt in less than an hour. The frame of the yurt is made of wood. No nails are used. Instead, leather strips and rope are used to hold everything together. The walls are made from lattice-like sections that can expend and contract. Each section is tied together and attached to a door frame to form the circumference of the yurt. A small yurt might have four of these wall sections. Bigger yurts use six, eight, or even more wall sections. To make the roof, a round skylight frame is held up in the middle. Then wooden beams are placed into the notches that are in the skylight. The other end of the beams hook to the top of the wall. Everything is covered with felt, which is made from wool. When taken down, the yurt can all be loaded very compactly onto a cart like this and conveniently moved across the grassland. There are many customs associated with yurts. For example, the door usually faces south or southeast. Men usually sit on the west side and women sit on the east side. Older people sit at the back of the yurt and younger people sit closer to the door. An essential piece of furniture is the fireplace in middle of the yurt. You might wonder what people use to make a fire. You notice that there are not a lot of trees out in the grassland. They don’t burn wood. They use dried manure that they collect from their sheep and cows. You might think, “Ew, doesn’t that stink?” But it really doesn’t. After the manure is dry, it doesn’t have a bad odor at all. Let me test you to see if you were listening carefully. Is this woman here married or unmarried? That’s right, she’s married. You can tell because she isn’t wearing a cloth belt.Busgui.You notice that the little girl and the man both have cloth belts, though. Let’s continue on. Look there on the wall at the painting of a pile of rocks. This rock pile is called an ovoo. They are found across the grasslands and on the tops of mountains. The ovoo has its roots in shamanism. Shamanism is the belief that everything in nature has a god or spirit. A shaman is a person who communicates between the spirit and human world. Behind you, you can see some costumes worn by shamans. The ovoo was a place of worship and even today people visit them to pray and make offerings. They walk around the ovoo three times in a clockwise direction. Sometimes there are special ceremonies where many people attend. Another major event that occurs every summer during July or August is the Naadam Festival. There are three main sports that are played during the Naadam festival. They are wrestling, horse racing, and archery. These are known as the “three manly sports,” although today women also participate in some competitions. Here we can see a full wrestling outfit. At the beginning of a Mongolian wresting match, the wrestlers dance into the ring surrounded by crowds of spectators. There are different styles of dances, but a common one is the lion dance. Then they all pair up two by two, shake hands, and begin to wrestle. The goal is to make your opponent touch the ground first. If any part of your body from your knees up touches the ground then you are out. Each round continues in this manner until there are only two wrestlers left in the final round. There are other games that the Mongolians like to play, too. Take a look at these bones here. They are the ankle bones from the sheep’s two back legs. Children have many games that they play with them. You may recognize this game. It is Mongolian chess, orshatar.The rules are basically the same as regular chess, but as you can see, the pieces look a little different. Chess itself is thought to have originated in India in the 6th century. From there it spread to Persia. After the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century, chess was calledshatranj, a name that is very similar to the Mongolian nameshatar. The Mongolians are excellent musicians, singers, and dancers. The most well known of the Mongolian instruments is called the horse head fiddle. It gets its name, of course, from the top being carved like a horse’s head. Traditionally the two strings were also made from horse’s hair, but today they are made from other materials. Unlike a guitar or violin, the strings are not pressed all the way down. Instead, the musician only touches them from above or below while drawing the bow across them. These instruments here are used in Mongolian medicine. Pouches like these can be worn around the waist or rolled up and carried. Different medicinal herbs are put in each pouch. Traditionally it was the lama who also acted as a doctor. A lama is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I mentioned before that the Mongolians historically believed in Shamanism. Although at the time of Genghis Khan some of the surrounding nomadic tribes believed in Nestorian Christianity, it was later Tibetan Buddhism that influenced the Mongolians the most. Kublai Khan and later Altan Khan had a big influence in spreading Tibetan Buddhism among the Mongolians. The masks that you see are worn during a religious dance called achamdance. This type of robe was worn by a high level lama, called a living Buddha. The decorative beads are made from carved camel bone. You can visit Dazhao, the Big Temple, here in Hohhot to see how Tibetan Buddhism is practiced today. Next we’re going to go on to learn about the Daur people. There are about 130,000 Daur people who live in China. Most of them are up in the northern part of Inner Mongolia in Hulunbeir, as well as in Heilongjiang Province. Unlike the Mongolians, they are not nomadic. They are primarily farmers. You can see one of their houses here. It obviously can’t be moved like the Mongolian yurt. Come look in the window here and we can notice some special characteristics of traditional Daur culture. First of all notice that the woman is holding a long pipe. Daur women like to smoke. This is in contrast to many other parts of China where women typically do not smoke as much as men. Another characteristic to note is that the baby’s bed is hanging by a rope from the ceiling. This custom comes from when the Daur people used to live in the forest. In order to protect the babies from animals they would hang them like this from trees. This method has the additional advantage of making it easy to rock the babies to sleep. A third characteristic of the Daur is that they use paper to cover the outsides of the windows. The glass on the inside and paper on the outside creates a double layer that helps to insulate the house from the winter cold. This house doesn’t have the paper so that we can see inside. Let’s look at some of the items in the display behind us. The Daur are skilled at making things out of birch bark. Little Daur girls like play with these traditional dolls here. The heads are made from eggs and the bodies can be dressed up with many different costumes. Look at the hockey sticks and balls mounted on the wall. The Daur people have a long history with field hockey. There are several different kinds of balls. Children play with the lighter ball made of animal hair and adults play with the hard wooden ball. There is even another kind of ball that can be lit on fire. This fire ball can then be used to play with at night. Many of the players in China’s Olympic field hockey teams have also been Daur. This next section is about the Ewenki people. China has about 30,000 Ewenkis. Most of them live up in the Hulunbeir region of Inner Mongolia. Like the Mongolians, they also raise animals and are nomadic. Up in the north it gets very cold in the winter and so the Ewenki people have to have good clothes to keep them warm. Look at how thick these gloves are. Do you see the slits at the base of the gloves? This lets you take your hand out easily so that you can use your fingers to do something like shooting an arrow without having to take the whole glove off. Clever, isn’t it? This blanket here is made from the hide of a Roe deer, which is very warm. At night it can be used as a blanket and during the day it can serve as a coat or shawl. Here we have a scene of an Ewenki family. The main thing to notice here is the reindeer. One of the things that the Ewenki people are most well know for is that they raise reindeer. Do you see the bag that the little girl is holding? Do you know what is inside? It has salt. This is one of the nutrients that the reindeer need in their diet and they get it from the Ewenki. The final people group we are going to learn about are the Oroqen people. They are one of the smaller minority groups in China with only about 8000 members. Like the Daur and Ewenki, they also live up in the north. As you can see from the display here, they traditionally live in the forest with hunting as their livelihood. You might notice the similarity of the Oroqen home with the teepee’s of some Native American Indian tribes. This is good support for the theory that Native Americans have their ancestry in Asia. In recent years many Oroqen have moved into the cities, but some continue to live traditional lifestyles. However, in order to protect the wild animals, hunting is no longer allowed. In this display case you will notice how items reflect the Oroqen lifestyle of hunting and gathering: a gun, a bow and arrow, a knife, and a fish hook and spear. Even their clothes are made from the skins of animals. When the Oroqen go hunting they wear the clothes with the fur side out. They also wear these fur hats. This makes for very good camouflage. The camouflage is so good, in fact, that they have to be careful not to shoot another hunter. In order to protect against that, one of the horns or ears of the hat is cut short. So if you are hunting and you see an animal with one short horn, don’t shoot! He may be your friend. This game here is called Deer and Dogsand is a traditional game of the Oroqen. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about some of the minority peoples who live in Inner Mongolia. This concludes the tour of this exhibit hall. Enjoy your time as you visit the other exhibits.

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  1. Lovely, many thanks for posting this lovely video- we will link it to the location of the Inner Mongolia Museum, on our central map(s) of China and Hohhot. Greetings from Holland. I so wish we could come and visit and see everything and learn more !

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