Happy Naadam: Horse Racing

One of my favorite parts of the Naadam celebration in Uugtaal last week was the way the small jockeys (aged between 5 and 12 years old) would sing to their horses before each race.

This particular Naadam had 6 races. Each race varied in length depending on the age of the horse. The shortest distance was about 6 miles, while the longest was 14. And so several times over the course of the two-day long event, a group of between 15 and 40 children would ride their horses into the main stadium singing the ‘Glingoo’. It’s a free-form kind of song that is meant to encourage the horses to run quickly.

After riding around the inside edge of the arena, the riders would gather at the front where they would drink airag (fermented mare’s milk) and pour some on their horses’ heads and hind quarters. Singing once again, they would exit the stadium and trot toward the starting line.

Horses are an essential part of Mongolian culture and the traditional lifestyle. They are veneered and used for everything from transportation to nourishment. But until I saw how the children interact with horses, I didn’t quite understand just how much a part of life they are. Dozens of young boys casually rode their horses around the grounds, showed off by doing tricks, squirted water guns at their friends and even shared ice cream cones. It was clear that if you were an 11 year old boy without a horse, you were just not cool.

Watch a video about the horse race:

Read and Watch More about the Naadam events of Wrestling and Archery.

These videos were produced in partnership with the Vanishing Cultures Project.

Happy Naadam: Archery and Shagai

Saihan Naadaarai! Happy Naadam!

Today (July 11) is the first of the annual three-day long celebration of Naadam. It is a sporting and cultural event that dates back to the 13th Century, a time when the three ‘manly sports’ of horse racing, wrestling, and archery were vital to Mongolia’s global dominance.

Although the national Naadam celebrations started today, county-wide and province-wide competitions and festivals have been occurring around the country since the beginning of July.

Having already attended the Naadam celebrations in Ulaanbaatar back in 2007, I was curious to see how it was celebrated on a more intimate scale.

Last week, I traveled to Uutgaal, a small county seat just 150 km from Ulaanbaatar, with fellow documentarians Nina and Taylor of the Vanishing Cultures Project and Mark of Open Road Movies. We spent two days watching horse races, wrestling matches, archery and the newly added game of Shagai (ankle bones). As the only foreigners and journalists at this Naadam, we were granted excellent access to the roughly 400 participants, organizers, and spectators.

Here are the first two in a series of four videos highlighting each of the four main events.

Read and Watch More about the Naadam events of Horse Racing and Wrestling.

These videos were produced in partnership with the Vanishing Cultures Project.

Photos: Happy Tsagaan Sar!

While Tsagaan Sar 2012 is officially over, the celebrations are continuing over the weekend. So while this post isn’t as prompt as I’d like, it’s not entirely late either.

A Brief Explanation of Tsagaan Sar

Tsagaan Sar means White Moon (or White Month). It is marks the first day of the new year according to the lunar calendar. While similar to Chinese New Year, the date is almost always different and the method of celebration is completely unique. Mongolians mark the holiday with a visit to the Buddhist, temple where they pray for success and health in the coming year, performing various rituals at sunrise to welcome the new year, and visiting the homes of elders where they drink milk tea and vodka, eat dumplings and lamb and catch up.

A family at Gandan Monastery on the morning of the first day of Tsagaan Sar

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Duunii Klip: Tsagaan Sar Edition

Yesterday was the last of the three day holiday called Tsagaan Sar. It literally means White Moon and is the celebration of the new year (tied to the lunar calendar).

Here’s some traditional music in honor of a holiday riddled with tradition. On the table in front of the couple is a Tsagaan Sar Plate. Ul Boov, Mongolian biscuits are stacked in odd numbers and topped with dried curds, sugar, and candies. They are not eaten until after the holiday. There are also pitchers for milk tea and airag, fermented mare’s milk. Two essential Tsagaan Sar drinks.

Buuz (steamed dumplings filled with beef or lamb) are traditionally served to guests at Tsagaan Sar. Hip hop artist TseTse sings about eating the tasty Mongolian treat.

And finally, a Tsagaan Sar greeting. This is from 2009, the year of the ox. The rotating circles are traditional silver bowls used during Tsagaan Sar. The head of the house will use one large bowl for drinking milk tea and eating out of and a smaller bowl for drinking vodka. The host of one family I visited had a bowl that was 100 years old.