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A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 13

( Originally Published 1920 )

"Since men live not for a hundred years it is vain to scheme for a thousand " Chinese proverb

WHEREAS in Inner Mongolia I did not see the Chakhars in sufficient numbers to enable me to form even an impression upon which to base a generalisation as to typical characteristics, the Khalkha or Northern Mongol struck me as being of rather superior build. Roughly speaking, I think that the average height of a Khalkha man must be in the neighbourhood of five feet eight inches, while a large number of them are really tall. The women are strikingly smaller, and, generally considered, are not less than ten or twelve inches shorter than the men. The recollection I have carried away of them is that they are a fairly handsome race. Masses of black hair surmount almond-shaped, strikingly bright and responsive eyes ; the cheek-bones are high and slightly flattened. Small, well-formed aquiline noses above shapely mouths and firm chins lend a suggestion of strong character. The teeth are, as a rule, beautiful, and a ruddy colouring showing through the sun-scorched, wind-weathered skin, gives them a very healthy appearance.

The principal difference in dress between the northern and southern Mongol lies in the arrangement of the hair of the married women. In Inner Mongolia the form of headdress might be described as a skull cap of silver filagree, from which long chains studded with precious stones are suspended. The hair is fastened up and hardly shows at all.

The Khalkha matron, however, is contented with nothing so simple. Her sleek locks are strained over a wire frame which spreads out like wings above her ears, and are held together by some resinous preparation, with jewelled slides at intervals to keep the whole in place.

Surmounting this is the filagree skull cap, often richly set with turquoises and pearls, and from it hang tassels of pearls ten or twelve inches in length.

In poorer circumstances the jewelled slides have their counterparts in little strips of bamboo, and the pearls would be substituted by chains of silver and strings of coral. One and all adopt this obviously inconvenient style of coiffure, the unmarried girl alone wearing her hair in long plaits and entirely unadorned. The Khalkha women must have exceedingly long tresses, for although nine or ten inches are thus taken up by the wings, the remainder is of sufficient length to form into long plaits which, as shown in the picture of the princess, are either confined in highly decorative silver tubes, or are allowed to fall free on each side of the figure to the waist.

Hat pins being an unknown weapon in Mongolia, it was a matter of much conjecture to me as to how these ladies contrived to keep their smart little hats so securely perched on the summit of this elaborate headdress. The hats themselves are very trim and dainty. Made of course by the Chinese, who are always great hands with the paste pot, a shape is first created from bamboo paper, hard and unpliable, not unlike a jelly mould.

Over this is stretched yellow satin, while the brim is turned up with black velvet in summer, or with a handsome piece of fur in winter. The crown of the hat tapers to a point embellished by a gold or silver ornament, which in the case of men supports the ball of coloured crystal denoting by its colour the rank of the wearer. Men's hats are otherwise similar to women's, and if the wearer belongs to the mandarin class a peacock's feather protrudes horizontally from below the crystal ball.

The main difference, headdress apart, between men's and women's clothes is that the former sport a sash bound round and round their waists with the ends tucked in. All wear long coats and trousers, the women having their shoulders padded up into little peaks such as were worn in Elizabethan days. All have very long sleeves, the cuffs of which are turned up with pale blue no matter what the colour of the coat and cover the finger-tips.

The material from which the clothes of the more wealthy are made is such as we use for our Court trains. In really beautiful satin brocades and thick soft silks both men and women are attired in this remote corner of the globe, and I can well believe that dress forms a heavy item in Mongol expenditure. Extremely fond of colour, the Mongol taste, or rather that of the Chinese Worth or Paquin who dictates to them, runs to rich harmony rather than to garishness, while their constancy to the prevailing fashion, which here is the very reverse of fleeting since it probably has not modified in any way for the past hundred years maybe much more renders the finish and workmanship quite excellent. While possessing small and well-shaped hands and feet, the Mongols thrust these latter into clumsy boots which we should consider many sizes too large for them. They are made of inferior looking leather and the toes turn skywards ; their loose tops, coming halfway to the knee, are usually ornamented with very pretty green and white sticking.

Of their character one must speak of course almost entirely by hearsay. Their very name is suggestive, " Mong " meaning " brave," while volumes might be filled with legends concerning their prowess. It would indeed be absurd to generalise at all upon those with whom one came into personal contact in the space of a few weeks, and in the complete absence of knowledge of the language. That they have a keen sense of humour is apparent to the most casual observer, and anything in the way of a practical joke played off on the foreigner or equally upon one of their number will produce hilarious merriment. In common with most people who preserve a simple life and do not allow their desires to advance beyond the possibility of fulfilment, the Mongols are, in the absence of a cause which provokes them to anger, very good-tempered, and most distinctly are they philosophical. An angry Mongol is, however, an ugly sight, and one, if possible, to be avoided. Of his capacity for endurance there can be no doubt.

It is constantly exemplified in everyday life. I have indeed heard it stated that a Mongol will ride 600 miles in nine days, using the same horse throughout. An instance of their toughness was shown by the cheery old mafu who looked after our host's ponies and occasionally rode with us while we were in Urga. A somewhat heavy fall from his horse one day resulted in a trio of broken ribs, and the man, whose age must have been in the neighbourhood of sixty, remained huddled up in his yourt for twenty-four hours. For bed, however, in our sense of the term, the Mongol has but little use, and if he cannot live his ordinary life he usually dies in preference. The mafu turned up the day following his accident, and upon enquiry as to the damage to his ribs, admitted that It hurts a little when I cough ". On another occasion, in the depth of winter, one of the ponies in his charge strayed, and for thirty hours was missing. Taking another horse, the old mafu went out into the neighbouring mountains to find him, and as the hours went on his employer grew anxious. Night fell, and the thermometer descended two or three degrees below zero. It was evening on the following day when he reappeared, none the worse for his exposure, nor from the fact that he had not broken his fast throughout the day and a half he had been absent.

That the Mongols are wantonly cruel, I have never heard any evidence. Certain cruelty arises from a dogma in their faith rather than from any direct idea of being maliciously hurtful. They will, for instance, leave an animal to die in anguish rather than put it out of its misery, for nominally they are not allowed to take life, and consequently do not trouble themselves to perform an act of humanity for its own sake. That they will be brutally cruel when it is a question of revenge there can be no doubt. On the other hand, that they are capable of real devotion to their animals is, I think, suggested by the following incidents, written down as told to me one evening by the Norseman, when we were sitting on a river bank waiting for wild duck to come up.

The man will never get over it," he said. " He was overwhelmed by his grief. He loved those two fine dogs of his and he kept them only for his hunting. He took them with him to the mountains to hunt lynx in the dense forest which cover them over there. Three or four days at a time, he would go out and his bag was never less than two or three, sometimes four or five, skins, worth from twenty to thirty roubles apiece.

Then for two days he would sit in his yourt, resting, and cleaning his guns, feeding heavily, and perhaps drinking the vodka the Russians had given him when he sold his skins. Pig should be his next object, he decided, and with one companion and his two dogs he sallied forth to the mountain side. From a thicket, out rushed four great boars. Off flew the lynx hounds after them. Bang, bang, went the guns, and the quarry was slain. But alas 1 the trusty hound who had leapt up to it was slain too shot through the heart. The hunter returned to his yourt on the plains near Urga, leaving the slaughtered pig behind him on the mountain side, but bearing with him only the corpse of his dog. Never before has a Mongol been seen to weep like this man. For three days he sorrowed terribly. He would take no food. He desired speech with no man. In life there was no comfort for him because of the thought that with his own hands he had shot his dog. And now he goes hunting, taking with him his one lynx hound only, and does not do so badly. The better of the two dogs is the survivor, but the hunter will never admit this fact.

It was this man's own cousin I often went out with," continued my companion, " and he was every bit as keen on dogs. Once when I was with him up beyond that ridge to the west there, a 1powerful bull elk broke cover, and in the twinkling of an eye the dogs were upon him. A careful aim was taken by the Mongol and--his gun dropped.

With a tremendous kick the elk had freed himself from his pursuers, and uttering a cry of acute agony the dog fell and lay helpless on the turf. The elk's hoof had caught her full in the muzzle, and the space of time during which she would have the power to breathe through the pouring blood could be but short. His master ran up, calling to the other man to hurry. ' Do what you can for her, do all you can to save her life.' He knew it was hopeless, and he left to his friend's care his dying dog. Revenge surged up in his heart. He thought of nothing but that cruel kick from the elk's hoof, and nothing did he consider as to where he was going, nor as regards provision for the hunt. For two days he pursued his prey, foodless, drinkless and he returned empty handed to the camp. 'I have killed that elk,' was all that he vouchsafed when he came back, and he straightway went out to look at the frozen body of his dog with its mangled muzzle." The Mongols are astonishingly fine shots, and it would take a very accomplished sportsman to compete with them in potting the pretty little sable-like tarbagans, whose heads flash in and out of their holes on the prairie hereabouts with lightning-like rapidity. While some of the well-to-do Mongols possess fine weapons (rifles of the most modern design, which I was told were imported from Germany on very easy terms), the majority of the hunting fraternity content themselves with old muzzle loaders. Practically all Mongols rest their guns on some support when aiming, and the muzzle loaders frequently have a forked attachment which can be let down and fixed in an instant.

The Mongols possess that most enviable capacity for putting away an immense amount of food at a sitting, following which they can, if necessary, fast for a very considerable time. The staple food of the Khalkha Mongol appears to be meat in direct relation to the length of his purse ; horse, camel, mule, antelope, mutton, nothing seems to come amiss ; he takes, too, preparations of milk, farinaceous food, such as koumiss and millet, as well as brick-tea made with milk. Added to these, the well-to-do in Urga doubtless buy such delicacies as the Russian shops provide when it takes their fancy. In a general store we met one day a charming old mandarin of obvious refinement and high breeding. He was in company with several ladies for whom he was buying sweets in the most approved Western style. There were six of them altogether, four ladies and two men. All were gorgeously dressed, the ladies with most wonderful ornaments and string upon string of pearls.

The men had fine single stones, one a pearl, and the other a large aqua marine, set in front of their caps. They tasted two or three kinds of sweets, and finally, going in for quantity rather than quality, the doyen of the party purchased a 7-lb. tin of rather unattractive looking pear-drops, which was wrapped in paper and tied up for him.

A moment afterwards the string broke and the tin fell to the ground, burst open, and part of the contents scattered on the questionable boards.

They took it most good humouredly, laughing inordinately, and all of them went down on their knees on the floor to retrieve the sweets. To us they were exceedingly friendly, and the older mandarin chatted away to us in indifferent Chinese irrespective as to whether we understood or not. Drunkenness, said to be on the increase, is, relatively speaking, far more common among the Mongols than among the Chinese, and in Urga it is no unusual thing to see two or three men going about with the cangue, a wooden collar nearly two feet square, padlocked round their necks as a punishment for the recent lapse from the paths of sobriety. A frequent repetition of the offence results in the culprit being marched off to the yamen and being severely beaten. The most usual method of becoming intoxicated is by drinking arac, a spirit which is produced by fermenting mares' milk. I understand that one has to drink this in large quantities to attain to the condition, but bulk, if in the end the object is achieved, seems to offer no drawback to the inebriate, for I have known Breton peasants who would put away as many as ten litres and become gloriously drunk before half their day's work was done. A certain amount of Chinese whisky derived from grain is imported, but it is very much more expensive, of course, and, generally speaking, even with its more tardy result, distilled mares' milk is preferred by the Mongols. The lamas, whose vows in addition to those of celibacy include abstinence from strong drink and the flesh of animals, are also to be found amongst the bibulous.

The more degenerate Chakhar is said to be addicted in a very slight degree only to the use of opium, but so far as I was able to ascertain the vice in Outer Mongolia is practically unknown.

In view of this fact it was interesting to read in The Times " immediately on my return from Mongolia that an English syndicate at Harbin had been reported to have made a proposal to the Mongol Government to pay them 100,000 annually for the privilege of importing opium into their country. Upon the Russian Agent at Urga protesting, the Mongol Government replied to the effect that the danger arising from opium in Mongolia was in no sense commensurate with the advantages to be derived from the annual receipt of a million roubles ; also, that the opium would not be for the consumption of the Mongols.

Under the present conditions of their relations with China and the flight of the vast majority of Chinese from Mongolian territory, this latter contention carries its own confutation. The Chinese in Mongolia are certainly in nothing approaching sufficient numbers at the time being to justify any syndicate in paying 100,000 per annum for the privilege of providing them with the pernicious drug. Besides, away from the influence of Russians, whom he now undoubtedly resents as having got the better of him, the Mongol when you meet him on his own ground is a cheery, friendly person enough, and under the most trying and arduous conditions of travel it is the Mongol who keeps his temper best and who remains complacent when every one else is inclined to grumbling and irritability. His utter laziness and hopeless lack of gumption make him useless in an emergency, and where, I always felt, the Chinese are our superiors in their wonderful resourcefulness and quick adaptability, the Mongol is stupid and shiftless in the extreme.

Tremendously under the influence of their priests, the result of their religion or, perhaps it would be better to put it, the application of their religion, is not such as to compel one's admiration. Humanity, for instance, is by no means one of their salient characteristics, and their behaviour to old people, whom they will turn out of their yourts to die on the dust heaps, is absolutely barbarous.

The loose matrimonial relations prevailing amongst the Mongols are much condemned amongst the Chinese, who, although they take temporary wives during their sojourn in Mongolia, where Chinese law will not allow their own women-kind to accompany them, they never attach themselves to Mongol women in any legal sense.

The Mongol women, on the other hand, are said to prefer the Chinese to their own race as husbands on the grounds that the former possess kinder and gentler dispositions. The children resulting from these mixed alliances, of which there are a great many in Urga, are called odes " or half-breeds, by the Mongols. They are easily distinguishable from the others.

Women have no very respected position or locus standi in Mongolia. If anything in the life of the country can be called drudgery at all, it certainly falls to the lot of the women. Their claim on their menkind appears to be mainly sexual, for while they are young and pretty they seem to enjoy life and have a good time " (I am speaking, of course, of life in the capital). They are often very pretty, chic, and healthy looking, for, in sharp contrast with their Chinese sisters, they lead a life of freedom and of open air, ride about everywhere with the men, attend all the festivities that are going on, wear gorgeous apparel and lovely jewels, and, generally speaking, go the pace."

What they do not know about the gentle art of flirtation is not worth knowing, and the young woman who is unable to attract two or three lovers to her side is, they say, generally looked down upon. The northern Mongols appeared to me to be remarkably merry and bright as compared with the southern. There is on occasions a great sense of gaiety in Urga when the people seem full of the joy of life, and perhaps the women are wise enough to accept their privileges rather than to worry too much about their rights. Mongols, however, are said to mistrust women greatly, never taking them into their confidence, or allowing them a finger in the pie of any important business transaction,

A Tour In Mongolia:
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 11

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 12

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 13

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 14

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 15

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 16

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 17

A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 18

Read More Articles About: A Tour In Mongolia

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