Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What it means to be a Mongolian

I thought about this for a while this afternoon, trying to distract myself from thinking about my broken digital camera with a sinking feeling in my gut. My kitten dragged it to the floor and broke it.

I've had some arguments over the status of Mongols, the Mongol race etc, on orkut.com with another poster, who was from China. Mongolian is listed as one of the 5,000 minority races in China. Well, it's more like 56, but there you go. Inner Mongolians in China are what used to be the Southern Mongol Empire. It's a long story. Kings fought and feuded, and the Mongol Empire fell apart, to be swallowed bit by bit by the Manchurians. What is today's Mongolia, the country, is the North / North Western wings of the Mongol empire. The Khalkhs, so to speak. My father is a Khalkh Mongol, which is the largest ethnic group in Mongolia. My mother is a Buriat, which is the largest ethnic minority group in Siberian region of Russia. Not that my mom is from Siberia, she was born and bred in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But there is a sizable population of Buriat-Mongols in the Buryatia Republic in Russia, sort of a semi-autonomous republic near the Lake Baikal in Russia. So in effect, that makes me somewhat of a mixed Mongol race. But the 70 years under communism more or less homogenized the racial and cultural identity amongst Mongols. We were no longer Khalkhs or Buryats, we were just comrades, all equal under Lenin, Stalin, Marx and Engels.

So what is a Mongolian? It's probably more of a cultural identity than anything else. After all, who can say what is a pure race. And genetically speaking, a pure race is a race that will extinguish itself in its nest of inbreeding. While we are now trying to re-establish the subtler levels of ethnic identities through the tribal names etc, e.g. my clan name being Besud, and others are Borjigin, Three-drunken-men (I kid you not), and other seemingly random names, are these accurate? Remains to be seen.

There are certain ethnic groups in Mongolia that have retained their strong identities, such as the Kazakh-Mongols, Buryats etc. If you travel around the countryside, you will see they have retained their separate identities. Sheerly through isolation, if not anything else. While in the metropolitan areas, the metropolitan urban phenomena has more or less extinguished the ethnic differences. Everyone's mixed. seems to be where the world is headed. A melting pot.