Glossary

Aarts  Boiled fermented milk without the watery component called yellow milk.  Its dried version is called aaruul.  During autumn, herders put aarts into an animal stomach and freeze it.  In winter, frozen aarts – also called tsagaa -- is used as an addition to soup and the hot soup-like drink made of aarts, flour, and water.  For children, frozen aarts is a favourite snack during winter and is eaten like ice-cream.  Depending on the animal milk from which it is derived and the method of boiling, aarts can have different tastes, colour, and content.  Some families add Sugar, rice, aaruul, eezgii and cheese to their aarts before freezing.

Aaruul  A dried milk product.  Aaruul is light, hard, and sturdy for long travel -- the perfect snack for nomadic herders.  Thick, big aaruul is called huruud.  Aaruul is rich in calcium.  It can be of many tastes, shapes, levels of hardness depending on the milk of which animal it is made such as cow aaruul, sheep aaruul, goat aaruul, camel aaruul, reindeer aaruul, and yak aaruul.  Yak, sheep, camel and reindeer aaruuls are distinctive with their richness, while goat and cow aaruul are typically less oily.  Arkhan and Dayan Deerkh people commonly produce cow and sheep aaruul.  There is no aaruul from mare’s milk. Aaruul is made of boiled fermented milk called aarts.  Before producing aaruul from boiled fermented milk, herders separate out so called ‘yellow milk’ (water and protein) from the boiled fermented milk.  During the boiling process of the fermented milk, Mongolian herders extract ‘milk vodka’.   In summer pieces of aaruul are often seen drying on wood trays placed on the sloping tops of gers or other surfaces out of reach of goats and other animals.

Aimag  A political/administrative unit of Mongolia commonly translated as ‘province.’  Smaller, more numerous aimags were introduced from 1923 replacing the four large aimags of pre-communist times.  Nowadays, Mongolia has 21 aimags including Khuvsgul aimag.  Khuvsgul aimag was established in 1931.  Aimags are sub-divided into soums, and soums into bags.  There are 24 soums in Khuvsgul aimag.  Most of this book’s heroes are from Erdenebulgan soum of Khuvsgul aimag.

Airag  Fermented milk, prepared in big wooden or leather containers.  Airag can be used for drinking and for distilling milk vodka.  Drinking airag is made only from fermented mare’s milk.  When one offers airag as a drink, he or she means only mare’s milk.  Airag is a very popular drink during summer.  Especially in warmer and lower altitude locales like the Gobi, the steppe, and the central or central north areas of Mongolia, airag is the major alcoholic drink for festivities and hosting.  In the north and far west where mare’s milk cannot be fermented in one night because of the coldness and high altitude other animal airags are more popular.  Those airags -- cow’s milk airag, mixed airags from horse, cow and sheep milk, etc. -- are used as a raw material for milk vodka and aaruul.

Airag butter  Butter extracted by mixing in fermented milk that contains fresh whole milk.  Airag butter is whiter in colour and its taste is closest to the taste of the industrial butter made in the west.  All milk, including, mare’s milk give airag butter.  However, cow, sheep and yak milk produce the most airag butter.

Altan Tovch 16th century chronicle of the Mongol Khans of the golden bloodline.  Golden bloodline (or Golden line) Khans are those who can trace their ancestry to Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khaan) through the male line.  Many of the lines of the Altan Tovch coincide with passages of the Secret History of the Mongols, the 13th century tale about Chinggis Khaan.

Amar  Prime Minister of Mongolia 1937-1939.  Well educated and wealthy, he didn’t like Russia’s interference in Mongolian affairs.  He criticized the quality of Russian goods in front of Stalin.  It is said that when Stalin asked “am I really hearing this?”  Amar repeated what he’d said, “Yes, the quality of your goods is bad.”  He was arrested for “opposing the punishment of counter-revolutionary elements” and tried by a court in the Soviet Union.  He courageously endured harsh interrogation and torture by the Soviet secret police before being murdered.

Amgalan plateau  A part of Ulaanbaatar, located in eastern side of the city.

Argal  A wild desert sheep quite similar to America’s desert bighorn.  The second meaning of argal is dried dung which is often used as cooking and heating fuel by herders.

Argamjaa  A long rope for keeping a horse or camel from wandering during the night.  One end of is tied to a wood spike that is sunk into ground while the other end is secured to the animal.

Arkhan  (pronounced “AR-hawn”) Name of a valley and river in the northern border region of Mongolia.  The Arkhan River runs through Arkhan Valley.  Within the valley is small Arkhan Lake.  A wood ovoo the height of a three story building sat atop a nearby mountain.  It is said the Arkhan ovoo was erected by the first guardian families to take up residence in the Arkhan Valley in the early 1700s.  The historic ovoo was destroyed by a wildfire in the 1980s.

Artel    Russian word for a small manufacturing business.  In Mongolian usage it has come to mean an artisan’s workshop.

Avdar  A traditionally decorated rectangular wooden box typically a meter or more high and wide and somewhat less deep.  Opened by lifting the top half of the face up and outwards, avdars are used to store possessions and are a common piece of furniture in herder gers and urban homes.

Bag     The smallest territorial administrative unit in Mongolia. 

Baikal  The large Siberian lake just north of Mongolia.  See Khuvsgul Lake, below.

Barga  The ethnic Mongolians of western Manchuria.

Baron Ungern (Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-SternbergRussian hero of World War I (of noble Baltic German descent) and a lieutenant-general at the time of the civil war in Russia.  Leader of a White Russian cavalry division that fled into Mongolia after the October Revolution.  In early February 1921 (the first day of the lunar new year) he defeated a Chinese warlord army that had occupied Urga (Ikh Khuree) and rescued the Bogd Khaan, who’d taken refuge from the Chinese in Manzushir Monastery, and brought him back to Urga.  The next day a ceremony of restoration of the Bogd Khaan to secular leadership of Mongolia took place at which the Baron was honored.  In June 1921 Baron Ungern invaded Siberian Russia in an attempt to incite an anti-communist rebellion.  However, he was defeated by the Reds.  Abandoned by his troops, he was captured and shot.  At best, Ungern was a colourful and eccentric character, at worst, a delusional psychopath.  Seventy years of Communist propaganda did all it could to distort the historical record making it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction and intention from invention.

Big-headed important, high ranking.

Black steamers (Black banners)  A banner made of black horse tail hair.  The horse hair is suspended from a hoop encircling the top of a long wooden pole held upright.  Chinggis Khaan’s Great Mongolia had two official banners -- black and white.  Black banners symbolized war and things martial, while white banners symbolized peace and ceremonial affairs.

Black gers  Prison or jail gers housing prisoners.

Black Dzud  (see Zuud, below) The great dzud of 1943/44 killed tens of thousands of animals.  Its prolonged harshness caused most pregnant animals to miscarry.  The result was the “Black Summer” of 1945 in which milk and products made from milk, so important to Mongolian herders, were in scarce supply.

Bodoo  Prime Minister of Mongolia 1921-1922.  Well educated.  Bodoo offered his home to the first revolutionists.  Later he came to oppose the extensive involvement of Russians in Mongolian politics and government.  In his resignation speech from the office of Prime Minister, he wrote, “Please release me from my position as I can no longer distinguish who is a foreigner, who is a Mongolian, and who are the bourgeoisie, and I can no longer understand whose government this is, ours or somebody else’s.”  He was killed in August 1922 at age 37 as one of 15 victims of the Mongolian communists’ first political trial.  During the period of communist rule (1924-1990), the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party Ministry and Ministry of Culture intentionally distorted Bodoo’s image in literature, radio, movies and textbooks – all of which were state controlled.

Bogd, Eighth or Javzundamba Hutagt VIII  Mongolia’s religious and secular leader having the title of Bogd Khaan of Mongolia from 1911 to 1921.  His real name was Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchig.  His government had six ministries including a Prime Minister, Namnansuren.  As the national leader after overthrowing the Manchu’s two-century domination of Mongolia, Javzundamba Hutagt enjoyed tremendous popularity.  In 1921, his power to rule the government was appropriated by people’s army leaders such as Sukhbaatar and Bodoo.  However, he remained Mongolia’s religious leader until his death in 1924.  After his death, the communist government prohibited the search for (and the announcement of) his ninth reincarnation as the ninth Hutagt (Saint) in Mongolia.  Thousands of his fellow Buddhist lamas were later purged by the regime on orders from Stalin.  The Javzundamba Hutagt’s personal image was greatly distorted by the communists.  Instead of the bold and inspiring nationalist who led the 1911 revolt against the Manchus, he was portrayed as a sex-crazed, mentally unbalanced syphilitic by the propaganda machine of the communist party.

Bogdo  Bogd Khaan.

Bone breaking cold  Few rural herders possessed thermometers in the 1940s.  Many still do not. Instead, they use the traditional way of describing coldness.  From mildest to most severe they are: Refreshing hair standing cold, Nose chilling cold, Finger-tip freezing cold, Ear cutting cold, Toe freezing cold, Whole body freezing cold, and Bone breaking cold that makes the marrow freeze.  The latter roughly corresponds to temperatures lower than minus 40 Celsius (40 below zero Fahrenheit).  Winter temperatures in the Arkhan can drop below -50C at night and hover around -30C to -40C during daytime from mid to late December to early February.  Mongolians remind one another of the importance of dressing for the cold with the saying:  “He dies first who forgets his hat.”

Book of the Dead  The Tibetan Book of the Dead: prayers to assist the deceased and dying in attaining their rightful fate in the next life.

Boortsog  The Mongolian equivalent of bread.  Dough boiled in animal fat or yellow butter.  It can be any shape or size.  The largest is called boov and is used at ceremonial events.

Boov  A hard crust bread cooked in yellow butter or fat.  Boovs come in various shapes – some with designs imprinted on them.  During Lunar New Year (White Moon), weddings, or other ceremonies, a wide pot with layers of boov topped with various candies is a central decoration of the ceremony table.

Burheer  A cylindrical woOden device used by herders to distil milk vodka.

Buriats  (Buryats) A Mongolian ethnic group located around Lake Baikal in southern Siberia.  Many Buriat families fled Russia after the October Revolution of 1917 and took up residence in Mongolia.  During the purge years of 1937-39, thousands of Buriats were killed under Choibalsan’s direction bowing to Stalin’s demand to punish the Buriats as class enemies for what he perceived to be their lack of support for the communist revolution.  Before the Stalinist purges when the Buriats of Siberia enjoyed greater autonomy, Russian Buriats and Mongolian guardian families together celebrated annual cross-border naadams.  After centuries of Russian dominance, the Buriat language is now an amalgam of Russian and Mongolian.

Buuz   A hand-made meat-filled dumpling, cooked by steaming.  Buuz is a popular main course in Mongolia and the traditional White Moon meal.

Cheese  Herders make their cheese from non-fermented good quality milk.  Therefore cheese is considered an expensive milk product.  Someone giving a whole sized cheese would mean that she or he is giving a whole pot of milk (at least 10 litres) to the recipient.  To make cheese, one warms a pot of milk over a low fire and adds a starter to it, usually yogurt.  After cheesy elements are separated, the watery part of the milk (yellow milk) is used to feed animals.  The Cheese is wrapped in cotton and pressed between heavy objects such as a stone and the wheel of an ox cart.  New soft cheese is considered a delicacy, and dried cheese serves as a snack or travel foOd like aaruul.  The fanciest kind of cheese for herdsmen is made of milk with no cream butter removed.  Such cheese is called “cheese of raw milk” and is softer and much sweeter and whiter in colour than the cheese made of milk with reduced butter fat.

Chinggis Khaan (pronounced “hawn”)  Known to the West as Genghis Khan, Chinggis Khaan is the father of the Mongolian state.  He was born Temuujin, the eldest son of Esukhei, leader of a small Mongol tribe.  Orphaned and outcast, Temuujin went on to conquer and unify the perpetually warring tribes of the Mongolian steppe.  In 1206 he founded Great Mongolia.  Chinggis Khaan, which means Ocean-sized King, was the title Temuujin took as the first Khaan of the newly united Mongol nation.  The story of Chinggis Khaan is chronicled in the 13th century saga Secret History of the Mongols which remains one of the earliest written sources about the Khaan, and certainly the most detailed.  Chinggis Khaan is Mongolia’s most popular leader – a religiously tolerant law giver who rewarded merit over title and sought peace before war.  The word ambassador derives from the Mongolian word, “amban said” which means “minister away from the center”.  There are numerous songs, poems, fairy-tales and legends about Chinggis Khaan.  From 1937 to 1939, individuals descended from Chinggis Khaan (the Golden Bloodline) were hunted down and murdered on orders from Choibalsan.  The communist government punished anyone who praised Chinggis Khaan and initiated a nation-wide censorship of the utterance of his name.  In order not to lose their jobs or be otherwise punished, people referred to him only as “the old man”.  Today, Chinggis Khaan’s likeness and name adorn everything from mountainsides to milk cartons, hotels to vodka bottles, banknotes to beer – an exuberant celebration of his post-communist rehabilitation.

Choibalsan  Minister of Interior for much of the 1930s and Prime Minister of Mongolia from 1939 to 1952.  Choibalsan was one of the founders of the Mongolian People’s Party in 1920.  By the 1930s he was the sole remaining founder after the deaths of his colleges, Sukhbaatar, Bodoo and Danzan -- Bodoo and Danzan by bullets and Sukhbaatar from a sudden, unexplained illness.  Choibalsan is known as “Mongolia’s Stalin.”  Even though Choibalsan was the most brutal dictator in Mongolia’s history, murdering scores of thousands, his legacy survives as the prime minister who secured the acquiescence of the Soviet Union and China to the independence of Mongolia – which came in 1946.

Comintern  A contraction of “Communist International”.  Established in 1919 to spread communism throughout the world by any means including violent revolution, it was an instrument of Soviet foreign policy.  Soviet Ambassadors were often also Comintern envoys.

Counter-revolutionist (contra-revolutionist)  The term communists used to describe people believed to be antithetical to the communist party during the period of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.  By revolution, they meant the people’s revolution of 1921 lead by Sukhbaatar’s People’s Party.  The people’s revolution seized secular power from the Bogd Khaan leaving him only the power to rule over religious matters.  Shortly thereafter, Sukhbaatar’s organization, the Mongolian Peoples Party was subverted from within by the Reds and renamed the Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party.  Non-communists and independent thinkers were purged from the party losing not only their political standing, but often their lives.

Cream butter  The freshest and sweetest tasting butter.  It is prepared by boiling, keeping warm and then abruptly cooling milk.  Cream butter comes in a hard yellow skin covering a softer white cream beneath.  It serves as a breakfast food for nomadic herder families during the summer and autumn months when cows give milk. After a few days, cream butter loses its sweet taste and acquires a richer ‘yellow cream’ content.

Cyrillic Alphabet  The alphabet used in Russia and many of the old Soviet republics as well as Serbia, Bulgaria and Mongolia.  It is more phonetic than the older Latin alphabet.  Cyrillic was introduced to Mongolians in 1946 as a replacement of the traditional vertical Mongolian script which, along with Latin script, has undergone a minor revival since the fall of communism.  Today, street signs in Ulaanbaatar are a mix of Cyrillic and Latin lettering. Governmental offices use old Mongolian script in their address signs.

Da Khuree  Ulaanbaatar city’s old name as the country’s religious centre.  The secular name of Ulaanbaatar was Urguu (meaning Palace) or Niislel Khuree (meaning capital circle). Urguu or Da Khuree was the name preferred during the period of Manchu domination.  Da Khuree’s other old religious name was Ikh Khuree (grand circle or grand camp).  In 1924 the communist government changed the name of Ikh Khuree to Ulaanbaatar which means red hero.  See Urga, below.

Daaga A one year old horse.

Danzan  All-army commander, Chairman of the Mongolian People’s Party and a vice prime minister from 1923-1924.  He was a trader and a good orator, owned two lorries (trucks) and spoke several languages.  Danzan was arrested and shot during the 3rd Convention of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) at which the MPP officially changed its name to the MPRP (Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party) and declared Mongolia was to take the communist path.  Danzan saved Choibalsan (then Bodoo’s closest friend) in 1922 when Bodoo’s “counter-revolutionary group” was arrested and killed.  On August 4, 1924 Choibalsan and Renchino, a representative of the Comintern, lead an attack upon Danzan’s notion of a non-communist way of development accusing Danzan of being a counter-revolutionist.  Danzan was shot the same day.  The 3rd party convention continued its work and the next day adopted a resolution to shoot Danzan.  His most famous position was taken in 1921 when he demanded that Russia unequivocally recognize that Tuva (the region north and west of Khuvsgul province) was an inseparable part of Mongolia and had been so for 300 years.  Instead, mineral rich Tuva was made an antonymous region of the Soviet Union.

Darga  Chairman, boss, supervisor.

Dayan Deerkh Khuree - The Buddhist Monastery at Dayan Deerkh.  Dayan means “of all”.  Deerkh, the name of a river.  In local mythology Dayan Deerkh was a famous shaman who attempted to run off with a khan’s daughter and when surrounded and attacked, turned himself to stone to preserve his spirit.  Sometime during communist rule, the stone mysteriously disappeared.  Even today, local herders hold strong views as to the reason for the stone’s disappearance. 

Dell (del, deel)  (pronounced “dael,”)  The Mongolian national costume.  A dell can serve as a coat, robe, or even a dress.  Its cut is generally the same for women and men and is designed to be convenient for horse riding, travel, sharp changes in temperature, and long hours of wind, sunshine, or cold.  When cinched at the waist a pocket of material is conveniently formed for carrying personal items.  A dell can also be used as a sleeping mattress or blanket during travel.  The long loose dell is always in fashion in the Mongolian countryside.

Derek (Deerkh)  The name of a river in north-eastern Khuvsgul aimog (province).

Denikin, Anton Ivanovich White Russian commander.  When the Reds triumphed in the post revolution civil war, he fled to Constantinople and eventually on to America.

Demid  Prime Minister Genden’s popular Defence Minister.  Disliked by Choibalsan, Demid was summoned by Soviet authorities.  He departed for Moscow on August 18 of 1937, while his Prime Minister, Genden, languished under house arrest in Foros on the Black Sea.  The Soviets described Demid’s trip as a holiday.  The thirty-seven year old Demid had hardly commenced his Trans-Siberian rail journey when he suddenly died.  The Soviets reported the cause of death as accidental food poisoning.

Dombo  A cylindrical teapot usually made of bronze or copper although there are silver dombos too.  A dombo is easily recognizable by its three silver, copper or bronze belts and a narrow opening on top of the teapot.  It does not have the long narrow neck of most teapots. 

Donskoe kladbishye  (Donskoe cemetery)  Site of a multi-story crematorium where the bodies of criminals and political purge victims, were cremated.  Their ashes were mixed with other victims and poured into a mass grave.  Mongolian Prime Minister Genden was tried and convicted by a Soviet Military court in Moscow without the presence of witnesses or lawyers.  He was killed the same day.  His remains were promptly cremated and his ashes poured into Common Grave Number 1 of Donskoe kladbishye.

Dulaan Boshgot  “Warm Titled”  Shaman Dulaan Boshgot was the leader of the founding guardian families of the Arkhan and an ancestor of Namsrai and his sons.

Dzud  (zud) A winter snowstorm that locks up the pasture.  A harsh dzud may kill several million animals driving the most hard-hit herders to Ulaanbaatar to hunt for jobs.

Dzukov (Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov)  Commander of the Soviet forces at Khalkhiin Gol and later the Soviet Union’s most heralded commander in World War II.  Stalin, as ever emotionally threatened by the success and public acclaim of others, assigned Dzukov to obscure postings after the war.  Only upon the Soviet dictator’s death in 1953 was Dzukov rehabilitated.

Dzuunmod  The name of the principal town of Tuv Province.  Dzuunmod means ‘one hundred trees’.

Eezgii  A cheese-like snack.  Eezgii is made from milk in the same manner as cheese.  However, instead of immediately separating the cheese from the yellow milk, eezgii’s cheese is not separated.  Rather, it is boiled until the yellow milk penetrates into the cheese or evaporates.  When the yellow milk is boiled down, cheesy particles of brownish yellow colour remain in the pot.  They are dried without pressing.  Eezgii is rich in protein and calcium and has a sweet taste.  It is considered an expensive snack and a favourite of herder’s when traveling and on everyday herding outings away from home.  The fanciest kind of eezgii is made of milk with no cream butter removed.  Such eezgii is called “eezgii of raw milk” and it is softer and much sweeter than eezgii from milk with some of its butter fat removed.

Emjeer  An edge sewn in a dell’s collar, sleeve or elsewhere.  Emjeers are usually made of more expensive, more beautiful or sturdier material than that of the dell.

Erdenebulgan  The name of a soum (county) in Khuvsgul province.  Erdene means treasure, and is the name of a nearby mountain.  Bulgan means sable, and is the name of a valley near the soum center.  The soum is unofficially called Eg-Uur after a state-owned farm that existed during communist time. The name Eg-Uur refers to the two major rivers that flow through Erdenebulgan soum territory, the Eg and the Uur.

Erdene-Zuu  The name of a monastery in Kharakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia.  Since the coming of democracy, some of its earlier splendour has been restored.

Extraordinary Competent Committee  A committee of three persons, including Choibalsan, who were permitted to met out extrajudicial punishments. In reality, the other two members were merely figureheads. 

Felt    A thick warm mat made of wool.  Expensive felt is made of pure white (spring-summer) wool.  Mongolian nomads use felt extensively.  The most common use is the felt wall and ceiling of their gers.  Also seen frequently are felt carpets, felt shoes, felt socks, felt mattresses, and felt hats as well as the mats under saddles.  Traditional felt making takes place outdoors and is a fun community event.  Herders shear the sheep and collect the day’s wool production which they then wash.  The washed and dried wool is spread on the ground and mixed together.  Water is sprayed on the wool while others beat the wet wool with thin sticks over and over.  After mixing, wetting and beating the wool, they roll the beaten wool around a log, tie it up well and drag the rolling log with the help of a horse until the wool is well pressed and dry.  Herders then untie the roll which is now ready felt usually the size of one “tuurga” (felt around the wall of a ger.  One normal size ger has four tuurgas in one layer) or a “deever” (felt over the ceiling of a ger).  One normal size ger has two deevers in one layer).  A felt making event is usually hosted by the family or organization whose felt is being made and is accompanied by food, drink and games.

Gandan  A large monastery located in UlaanbaatarIt was the religious centre where most important worshiping ceremonies took place during the rule of Bogd Khaan.  Yonzon Khamba, the Khamba lama (leading lama) of Gandan, was arrested and shot in September 1937 in an act that marks the beginning of the mass purges.  Gandan was partially destroyed in late 1930s, and then hastily restored in 1944 in an unsuccessful attempt to convince visiting American Vice President Henry Wallace and his chief cultural adviser, Owen Lattimore, that Mongolians enjoyed political self-rule and religious freedom.

Gavj   A Buddhist degree for the study of certain disciplines such as medicine, philosophy, art, etc.  To become a medical gavj one must study for approximately eight years; for philosophy, six years; for art, five years.

Genden  Prime Minister of Mongolia 1934-1937.  Genden was at one time a horse relay worker (Mongolian Pony Express).  He was not well educated, rather rough at the edges, hard drinking, and quite outspoken.  Genden was good in grasping main ideas during complicated negotiations and dared to ask provocative questions of Stalin.  His most popular phrase was “Let’s get rich”.  Genden was placed under house arrest by the Russians, held for a year, and then shot on November 26, 1937 following a one-day treason trial by a Soviet military tribunal.  He was alleged by the Soviets to be “a Japanese spy conspiring against Mongolia’s independence and a leader of a counter-revolutionist movement called Tuv.”  Communist-era history textbooks accused him of being a “rightist”.  Genden’s wood house still stands in downtown Ulaanbaatar.  It now houses the Museum of Politically Repressed People.  See Donskoe kladbish and Demid, above.

Genden and Dimid’s Case  Used by purge inquisitors to lump wealthy herders who hired others to do their herding into an alleged conspiracy of class enemies.  Mostly applied in what the regime considered troublesome provinces like Khuvsgul.

Ger      The traditional round, felt dwelling of Mongolia’s nomadic herders consisting of a collapsible woOden lattice frame, two centre posts with a circular opening at the top (tonoo), long support poles (uni) reaching from the top of the lattice frame to the circular tonoo, and a felt covering with a canvas (or in earlier days an animal skin) overlay.  A ger can be assembled or dissembled in half an hour.  The Russian word for a ger is “yurt” which derives from a Turkic word.

Gesgui lama  The lama responsible for delegating the responsibilities of all participating lamas during the ceremonies.  The Gesgui lama assures that ceremonies go according to procedure and tradition.

Genghis Khaan  See Chinggis Khaan.

Gobi   The Gobi Desert in the south of Mongolia is one of the driest places on earth and a source of many recent fossil finds.  The Gobi divides the steppe (prairie) into a northern and a southern steppe.  Inner Mongolia, the steppe south of the Gobi which is peopled by ethnic Mongolians, has been absorbed within the borders of the People’s Republic of China.

Gol     River.

Golden Bloodline or Golden Line   Those Mongolians who trace their descent through the male line from Chinggis Khaan.  During the purges of 1937-38 members of the Golden Bloodline, like the Romanovs of Russia twenty years earlier, were hunted down and murdered by the communists to prevent them from becoming a rallying symbol for opposition to the Marxist regime.

Great Mongolia (or “Ikh Mongol Uls”)  In 1206, Chinggis Khaan united Mongolian tribes and called for a Great Khuraldai (Convention) which included leaders of all the Mongol tribes, Chinggis’ generals, and select family members.  The Great Khuraldai announced the establishment of a new nation “Great Mongolia” and its first ruler, Chinggis Khaan.  In Ikh Huree, on December 29, 1911, Mongolian lords and aristocrats with the active support of the Buddhist clergy, revolted against their Manchu overlords and resurrected “Great Mongolia” under the rule of the Eighth Bogd Khaan.

Green Tara  One of twenty one Taras (godesses) in Tibetan Buddhist sculpture and art.  The Green Tara symbolizes matured womanhood.  The most famous Green Tara in Mongolia is a bronze sculpture created by Zanabazar, the first Buddhist leader and a Golden Line philosopher and artist.  It is said his lover was the model for his Green Tara.

Guardians  Mongolian families whose forbearers pledged to guard Mongolia’s northern border in the early 1700s.  Some were direct descendants of Chinggis Khaan and his generals.  Guardians were simple herders, hunters, lamas, and shamans who lived in and around eighty-eight designated guard points along the Mongolian-Russian border.  Their mission was to keep peace on the border and resist further Cossack intrusion into traditional Mongolian lands.  Guardians considered themselves unofficial soldiers ready to defend Mongolian territory.  They distinguished themselves by their fervent loyalty to the state of Mongolia.  Because of their loyalty to the state, guardian area monasteries did not join the1932 lama-led revolt against the people’s revolutionary government.  Although guardians were not appointed anew each generation, guardian parents instructed their children on their duty to protect Mongolia.  Even today, the northern border areas are mostly peopled by guardian families who continue to assist the official border guards in policing the border.  For some guardians, protecting Mongolia nowadays has taken on a broader meaning than merely watching its northern border. 

Gulag  Tsarist and Soviet era prison labour camps often located in the remotest regions of Siberia where underfed, under-clothed and over-worked prisoners, often political opponents of the regime, endured the harshest of conditions.  Death was more the rule than the exception.  Mongolian gulags were patterned on the Soviet model.

Guremch  The rank of lama whose duties include solo singer and leader of chants in Buddhist ceremonies.

Guyai  A form of respectful address used when speaking to an older or higher ranking person.  Sometimes “guyai” is used to label a person as ignorant.  In such a case the tone of conversation or its context reveals the intended sarcasm.

Hadag (khadag)  A fine silk strip, most commonly blue in colour although occasionally yellow or white.  Hadags are used for greeting where the greeter is showing respect to the person she or he is greeting.  One places the hadag over both hands and bows when greeting.  One can also place a hadag on an ovoo, in a monastery or any other monument or structure, including a tree, where one wishes to show respect or belief.

Han Chinese  The majority ethno-cultural group in China.  Over 90% of all Chinese consider themselves to be Han.

Har Zuraa  The main Khuvsgul killing field outside Muren.

Hatgal, Khatgal  A town at the southern end of Khuvsgul Lake.  Hatgal was the administrative centre of Khuvsgul province from 1931 to 1932.  The capital of Khuvsgul province was shifted to Muren in January 1933.  Hatgal, having a lake-ice road during winter and a water route during summer, remains a hub for the export and import trade with Siberian Russia.

Hergesuur Ancient graves and burial sites made of piled stones in the middle and lines of stones outside the main stack.  Hergesuur’s stone lines are sometimes square and sometimes round.  Traditionally, Mongolians do not disturb hergesuurs or any burial place.  However, since the 1920’s some hergesuurs have been excavated for research purposes.  Most of Mongolia’s ancient burial sites remain undisturbed – unlike elsewhere on the Eurasian steppe.

Hiimori  A Mongolian nomadic explanation of someone’s inner strength or energy.  Hii means “air” or “gas”.  Mori means horse.  Hiimori is believed to be an ‘air horse’ that exists within a human being.  For example, when someone wins a wrestling game against all odds, people explain it as luck, or more commonly, as the wrestler’s good air-horse on that day.  If somebody loses or has trouble without any evident reason, then the person is suspected to have no hiimori that day.  To help bring hiimori to people, Buddhist lamas offer hiimori flags for an individual or family to place outside their ger.

Hishigten  Chinggis Khaan’s personal army established in 1206.  The Hishigten Army was formed from the sons and talented and loyal friends of the sons of those who fought for the unification of the Mongol tribes.  The Grand Law, the first written law of Great Mongolia, gave a wide range of immunities to Hishigten Army soldiers.  Hishigten soldiers on night duty, for example, had greater authority than any general.  Soon after the founding of Great Mongolia in 1206, Hishigten Army soldiers and their families settled in Orkhon valley where Chinggis Khaan chose to build Mongolia’s capital, Kharakorum.  From this community the border guardian families were selected five hundred years later.

Hoilog (Tetraogallus Altaicus)  A thick, short, dark-greyish bird living among the high mountains of the Altai and Khuvsgul ranges.  The hoilog eats berries and seeds and remains in the mountains all year around.  Because of its rarity, it is listed in Mongolia’s Red Book of endangered species.

Hoormog  Airag produced from camel milk.  Hoormog is rich in calcium and tastes like a yogurt with additional texture and butter.  Perhaps that is why when milk is mixed with regular yogurt it is called hoormog.  Gobi people who regularly drink hoormog are famous for their white teeth and thick bones. 

Horol  A domino-like family game played widely by herders.  Horol has 60 rectangular wooden pieces.  Carved into the various pieces are mythical and lunar calendar animals and religious and ancient aristocratic symbols.  The highest religious symbol ‘horol,’ the mandala, is the most powerful piece in the game.  During communism the fear of being informed on for keeping a Buddhist symbol at home prompted many families to change the mandala to a red star.

Horse hour  Roughly 11:40am to 1:40pm.  The seventh “hour” in the traditional 12 hour cycle of the day.  Each 120 minute “hour” is named for one of the twelve zodiac animals.

Horse hour of water-chicken day – the 9th day of the mid-winter month of the year of the sow  11:40am Friday 29 December 1911, the commencement of the ceremony of the elevation of the Eighth Bogd Khaan to national political leadership – the Mongolian revolution from Manchu domination.

Horse racing  Mongolians love their horses. And enjoy racing them.  Mongolian horse races are usually long distance affairs.  Depending on the age of the horses, they race 15-35 kilometres.  Horse riders in the races are children 6-12 years of age.  Horse-trainers prepare their horses from early June.  The biggest races take place during July 11-13, the official naadam time.  Horse racing is one of three manly sports that also include archery and wrestling.  These events serve as the main entertainment at naadams.  Betting on the outcome is virtually unknown.

Hural  A decision making body or meeting.  For instance, Parliament is a hural.

Huruud  See Aaruul.

Hutagt (Khutagt)  Tibetan Buddhist Saint, a reincarnated holy being, the Living Buddha.  There were many different saints with different powers in traditional Mongolian-Tibetan Buddhism.  It was believed that each Hutagt was so holy that they were repeatedly reborn bringing good luck to the community that believed in them.  The most powerful saint was Bogd Janzundamba Hutagt whose eight incarnations were officially recorded.  The ninth rebirth and recognition of Bogd Javzundamba IX was suppressed by the communist regime after the death of the eighth Bogd in 1924, although there was a claimant.  There were seven Great Hutagts in the Bogd Khaan’s School area which meant they were recognized all over Mongolia.  There were thirteen other Hutagts recognized in the religious centres of the four provinces of Bogd Khaan’s Mongolia. All twenty one hutagts, including Bogd Javzundamba Hutagt himself, were suppressed by the communist regime which resisted any and all claims of their subsequent rebirth.  See Bogd Khaan.

Ikh Khuree  Ulaanbaatar’s old name.  Ikh means Grand.  Khuree means a settlement in or around a large monastery or the region served by the monastery.  See Da Khuree.

Incense  A Mongolian Monastery’s principle incense is juniper as it is also in Tibet and Buddhist regions of the Himalayas.  Dried and ground green juniper is burnt outside and inside the monastery.  During ceremonies, believers take a pot of smoldering incense and waft the smoke in their direction.  They believe that in this way the body and mind of the believer is cleansed and prepared for chanting or performing other religious rituals.

Inner Mongolia  Steppe lands south of the Gobi Desert peopled by Mongolians since well before the time of Chinggis Khaan.  Inner Mongolia was administratively managed from Peking (Beijing) during the period of the Manchu (Qing) Dynasty in China (1644-1911).  Both the Chinese and the Mongolians revolted against the Manchus in 1911.  However, Nationalist China (1911-1949) and the communist Peoples Republic of China (PRC) that succeeded the Nationalists (1949-present) claimed political dominance over Mongolia south of the Gobi by virtue of the fact that the Manchus once controlled Inner Mongolia as they did China.  The Manchus also conquered most of what is today’s independent and democratic Mongolia.

Jamsran (Fierce Red Deity)  One of the so-called fierce deities among Buddhist protectors.  During Bogd Khaan’s Mongolia (1911-1921), each of the five ministries of government had its own Gods or Protectors.  God Jamsran, or as it is more widely called, the Fierce Red Deity, was the protector of the Ministry of Defence and Interior.  Continuing this tradition, today’s Mongolian police worship God Jamsran and consider Jamsran their official spiritual protector.  It is believed that God Jamsran hates lies, thievery, the sheding of blood and killing.

Jokhaang Temple  Considered by many the most sacred temple in Lhasa, Tibet.  It houses the venerated statue of Lord Buddha.

Kalmyk  A republic of Russia as well as an ethnic Mongol community that departed Mongolia for the steppes of Central Asia before the time of Chinggis Khaan.  Their language is derived from Mongolian.

“Kh”  Pronounced similarly to the English “h” in “hot” but with additional air expelled from the back of the throat.  The “k” is silent.

Khaan, Khan  The title of Khaan is reserved for the supreme ruler or leader while 

            Khan is a title given to those a rank below -- such as ruler of a principality.

Khaangai  A mountain range in north-central Mongolia.   The Khaangai mountain range is one of four major mountain ranges in Mongolia which include Altai, Khaangai, Khentii and Khuvsgul’s Horidol Saridag ranges.  The word Khaangai means a place with plenty of water, meadows and forests.  Gobi, or desert, is the opposite of khaangai.  Gobi in old Mongolian means gravel.

Khadag  See Hadag.

Khalha, Khalkha  The main subgroup of the Mongol people.  A majority of Mongolians identify themselves as Khalha.

Khalkhiin Gol, Khaliin Gol  (Khalh River, Halhyn River) A river in eastern Mongolia.  In 1939, war erupted between Mongolia and Japan at the Khalkhiin Gol.  The Soviet Union joined Mongolia in the fight against the Japanese Kwantung Army.  In the West and in Japan the conflict is sometimes referred to as the Nomunkhaan battle.  Marshal Djukov (Zukov) commanded the Soviet forces and Mongolian General Lkhagvasuren lead the combined army that won the war.  Sobered by its military set-back, the Japanese government resolved to strike southward toward the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya rather than attempt further conquest in the north western theatre.  The Khalkhiin Gol is a major source of water for millions of wild animals (including gazelle) and domestic herds pasturing on the expansive eastern steppe. 

Khamba  The top administrative and spiritual leader of a monastery.

Khambiin Ovoo  The site outside Ulaanbaatar where Interior Ministry police under orders from Choilbalsan killed and buried hundreds of lamas.  In August 2003 the Khambiin Ovoo killing field was accidentally unearthed in the course of suburban expansion.  (See photo at the beginning of this book.)

Kharakorum (Kharakorin) The city founded by Chinggis Khaan’s son, Uguudei, in the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia’s central steppe.  Kharakorum was the capital city of Great Mongolia and an important trading centre on the Silk Road.  Marco Polo wrote about it.  Many of Mongolia’s Khaans resided in Kharakorum. The city was famous for its religious tolerance and the high concentration of artisans from Europe and Asia.  

Khas    Traditional Mongolian design.  Khas symbolizes eternity and was one of the earliest designs to be branded on horses. The Nazis coopted the design for the swastika.

Khuree  A settlement with a monastery and residences of the lamas near it.  It is also used to describe the region served by a monastery.

Khutuktu (Hutukhtu)  Reincarnated holy being, the Living Buddha.  See Hutagt.

Khuushuur  (pronounced “HO sure”)  A large flattened diced meat (or occasionally potato) filled fried dumpling about the size and shape of a human hand palm down on a flat surface with fingers pressed together.

Khuvsgul Lake  The largest fresh water lake in Mongolia.  Khuvsgul Lake is located in Mongolia’s north surrounded by high forested mountains.  It is occasionally spelled Huvsgul or Hovsgol.  The volume of water in the lake is estimated at between one and two percent of the world’s total fresh water.  Khuvsgul’s larger twin, Lake Baikal, just across the border in Siberian Russia, is more than five times the size of Khuvsgul and the largest lake in water volume on earth containing over 8% of the earth’s fresh water.

Khuvsgul Province (pronounced “hoovsgul”)  One of 21 provinces (aimogs) of Mongolia.  Much of the Khuvsgul Aimog is forested.  It juts into Siberian Russia.  Between 1937 and 1939 more than 2000 lamas, Buriat Mongols and descendants of Chinggis Khaan were purged in Khuvsgul province.  Close to 90% of them were killed.  According to Interior Ministry records opened after the fall of communism in 1990, more than 1000 purge victims were killed or sentenced to prison within a two-month period, May and June 1938.  Communist era textbooks on the history of the province contained no mention this atrocity – which was nation-wide in scope -- until revised in 1992 two years into the post-communist era.  For a sense of the scope of the purges, travellers to Mongolia should visit the Museum of Repressed People in Ulaanbaatar.  It is located in Prime Minister Genden’s log house.  Genden was himself a victim of the Stalinist purges.

Kulaks  Wealthy Russian farmers who resisted the expropriation of their property by the communists.  After the October 1917 communist revolution, kulaks were declared class enemies of the proletariat.  Kulak is a Russian word meaning “tight fist.”  The term kulak was given by the communists to farmers who resisted, sometimes with weapons, Lenin’s decision to expropriate food and resources from wealthy farmers.  During the 1918-1919 great hunger in Russia, caused in large measure by the collapse of food distribution systems following the October Revolution, kulaks were shot or imprisoned for hiding their wheat and other produce from state confiscation teams. 

Kulak is a specific subset of wealthy farmers for which the general term in the communist lexicon was ‘pomeshik’.  Later, all the properties of wealthy farmers (kulaks and pomeshiks) were either confiscated outright by the government or transferred to state co-operatives.  The first Mongolian communists to use the term “kulak” were either educated in the Soviet Union, had worked with a political advisor from the Soviet Union, or had been trained there.

Lama  A Buddhist monk (priest) in the Lamanist (Tibetan Buddhist) tradition.

Lapsha  A soup with slices of meat and homemade noodles.  Lapsha is a Russian word meaning “noodle.”  Lapsha’s original Mongolian name is ‘Guriltai shul’ meaning noodle soup, but the Russian term is so widely used in Mongolia that the word “lapsha” has been a part of the modern Mongolian language for several decades.  Lapsha is also the most common dinner meal in nomadic families.  Because it is such a common meal, around election time most Mongolian politicians name it as their favourite food when they are asked about their meal preferences.

Lhasa  The spiritual and administrative capital of Tibet.

Long Song (or Urtiin Duu)  A type of Mongolian folk song in which the singer holds each note especially long.  Long songs differ regionally in their style of singing.  The longest and most placid long songs are usually from the south, the area of the Gobi Desert.  The sharpest long songs with the most dramatic vocal transitions originate in the North and far West where the rugged mountains and isolated valleys fostered numerous regional long song styles.  The more classical Gobi style long songs predominate in central Mongolia.  Internationally recognized long song singers include Norovbanzad, Nergui, and Khongorzul.  Typical themes for long songs are Chinggis Khaan, his legends, horses, Bogd Khaan, religion, nature and seasons, love and tragedy, and other elements of Mongolian nomadic herder life.

Machine Butter  Butter made using butter extracting machines.  A machine for butter extracting was introduced in the 1950s.  Private herders use small-sized machines for extracting butter at home.  Machine butter does not employ traditional nomadic technology for extracting butter from milk.  Before butter extracting machine technology was available, herders extracted something close to this butter by mixing airag with raw whole milk which was called airag butter.

Manchus  The largest ethnic group between the Mongolians and the Koreans.  The Manchus (or Manchurians) rose to power in the 17th century conquering first China in 1644 and subsequently subduing most of Mongolia.  The Manchu (or Qing) Dynasty in China lasted until the revolution of 1911 when the Manchus were branded foreign occupiers and overthrown by Chinese nationalists lead by Sun Yat Sen.  In a separate virtually simultaneous revolt, Mongolia declared itself independent of the Manchus as well.  However, the new Nationalist Chinese state refused to recognize Mongolia’s independence. 

Following the defeat of Japan in World War Two, first Nationalist China and subsequently the People’s Republic of China asserted their control over Manchuria swallowing it politically and flooding it with Han Chinese.  The Manchu language is now virtually extinct.  However, central and western Manchuria remain home to several ethnic Mongol communities collectively referred to as Barga

Mandal  A Buddhist ceremony to convey the worshipper’s most important wishes to God.

Mandala  A Buddhist symbol.  A round geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically.

Manzushir  One of seven great Hutagts (saints) in Bogd Khaan’s school.  Manzushir founded his great monastery on the south-western slope of Bogd Mountain at the head of a beautiful valley called “Red Rocks.”  Manzushir’s nickname was Donhor meaning tall and bony.  Manzushir Monastery’s lamas were arrested and killed in the Ministry of Interior’s great purge of 1937-1939 and the monastery destroyed.  Currently, Manzushir’s ruins are protected by the government as part of Bogd Mountain National Park.

Milk products  When mentioning milk products, Mongolians mean any product made of milk except milk vodka.  Milk products include: milk, yogurt, hoormog, all kinds of butter, aaruul, huruud, aarts, eezgii, cheese, tsagaa, airag, etc.

Milk tea  Green tea with salt and milk – a Mongolian staple.  Butter, fat, rice and meat slices are sometimes added to the drink giving it the taste and appearance of what westerners consider soup.

Milk vodka  An clear alcoholic drink tasting somewhat like Japanese sake.  The Mongolian name for milk vodka is shimiin arkhi.  Milk vodka is distilled from boiling fermented cows’ milk using a heating and condensation process.  Milk vodkas differ in taste depending on the type and quality of the fermented milk being distilled and the length of the distillation process.  Because of milk vodka’s mild taste but surprisingly strong affect, Russians gave it the nickname “hitraya voda” (sly water).

Misery milk  A commonly held belief among Mongolians is that babies can sense unhappiness in their mother’s milk and will then refuse to nurse.

Mixed butter  A meal made of butter, flour, milk tea and sugar.  It is also called ‘hailmag’ which means melted butter.  Mixed butter is heavier than the typical snack and can serve as lunch or dinner.  In addition to its traditional components, aaruul, eezgii, raisins, and roots of various herbs can be added to the mixed butter.  The best mixed butter is made of non-fresh cream butter or airag butter.  During the melting of such cream butter over a mild fire, herders extract pure butter called “yellow butter.”  Mixed butter made without extracting yellow butter is very rich.  Frozen and cut into various shapes mixed butter serves as a snack or even a candy-like treat for guests.  Some families freeze mixed butter after carving beautiful shapes and pictures into its surface.

Mongol tribes  Before they were united into Great Mongolia in 1206 by Chinggis Khaan, there were many warring tribes in what is now Mongolia and beyond. Among them: Hamag Mongol, Mergid, Naiman, Taichuud, Forest people, Jadran, Hongirad, etc.

Mongolian People’s Party  Mongolia’s first political party founded in March 1921.  Initially, the party’s goal was to free Mongolia from Chinese, Japanese and White Russian occupation and assume secular political power from the Bogd Khaan.  With the assistance of the Russian Bolsheviks, the party fulfilled its goals.  From 1921-1924, the MPP’s first chairman was Mr. Danzan Soli (See Mongolian People Revolutionary Party, below).

Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP)  Successor to the Mongolian People’s Party, it acquired its new name in 1924, during the 3rd convention of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) where the convention adopted a non-capitalist path for development over Danzan’s position to give favour to Western political and economic traditions.  Danzan, the chairman of the MPP, was killed during the convention – an act ratified by an absolute majority vote of the convention delegates which included many recently recruited young communist members.  The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) monopolized government power until 1990 under a constitutional guarantee stating that the MPRP was “the leading and directing force for the country.”  In 1990, under the pressure lead by the Mongolian Democratic Union, the first non-communist political movement, the Law on Political Parties was enacted approving a multiparty system in Mongolia.  Today, the MPRP’s successor party, the MPP, is one of 23 political parties in Mongolia and one of the two major parties to have governed the country since 1990.  In 1992 the MPRP declared itself non-communist, and announced its acceptance of social democratic ideology in 1997.  The MPRP joined the Socialist International in 2003.  In 2010, the MPRP renamed itself the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and a splinter group assumed the MPRP name.

Mori   The word for horse in Mongolian.  It is pronounced “mor” with a roll to the “r”.

Morin huur  A Mongolian traditional musical instrument with two strings and a carved wooden horse head.  It is often referred to as the cello of the steppe.

MPRP  See Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, above.

Muren  The administrative capital of Khuvsgul aimag (province).  The city’s name, Muren, derives from the Delger Muren – the river that runs near the city.  Muren means large river.

Muren Khuree  The Buddhist monastery in Muren and the associated settlement.

Naadam  A Mongolian national festival having several sporting events including the three manly games – horse racing, wrestling and archery.  The official national naadam takes place on July 11-13 each year in Ulaanbaatar, however local and regional naadam competitions take place in cities, towns and settled areas across Mongolia throughout July and August.  Herder families, whose members did not participate in big naadams, frequently organize children’s competitions in their local area.  In 2014 Parliament enacted a law making the State Naadam a five-day event.  Naadams are a favourite of tourists.

Nariin Davaa  A mountain pass to Arkhan valley from the south. Nariin means “narrow.”  Davaa means “mountain pass.”  Many other locations have mountain passes with the same name.

NKVD  See Soviet Secret Police.

Nohoi  Dog.

Norjin Solidiv  A 36-line poetic chant, written in 1924, wishing a perfect reincarnation for the new young saint.  Even though Norjin Solidiv does not directly call for the Ninth Bogd’s reincarnation, it does mention Bogd Hutagt VIII by his personal name, Luvsanchoijinnyam.  The first half of the chant is dedicated to the fond memory of Luvsanchoijinnyam.  The second half wishes for the arrival of a “young moon” which by “spreading fine aroma” will bring peace and resolution to everyone’s efforts.

Noyon hill  A hill in Orkhon Valley near Kharakorum.  Noyon means lord.

Nur     Lake.

Ochirdary lama  One of the Buddhist teaching Gods.

October Revolution  The Russian proletariat revolution against the Romanov monarchy lead by Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and his communist party on October 25, 1917.  Later, according to the new calendar, anniversaries of the October revolution were celebrated on November 7.

Orkhon Valley  A large valley near the geographic centre of Mongolia through which the Orkhon River runs.  Orkhon Valley was the location of many historic settlements.  The Uigurs, Turks, and Great Mongolia all established their capitals in the Orkhon Valley.  The many archaeological sites and traditional nomadic communities in the valley prompted UNESCO to designate the Orkhon Valley a world cultural heritage site in 2005.

Ourkh  A square-shaped piece of felt or canvas with long ropes at the four corners that is used as a covering for the ger’s toono.  Three of the ropes are fixed to the ger.  The fourth, the rope in front, is used to open and close the ourkh.  During daytime, the ourkh is opened by pulling half of it back.  In this configuration, the ourkh looks like a triangle on top of the ger.  At night or in times of rain, the ourkh is closed which causes it to appear as a square on top of the ger.  A closed ourkh in daytime when there is no rain or snow indicates that this family is not accepting guests because of an illness or other serious reason such as the body of a deceased person resting inside.  It is considered bad behaviour not to open the ger’s ourkh when there is no such reason.  Modern young couples who oversleep in the morning and open their ourkh late (late meaning when the sun is already high) are criticized by the elders or their neighbours for socially inappropriate behaviour.

Ovoo   (pronounced “owo”) A symbolic mound on hill tops, mountain passes, roadsides, etc.  An ovoo consists of a stack of stones or wood or both.  According to custom, those who travel past a road ovoo should stop and walk clockwise around it three times while adding a stone or stones to the mound.  People occasionally place hadags, money, or candy on an ovoo, as well.  Both shamans and Buddhist lamas worship at ovoos to attract local people to their special ovoo ceremonies often called ovoo naadams.  According to legend, road ovoos were first erected by 13th century soldiers leaving to fight in wars during Chinggis Khaan’s time.  The soldiers would likely not return for a long time as they travelled to foreign lands.  It might be several years before a family or a community saw their sons again.  A traveller who saw an ovoo would know that this community sent their sons to war.  The traveller would add a stone wishing for the soldier’s safe return.  The actual origin of ovoos is likely much older as they are also found on some passes in Alaska.

Shamanist ovoos are usually located on high mountain peaks where one cannot easily travel.  Such ovoos are constructed to protect the area or to ask mercy or rain from the spirit of the area.  Since the 1700s, Buddhists have used many shamanist ovoos for their ceremonies.  Nowadays, purely shamanist ovoos can be found in only a few places.  During communism, shamanistic and Buddhist ovoo ceremonies were prohibited, but road ovoos always existed and new road ovoos were erected.  The availability of cheap, potent vodka from Russia brought a new kind of ‘stone’ to the ovoo -- vodka bottles both full and empty littered roadside ovoos.  An important civil activity during the early years of democracy in the 1990s was to help return ovoos to their former appearance.  Ovoos continue to be cleaned and worshipped.  

People’s Army An army of herders and soldiers formed in 1920 by a young, energetic army officer, Sukhbaatar Damdin.  Sukhbaatar recognized that Bogd Khaan’s Mongolia was not strong enough to protect the country from Chinese intervention and the brutality of Baron Ungern’s White Russian soldiers.  Sukhbaatar was said to have been a member of a Mongolian People’s Army delegation that secretly travelled to Moscow in 1921 to request military assistance from Lenin.  The same request was put to several Western European powers and to the United States but to no avail.  The other powers wanted to avoid being caught-up in the on-going contest between, the Soviet Union, Japan and China for control of Northeast Asia.  Only the Bolsheviks offered help.  With the aid of the Red Russians, Sukhbaatar’s People’s Army successfully rid Mongolia of foreign interlopers.  Sukhbaatar gained tremendous popularity as a national hero and liberator of Ikh Khuree and Altanbulag.  He became Minister of the Army in February 1921 after freeing Ikh Khuree from the Chinese and White Russians.  Sukhbaatar was only 30 years old when he died from a sudden mysterious decease.  Communist historians claimed that Sukhbaatar was poisoned by agents of the Bogd Khaan.  Others contend that he was poisoned by the Reds, while some maintain that his death was caused by pneumonia.  Whatever the cause of his early death, Sukhbaatar remains the preeminent hero of the 1921 national liberation movement.  His monument stands in the central square of Ulaanbaatar.  When it has recently revealed that the statue was constructed by lama prisoners, it was removed by the MPP government in 2010 and replaced with a metal replicate.  From 1920, the Mongolian regular army was called the People’s Army – its popular name even today. 

People’s School  Schools founded by the newly formed secular government in 1920s.  People’s schools offered modern mathematics, physics and chemistry, Mongolian language, music and physical culture and non-religious topics such as communist ideology.  Initially, People’s School Teachers had a hard time keeping pupils in school, but by 1937 the People’s School had greater authority by recruiting MPRP member teachers and introducing a tax policy to collect heavy taxes from families who sent their children to religious education in monasteries rather than to the People’s Schools.

People’s Teacher  A teacher from the People’s School.  People’s Teachers of the early years of the People’s Revolution were often members of Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party or members of its youth organization, the Revolutionary Youth Union.  People’s Teachers were both educators, and combatants against religious teachers -- lamas.

Pioneers  See Young Pioneers

Port Arthur  The sheltered bay near the bottom of the Liaotung Peninsula in southern Manchuria that served as the lynchpin of Russian dominance in the area.  In 1905 the Japanese navy blockaded Port Arthur while the Japanese army surrounded it.  After considerable shelling from the Japanese, an epic sea battle and a hard-fought ground campaign the Russians surrendered both the port and their hegemony in southern Manchuria to the Japanese.  The American writer Jack London covered the conflict as a reporter and nearly got himself shot.  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a settlement between the belligerents.

Potala   The great religious palace situated on Marpo Ri hill overlooking the city of Lhasa, capital of Tibet.  The Potala was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, during the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950.

Puusuu  A lower quality silk-like material.  Puusuu is cheaper than silk and does not lend itself to designs as fine as those found on silk. 

Red Hat Buddhists  One of two major Buddhist sects in Mongolia both of which originated in Tibet.  Mongolian Red Hats are more accepting of shamanist beliefs and practices than are the Yellow Hats.

Red Russian  The Bolsheviks who introduced communism to Russia (the Soviet Union) after the October 1917 revolution.  The civil war that followed pitted the communists (Reds) against the non-communists (Whites).

Renchin Byambaev  Mongolian scholar, academician, doctor, writer and professor in linguistics, history and anthropology.  He was Mongolia’s most well-known researcher, translator and writer during communist times.  Renchin, a Buriat Mongol, was born in 1905 and died in 1977.  Those telling politically sensitive jokes during the middle years of the communist era often attributed them to Renchin Byambaev because his many contributions protected him from reprisal.  Following the 1990 democratic revolution Stalin’s statue was pulled down and Renchin’s was raised in its place.

Konstantin Rokossovsky  During the battle of Stalingrad, Rokossovsky, commanded the

Don Front, the northern wing of the Soviet counter-attack that encircled von Paulus’ Sixth Army and won the most decisive victory of the Soviet-German war.  Born to Polish nobility in 1896, when Poland was part of the Russian Empire.  At the commencement of the First World War Rokosslvsky joined the Russian army, serving in the cavalry.  He distinguished himself and rose through the ranks.  In 1917 he joined the Red Army eventually becoming a senior cavalry commander.  During the 1920s his division was stationed in Mongolia.  Rokossovsky held senior commands until 1937, when he was caught up in Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge and accused of "connections with foreign intelligence".  After interrogations that included torture, he was sent to Kresty Prison in Leningrad, where he remained until March 1940, when he was released without explanation.  Following a brief meeting with Stalin he was restored to the rank of a Major General and served with great distinction throughout the war.

Rope  Traditionally, there are two major types of ropes used by herders.  One is leather made by cutting animal skin. The other is made of woven animal hair -- mostly horse, cattle or yak hair.   

Russia  A country located in Euro-Asia.  Russia was the Soviet Union’s largest and most populous republic during the communist period.  Mongolians often refer to the USSR as Russia.  By either name, it dominated Mongolian culture, education, economics and politics through much of the Twentieth Century.

Saint Basil’s  A Russian Orthodox cathedral located in Moscow’s Red Square.

Secret History of the Mongols  The 13th century tale about Chinggis Khaan and the foundation of Great Mongolia. The Secret History is both a literary and historic treasure. The Secret History was taught as literature in secondary schools during communist times while Chinggis Khaan’s name was expunged from history textbooks, newspapers and movies. Mongolian literature teachers of those days projected a non-conformist, nationalist image by growing their hair and moustaches.  They taught Mongolia’s history using the Secret History.  For children growing up during communist times, the Secret History was the only window on the history of Mongolia and Chinggis Khaan secure from the censorship of the MPRP and its Soviet advisors.

See a horse  To urinate.  On the steppe, there is no bush or rock to sit behind.  One merely walks an appropriate distance from one’s company and stands or squats.  The dell provides some privacy for women.

See to your cattle  To defecate.

Seven Gods  The stars of Ursa Major (Big Bear), aka the Big Dipper, that point the way to Polaris, the North Star.  Because Polaris is directly above the geographic north pole (in line with the earth’s axis of rotation) regardless of the season, to viewers in the northern hemisphere its position remains fixed in the heavens all night while the other stars appear to rotate around it.  For that reason, Polaris has been used to navigate since ancient times.

Shaman Taivan  The story of the vanishing shaman of Zuunkharaa political prison was recounted to us by Mongolians who were incarcerated there at the time he disappeared.  They recalled, too, the tall green-eyed lama with the grand singing voice who kept his cellmates healthy all winter with a routine of singing and exercise.  Despite the beatings the prisoners endured following the shaman’s disappearance, he was never found.  Locals believe he inhabits a nearby forest.  Go to the woods, they say, and he will take something, a lens cap, a packet of sweets – nothing of great value, just enough to let you know he is there.  Local school children frighten their classmates with stories of the ghostly shaman.

Shinel  An army great coat made of tsembe or fine felt.  Shinel is a Russian word adopted into the Mongolian language.

Siberia  Russia from the Ural Mountains eastward to the Pacific Ocean.  Prior to 1500 there were virtually no ethnic Russians in Siberia.  Spearheaded by Cossack adventurers, Russians claimed most of present-day Siberia by 1700 -- including some Mongolian populations.

Siberian taiga  Siberia’s forests -- primarily comprised of Siberian fir but also some pine.

Sister, brother  Close friends, especially those of roughly the same age, routinely call each other sister or brother.  It can be confusing to a foreigner.  Sister itself can be translated as the older sister (egch) only.  Brother is translated as older brother (ah) only.  Both younger sister and younger brother are said in the same word “duu”.  In speaking, sister might mean all of the following: older female sibling, aunt, female older relative, female older or more respectful friend, or female supervisor.  The same applies to brother when used by males.

Snuff bottle  A small decorated bottle containing snuff (a tobacco powder).  Mongolians greet one another by first exchanging snuff bottles.  One accepts the bottle with an open hand thumb side up, and sniffs the powder before handing the bottle back in the same manner. The snuff bottle is used as a diplomacy tool in steppe encounters.  When strangers meet in the middle of nowhere, they dismount their horses, sit down and greet each other with snuff bottles.  The ceremony helps establish a hospitable, respectful and peaceful relationship. 

Sochi   Russian Black Sea port city where Mongolian Prime Minister Genden was held under house arrest before being taken to Moscow, convicted of treason by a Soviet Military Count and executed in 1937.  His ashes were thrown into a mass grave.  In 2014 it was host to the Winter Olympic Games.

Soum  Equivalent to a county.

Soum center  Equivalent to a county-seatThe soum center of Khuvsgul aimag is Erdenbulgan.  Khuvsgul aimag has twenty-four soums.  See Aimag.

South Gobi  The southern regions of the Gobi Desert.  The name of one of a province of Mongolia.

Soviet Secret Police  The first in a succession of secret security organizations in Soviet Russia was established on December 20, 1917 by a decree issued by Vladimir Lenin.  It was the Extraordinary Commission to combat counter-revolutionists called Cheka (Ch.K.—Chresvychaynaya Komissiya).  In 1922, it became the NKVD (Narodni Kamisariate Vnutrennyh Del -- Peoples Commissariat of Internal Affairs) which later broadened its activity by becoming the All-Union (Vsesoyuzny) NKVD.  In 1946 the NKVD was, itself, reorganized and renamed the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstviennnoj Bjezopasnosti) The Mongolian equivalent to the Soviet KGB was the Dotood Yavdliin Yam -- Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Spirit of the State  Mongolians believed that the State (government) must have a powerful spirit that protects people who believe in it, or those who work for the state.  This notion was not contradictory to believing in God or practicing various religions.  Nomads pray for and sprinkle their tea and milk for a strong spirit of state which is believed to bring peace, order, justice and wealth.

Stalin, Joseph  Soviet dictator.  Born Joseb Besarionis dze Jughashbili in what is now the country of Georgia, Stalin was one of the pioneers of Russian revolution of 1917 and a notorious paranoid killer of Russian and Soviet intelligentsia and anybody whose popularity threatened him.  He took power after Lenin’s death.  While sick in bed, Lenin wrote a letter to Communist Party leaders warning that Stalin should not be his successor because he was rude and brutal.  Stalin purged thousands of Soviet citizens in the late 1930s.  He repeatedly pressured Mongolian Prime Ministers to take “action” against Buddhist lamas, wealthier nomads and ethnic minorities.  He was responsible for the murder of the two Mongolian Prime Ministers before Choibalsan, who followed his orders.  Following the success of the 1990 democratic movement, Mongolians removed only Stalin’s statue from among all communist era monuments.  Traditionally tolerant of the excesses of its past leaders, Mongolians did not destroy his statue.  Instead it was transported to the dance-floor of an Ulaanbaatar night-club called “Isimus” (referring to Stalin’s military rank).  Stalin is also remembered by Mongolians as the leader of the Soviet Army that brought victory in World War II and as a politician who helped Choibalsan secure the acquiescence of China to Mongolian independence -- which came in 1946.  Recently, Lenin’s stature was also taken down and sold at auction.

Sukhbaatar  A national hero of Mongolia for his leading role in forming and leading the People’s Army in 1920.  Sukhbaatar’s People’s Army was a continuation and fulfilment of the aims of the National Liberation Movement armies formed by Khatanbaatar Magsarjav (also known as Baatar Van) and Manlai Baatar Damdinsuren in the early 1910s who rose against the Manchus.  Sukhbaatar’s army also fought Chinese and Japanese invaders and the White Russians who fled from the October Revolution and were preparing to refit their army in Mongolia.  Sukhbaatar’s army won great popularity all over the country.  Sukhbaatar was born in a northern border town of Selenge province and developed a close relationship with local Russians while growing up.  He became one of the founders of Mongolian People’s Party in 1921.  He died at age of 30, in 1923.  Sukhbaatar was famously tall and athletic.  His nickname was “Goimon Baatar” meaning ‘noodle hero’ for his height and slender frame.  Sukhbaatar is reputed to have been among the delegates of the Mongolian People’s Party who secretly met Lenin and requested military assistance from Bolsheviks.  The central square of Ulaanbaatar was named after Sukhbaatar and his monument stands in the centre of the square.  Recently, the Sukhbaatar Square has been renamed Chinggis Khaan Square.

Tahir Nogoon  (Angled Green).  Tahir Nogoon is the nickname given to an oddly shaped long green building where Buddhist lamas and other class enemies of the communist party were imprisoned and interrogated.  Tahir Nogoon used to be located in south east end of the older part of Muren town in Khuvsgul province.  It was destroyed in 1992 after being abandoned for many years.

Taiga  See Siberian Taiga.

Tanguts  A tribe from the southern region of the Mongolian Gobi.  Tanguts and Chinggis’s father’s tribe, Hamag Mongol, had a lingering animosity.  Although Chinggis Khaan’s army was victorious in their battle with the Tanguts, Chinggis Khaan was thrown from his horse during the battle, it is said, and died soon after.

Tanka  Hand-painted depictions of the gods, spirits and themes of Buddhism framed by silk or silky material.  Tankas are usually hung on walls or from ceilings and are venerated by believers.

Temuujin  See Chinggis Khaan.

Tibetan Buddhism  The tradition of Buddhism (Mahayana) practiced indigenously in Tibet and neighbouring regions of China as well as Mongolia, Nepal, the Kingdom of Bhutan, and certain Himalayan regions of India.  The other great tradition of Buddhism, Theravada, is practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and the south-western portion of Vietnam.  An offshoot of Mahayana, Zen Buddhism, is practiced in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Some Tibeto-Mongolian Buddist concepts

Karma  One’s destiny which can be changed during one’s lifetime by good or bad   deeds.

            Nugel  Bad, wrongful deed especially if it adversely affects another.

Black Nugel Especially wrongful deeds.  Examples are hunting (because it takes a creatutre’s life, murder, stealing, lying, betraying another…

            Buyan Good deed

White Buyan Especially good deeds.  Examples are giving to the poor, loving all creatures, feeding a dog, working hard and serving people, caring for the sick and injured or those otherwise at risk, sharing one’s wealth, raising a child, planting a tree, writing a book to educate the younger generation, sharing one’s wisdom and experience…

            Uiliin ur The consequences of one’s deed(s)

Buzar Something bad, dirty or wrong attaching to oneself                                              Erleg Nonun Khan “Death Bookkeeping King” (The equivelant of Saint Peter determining whether a Christain can enter the Gates of Heaven by refering to his book of one’s deeds.)

Tie a byaruu  A Byaruu is a one year old calf.  To “tie a byaruu” means to defecate.

Toono (pronounced “tone”)  The circular ceiling of a ger resembling the frame of an open window.  Sun light enters directly through the toono, and smoke from the stove exits ger through the toono.  Nowadays, gers have stovepipes that reach through the toono.  Pror to the “Great Cultural Attack” of the 1960s, however, the central fire was merely an open hearth -- rendering the ger interior quite smoky at times.  Because every ger door faces south, early morning, sunlight streaming through the toono touches first the west upper side of the ger’s ceiling.  The circle of sunlight progresses clockwise inside the ger and reaches the east side of the ger’s wall and ceiling by the end of day.  Thus, the toono serves three purposes -- window, air circulator, and clock.

Treatise  Buddhist chants and other literature on the history and practice of Buddhism written in Tibetian or Mongolian.  Typically, pages of the books are not bound.  Two cover pages are hard and wooden, and the middle pages are paper.  Book pages are usually narrow.  Treatises are wrapped with silk or cloth. 

Truth  (Unen) The official newspaper of the Mongolian communist party (MPRP).  The official communist party newspaper in the USSR, Pravda, is the Russian for “truth”.

Tsaatan people  Ethnic Mongol reindeer herders living in mountainous northwest Khuvsgul Province and the Russian Republic of Tuva across the border.  The Reindeer is their sheep, cow and horse.  They dwell in teepees and adhere to ancient shamanist traditions.  Their lifestyle and belief system may approximate the condition of all Mongols prior to the acquisition of the horse.  The parallels, cultural and genetic, to Native Americans have been noted in popular and scientific literature.  Reindeer herding cultures are found also in Siberia and as far west as Finland and northern Sweden.

Tsagaa  Frozen aarts.

Tsagaan sar (White Moon).  The Mongolian equivalent of Chinese New Year although it doesn’t always occur on the same day.  It consists of at least three days of ceremonies, toasting, feasting, receiving guests and visiting family and friends.  The commencement date is determined each year by Mongolian astrologers.

Tsam  Buddhist masks or masked dance ceremonies. 

Tushima  The victory of the Japanese navy over the Russian naval forces in Tushima Strait in 1905 sealed Tsarist Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War.  In consequence, Russia ceded its control over southern Manchuria to the Japanese.  Japan’s victory over a major European power contributed to rising nationalism in colonial Asia and set Japan on a course of increasing militarism at home and territorial expansionism abroad, most especially in China, which culminated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Southeast Asia.

Tuv  “Central”  Tuv Province; also the counter-revolutionist case “Tuv”.

Tuva  (Tannu Tuva), the region west of Khuvsgul Province inhabited by a native people culturally quite close to Mongolians.  Mineral rich Tuva was annexed by Soviet Union in 1944 putting an end to Mongolian claims on the region.

Uguudei  Third son of Chinggis Khaan.  According to the Secret History of the Mongols, when the Lords and Queens met to decide which of Chinggis Khaan’s four sons would succeed him, there was an ugly argument between Uguudei’s two elder brothers, Zuchi and Tsagaadai.  Tsagaadai insisted he would not accept the selection of Chinggis’ first son Zuchi as the Khaan because Zuchi was not Chinggis Khaan’s blood son.  Chinggis Khaan scolded Tsagaadai for humiliating his mother in front of all the Lords and Queens.  Tsagaadai’s argument referred to a painful chapter in the life their mother, Burte, who was abducted and held captive by the Mergid’s for a year following her marriage to Chinggis Khaan and was pregnant when Chinggis Khaan freed her from captivity. 

Tsagaadai apologized in front of his mother, and promised to serve at his father shoulder with his brother.  However, when asked, Zuchi suggested that Uguudei succeed their father.  This is how Uguudei became the Khaan of Great Mongolia after his father’s death.  Uguudei’s legacy lasts thanks to his religious tolerance, the spreading of schools and literacy over Mongolia, and the founding of the first horse-relay system, the Mongolian Ministry of Road (Mongolian pony express).  Today’s communication and postage agencies claim Uguudei Khaan as their founding father.  Uguudei’s sons also quarrelled when their time came to be considered for the Khaan’s title.  The strongest opposition came from the sons of Tolui, as he was the fourth son of Chinggis Khaan.  Tolui, with his wife, famously clever Queen Sorkhogtan, raised four great sons: Kubilai Khaan (of Marco Polo and Samuel Taylor Coleridge fame), Munkh khaan, Khuleg khaan, and Arigbohi. 

Uiten huar  Thick silk.  Used in expensive deels.

Ulaanbaatar  The present capital of Mongolia.  Ulaanbaatar means “Red Hero.”  See Urga, below.

Ulzii    Name of a Mongolian national motif that looks like lattices with connected ends. The ulzii symbolizes long life or the endless circle of a life and it often decorates ger doors, dell’s and jackets’ chest, back or sleeves.  In addition, the ulzii was and is used as a rank indicator on military uniforms where the Russians used stars.  Choibalsan’s uniform of the late 1930s bore large ulzii on the collars.

Um maani badmi khum  Most simply, a Tibetan mantra – a prayer for compassion.

Umzad lama  Lama who initiates a melodic chanting ceremony with his deep powerful voice.     

Uni      Long poles that hold the ger’s toono and form the ceiling of the ger. There are 88 unis in a five-wall (or normal size) ger.  Smaller gers have fewer unis and bigger gers have more. 

Urga (also spelled Örgöö)  The name for Ulaanbaatar from its founding in 1639 to 1706.  From 1706–1911 it was known as Ikh Khüree (great camp) or Da Khüree (from the Chinese dà for “great”).  After the declaration of Independence from the Chinese Manchu Dynasty in 1911 the city was known as Niislel Khüree (capital camp).  In 1924 the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Government renamed the capital, Ulaanbaatar (red hero).

Urtuu   A horse relay station.  Similar to the Pony Express of the 19th Century American West, Mongolia’s traditional horse relay stations were located every 30 kms.  People living nearby would pick up letters and other goods addressed to them at their local relay station.  This community postal service was established in the thirteenth century, by Ugudei Khaan.  In the 1930s the urtuu was commandeered by the communist government to serve only for state communications.

Uur River  The river running near Mongolia’s northern border in Erdenebulgan and Tsagaan-Uur soums of Khuvsgul province.

Volga Germans  Ethnic Germans invited by Catherine the Great to settle the Volga River region of southern Russia in the 1760s.

White butter  Sweet butter stored for a period time.  When sweet butter is stored and pressed in a pot made of bark or wood or in the stomach of a slaughtered animal, the butter acquires the taste of sour thick cream.  If stored in plastic or metal pots white butter spoils quickly while vessels of wood or animal stomach inhibit its spoilage.  White butter is the best material for making mixed butter, and extracting yellow butter from it.  Any white-looking butter can be called white butter.  For example, butter made of cow airag looks white therefore is called white butter.

White Moon  See Tsagaan sar

White Russians  Opponents of the Red (communist) Russians in the Russian civil war that followed the October 1917 communist revolution.  White commands were poorly coordinated and did not present a coherent, appealing alternative to the Russian people.

White Tara  One of twenty one Taras (Godesses) in Tibetan Buddhism as represented in sculpture, painting and embroidery.  The White Tara symbolizes purity and virginity.  The most famous White Tara in Mongolia is a bronze sculpture created by Zanabazar, the first Buddhist leader and a Goldenline philosopher and artist.

Winter Palace  A grand and beautiful palace located in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Before the 1917 October Revolution it was the winter palace of the Russian Tsars.  Currently, it houses the Hermitage, the largest gallery of art in Russia.  In 1917 the Winter Palace was attacked and occupied by Lenin’s followers on a signal from the vessel Aurora which blew its whistle from the River Neva.  The official commencement of the communist revolution is marked by the attack on the Winter Palace.

Wool   The thick “hair” of sheep and camels.  Goats don’t produce wool.  They produce cashmere and goat hair separately.  Wools can’t be separated as is hair and cashmere.  It is both of them in one material.  Cattle, horse and yaks also do not produce wool.  In their case, their cashmere-like warm thin hairs are separate from and grow in between their longer hair.  However, these are not fine like cashmere.  They are called “houvur.”  Houvurs are commonly used as a filler for mattresses as they are not long enough to allow felt to be made from them.  Wool is the best material for making felt.

Yargai  An expensive tropical hardwood much coveted in traditional Mongolian society for whip handles.  Bamboo was a similarly exotic and valued trade item.

Yellow butter  100% butter with a strong yellow color.  It is extracted from sweet butter or white butter by melting them on a low fire.  Yellow butter is used in food making, cooking, and as the main material for candles in monasteries and at home.  Because it doesn’t emit visible smoke, it is the perfect candle to burn in front of expensive items like icons, tankas and pictures of Gods and the deceased.

Yellow Hat Buddhists  A sect of Tibetan Buddhism common in Mongolia.  The Bogd Khaan in all his incarnations was Yellow Hat which was the sect of Tibetan Buddhism first brought to Mongolia.  Because the Yellow Hat sect does not have much in common with Mongolian traditional shamanism, its later arriving rival, the Red Hat sect, came to predominate in some areas of Mongolia.  In strongly shamanist regions like Khuvsgul province, it is more common to see Red Hat monasteries where the main gods are spirits related to nature and sky as closely as to Buddha.  The main Yellow Hat Monastery in Ulaanbaatar is Gandan, and the main Red Hat monastery was Choijin Lama which now is a museum.  Surprisingly, the Eighth Bogd Khaan was the leader of Yellow Hat Buddhism, while his brother, Choijin, was a famous Red Hat lama who conducted shamanistic rituals in his monastery.

Yellow milk  A yellowish acidy liquid rich in protein.  It is extracted out of milk during the process of aaruul and cheese making.  Also, when milk goes bad, yellow milk is separated from the white thick milk.  Yellow milk is used as food for goats, cows and other animal, and as a leather softener and to separate hair from animal skin before making leather.  Yellow milk extracted from cheese is much softer than that extracted from aarts in aaruul making.  Such soft yellow milk is used for “washing the stomach” in Mongolian traditional therapy.  One drinks over two liters of yellow milk in one therapy, and lies down to ‘wash everything inside.’  In a few hours if not minutes, the patient runs for the toilet.  Yellow milk is also used as a shield against skin-damaging UV light.  Especially on sunny days, parents wash their children with yellow milk to protect the naked little ones from sunburn.  It is believed that one can suntan skin without burning if he or she first washes with yellow milk.

Young Pioneers  After school youth organization providing children with extra-curricular learning opportunities along with a heavy dose of communist ideology.

Yonzon Khamba  Head lama of Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.  The communists charged him with being the leader of an alleged Buddhist conspiracy to resist the communist authorities – thereby justifying, in their minds, a nation-wide purge of Buddhism, its believers, and all lamas (priests).  A similar purge was initiated against Islam in the Kazak far-west.  Scores of thousands were murdered.

Zaaz   When the cold months commence herders select out those animals that appear unlikely to survive the rigors of Mongolia’s frigid five-month winter.  The animals are dispatched and their meat preserved by winter’s deepfreeze.  Their coats are made into clothing.  Such animals are said to be “for zaaz” -- marked for slaughter.

Zanabazar (1635-1723) – also known as Tall Holy (Undur Gegeen).  Zanabazar was born a son of Tusheet Khaan GombOdorj, a golden line khaan.  Zanabazar was Mongolia’s first Buddhist religious leader.  He was also an artist, sculptur, composer, musician, and originator of Soyombo script.  Before he became the leader of all Mongolia, the Eastern and Western Mongolian khaanates were at war.  Zanabazar sought help from the Manchu army to defeat Western Mongols, causing Mongolia’s decline to a Manchurian colony.  While his legacy as a politician and khaan remains questionable, he is remembered as the “Michelangelo of Asia” for his magnificent sculptures of which the most famous are his ‘21 Taras’ cast from gilded bronze.

Zerleg  Name of a valley where the Zerleg River runs.  Zeleg means wilderness.  It is a few hours ride from the Arkhan.

Zhukov  See Dzukov

Zuud (zud, dzud) Exreme cold spells with so much snow and ice that herd animals cannot uncover sufficient grass to survive.  Mongolian herders rely on pasture grass even during winter and cannot prepare enough hay for all the animals and every possible contingency.  Just enough is harvested in fall to feed the animals during the long nights of winter, a few stormy day, or during the high winds of spring when the wind speeds climb to over 20 meters per second.  If deep snow covers the pasture and a freeze and a thaw follows that coats grass blades in ice, and an intense cold persists over days or weeks, the stock of hay runs out and animals die from hunger and the cold.  One herder family may own from one hundred to several thousand animals.  The poorer families can least afford the loss of animals to a dzud.  The dzud of 1943/44 caused deaths of tens of thousands of animals throughout the country and the miscarriages of almost all pregnant females from the lack of fodder and intense cold.  With no calves to nurse, cows produced no milk.  During the “black summer” of 1944, herders survived by eating wild berries, tubors, edible plants and whatever wild animals they could trap or shoot.  Most of the surviving herd animals were too thin to kill for meat.  The dzud hit steppe dwellers hardest.  Herders in sheltered forested areas fared marginally better.

Zuut/zuuts  A unit in the ancient Mongolian armies, including Chinggis Khaan’s, consisting of a hundred soldiers.  Zuu means one hundred.  Other units are aravt (arav is ten), myangat (myanga is 1000) and tumet (tum means 10,000).  Researchers found that the Hun, or Hunnu (hun means human being in Mongolian) had the same aravts, zuuts, myangats and tumets system in their army.

©2008 Oyungerel Ts., Jeffrey L. Falt    

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