Customs and taboos in Mongolia
In the Mongolian yurt, traditions give their tempo to life and many rules and taboos lead the domestic behaviours. Most frequent taboos are:
- To lean back against the yurt’s posts or to pass through them. This custom probably has practical origins but also expresses the symbolism of the posts as fonts of strength in the house.
- To walk on the doorway. It is ominous to walk or stumble over the yurt’s doorway when you go inside. In the Middle Ages, the travellers who went to Mongolia told that anyone who walked over the yurt’s doorway was executed.
- To stretch out the arms in order to touch the two sides of the doorframe. This would represent a cross, and a cross outside the yurt’s door traditionally means that someone is dead and that the visitors must keep their distance. So touching the two sides of the doorframe is regarded as a bad omen.
- To throw some wastes in the stove. The fire is considered as the purest element and no waste must be thrown in it.
- To mix dirty things and clean things. Mongolian people have a great esteem for cleanliness and they think that if dirty things touch clean things, they will contaminate them. Thus, in accordance with this custom, it would be intolerable to put dirty clothes in the family chest.
- To walk or sit North of a person older than oneself. Although Mongolians believe in Confucianism with less strength than other Asian people, the elders are given considerable respect. The oldest and most respected visitors sit in the bottom of the yurt, and the other ones sit on the sides, from the oldest one to the youngest one.
- To walk between the fire and the bottom of the yurt because they are the two most sacred parts of the yurt. Nomads believe that energy passes between these two points and that we must not cut it off. So the visitors must go in and go out by the same side.
- To walk anti-clockwise. The “nar zuv”, literally “the good sense”, refers to clockwise. Mongolians think that everything in the universe belongs to the cycles of time and movement, so it’s important to mode in harmony with these cycles. For example, when we fold down the roof of the yurt, we must do it walking clockwise outside the yurt.
- To bring weapons in the yurt. Before going in the yurt, the visitor must remove the knife from his belt and hang it in plain view to prove his friendly intentions.
Other customs rule the way guests are welcomed. Mongolians generally show great respect towards visitors and will house anyone with no preliminary appointment. When a visitor arrives, he must say “nokhoi khor!” which means, “hold your dog!” even if there’s no dog, in order to make a member of the family go out from the yurt and invite you to go in. The three main types of welcoming are tsailaga, budaalaga, and dailaga, literally “offering tea”, “offering rice”, and “offering dinner”. Tsailaga is the most frequent one: when nomads have just set up camp and want to meet their new neighbours, for example. Budaalaga and dailaga are similar but show a bigger respect for the visitor.