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Traditional custom of Mongolia

Household customs

Life in the Mongolian ger is governed by tradition, with many rules and taboos governing orderly behavior in the home. Some of the most common taboos are:

  • Leaning against or passing between the posts of a ger. This custom undoubtedly has very practical origins, but also expresses the symbolism of the posts as source of strength in the home.
  • Stepping on the threshold. Its considered bad luck to step on or stumble over the threshold when entering and leaving the ger.
  • Spreading once arm to touch both sides of the door-frame. It is consequently treated as a bad omen.
  • Putting garbage into the fire. As the fire is believed to be the purest of elements, so no garbage must be thrown into it.
  • Walking in front of or sitting to the north of an older people. Elders are traditionally accorded considerable respect.
  • Passing between the fire and the rear of the ger. The fire and the rear of the home are two most sacred parts of the ger. It is believed to be a line of energy communicating between the family and visitors. So a visitor to the home must enter and leave by the same side.


The Legend of the Ger

Once upon a time, when our Mongolian ancestors made their dwellings of steppe and their pillows of hills and rocks, all people and animal lived peacefully in a big house called the earth which had a blue roof, a green floor and no ropes to moor it. But – for what reason no one knows – the creatures of the earth began to quarrel. The animals fought among themselves, and those who had power started to catch and eat those who did not. So all the animals had to go their separate ways, each following their own trail. Some made a hole and snuck down it. Others made their dwellings under the water, still others in the treetops. Human beings have no nails to dig a hole, no oar to row in the water and no wings to fly in sky. But they are blessed with intellect, thanks to which they can do anything they dream of. At this time, there was a very old man who had no worldly possessions, nothing at all except his intellect. One day he said to his seven sons. We could build a small dwelling according to our great model, the earth. The sons thought long and hard, but they couldn’t work out what their father meant. So the old man made willow lattice frame, taking as his model the mountains that surrounded the steppe like a wall. He fashioned a door that could be closed during a blizzard and opened in fine weather, inspired by rocky ravines that face to the south. And he made a chimney hole, thinking of the sun overhead in the sky. He built supporting poles, thinking of the sun’s golden rays, which stream to all sides. The covering for the walls he adapted from the fog that rises behind the mountains, the roof covering from the thick clouds that cover the sky. He spun ropes from animal hair, thinking of the whirlwind twisting behind the mountains. Then the old man and his and his sons spread out the walls, erected the door, put up the chimney hole, attached the poles, hung the wall covering, attached the roof covering and tightened the mooring ropes. Now they had a white Ger that was round like the globe. The old man’s sons were in awe of the mind of their aged father. Who had made this dwelling that could bring the sunlight closer and drive away a fierce wind, that could be moved when they needed to move, erected when they needed to stay. They settled down contentedly to live in their Ger. But the story doesn’t end there. The father lived out his days happily, but one day he become bedridden and gathered his sons around him. “There are a day to finish as well as a day to be born” he said.” I must return to the rocky Ger from my lattice – walled Ger. “This Ger will teach you how to live in the future. But you ought to tighten the mooring ropes” he told his sons. And with that, he died. The sons were taken aback, once again failing to understand the meaning of their father’s words. They didn’t notice that the mooring ropes of their Ger had grown slack. Each had counted on the other to tighten them, so no one had done it. And soon the Ger fell down. “It’s your fault!” each brother said to the other. In the end, they could not be reconciled, and decided to go their separate ways. They shared out the property their father had left them. Each went in the direction his eyes looked, carrying on his back walls or poles. Door, chimney, roof covering or wall covering. The youngest son got only the mooring ropes. The eldest son reached a sunny spot, set up his door and settled down to live in peace. But he was soon burnt by the strong sunlight. As the second son was spreading out his walls and preparing to sleep, a fierce rainstorm struck, he was lucky not to be hit by lightning. When the next son was sheltering under his wall covering, a mountain flood washed his shelter away. White the next son was resting on his roof covering, a whirlwind swept away his home. The son who made his house from the chimney hole was lucky not to be eaten alive by wild wolves. And the son who took shelter in a hut made of poles nearly froze to death. And the youngest son had the most trouble of all because all he had was the rope. But one day he was approached by one of his brothers, who carried on his back the walls. Soon, one after another, other brothers arrived, carrying on their backs door, chimney hole, poles and coverings. In harmony at last, the brother erected their Ger and tightened the mooring ropes. So the seven sons had finally understood their aged father’s final words. And since that time from generation to generation, the white Ger has been a symbol of friendship and harmony. And the sons lived happily ever after.