Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Month: March, 2010

Mongolian Tradition of Using Terms of Respect

Mongolians follow strict rules of respect handed down from earlier times. Parents teach their children how to respect their elders and their friends.

A person says, “Та” or “Гуай” to respect one older than oneself. Besides this, when people talk about a person’s condition, they soften their speech. They speak softly and respectfully, saying “sightless” rather than “blind,” “hard-eared” rather than “deaf,” and “aged” rather than old.

It is taboo to say one’s parents’ name. People who have the same name as their father or mother are called “hard-named.”

Mongolians have trained their children from early childhood in the tradition of using polite forms of address. It is a simple thing for the words of respect to enter the language and speech of the children.

One follows the name of an elderly person, a senior person in the office, one older than oneself, or an unknown person with a word of respect such as “авгай,” “гуай,” or “ахай.” For example, Dorj guai, Dulmaa guai, Tsermaa guai, etc.
For the names of people one knows well or of close friends, people first say the first syllable of the name and then add -yaa or –yee or else –khai or –khee to the end. For example, Natsag becomes Naayaa, Tseren becomes Tseeyee, Dulmaa becomes Duuyaa, Gomb becomes Gombokhoi, Chuluun becomes Chuluukhai, etc.

Also elders, acquaintance, and close people may be addressed with special terms of respect instead of by their names. For example: Ambaa, Agaa, Ajaa, Jaajaa, Adzai, Ania, Nainaa.

When using a polite and respectful form of address to teachers, bosses, relatives, and close people, one says the first syllable of the person’s name then brother, sister, teacher, boss, etc. For example, Ray teacher, Da teacher, Do brother, Tsee sister. It is also in widespread use to add brother or sister after the name. Bat brother, Tsetsgee sister, Davaanyam brother, Dulamsuren sister, etc.

Also people say peoples’ names followed by their occupation. Sukh doctor, Baatar engineer, Enkhee driver, Tuya director, Bold artist, etc.

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Mongolian customs connected with cups (bowls)

Mongolian people say, “A person without a cup is the same as a person without a mouth.” People all have their own cup and they only eat food and drink tea out of their own cup. They don’t drink out of other people’s cups. If they go far away, they always take their own cup with them.

Mongolians raise and use wooden, glass, porcelain and silver cups. They say that copper cups help with internal sicknesses so people used them.

A silver cup is the most respected gift. Silver cups are given to friends, parents and relatives and the elderly. At celebratory times, people hold a silver cup of milk on a ceremonial scarf and say a prayer for blessing.

It is taboo to give a guest tea or food in a chipped cup or to give them an empty cup. One always places tea or food in a cup and gives it. One doesn’t half fill a cup with tea or food; he always completely fills it. When one gives a cup of tea or food, it is taboo to give it with only one hand or with the left hand. After eating and drinking, one does not place the cup upside down. Also, one doesn’t leave food in his cup.

It is taboo to deliberately break a cup. It is said that that if you break one, something bad will happen. If one accidentally breaks a cup, he must throw it away without trying to save it. If a child accidentally breaks a cup, one does not scold him; it is believed to be a good omen. One does not set down a cup given to him without tasting the tea or food. One tastes and then places it on the table. It is taboo to step over a cup.

One does not lick his cup after drinking tea or airag. However, one licks his cup after eating food or drinking yogurt.

The significance of numbers to Mongolians

This is a rough translation of a topic I recently studied:

Mongolians consider 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10 as good omens, but they see 1 and 7 as bad.

One–One is not considered a good omen. “One stick does not make a fire; one person does not make a family” is a proverb. A person does not give one item as a gift.

Two–Two symbolizes a couple. People live as couples. Everything has two aspects–good and bad, nice and nasty, long and short, south and north, black and white, etc. From this, we can say that two is life’s important law.

Three–In Mongolian oral literature, there are the “World’s Threes.” The world’s true characteristics are declared in world’s threes such as:

A night without a moon is one darkness
A person without knowledge is one darkness
A corral without sheep is one darkness

Father, mother and child are three; root, branch and bud are three, so we can see that the world’s connections are by threes. Also Buddhism talks about three lives (heaven, hell and the present life).

Five–Five sorts of livestock, five senses, five delicious foods, etc. are very much respected.

Seven–Seven is the worst number. In Mongolian stories and legends, seven represents things that are against people, such as seven hollows, seven bandits, seven black goats, seven thieves, or seven bald people. Among Mongolians, there is a proverb, “Seven declines, eight recovers.”

Eight–There are eight offerings with weight. Also eight is called “improving eight.”

Nine–Many things are connected with nine. Nine precious stones–gold, silver, pearl, copper, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli, coral, steel. There are nine nines–81 days of cold (beginning Dec. 22), nine birthmarks, nine holes in a milk sprinkler.

In old days, rich people gave to each other gifts of nine white camels and nine white horses. Nine white gifts is the most revered gift.

For Mongolians, even and odd numbers are very meaningful. They have weddings and feasts on even-numbered days. They bury people on odd-numbered days.