The Horse-Head Fiddle

by sumpteretc

The horse-head fiddle is the national instrument of Mongolia. It is impossible to understand Mongolians apart from horses and the horse-head fiddle. The horse-head fiddle has two strings but it has the power to declare all the life of the universe, as well as its joy and pain. Not only people but livestock are touched by the horse-head fiddle. When the horse-head fiddle is played, livestock that have rejected their young take their young back. The playing of the horse-head fiddle even has the power to make the horses’ gait and neighing come alive before one’s eyes. Mongolian people very much respect horse-head fiddles and place them in the honored part of their tents.
The horse-head fiddle has its origins in the pi-pa instrument from the early Hunnu period. Earlier, the pipa had heads in the shapes of crocodiles, dragons, and garudas (the king of the birds). Later, the instruments were made with the head of a horse, and were called horse-head fiddles. There is a legend about this.
In the territory on the eastern border, there was a young horseman named Namjil. He sang very well, so the people of his territory called him Cuckoo Namjil. Cuckoo Namjil went to the western border to do military service. While he was doing military service, there he met the daughter of that territory’s chief and fell in love with her. When Cuckoo Namjil finished his time of doing military service and returned to his homeland, the chief’s daughter gave him a horse as a gift. That horse had hidden wings and flew. The girl gave him her horse and instructed him to fly on that horse and meet with her.
Cuckoo Namjil came to his homeland and raised livestock with his parents, but at night he visited his beloved on his flying horse. But the slave-girl of his territory’s chief noticed that every night he went someplace and came back at dawn and secretly was observing him.
One time, when Namjil went at night, came back at dawn and entered his house, he forgot to hide his horse’s wings. That slave-girl came beside his horse, saw the hidden wings and cut them off with scissors. When this happened, his horse died. Namjil was his dead horse and was filled with grief. Then he took his horse’s mane, tail and skin, and made a horse-head fiddle. Later he carved his horse’s head and immortalized it.