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ALTAICA BUDAPESTINENSIA

MMII

PROCEEDINGS OF THE

45TH PERMANENT INTERNATIONAL ALTAISTIC CONFERENCE (PIAC)

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY, JUNE 23-28, 2002

Edited by

Alice Sárközi and Attila Rákos

Offprint

Research Group for Altaic Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Department of Inner Asian Studies, Eötvös Loránd University

Budapest 2003

ISBN 963 508 388 2


Ritualistic Use of Livestock Bones
in the Mongolian Belief System and Customs

Ágnes Birtalan (Budapest)

The bone in various religious belief systems symbolises both mortality and eternity. Mortality,
because the bones remaining after death are associated with death, and eternity because the bones
remain while the flesh vanishes. No wonder that bone became the object of worship and is used for
ritualistic purposes. Although in the sacral sphere human bones also play an important role,
particularly in the Buddhist, tantric cults and ritual, and in shamanism, where the superfluous bones
can be the sign of being born to become a shaman, here we will deal only with animal bones in
Mongolian culture. To the shamans’ garment human skeleton imitations which represent the
shaman’s bones as the residence of his soul, are attached among several Siberian and also
Mongolian populations.1 The numerous data on human bones in epic tales and in shamanic
invocation-type songs, such as the distinguished parts of the human body,2 or the problem of bone
as a residence of a soul, from the three (two) souls of people, and that of patrilinear descendance
called “bone” (yasun) will be discussed in a following study.
It must be obvious that in a pasturing-hunting society, as that of the Mongols, different kinds of
cattle and beast bones must play important roles in everyday life and in the sacral sphere as well.
But despite this evident fact, the use of bones in the non-sacral sphere is rather limited, according to
the available ethnographical data. As for the examples of everyday usage, here we would like to
mention some records, to demonstrate the use of bones (objects made of horn and antler will also be
listed here) as hunting-fishing instruments or decoration on personal belongings.
It is widely known that the Mongolian warriors of the Great Mongolian Empire and of its
successor states used bones to prepare parts of bows and arrowheads among others for whistling
arrows.3 In the 19th-20th centuries the Buriads also used to make arrowheads (Bur. yahan zorxo)4
from bone, but as Hangalov stated, it was out of need, because the poor hunters could not afford to

1
As in the case of the Daurs in NE China, where some plain straps imitate the human limbs, cf. Humphrey, C. – Urgunge
Onon: Shamans and Elders. Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Daur Mongols. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1996,
p. 208; cf. also the Darkhad shaman cloak, the xuyag in Diószegi, V.: Ethnogenic Aspects of Darkhat Shamanism. In: AOH
16 (1963), p. 67.
2
A recent study on the concept of human body cf. Lacaze, G.: Mongolian Representations of the Body. In: Mongolian
Studies XXIII (2000), pp. 43-67.
3
About the weapons of the nomad-warriors Kőhalmi prepared several detailed studies, devoting a bulky part to archery: “Die
relativ schwere Spitze erhöht die Treffsicherheit, verkürzt aber die Schußweite. Mit einer unverhältnismäßig leichten Spitze
aber ist das genaue Zielen sehr schwer. Darum wird bei Pfeilarten mit kleiner Spitze zur Herstellung eines richtigen
Gewichtsverhältnisses manchesmal zwischen dem Schaft und der eigentlichen Spitze noch ein besonderer kleiner Kolben
(aus Holz, Knochen, oder Eisen) angebracht. … Das Material der Pfeilspitze ist Holz, Horn, Knochen, Stein, Bronze und
Eisen, und zwar werden die Pfeile mit Kolbenspitze und die mit nur pfeifenden Kolben versehenen pfeifenden Pfeile
vornehmlich aus den ersten drei Stoffen, die mit schneidender und stechender Spitze aus den letzen vier Stoffen, angefertigt.
Die zusammengesetzten Spitzen sind meistens aus zweierlei Material. Die kleine eiserne Pfeilspitze wird an einem
hölzernen, hörnernen oder knöchernen Kolben (pfeifenden Knopf) befestigt.” U.-Kőhalmi, K.: Der Pfeil bei den
innerasiatischen Reiternomaden und ihren Nachbarn. In: AOH VI (1956), p. 128.
4
Concerning the data from different Mongolian languages: the most data are quoted from Khalkha (Khal.) and Oirad (Oir.)
dialects, the Buriad is abbreviated as Bur., the Written Mongol as Mong. The transcription of the spoken forms follows the
pronunciation and not the written forms.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 35

obtain metal ones from the blacksmith.5 In this case the use of bones is only the compulsive
replacement of the preferred material, the metal, with bone. However, some parts of the bow and
arrow are still prepared from antlers.6 The deer-antler or horn is also a favourite material for
preparing fishing hooks (degē, gox).7 The Ordos-Mongols also use the horn of the Hodgson-
antelope (Ordos orongγo) to prepare a special instrument (soyō) for punching hide rope (sur), for
preparing curb-reins, hopple (for this purpose it was prohibited to use a metal puncher).8
In some territories of Mongolia the šilib “bones of the lower leg”9 of antelopes and deer are used
for preparing whips (šilben tašūr),10 while the outlaws used the same bone of antelopes to prepare a
kind of “lasso” for stealing horses. They used this peculiar instrument, called šilbenī ūraγ to avoid
being detected, when they poached to catch horses. Several legs of antelopes are attached together,
which are used, as I. Seres mentioned in his study, similarly to the stick of magicians: “While
lengthened it was similar to the several meters long ūraγ used in everyday life but shriven, it needed
only little room …”.11
In the elaborate work of N. V. Kočeškov about the decorative arts of the Mongols, one can
hardly find objects made of bones, except some bone applications on knife sheaths, handles, on the
belt decoration (bel),12 and there are some snuff-tobacco bottles, (x«rög) made of bones.13 The
above mentioned puncher, made of a Hodgson-antelope’s horn belongs to the ceremonial garment
of the bridegroom among the Ordos-Mongols. The bridegroom wears it stuck into his belt on his
back, together with a dried tortoise-shell, probably with fertility purpose.14 The application on the
ornamental trimming (xyar) on a saddle-bow (bǖreg) among some Mongolian ethnic groups is made
of bones, like the Sambū-emēl “Sambū-saddle” of the Khalkhas,15 while others use other materials
for it: leather or Caragana leucophloea (aris, altan xargan). A clear example how the nomads
prepare the bones for further conversion is the preparation of camel bones which are put into milk or
cagā “boiled yoghurt”16 and then “spoons” (xalbaγ), “chopsticks” (sawx), parts of musical

5
“… vse strely snabžalis’ železnymi nakonečnikami, i tol’ko bednjaki, vmesto železnyh nakonečnikov, imeli kostjanye, o
čem upominaetjsa v starinnyh burjatskih skazanijah, kotorye nazyvalis’ yahan zorho.” Hangalov, M. N.: Sobranie Sočinenij
I. Burjatskoe Knižnoe Izdatel’stvo, Ulan-Ude 1958, p. 76.
6
“bolcuu/Spitze aus Metall an die sich ein weiteres Spitzenstück aus Knochen bzw. auch aus Metall anschließt.” Schubert, J.:
Paralipomena Mongolica. Wissenschaftliche Notizen über Land, Leute und Lebensweise in der Mongolischen Volksrepublik.
Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1971, p. 179. Some parts of the bow used for archery competitions, are made of antler of elk
(xandgai), deer (buγ), horn of goat (yamā), wild sheep (argali), and among others the ivory (jānī soyō) is also mentioned as a
possible material. Baldandor¤, D. – Dondog, Č. – Šaraw, S.: Surīn xarwā. Ulsīn Xewlelīn Gajar, Ulānbātar 1976, pp. 81-82
[Archery].
7
A short description, with an illustration about the hooks, used by the Ordos-Mongols, cf. Sarangpungsuγ – Qatanbaγatur,
Yi.: Ordos mongγolčud-un ulam¤ilaltu edlel keregsel. Öbör Mongγol-un Soyul-un Keblel-ün Qoriy-a, Kökeqota 1990, p. 50
[The Traditional Objects of Ordos-Mongols].
8
Sarangpungsuγ – Qatanbaγatur, Yi.: Ordos mongγolčud-un ulam¤ilaltu edlel keregsel. p. 133.
9
The šānt “tibia, shin-bone” and the taxiljūr yas “fibula” together are called šilib (written šilbe), sometimes the shin-bone
itself could also be called by this name.
10
Namnandor¤, O.: Mongolīn xurdan morinī šin¤. Ulsīn Xewlelīn Gajar, Ulānbātar 1989, p. 30 [The Features of the Runner].
A representation of such whip cf. Luwsanbaldan, X.: Xülgīn šin¤. Ulsīn xewlelīn gajar, Ulānbātar 1989 [The Characteristics
of the Mount], without page number, among the supplements.
11
Seres, I.: A mongol betyárok titkos fegyvere a šilbenii uurga. Egy néprajzi gyűjtés tanulságai. In: Orientalista Nap 2001.
Ed. by Á. Birtalan – Y. Masanori, MTA Orientalisztikai Bizottság – ELTE Orientalisztikai Intézet, Budapest 2002, p. 170
[The Secret Instrument of the Mongolian Outlaws, the šilbenii uurga. Lessons of an Ethnographical Research. In: Day of
Orientalists 2001].
12
Ornament on the strap of a tinder-pouch or knife.
13
Kočeškov, N. V.: Dekorativnoe isskustvo mongolojazyčnyh narodov XIX serediny XX veka. Nauka, Moskva.
14
Sarangpungsuγ – Qatanbaγatur, Yi.: Ordos mongγolčud-un ulam¤ilaltu edlel keregsel. pp. 82-83.
15
Songino, Č.: Malīn tonog xeregsel. “Soyombo” Xewlelīn Gajar, Ulānbātar 1991, p. 77 [Equipment for Stock-Raising].
16
Cagā “boiled tarag or xōrmog”.
36 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

instruments or even xutganī setgǖr “pipe-cleaner, reamer, attached to the knife” are made of it.17
The bones are also used for obtaining “glue” (cawū). There is a spring custom among the Khalkha
Mongols (Xalx), the so-called yas toslox “greasing the bone”, when the camel bones remained from
winter meals, are cut into pieces, boiled for obtaining “fat, grease” (tos).18 The above list does not
seem to be too long; the use of bones as a material for instruments and decoration, in the economical
sphere and everyday use, compared with other materials like felt, leather, wood, metal, is really
limited.
Completely different is the situation in the sacral sphere of life, where various kinds of bones are
used, with different purposes, and are subjected to sacral actions. In the following part of our paper
we would like to give an outline about the traditional conception and different kinds of rituals,
ceremonies connected with bones. To introduce this conception, we can start with the demonstration
of ceremonial feasts (xurim, nair). It is well-known that the nomads of Inner Asia follow seasonal
regulation in their eating habits, i.e. they consume milk products in the late spring – summer season
and eat meat in the autumn – winter time. And even during the meat-eating period, rich feasts –
when a so-called dailagīn širē “festive table” is prepared – are rather rare, mostly on the occasions
of communal celebrations, like the New Year (Cagān sar), the Month of lampions (Jul sar), and the
rites of passage like birth, hair cutting, wedding, funeral ceremonies. At the most distinguished
feasts, where usually a whole sheep is served, the meat, of course not separately from the bones, is
distributed among the participants, according to age, gender and relation to the family (whether they
are family or clan-members or guests, who are not related to the family). This distribution follows
strict rules, and any deviation would be considered as violation of the rules. There is a whole system
of rules and prohibitions: which part of meat could be consumed by which participant of the feast.
The main rules, taboos are generally common for most of the Mongolian populations, but there
could appear territorial differences. It is beyond our limit to demonstrate the whole system of meat
distribution rules, we would like to mention just a few examples from our fieldwork materials,
namely rules of festivities which are in connection with the bones used for other sacral purposes as
well.
It is well known that the meat on the shoulder-blade is particularly respected, and serves to
designate the priority of the maternal relatives. In the following passage from our field-work
material, our Western-Mongolian Dzakhchin (£axčin, Zaxčin) informant explains the reason in an
etiological myth fragment why the meat on the shoulder-blade is honoured. The tale mentioned in
the text is the well-known AaTh 301 tale about the hero born from an animal ancestor (Tuγl kǖn
“The calf-man”).

Dala bol xamgīn kündtē! X« alād maxa idixdýn xamgīn sǖldä xā abči xocar gisim
býdīm. Tere yaγād kündütýīm gixdýr sayīn minī keldek Tuγul kǖný ülgür: xacsan
xurγunā xā xadγal¤ē gidiktý xolbātāīm. Tere xacsan xurγunā xā xadγalā¤ býγýd, čanād
yesin tamγatā xýsýr dǖrün maxam boldigīn’. Bodtan tānar! Tīm učrās xā maxan
kündetē. Naγaca kümündü dala täwiný, zē kümündü dala täwixguā. Naγaca kümüný
xa¤ūd zē kümün dalda γara kürdüguā.19

17
Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. Sǖlenxǖ Xǖxdīn Xewlelīn Gajar, Ulānbātar 1992, p. 469
[Major Dictionary of Mongolian Customs I].
18
Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. p. 547.
19
From the materials of the Hungarian-Mongolian Expedition, collecting materials on Western-Mongolian dialects and folk
culture (sponsored by the Hungarian Foundation OTKA T 021174 and T 032087 and the British Arnold-Stein Foundation):
X. Bayarmagnai (1917-1992) Khowd town, August, 1991. To the repertoire of songs, tales and other materials of
Bayarmagnai, a separate book will be devoted by £. Colō and the author of present lines. All the following Dzakhchin data
have been told by him; the translation follows his pronunciation. Here I would like to express my acknowledgements to
£. Colō for his valuable help to solve some obscure Dzakhchin data.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 37

“The shoulder is the most respectful [bone]. It is said that when you slaughter a
sheep and eat its meat, leave the forequarter to the end. Why is it respected? It is
connected to the tale of the “Calf-man”, I have told you recently, to the preserving of
the fore-quarter of the lean20 lamb. The forequarter of the lean lamb has been
preserved, then cooked and its meat filled up a vessel with nine seals.21 Just imagine
it! That is why the forequarter is respected. The shoulder is served for the maternal
relatives (naγc); the shoulder will not be served for the nephews on the maternal side
(zē). Besides the maternal relatives, the nephews do not touch the shoulder.”22

Furthermore, the meat from the shoulder-blade should be eaten together; usually the host of the
festivities distributes the meat from it (cf. Dalīn maxīg dayārā. “The meat of the shoulder should be
eaten together.”; Dalnī xudsīg dalūlā. “The [meat of] shoulder-blade should be eaten by seventy
people.”).
The Mongolian ethnic groups follow numerous prohibitions, taboos not only during consuming
meat, but also in the preservation or the throwing away of the bones. Most of them are connected to
bones that play a superior role in the ritualistic activities. These rules usually explain the reason why
someone should behave in the prescribed way. E.g. “It is prohibited to eat the meat from the
shoulder-blade just alone. One should make also another person taste it. If anybody eats it alone, it
is a sin; it means he must bear any torture alone.”23

Magical purposes of using bones in everyday life and on the occasion


of celebrations
Certain livestock or beast bones are used for the purpose of beckoning fortune, providing wealth
and fertility, or staving off, preventing bad luck, sickness, harm. This kind of use of bones is fairly
common among the Mongols, and we are aware that there must be more purposes we do not have
information about. Here we would like to mention examples of different occasions on which the
Mongols use bones for magical purposes: 1) rituals, with purpose of beckoning good luck, fortune,
averting bad luck, demonic forces, 2) birth, 3) wedding, 4) funeral, 5) lunar New Year, 6) fire
ritual.24

Bones in the everyday magical practice of Mongolian nomads


The radius, the so-called adūn čömög or numan čömög (Khal.) “horse bone or bow bone”, adū
manax čimgn (Oir.) “the horse-guarding marrow bone” is used for preventing the horses from harm.
This bone is used according to the rules of analogous magic as it has a hole, which could be the
hiding-place of harming forces, demons; however if the owner of the horse stuffs the hole of this
marrowbone, he keeps away the demons, not leaving them any place to hide and do harm. When the
herds are on the pastures, the herdsmen stuff the bone with some grass, and attach it to the first roof
pole, beside the door of the yurt. Bayarmagnai, our Dzakhchin informant explained the use of the
horse guarding bone in the following way:

20
£. Colō explained the Dzakhchin xacsan as “lean, skeletal”.
21
“An indication of the size or capacity of a vessel; dolōn tamgīn togō: īm togōnd 30-40 litrīn bagtām¤ a seven-tamga vessel:
such a vessel had a capacity of 30-40 litres, yesön tamgat togō nine-tamga vessel.” (Bawden, C. R.: Mongolian-English
Dictionary. Kegan Paul International, London 1997, p. 330).
22
Cf. Dalīg ax nagacīn derged garār barix buyū iddeggüi. “The meat of the shoulder should not be eaten beside the elder
maternal relatives, and could not be even touched [by the younger paternal relatives].” Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol
yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. p. 549.
23
Nyambū, X. – Nacagdor¤, C.: Mongolčūdīn cērlex yosnī xurāngui toli. Šuwūn sāral kompani, Ulānbātar 1993, p. 21
[Encyclopaedia of Mongolian Taboo-Customs].
24
An example of the fire ritual will be discussed under Bones as sacrificial objects.
38 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

Adū manadak čimgin, xär’tä čimgin: γý γarca l xamγālsan čimgin. Terǖný


nükündü … sýxän cewer möl¤i¤ýd xänkildägī n’i awād, xänkildäg-n’i γurū sal¤ýγäīm,
γurū salaxdār γurwun zügtün’i xayačād:
– Zā, adūn kēr xonalā. – gýd derse, öwös terǖný nükündü böglýd, xabčūlād totxān
darāγān un’inda (bosgīn barūn talīn termýn negdexä un’inā böksändä) xapčūldak.
Ǖlīn xýčīg temýný nōsār orāγād, xýčýn üzǖr urū xýlýγýd pasa barūn talda
xapčūldīm. Tere odā “Γý γarcaguā minī mal bürün bütün xonataxā!” gisīn domtā.25

“The horse guarding bone is the radius26 that protects from bad-luck and loss. In
its hole … it is gnawed accurately, the joint at the cubitus is brought out, and it is
separated into three parts, and thrown away into three directions.
Well, when the horse is on the pastures, feather-grass and grass is stuffed into its
hole, and the bone is attached to the first rafter from the lintel, on the right side of the
yurt (to the bottom of the first rafter from the threshold on the right). The clipper is
bound with camels’ wool, and turned downwards with its point; it will also be
attached on the right side. There is a magic incantation (as well): ‘Let my cattle pass
the night in the open lucky, entirely, without any loss’.”

This bone is also called “bow bone” among the Khalkhas (Bulgan district), attaching a stalk of
feather-grass or matchwood to this bone, it represents bow and arrow, i.e. the weapon against beasts
and also evil forces.27
For a similar purpose, to guard the horse on the pastures, besides the ulna the shoulder-blade of
sheep is also used.28

Adū manadak bokca [sic!] čimigin gigýd, zärim γanca xoyar unātā kümün bolūl
bokta [sic!] čimginý nüknýs či ōsarla¤ dǖlýd adunānā küzǖndü zǖgýd täwi¤ýsän. Zā,
adūnda xongxa zǖ¤i boloxguā. Dala xüzǖnýs či zǖwül xamgīn sýn. Čona keldek gi¤ýγý
yumu: “Xōsang xonaxār xongxatīg daxa¤i yowa¤, xōl ol¤i idiyē” gisin tǖkü ýný,
“Daltīg daxaxār dawdā kepte¤ý¤i xōsang xonayā” gisin ügü býdýk. Īm ügtý učrās
dala bolūl xamgīn kündütý.

“Concerning the horse guarding ulna, certain persons, having only one or two
horses, thread a strap through the hole of the ulna and hang it on the horse’s neck.
Well, a bell should not be hanged on the horse’s neck. The shoulder-blade is the best
thing to hang on the [horse’s] neck. [Because] the wolf ‘says’: – Instead of spending
the night hungered, let me follow the one with bell and [in this way] I will find

25
From the materials of the Hungarian-Mongolian Expedition, Bayarmagnai, August, 1991, Khowd town, Khowd district.
26
The Dzakhchin xär’t čimgn can be translated as a bone of the forearm, with all probability the radius. The Ordos
Dictionary of Mostaert indicates the following meaning for xara čömögö: garīn xara čömögö “l’humérus chez l’homme”,
guyā xara čömögö “le fémur chez l’homme” (Mostaert, A.: Dictionaire Ordos I-II. (Monumenta Serica Monograph V)
The Catholic University, Peking 1941, p. 715). According to the personal communication of £. Colō the xänkildag should
mean three small parts of the cubitus the joints of the forearm, which will be divided into three and thrown away. Another
possible solution is, that the marrow of the radius will be brought out and separated into three parts. In this case xänkildag
probably can be explained as “something smelling good”, from xängkil-, ängkil- “to have fragrance”. Here I would like to
express my gratitude to Bartosiewicz László, archaeologist for his kind help in identifying the animal bones.
27
£ačin, Č.: Mal a¤ axuin xolbogdoltoi negen yos janšlīn tuxai. In: Aman joxiol sudlal 13 (1986), pp. 206-211 [About a
Custom of Stock-Breeding. In: Folklore Studies].
28
From the materials of the Hungarian-Mongolian Expedition, Dzakhchin Bayarmagnai, August, 1991, Khowd town, Khowd
district. Cf. also “in order to keep the wolf far away from tame horse, a shoulder-blade should be hanged on his neck for
protection.” Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. p. 549.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 39

something to eat. – that is the tradition. There is also a [further] saying [of the wolf]:
– Instead of following the one with shoulder-blade, let me lie in the rill, hungered. –
Because of these sayings [of the wolf] the shoulder-blade is the most respected one.”

The atlas (Khal. aman xüjǖ) of the bod mal “large cattle, like the horned cattle, camel and the
horse” is used for fertility purposes, for keeping up the good quality of cattle for the next year. The
Khotons have a special ritual with the atlas of the slaughtered cattle. The slaughtering takes place
usually around the 25th of the Jul sar (end of December), the owner of the yurt consumes the meat
from the atlas and then he puts the ox-heart covered with a piece of the lungs, some juniper and
grass and recites a short blessing for the future good fortune of the cattle and offers the bone for the
fire.29
For the purpose of fertility the atlas is given to the slaughter man (Khal. darxan, törīn xar xün,
yaragčin), who slaughters the cattle at autumn. Similar magical actions to the above mentioned example
is carried out with the bone. After eating the meat form the bone, some fat and grease is put into the
holes (cf. analogical magic, to close the cavity from evil forces), and the bone is kept for three days
attached to the lattice-wall of the yurt on the Western (man’s) side. After three days the family gathers
together and the atlas is given to the slaughter man during a small festivity. A special ritual text is
recited on this occasion: Aman xüjǖnī yör«l “Blessing to the atlas”.30

Having a strange form with holes, the pelvis (sǖ¤) is believed to be the residence of evil forces,
similarly to other objects or things with hollow (cf. the case with the horse guarding bone). Our
Dzakhchin informant, Bayarmagnai explained to us how to eat the meat from the pelvis, to escape
harm.

Γalda sǖ¤īn yasa tül¤i boldakguā. Sǖ¤īn yasa gidik bolūl önýxä, nüktý. Tere čini
on’šiγad31 kürtül ordīm: dörwün gǖn döl γul’, nýmän gǖn labtā bōs, xoyar gǖn b«r
cōrxā; xoyar dal orsam býγýīm xoyar, xoyar a¤arγa gī¤i orsam býγýīm. dörwün gǖn
döl γul’ ni: Dörwün šilbi; nýmän gǖn laptā bōs gidik ni: 1. atxamal čimgin, 2. zalā
čimgin, 3. šaγā čimgin, 4. dunda čimgin. Nege talīn dörwün čimgin, xoyar talīn
nýmýn čimgin býxä šǖdē. Ene bolūl dotrān cokād idixdýr čimigtý, tere čimign’ bolūl
bōs gisin üg. Bōs gidik ni čimignī yasanī dotarxa toslag ötgän zǖl yum. Dörwün gǖn
döl’ γul’ gisin’ in šilbi cokaxdār zarimdn’i čimgin býdäk, zärimd n’i čimgin guā,
neged närīxän sucsan šinggīm ýnši dā. Ene bol döl γul’ gisin üg. Sǖ¤ni: xoyar gǖn b«r
cōrxā n’i sǖ¤ yum. Sǖ¤ný nükný maxīn idexed basa učirtā. Sǖ¤ný nükýr īge¤i xälýγýd
tegýd xayadak.
Tǖn dotar yamar negen γazar nutuk či yumū xälýγýd xayadak texedýr ecesdýn
üküxe nasand xälýčiksanās cārān sǖ¤ýn nükýr gǖgýd γarād yowčinā, bol¤i čidný, tere
xälýxguā xayasam bolūl [sǖ¤ýn nükýr] γarča čidaxguā tere. †ldä, sǖ¤i täwýd ögsän
býwül busud maxnāsni idičxýd sǖ¤īn nükündü býgý maxnās n’i ¤āxan kerči¤i idčixýd
täwčiný, sǖ¤īn nükündü mū yumun šügüldüg. Sǖ¤īn nükīg maltalguāγār täwi. Kerüü
sǖ¤īg bügdīg idexe šārdalγa, basa gesen ölssýn caγ bö¤igl«m bügdīn idečixýd tere
ýlǖr, sǖ¤īn nükýr tere kümüsǖdīg xarčixād xayaxa kerektý.

29
Badamxatan, S.: Uwsīn xoton yastan. Orxon aimgīn “A¤nai” xewlex üildwer, Erdenet 1995, p. 73 [The Khotons of Uws
District].
30
The whole text cf. Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. pp. 587-589; Sodnom, B.: Mongolīn
šiwšleg. In: Aman joxiolīn sudlal VI (1968), p. 60 [Mongolian Incantations. In: Folklore Studies].
31
Cf. Khalka onisoγ, Mong. onisγ-a “riddle”.
40 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

“It is prohibited to burn a pelvis in fire. The pelvis has certain holes. There are
also riddles about it.32 Four mares with something or without anything,33 eight mares
are surely pregnant,34 two mares have kidneys with holes; two shoulders [i.e.] the two
(sic!), the two stallions are [also] in [the riddle]. The four mares with something or
without anything: are the four shanks. The eight mares are surely pregnant: 1. the
humerus, 2. the elbow, 3. the shin-bone, 4. the thighbone. On one side there are four
marrowbones, on both sides there are eight marrowbones. When knocked during
eating [these bones], they have marrow inside, this marrow is called pregnancy. The
pregnancy is the fatty, thick thing inside of the bone [= marrow]. The four mares with
something or nothing are the shanks. When knocked, some of them may have
marrow, some of them may not have marrow. In some [bones] there may only be a
narrow vein [= marrow], a few thin [marrow]. It means: with something or without
anything. The pelvis: two mares having kidneys with holes, it is the pelvis. Eating the
meat off the holes of pelvis has also its significant reason. One should look through
the holes and then [the pelvis] must be thrown away. Through [this bone] a place, the
land should be looked at, and then thrown away. If someone looked through [the
holes of pelvis] [his soul] can run away through the holes. If someone throws it away
without looking through, [his soul] can not run away through [the holes].
When the pelvis is served in a family, they eat from any other meat, and the [meat
of] the pelvis’ hole has to be cut justly, and a little bit has to be eaten and put back [on
the plate]. The bad forces whistle in the holes of pelvis. Put it back without hollowing
the hole! If it is necessary to eat the pelvis (during famine), after eating it every
person sitting in the yurt has to look through the holes of the pelvis and then it is
thrown away.”

Bones used with magical principle on ceremonial or ritualistic


occasions – the New Year
Sending off the old year and meeting the new, requires magical actions, aimed to terminate the
old phenomena and prepare the way for the coming. Numerous Mongolian tribes (Torghud, Öld,
Uriankhai, Bayid) and territorial groups (Western Khalkhas) break the thighbone (dund čömög
tašix), calling it on this occasion šulamīn čömög “the thighbone of the demon”. S. Dulam describes
the custom as follows: The thighbone is cooked with the meat at the eve of the New Year, and the
community (neg xotīnxon) gets together at the camp of the eldest person. After tasting the meat,
they break the bone of the demon. The community-eldest asks three times the guests: Dagū coxix ū,
xöndlön coxix ū? “To hit it along or breadthways?”, they answer twice “Along.” and for third time
“Breadthways.”. The eldest person should break the bone with one stroke, and the marrow of the
broken bone is tasted clockwise according to the ages of the participants.35 The broken bone
symbolises the breaking of the leg of the demon’s mount, who wished to hinder goddess Baldan
Lxam (Mong. Baldan Lhamo, Ökin tenggeri, Tib. dPal-ldan Lham, Skr. Śrī devi) to bring good luck

32
Cf. a Khalkha riddle: Dörwön gǖ döl gul/dörwön gǖ tag xusran/naiman gǖ lawtai bōs (šilbe, sǖ¤, dal, čömög). Öljīxutag, C.:
Tümen on’sogo. Šin¤lex Uxānī Akademīn Xewlel, Ulānbātar 1966, p. 116, No. 1767, p. 284 [Ten Thousend Riddles].“Four mares
with something or without anything/four mares became infertile/eight mares are surely pregnant. (shin, pelvis, shoulder, marrow
bone)”. This version does not seem to be full, because the two shoulders are not identified in the riddle.
33
According to personal communication of £. Colō, döl gul’ or döl’ gul’ means yumtý, yumgüi “with anything and without
anything”. Cf. probably with Kalm. γūl’ “Almosen; das Betteln” (Ramstedt, G. J.: Kalmückisches Wörterbuch. Helsinki 1935,
p. 157).
34
Oir. bōs “stel’naja, žerjobaja, suporosnaja, sujagnaja” (Coloo, £.: BNMAU daxi mongol xelnī nutgīn ayalgūnī toli bičig II.
Oird ayalgū. Ulānbātar 1988, p. 114 [Dictionary of the Mongolian Dialects in Mongolia II. The Oirat Dialect]); Kalm. bōs
(selt.), syn. kēl’tē “trächtig (von Tieren)” (Ramstedt, G. J.: Kalmückisches Wörterbuch. p. 54).
35
Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. Ulānbātar 1992, p. 20 [The Symbols of Lunar New Year].
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 41

to people on the occasion of the New Year. The Demon is supposed to harm the mount of Baldan
Lxam and people try to help her with the ritual čömög tašix, by breaking the leg of the demon’s
mount.36 There is another custom practiced on the eve of the Lunar New Year (bitǖ), to break a
shin-bone (šagait čömög) of sheep (dished up for the feast meal).37 According to Dulam this custom
is practiced among some Mongolian groups (not mentioning which ones) right after the above
mentioned ritual of breaking the thighbone. The owner of the camp takes an accurately gnawed
shin-bone (šānt, šagait) and asks the participants: Bitǖ gargax ū? “Should [we] send off the eve?”,
everybody answers Gargayā, gargayā! “Let us send off, let us send off!” Upon breaking the bone
people say: Bitǖ garlā. “The eve has left [us].”38
The Khalkhas living on the central territories of Mongolia practice the custom dux güilgex “to
make the coronal bone [of an ox] run”. The goal of this custom is to keep away the harming forces
from the camp.39 According to Dulam this custom could be connected to the worship of Xisān tengri
(Mong. Kisaγan tenggeri), who is the impetuous enemy of evil forces.40
Symbolising the renewal of the relation and togetherness of married couples on the eve
celebration the head (with the jaw-bone) of a sheep is used. The husband grasps it at the upper jaw,
the wife at the lower jaw-bone, saying: Neg am’tai bollō. “[We] got common life”.41
For the family member(s) who will go to pasture the sheep on the first day of the Lunar New Year
the neck (aman xüjǖ, Oir. amn küzǖ) of a sheep is cooked wholly (with all meat on it). The huge amount
of meat means the abundance of food for the next year.42 Important is eating together that meat, so the
herdsman should share the rest with the whole family.

Bükü malīn kišik bolūl zurγān küzǖndýn; tere kišik buyīg bolūl bükü malīn kišik gi
¤i x« xärǖlsan kümündü küzǖ ögdäk, kündütý maxang gi¤i bütün küzǖ čan¤a öngný.
Tere bütün küzǖgýn x« xärǖl¤i irsin kümün cugīn’i baraxguā-šdā! Bügdýrýn idi¤i ūγād
sýxýn gikčini möl¤ýd, tegýd γaldān tüldīm. Bügdīn’ ese tülsünči, amang küzǖgīn’
tüldīm.43

“The fortune of all the cattle is in the six cervical vertebrae; the neck is given to
the sheep pasturing person, because that fortune is the fortune of all the cattle; thus it
is respected meat, it is cooked wholly. However, the shepherd does not finish the
whole neck! Everybody eats and drinks together, accurately gnaws [the bones] and
then scorches it in fire. Even if they do not scorch all [the bones] the first cervical
vertebra is scorched.”

Turning points of life (rites of passage)


There are a few bones which follow the different turning points of life of a man; such is the shin-
bone. Galdanova summed up the role of the šāgait (šānt) as follows: “Bercovaja kost’ barana
naibolee populjarnyj atribut pri ispolnenii obrjadov žiznennogo cikla – ukladyvanii rebjonka v

36
The Torghud etiological myth about the origin of the ritual is published in Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. p. 22.
37
Žukovskaja has not mentioned, which group of the Mongols practice it, supposedly the Khalkhas, because her book is
based on the traditions of the Khalkha Mongols in the Mongolian Republic. Žukovskaja, N. L.: Kočevniki Mongolii.
Kul’tura, tradicii, simvolika. Izdatel’skaja Firma “Vostočnaja Literatura” RAN, Moskva 2002, p. 63.
38
Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. pp. 21-22.
39
Ariyāsüren, Č. – Nyambū, X.: Mongol yos janšlīn ix tailbar toli I. p. 654; Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. pp. 22-23.
40
Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. p. 23.
41
Dulam, S.: Cagān sarīn belegdel. p. 21.
42
According to £. Colō’s personal communication the amount of meat on the neck is enough to prepae būj “traditional food
of Mongols, meat in dough” for ten people.
43
From the materials of the Hungarian-Mongolian Expedition, Bayarmagnai, August, 1991, Khowd town, Khowd district.
42 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

kolybel, sočetanii novobračnyh, a v dalekie vremena eta kost’ ispol’zovalas’ dlja predanija početnoj
smerti glubokih starcev, zatem ee klali v mogilu vmeste s pokojnym.”44
Birth. Several rituals are performed for keeping the newborn baby healthy, for continuity of the
mother’s fertility, moreover, to assist the participants of the event in making them fertile in the
(nearest) future. The objects of these rituals are body parts of the mother (placenta) and the newborn
child (umbilical cord), and among others, the anklebone of sheep. Keeping the newborn alive and
healthy is one of the main tasks for the future of the family and the clan. For protecting the newborn
children and preserving the fertility of the mother, different Buriad clans and groups use šagai,
anklebones during the ritual tōmtoloxo, tōmto mantaxa “burial of the placenta”.45 The placenta is
buried differently, at various places and in various ways among the Buriad groups: into a small hole
either inside the home (tent or building), or outside on the north-western side, a small tent-like
edifice is erected over it and some other objects, things are buried together with it, such as the xī
“sheep or cattle dung”, which is soaked in the blood and amniotic fluid, seeds, silver, golden coins
and an anklebone.46 The small edifice is similar to the altars in the nature, to the obos (Bur. obō),
and it is burnt up while the participants laugh loudly. A manuscript47 about the method how to carry
out the ritual, gives also the reason why these objects must be put in following the placenta,
concerning the anklebone: “babki dlja prisustvija sür sülde – žiznenno neobhodimyh sil”.48 In this
context the reason is given for the burial of bones: to represent the paternal soul, the sür sülde.
B. E. Petri relying on his data from Verholensk Buriads and M. M. Nikolaeva from her Kižingi
Buriad material indicate that this bone can only be from the right rear leg.49 Among the Aga
Buriads, when the new-born child is a boy the right, when it is a girl, the left ankle-bone of sheep is
buried with the placenta.50 The Buriads from Zakamensk put the anklebone together with the first
ablution of the newborn child, with some coins and an anklebone for pacifying the placenta, called
by them xǖxenei nüxer “child’s friend”.51 Otherwise the placenta would be angry, for being
separated from the child. In this case the ankle-bone plays the role of sacrificial object and is used
similarly to other things, offered for the pacification of the spirits (see below: Bones as sacrificial
objects).
The anklebone is also used for fortunetelling during the ritual of the burial of the placenta. Right
after the burning of the wooden edifice above the placenta, a sheep-anklebone is used for
fortunetelling that can be used only for this purpose, and is called hūrīn šagai “anklebone for the
settlement” among the Barguzin Buriads. This anklebone is kept in the mother’s pillow together
with the umbilical stump and the first hair of the new-born child. The same anklebone is used for
fortunetelling on the occasion of the next children. Depending on the lying position of the thrown

44
Galdanova, G. R.: Zakamenskie burjaty. Novosibirsk 1992, p. 74, quoted by Batoeva, D. B. – Galdanova, G. R. –
Nikolaeva, D. A. – Skrynnikova, T. D.: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. Izdatel’skaja Firma “Vostočnaja Literatura”
RAM, Moskva 2002, p. 97.
45
The placenta and the ritual itself have numerous different names among the Buriads and other Mongolian groups. The
ritual is still in practice, which is well documentated in numerous new filedmaterials. T. T. Badaškeeva devoted a detailed
article to the problem, she listed among others the aviable terminology of the placenta and of the ritual among different
Mongolian groups. Here we use one common Buriad form tōnto (var. tōmto), cf. Khal. ixes, Mong. yekes. Badaškeeva, T. T.:
Toonto taxixu: simvolika i značenie. In: Kul’tura Central’noj Azii: pismennye istočniki 4. Izdatel’stvo BNC SO RAN,
Ulan-Ude 2000, pp. 153-164.
46
Badaškeeva gives also a whole list of ritual objects on the basis of a manuscript, entitled Nilqas-un nüker-i niγuqu arγ-a
“The way of hiding the placenta (lit. the companion of the baby)” which guides the leader of the ritual. Badaškeeva, T. T.:
Toonto taxixu: simvolika i značenie. pp. 158-159.
47
Cf. previous footnote.
48
Badaškeeva, T. T.: Toonto taxixu: simvolika i značenie. p. 158.
49
Quoted by Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. pp. 65, 69.
50
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 71.
51
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 68.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 43

anklebone, it is possible to find out the sex of the next child.52 All the participants of the ritual and
first of all childless couples try to find out their future. According to Basaeva, the midwife thrashes
the childless husband on his back and shoulders (sürmehēr “on his joints”) with the following
words: Yǖnde xübǖ gargāgüi bš? Xoito želde xübǖtei (basagatai) boloroiš!53 “Why don’t you have a
son? Next year get a son (daughter)!”. The face of the participants is smeared with fat and that of
the childless couples also with grime. The anklebone (Kirg. čükö) is also used among Kirgis nomads
in a similar way. Elder women, participants of the ritual putting of the child in the cradle (bešik) roll
the anklebone vertically and horizontally from right to left and then from left to right. Finally they
put the anklebone under the pillow of the child, to protect him from evil forces and to beckon
fortune this way (¤örölgö).54
For protective purpose the Daurs offer a breastbone (öwčǖ) to the female spirit Ome Barkan
(Chin. Niang-Niang), to the protector of children. According to C. Humphrey’s data a small box is
put in the south-eastern corner of the room on a small tree, with the image of the spirit, with a “ball
of rolled-up first hair of the baby, all tied in red and yellow cloth”, and a “tiny model of a cradle
(dādag) from birch-bark”. Some informants added that a breast-bone is also an obligatory object in
this box: “… the breast-bone (ovchuu)55 of the sheep offered should be included in this bag. This
bone should be gnawed clean by an old man, so clean that not even the membrane next to the bone
should remain.”56
Wedding ceremony. The bones figure during Mongolian wedding ceremonies in numerous
rites, first of all the respected bones with meat are in the centre of the wedding conviviality: who
and in what order may consume certain parts of the meat.57
In a Dörwöd blessing-text chanted during the rituals of the wooing period, on the occasion of
xadag tawix “presenting khadagh (i.e. usually a blue silk kerchief)”, when the relatives of the bride-
groom visit with presents the bride’s parents, the togetherness of the young couple is mentioned,
among others, analogically to the coherence of bones:

Xawsan nurgandā tüšig, The rib is the support of the back-bone,


Nurgan xawsandā tüšig.58 The backbone is the support of the rib.

The bogt čömög “radius” is also supposed to play an important role in proposing marriage, cf. in
Khal. bogtlo-.59 The headgear, the boγtaγ of a married noble woman during the period of the Great
Mongolian Empire, supposed to be ethimologically connected to the radius. However the data of
sources do not prove this theory.60

52
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 54.
53
Basaeva, K. D.: Sem’ja i brak u burjat. Vtoraja polovina XIX načalo XX veka. Burjatskoe Knižnoe Izdatel’stvo, Ulan-Ude
1991, pp. 66-67.
54
Personal communication of Mahmutbek Mistegül (1953, Döng Alys, Kočkor), here I would like to express my
acknowledgement to Mr. D. Somfai Kara for his help to translate the Kyrgyz text.
55
Khal. öwčǖ.
56
Humphrey, C. – Urgunge Onon: Shamans and Elders. pp. 290, 316-317.
57
Recently A. Kertész-Farkas prepared a catalogue of objects, used during the wedding rituals of Mongolian ethnic groups
living in Mongolia and of the Buriads from Buriatia: Kertész-Farkas, A.: A mongol népek lakodalmi szokásai. Budapest 2001
(MA-thesis), pp. 31-36 [Wedding Customs of the Mongols].
58
Katū, B.: Barūn mongolčūdīn jarim yastnī xurimlax yos ba jan üilīn aman joxiol. In: Aman joxiol sudlal XIX (1995), p. 66
[Folklore of Wedding Customs of Some Western-Mongolian Ethnic Groups. In: Folklore Studies].
59
Khal. bogtlon gerlex “to marry, to get marry, bogtlon buulgax to marry off (a daughter), bogtlon ögöx to give in marriage”
(Bawden, C. R.: Mongolian-English Dictionary. p. 53).
60
The boγtaγ is prepared from willow: “Der boqtaq ist ungemein häufig beschrieben worden und uns daher bekannt: Einem
tief herabhängenden Filzkappe ist ein rundes Gestell aus Weidenruten oder Rinde aufgesetzt, das in einer runden oder
viereckigen Platte endet, über dieser wiederum erhebt sich eine lange Feder. Besonders bei den reichen Frauen war der
boqtaq oft mit kostbaren Stoffen umwunden.” Doerfer, G.: Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen. Band I.
Mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen. Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, Wiesbaden 1963, p. 211.
44 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

Among numerous Buriad groups, upon sending off the bride from her father’s camp, a special
text is recited, called ūsīn dūn, (among the Buriads in Mongolia: ūcīn dū) “song of the sacrum”,
which is a long list of instructions for the new wife, how she should behave herself in the new
family.61 The ritual is carried out at the previous night, before the bride leaves for her future
husband’s camp. The bride’s father organises a ceremony, called ix šönīn nādan “ceremony of the
great night”, to farewell the bride. Several kinds of games and rituals occur at this occasion, such as:
nirgen nādax “a kind of game, which is connected to the fire ritual”, altan bög¤ nūx “hiding the
golden ring”, and basagand ūc tawix “offering sacrum to the daughter (bride)”,62 all the above
mentioned “games” have of course magical purposes. The sacrum as it has been mentioned before,
belongs to the distinguished parts of food which can not be consumed by women, only the honoured
male members of the clan or community may eat it. This is the only occasion when the sacrum is
offered to a woman (among the Selengge Buriads the song of the sacrum is directed to all women
participants of the ceremony and it is sung after the bride’s arrival at the bridegroom’s father’s
camp63). The communicative situation of singing the song of the sacrum is also different among the
diverse Buriad groups. Common element is that the singers (a young friend of the bride with a
young married woman and an elder woman, or three young men) are three persons and they sit on a
white felt rug, or around the fire that is set on in front of the father’s tent. When the singers make a
mistake in the text, the elder participants of the ceremony hit them in the face with a rib, as a
punishment.64 The Khori Buriads (Xori) also practiced this custom; however among them there is
only a singer who performs the ūsīn dūn. The content of their song is similar to that of the above
mentioned text.65 Among the Mongolian Buriads there is one more phase of the wedding ceremony,
when distinguished parts of the sheep meat are offered to the bride; this is called basagan zaix (jaix)
“to invite, to entertain the bride”. Before leaving for the bridegroom’s father’s camp, the bride visits
her relatives, and receives presents from them.66 Along with the offering of sacrum the head without
the lower jaw-bone (t«lei) is also offered at the Buriad wedding ceremony either to the bride or to
the honoured guests, and both events are followed with special songs.67
The presenting of a living sheep to the bride’s parents or offering some distinguished parts of the
sheep to the ancestral spirits of the bride’s clan means the bridegroom’s acceptance the bride’s clan-
ancestors. Cf. “Prinoščenija ženiha k rodu nevesti soprovoždalos’ prineseniem v žertvu ognju očaga
grudinki ili tazovoj kosti ovcy.”68 The Khotogoits (Xotgoid), living mainly in Khöwsgöl and
Dzawkhan districts, call the ceremony of presenting the süi beleg “betrothal gifts” šānt xürgex,
supposedly the shin-bone designates the whole amount of the gifts which includes milk brandy,
coral, pearls, a whole cooked sheep, seven pieces of sheep-dung, bound to the horns of a sheep (the
record does not explain whether it is the slaughtered cooked sheep, or another, living one).69
Different bones are used during the Mongolian wedding ceremony for fertility purposes. Some
of the bones are commonly used among numerous ethnic groups, such as the šagait čömög (Khal.),
šānt čömög (Oir.), šāta semgen (Bur.) “shin-bone, tibia” of sheep or ox, the šagai (Khal.), šaa (Oir.)

61
Sum”yābātar, B.: Ūcīn dūnī tuxai. In: Studia Folclorica VI:8 (1968) pp. 87-117 [About the Song of the Sacrum].
62
Sum”yābātar, B.: Ūcīn dūnī tuxai. pp. 92-93.
63
Sum”yābātar, B.: Ūcīn dūnī tuxai. p. 94.
64
Sum”yābātar, B.: Ūcīn dūnī tuxai. p. 94.
65
Basaeva, K. D.: Sem’ja i brak u burjat. p. 136.
66
Sum”yābātar, B.: Ūcīn dūnī tuxai. pp. 91-92.
67
“K pesnjam svadebnogo obrjada otnosjatsja i tak nazyvaemye pesni ‘krestca’ (‘ūsīn dūn’) i pesni tööleija (‘töölei’ –
special’no prigotovlennaja baran’ja golova bez nižnej čeljusti, podnosimaja naibolee početnym gostjam).” Frolova, G. D.:
Pesennyj fol’klor hongodorov. Avtoreferat dissertacii. Ulan-Ude 1999, p. 10. She mentioned that among the Western Buriad
Xongodors there is no special song of sacrum, but the Eastern Buriads – similarly to the Buriads in Mongolia – sing on the
occasion of the bride’s departure from her father’s camp. Frolova, G. D.: Pesennyj fol’klor hongodorov. p. 15.
68
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 133.
69
Birtalan, Á.: Hagyományos mongol műveltség (szöveggyűjtemény). ELTE Bölcsészettudományi Kar, Belső-ázsiai Tanszék,
Budapest 1996, pp. 99-101 [Traditional Mongolian Culture. Textbook].
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 45

šagai (Bur.) “ankle-bone”, or the ūc (Khal., Oir.) ūsa (Bur.) “sacrum, carcase of a sheep”.
S. Szynkiewicz has already pointed out the symbolical meaning and importance of the šānt čömög
among the Oirads, representing the changed status of the bride, who becomes member of her
husband’s family, his clan.70 Numerous older and also newly collected data can be added to his
theory called by him “tibial complex” in Mongolian culture71, beginning with Pallas’ records from
the 18th century72 up to B. Katū’s most recent fieldwork. Szynkiewicz indicates the shin-bone as the
sign of one of the most important symbols, which is rightly placed in one rank with ancestral and
astral phenomena. The newly weds take šānt čömög “shin-bone” of a sheep into their hands as a
symbol of their (and especially of the wife’s) new status in the family and people make them to bow
to the Sun, and Moon, and to the ancestors. Katū calls this ritual Sar narand mörgǖlex yoslol
“Bowing to the Sun and the Moon”.73
In his detailed description about the Kalmyk customs Pallas also noticed the importance of the
shin-bone, the wooing ritual is called in his report: šaγaitu, bearing the name of the bone.

“… als Unterpfand der Verlobung, eine Schafkeule mit dem ganzen Fuss
(Schagai) befindlich seyn muss. … Diese Verlobung nun, welche bey der Braut mit
Zuziehung beiderseitiger Eltern und Verwandschaft in Schmausen und Lustbarkeit
feyerlich begangen wird, heisst wegen der dabey unentbehrlichen Schafkeule
Schagaitu.“74

The Dörwöd and Bayid newly weds sit down on a felt mat on the honoured place (NW side of
the felt tent among the Oirads) of the bride-groom’s father’s yurt. The bride-groom’s father gives a
shin-bone to the kneeling couple, the thick part to the bride-groom and the thin part to the bride, and
a person born in a compatible year (iwēl ¤il; Dörwöd data, among the Bayids two sisters-in-law)75,
makes the couple bow, with the following words:

Šar narand mörgömǖ, [You] bow to the yellow Sun,


Šagait čömög atgamū.76 [you] grasp shin-bone.

According to data collected by Pallas the young couple should bow not only to the astral and
ancestral phenomena, but also to the shin-bone itself:

“Wann die Stunde und günstige Zeit der Trauung gekommen ist, muss der
Bräutigam, welcher sich bis dahin unter seinen Freunden belustiget, mit der Braut, vor
der gegen Osten gerichteten Thür der Filzhütte, wo ein Feuer angezündet ist, mit dem
Gesicht gleichfalls gegen Osten gekehrt, auf einen zierlich ausgenähten Filz
(Schierdek) niederknien. Beyde haben ihre Mützen auf dem Kopf und die Braut kniet
dem Bräutigam zur linken. Der Geistliche frägt darauf beyde, ob sie freywillig und
ohne Zwang in die Ehe treten, ermahnt den Bräutigam zur Verträglichkeit und die

70
Szynkiewicz, S.: On Kinship Symbolics among the Western Mongols. In: Religious and Lay Symbolism in the Altaic
World and Other Papers. Proceedings of the 27th Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference Walberberg,
Federal Republic of Germany June 12th to 17th, 1984. Ed. by K. Sagaster – H. Eimer, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1989,
pp. 379-385.
71
Szynkiewicz examined the phylogenetic, ontogenetic and also the behavioural levels of this phenomenon.
72
Pallas, P. S.: Sammlungen historischer Nachrichten über die mongolischen Völkerschaften II. Kaiserliche Akademie der
Wissenschaften, St.-Petersburg 1801, pp. 235-241.
73
Katū, B.: Barūn mongolčūdīn jarim yastnī xurimlax yos ba jan üilīn aman joxiol. p. 77.
74
Pallas, P. S.: Sammlungen… II. p. 236.
75
It is not indicated in the source, whether with the bride or the bride-groom should this person be born in a compatible year.
76
Katū, B.: Barūn mongolčūdīn jarim yastnī xurimlax yos ba jan üilīn aman joxiol. p. 77.
46 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

Braut zum Gehorsam, lässt dann eine Schüssel mit Fleischbrühe und etwas Fleisch
von eben dem Schafsschulterblatt vor sie hinsetzen, dessen Knochen mit dem Fuss
mann ihnen also in die rechte Hand zu halten giebt, dass es der Bräutigam am dünnen
Theil zu unterst [sic!], die Braut aber etwas höher gegen das dickere fleischigte Theil
hält und der fleischigte Theil in die Höhe steht. Weil sich die Braut dabey
gemeiniglich schamhaft bezeigt und den Knochen nicht anfassen will, so kniet
jemand hinter ihr, der ihre Hand um Knochen zusammendrückt. Während abermaliger
Einseegnungsgebete schickt endlich der Gellong zwey Jünglinge, die nach den
Geburtsjahren des Brautpaars, von gewissen vorgeschriebenen Jahren dazu gewählt
sind, zum Brautpaar hinaus, welche die Braut und den Bräutigam dreymahl mit dem
Kopf zur Erde niederdrücken, und ihnen dabey laut zurufen Narran duh mürgömöh!
(verehre die Sonne!) Schaggain Tschimmegän duh mürgömöh! (verehre die Schaggai
Keule!), Scharra Tossun duh mürgömöh! (verehre die Butter!).”77

Similar text is recited among the Altai Khoshuds (Xošūd) and Torghuds (Torgūd):

Šar narand mörgöm ǖ! [You] bow to the yellow Sun!


Šagā čömögönd mörgöm ǖ! [You] bow to the shin-bone!
Ē¤ āwīn zayā saxiūsand mörgöm ǖ!78 [You] bow to the parents’ guardian spirits!

After this ritual the shin-bone is put into the front pillow of the newly weds. Sampildendew
reported almost similarly this ritual among the Bayids: the young couple upon their arrival to the
bridegroom’s father’s camp kneel down on a white felt rug in front of the new tent erected for them,
looking in the direction of the Sun. They are given a shin-bone, the bridegroom grasps it at its thick,
the bride at its thin side and people (not mentioned who) make them bow to the Sun, reciting a text
like the one cited above.79
The role of the shin-bone is recorded not only among the Western Mongols, but also among
Eastern groups, such as the Khalkhas living in the middle territory of the country (töw xalx) and
among the Darigangs as well. The shin-bone plays an important role as the sign of the rite of
separation of the bride from her clan. The name of the main part of the wedding ceremony is called
ber būlgax “receiving a daughter-in-law”, so all the wedding sections, starting from the one at the
bride’s father’s camp belong to this. The bridegroom visits the bride’s father’s tent, his attendant
man who came with him enters before him, and takes a seat higher than him. This attendant
probably replaces his father. When the guests have finished consuming the ceremonial mutton, the
attendant person takes the shin-bone form the plate and submits it to the bridegroom, who should
break the bone, i.e. separate with his thumb the šagai “anklebone” from the shin-bone. This is of
course also a kind of trial of the bridegroom’s strength and ability. If the bridegroom enjoys a high
reputation as a strong man, the bride’s family prepares especially for this ritual a shin-bone of an ox,
which he breaks putting on his right knee and separates this way the anklebone (Cf. below Bones as
objects for trials of strength and skills). The bridegroom puts the separated sheep- or ox-anklebone
in his right bootleg.80 The Borjigin-Khalkhas (Bor¤igin-Xalx) also practice this custom, but the shin-
bone is prepared by them in advance in the bride’s father’s tent, and attached to that rafter of the

77
Pallas, P. S.: Sammlungen… II. pp. 238-239.
78
Szynkiewicz, S.: On Kinship Symbolics among the Western Mongols. p. 379. We slightly changed Szynkiewicz’s
translation: instead of “We”, “You” is used, because the assistant says the text, and not the newly-wedded themselves.
79
Sampildendew, X.: Mongolčūdīn xurimlax yos. Šin¤lex Uxānī Xewlelīn “Erdem” Kompani, Ulānbātar 1997, p. 88
[Customs of Mongolian Wedding].
80
Sampildendew, X., Mongolčūdīn xurimlax yos. p. 97.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 47

yurt where the čagtaγ-rope81 is attached. The bridegroom circumabulates the yurt from West to East,
breaks off the anklebone from the shin-bone and leaves the tent, following the bride, who has
already ridden away to his camp.82 The Khotogoits call this ritual šāt (šānt) multlax “to break the
shin-bone”; one person says a benediction on this occasion. The performance of breaking the shin-
bone means the end of the ceremony at the bride’s family’s camp.83

… …
Erxī sait xürgen xǖ, The son-in-law, having a good thumb,
Erčim sait šāntīg multal¤, Broke the shin-bone with good strength,
Bergedīn bat yosīg We give the lucky announcement
Güicetgǖlsen tuxaid About the fulfilment of
Ailtgax beleg baina. The custom of the aunts.

Other Western-Mongolian data indicate that the ritual of grasping the shin-bone and bowing to
the yellow Sun (šar narand mörgǖlex) is carried out not in the bridegroom’s, but the bride’s father’s
camp.84
Szynkiewicz rightly remarks when the bone in question is a shin-bone, and the ritual takes part
in the bride’s father’s camp, this means the separation from the bride’s clan.
Among the Buriads and also the Oirads there is a ritual of throwing different objects through the
smoke-hole of the young couple’s tent. This can be explained as magical action for opening the
smoke hole for the Sun, but also as a kind fertility magic. The Khori and Aga Buriads throw the
head (t«lei) in this way85, while another groups use the shin-bone or the cervical vertebra. The
Sartūls smear the smoke-hole of the new tent with the head of the sheep during the wedding
ceremony and bind it up there leaving it to hang there for three days.86 The Khotons (Xoton) practice
a similar ritual, and two aunts smear all the wooden elements and also the furniture of the new yurt
with some parts of the cooked sheep: sēr, öwčǖ, xā “throaic vertebrae, sternum, (parts of)
forequarter”.87
About the further use of the shin-bone given to the bride-groom by his future father-in-law see
below: in Bones in Healing magic.
Death, Funeral. Among the accessible data we could not find many records about the ritualistic
role of animal bones during the funeral ceremonies. Szynkiewicz mentioned the shin-bone in the
burial of the Western-Mongols: “The last rite de passage the bone participates in, is the last
possible. With the death of a spouse it accompanies the corpse while displayed in the yurt and is
deposited with the body at its site of disposal. Most often I have been told that the custom is
executed with the first dying spouse, irrespective of sex.”88 The deficiency in the practice of this

81
The čagtaγ rope is attached to the tōno the wooden roof-ring of the tent and it hangs on the woman’s side of the yurt,
where a kind of demon-catcher or an endless knot (öljī xē) is formed from it. Some hair of the sold cattle is also fastened to it.
82
Badamxatan, S.: Bor¤gin-xalx. In: Etnografīn sudlal IV (1972), p. 30 [The Borjigin-Khalkhas. In: Ethnographic Studies].
83
Birtalan, Á.: Hagyományos mongol műveltség. pp. 100-101.
84
The data is quoted from the materials of C. Ayūš, without mentioning of the source group. Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v
tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 115.
85
The head-bone of sheep saximžīn t«lei belongs to the saximža “protection” of final period of the wedding ceremony. The
new yurt of the newly weds are initiated with the bone: the bride-groom’s father throws it through the smoke-hole of the yurt,
the head-bone opens this manner the way for the good-luck and the ritual has also – as we mentioned above – fertility
purposes, too. Basaeva, K. D.: Sem’ja i brak u burjat. p. 156. Another head-bone plays a role in a former stage of the
wedding ceremony: when the bride leaves for the bride-groom’s camp, parts of the birde’s and bride-groom’s sides rivalize
for a cooked head-bone of a sheep. However the bride-groom’s side must win, otherwise the bride is considered to become
un-lucky. Basaeva, K. D.: Sem’ja i brak u burjat. p. 140.
86
Fieldwork data of G. N. Očirova, quoted by Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 134.
87
Badamxatan, S.: Uwsīn xoton yastan. p. 61.
88
Szynkiewicz, S.: On Kinship Symbolics among the Western Mongols. p. 382.
48 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

custom shows that it is the process of decay, when the details are not clear anymore. However the
shin-bone which is present at birth, at the wedding, at the main turning points of life accompanies
man into death.
Some Buriad sources mention a custom, called toltīn yos (Mongolian Buriad form)89, üxe
üngelxe (Bur.) according to which old people who became great-great-grandfathers90 (döč« üjsen lit.
“who saw their grand-grand-child”) contributed to their death.91 A piece of white felt has been
prepared on which the old man lay down, and some white food, fat from sheep tail was put into his
mouth. Over the white food the grand-grand-child92 puts a shin-bone (šānt čömög), and with a
violent stroke makes him suffocate.
Bones in divination and fortune-telling. Certain bones, such as the widely used dal “scapula
(shoulder blade)” and the anklebones are used for divination. A relatively rich material has been
published about the traditional and contemporary methods of divination with shoulder blade, among
others, by the author.93 The Buriads use an anklebone for divination about birth (see above, Turning
points of life). Throwing the bone they try to investigate whether a childless couple will have a
descendant the next year or not. The Buriads also try to guess whether the pregnant woman will
have a son or a daughter. Fortunetelling with the help of anklebones is interesting as a kind of
everyday practice. Everyone can throw his/her anklebones and if it falls on the horse side, it means
good fortune.94
On the occasion of the lunar New Year different “games” with bones are played for divinatory
purposes. We use the word game between quotation marks, because those activities, which are
played, now mostly by children and since the recent past again by adults, too, were used in sacral
functions. One of them is still an inherent part of the New Year’s event. The alaγ melxī, the
“varicoloured tortoise” consists of 108 (var.: 88, 92) pieces of painted anklebones (šagai), which
form a tortoise (the tortoise-shell, the four legs, the head, and some innards are also represented).
The adult, male participants of the divination cast one anklebone and according to the value of its
side, take a certain amount of bones from the tortoise. The winner, who has the most anklebones in
his hands, will have a fortunate year for his cattle.95 Another way of fortune-telling turned now into
an anklebone-game, the dörwön berx “four difficulties”, which is very similar to the ancient Roman
and Greek form of divination, the so-called Venus-throw.
In the eulogistic sayings about the asūx nurū in Kalmyk kemälγdg yasn the 25th backbone,
vertebra, on the occasions of ceremonial feasts used to be originally also a kind of divination about
the good luck of the family, the clan, the nation.96
The cervical vertebra of the ox is used for fertility magic, to divine about the coming year. The cattle
should be slaughtered during late autumn time, when the majority of the livestock are slaughtered.
Bayarmagnai explained to us in details how one should prepare the bone for divination, and as a

89
Šaraid, X. – Galsan, T.: Buriadīn yajgūr domgīn towčōn. Šin¤lex uxānī xewlelīn “Erdem” Kompani, Ulānbātar 1998,
pp. 33-35 [Collecton of Buriat Ethnogenetic Myths].
90
In the sources at our disposal we have not found any particular data about the grand-grand-mothers.
91
An aethological myth is connected to this custom, namely that Esege Malān (Var.: Xüxedei mergen) abolished this custom,
because an old man, who was not killed, but hidden by his grandson, gave good advice to him. This event made clear the
necessity of wise old people in a community. Birtalan, Á.: Wörterbuch der Mythologie der mongolischen Volksreligion. In:
Wörterbuch der Mythologie 34. Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, pp. 983-984.
92
If he is too small, he should just touch the bone and another male member of the family represents him.
93
Bawden, C. R.: On the Practice of Scapulimancy among the Mongols. In: CAJ 4 (1958), pp. 1-44; Birtalan, Á.:
Scapulimancy and Purifying Ceremony (New Data on the Darqad Shamanism on the Basis of Materials Collected in 1992).
In: Proceedings of the 35th PIAC. Taipei, Taiwan 1993, pp. 1-10.
94
C. R. Bawden has recently published a fragment about the divinatory practice with ankle-bone (Mong. šaga-bar ü¤ekü
tölög). Bawden, C. R.: Some Mongolian Divinatory Practices. In: CAJ 46 (2002), pp. 28-29.
95
Žukovskaja, N. L.: Kočevniki Mongolii. Kul’tura, tradicii, simvolika. p. 69.
96
About the ritual and bibliography cf.: Birtalan, Á. – Rákos, A.: Kalmükök – Egy európai mongol nép. (Text Terebess 1.)
Terebess Kiadó, Budapest 2002, pp. 130-138 [The Kalmyks – a European Mongolian Nation].
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 49

preceding story, he also told us an etiological myth, why the Mongols use red tassels on their headgear,
and why they use the suet of yaks for lamps.

Mal alwul, ükrīn aman küzǖ pasa ike kündütý. Tere ükrīn aman küzǖg-čini bolūl
tülýd, alsang ükrýn sewsendēr ni täwiný. Tere pasa učirtā. Ükür bolūl kündütý mala-
ē. Burxum bakši gidik ämitän bol¤iglý nege talār mongγal ükür gidīmīg … kün ekel¤i
bǖ bolād, ükürīg mongγal kümün ekel¤i edelseng tüktýīm giný. Tīm učrās mongγal
ulān zalātang gi¤i nerelsīm giný. Yāγād mongγal ulān zalātang gi¤i nerelsīm gixdýr
mongγalīn γanca buxu ol¤i edelsnýs bol¤i mongγal ulān zalātan, mongγal ükür gi¤ē.
Sǖlīn üyüd sarlak ükür bolūl tos ikitý zerlek malīg dǖwür coka¤i irǖlsün tǖktý.
Dǖwürdin k«¤i, tū¤i orūl¤i irýd bükü delký nītīn burxunā ša¤intý ulusdu zulu
šatālγasan, zulān tos kēsen tǖktý. Tegýd sarlak gidik ämtäný üsün toslak iktý tegýd
zulān tosnā učir, γaršūl¤ē.
Ükür alsang ödür amang küzǖg-či čanād mö¤ličýd amang küzǖný nükündü dǖrüng
caγān öwüs kegýd, arca kēgýd, sem¤ýr orāγād gerým barūm baksīn ¤āxan ongγālγād
dūdnā. Ükrīn kišik dūdnā. Xörýl¤i dūdnā. Tere odā:
“Zā ömnä zügýs
önggä bürīn i¤lý daxūlād irsing
altang amang küzǖng xör«, xör«, xör«.” – gýd γurū xör«l¤ný.
“Barūn zūγās
bara cōxar i¤lýn daxūlād irsing
altang amang küzǖn xör«, xör«, xör«.” – xör«lýd γurū xörýl¤ný.
“X«t zügýs
xongγar alak i¤lýn daxūlād irsin
altang amang küzǖn xör«, xör«, xör«.” – gýd γurū xörýl¤ný.
“Zǖn zügýs
zǖl bürīn önggīn i¤lýn daxūlād irsin
altan aman küzǖn xör«, xör«, xör«.” – gýd γurū xörýl¤ýd γaldān arc kēčkýd
xörmýgýn dewsýd mörgýd, γaldān tülčýd, γaldān mörgäčýd, tegýd tere sýxän, bürün
dǖrün arγas tulγudu zergelýd tülný; tülčikýd, önýxäčini küzǖ šatād dūsaxdār ebtýxän
xaγalaxguā, xýčýr xabčil¤i irýd γalīn ekendýr täwýd körgýčkýd, sýxän körýd irexdýr
ni abčiγarād, čimýgua gete¤i odād alsang ükrýn sewsendýr ni täwičikýd örǖndýn
pasa gete¤i odād, örký tatasan kümīg yū nālda¤i üzýd ir gýd yowūlnā. Örkä tatasan
kümün gete¤i odād üzüxdýr öwsän-či nāldasan bý¤i bolnā, yamar negen malīn nōsan-
či nāldasan bý¤i bolnā. Kilγasan nāldasan bý¤ē gewǖl ükür sürüg ösä¤i i¤il sürüktýn
ir¤i törýný gidik býný. A, öwsün ene tere nāldčisan, xurūγūl xamxūl öwsün bý¤ä
bolnā, tegǖl tere ǖl bolūl γý γarcaguā, γang zudguā, sýxän urγumiltā.
– [Yū nāldsan býwal mū we?]
Terǖndü tīmīm nāldūl mū gisīm býxguā. Casan nāldsang býwǖl, zāwal dēr n’i
esexdýr kilγasang, nōsan nāldsam býdak nomtā. Tegýd ükür mala γarγaxdān
kündütke¤i zulu bärdäk býlä. Adū, temē manā ¤axčin al¤i iddek tǖk býγāguā. Altang
amang küzǖndü nāldasan kilγasan-či bý¤, öwsün-či bý¤ gerýn γol ergýdýn xapčūlnā.97

“When one slaughters cattle, the first cervical vertebra is also a much respected
[bone]. The first cervical vertebra is scorched, and then put on the slaughtered ox’s
excreta (sews). This also has its significant reason. The ox is a very respected
livestock. There has been living a being, [called] Buddha master. He [created] the
Mongolian ox on one side … According to the tradition, when man came to exist, the

97
From field-material: Bayarmagnai, Khowd, August, 1991.
50 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

Mongols employed first the ox. That is why the Mongols have been called ulān
zalātan ‘Folk with red tassels’. When you ask, why have they been called ‘Folk with
red tassels’? because the Mongols found and employed an only bull. They were called
‘Mongols with red tassels’ and [the ox is called] Mongolian ox. According to the
tradition, last time [= later] the ox and the yak those wild animals, were sent
[= driven] with a sling (dǖwr). According to the tradition [the Mongols] came
slinging, driving, chasing [the ox and the yak], prepared suet for lamps, and lit lamps
for the Buddhist people of the whole world. The milk of the being, called yak is fatty,
and [also] for the purpose of lamp-suet became the [the yak] domesticated.
On the day, when the ox is slaughtered, the cervical vertebra is cooked, gnawed
and into the hole of the cervical vertebra some cagān öws, juniper is put, it is covered
with the epiploon, and opening the skirt of the yurt on the right side (gerým barūn
baks), it is called. The good fortune of the ox is called. It is beckoned with xurui. This
is [as follows]:
‘Zā, from Southern direction
you came followed by your companions of every colour,
golden cervical vertebra xör«, xör«, xör«.’ – three times is said xurui.98
‘From the Western Sanctuary
you came followed by your companions of tiger colour,
golden cervical vertebra xör«, xör«, xör«.’ – three times is said xurui.
‘From Northern direction
you came followed by your companions of light bay colour,
golden cervical vertebra xör«, xör«, xör«.’ – three times is said xurui.
‘From Eastern direction
you came followed by your companions of different colours,
golden cervical vertebra xör«, xör«, xör«.’ – three times is said xurui.
Then some juniper is put into the fire, [the family members?] kneeling down on
the skirt of their dēl, burn [the bone] in fire, bow to the fire, and burn [the bone] in the
hearth, filled up accurately with dung. After scorching it, when that neckbone burnt
up, it is carefully taken out with the fire-tongs. Then [the bone] is put on the “head” of
the hearth and chilled. When it chilled up good, it is taken out and silently, someone
stealthily puts it on the excreta of the slaughtered ox. Next morning [someone] will
also sneak [there]. The woman who pulls aside the cover on the smoke-hole,99 is sent:
‘Look, what stuck to [the excreta]?’ The woman, who has taken off the cover on the
smoke-hole slings to it, there could be a leaf of grass stuck to it, or a staple. If a long
hair is stuck [to it], it means the ox-herd will grow, [the slaughtened ox] will come
back and have rebirth in its herd. There could be a xurγūl100 or a xamxūl101, in this
case that [coming] year is without loss and calamities, and with good plants.
[What means bad omen when sticking there?]
There is nothing what could mean bad, when sticking there. Snow stuck on it, and
surely a piece of hair, a staple, should102 stick there. Then, slaughtering an ox, a lamp
should be lit for respect. There is no tradition among us, Dzakhchins to slaughter and
eat horse, or camel.

98
Mong. qurui, Khal. xurui, Oir. xör«, xürǖ, the “beckoning” word which calls the fortune in sacral texts.
99
In a Mongolian family the wife gets up first and she should open the “yurt-window”.
100
A kind of grass, could not be identified closer.
101
Xamxūl Lat. 1. Corispermum, 2. Salsola collina (Bawden, C. R.: Mongolian-English Dictionary. p. 426).
102
Dzakhchin nomtý means “should, ought to”.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 51

Whether it is a piece of grass, or a piece of hair, sticking to the golden cervical


vertebra, it is stuck to the main inside rope of the yurt.”

The Western-Mongols practice a bone-fortunetelling to investigate who is married in the nearest


future. The vertebrae of the ox-tail are used for this purpose:

Oka mordūlnā gidik čini uxāng tere, ükrīn sǖlin yasār oka mordūlnā gidik čini
bolūl: ükrīn sǖlīn yasa möl¤ičkýd, ükrīný sǖl kezý öbči¤i čananā, tere ödär bolnā.
Ükrýn sǖlīn γodon yasnūdīg möl¤ixýr terečini dolā, nýema arwād üyü býdguā bülǖ-l?
Tere üyǖdīg īgä¤ād ǖdýrý īgýd γalīn dōd biyýr köndälän, īgýd ¤irīlgýd īgýd, īgýd
täwi¤i, täwičiknä. Bügdīn nere ögný uxāngi, ene okan uxāng Narancecek, ene
Sarangerel, ene odā Odangtuyā, ene bolūl kenči gedek yumung tus, tusda či nere unā
¤i ögný. Bügdü nertý bolnā. Tegýd biyīn, biyīn xolxang īgýd täwinä. Tegčýd öný gerte
or¤i irdik noxā dūdnā. Noxā dūdčād ömnýsni nege yum xayād ögčikný. Äli oknīg
türǖn awaxāyē?! Ön«xä čini [noxā] ünürlü¤i üzýd býnā, ingýd ünürlýd üzü¤i, üzýd
zärimī-či tülkýd unaγāčigýný, zärimī awād idčig¤ýný. Zā tegýd awād idčig¤ýný. Pē!
tere Odanggerel türǖn mordaxār bol¤iglāši īm ¤išētē, ene tāwar toglām nege-l udā
bolnā. Unaγāčiksan okang kümündü odaxguā gisin üg. Tülkýd unaγačixlā kündü
odašgua yumā tere!103

“This is a tradition of marrying the daughter. Concerning marrying off a daughter


with the [help of] bones of the ox-tail; the bones of the tail is gnawed, and [this
fortunetelling will happen on the day, when the tail is skinned and cooked. The short
bones of the ox is gnawed, there are seven, eight, ten bones,104 aren’t there? Those
bones are put on the door side, this way across the lower part of the hearth, this way
one after the other, they are put this way.105 A name is given to each of them, for
example: this girl is called Naranceceg, this girl is called Sarangerel, now this is
Odontuyā, this is also called somehow, and each of them is given a name. All of them
get names. Then [the bones] are put with a distance from each other, this way. Then
the dog which usually has access into the yurt, is called. After calling the dog
something is thrown to him. Which girl is proposed first to? That [dog] nuzzles [the
bones] nuzzling this way, he pushes off some [bones], and eats some of them. Well, it
takes and eats some. So! For example, that Odongerel will be married first; this
guessing game takes place once, and the “pushed off” girl will not be married soon.
The pushed off [bone means] that she does not marry soon.”

Bones as amulets
According to our observations, mostly šagais, anklebones are used as amulets, for protecting
children against sickness, bad-luck. E.g.: anklebone of a wolf could be hung on the neck of children
falling often ill.106 The anklebone amulet serves as an object for beckoning fortune as well; to the
winner horses’ xusūr “horse-scraper” also wolf’s anklebones are attached, for the purpose of

103
From fieldwork materials of the Hungaian-Mongolian Expedition, collected from the Dzakhchin Bayarmagnai, August,
1991, Khowd town, Khowd district.
104
Dzakhchin üy lit. “joint”.
105
Bayarmagnai showed it with pieces of wood.
106
From fieldwork materials of the Hungaian-Mongolian Expedition, July 1999, Cecerleg, Arkhangai district.
52 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

keeping their fortune for the future.107 A contemporary aspect of anklebones’ use as amulet is that of
the long-distance drivers’, who also put anklebones on their ignition keys.108
The šagait “shin-bone, tibia” plays an important role not only in wedding rituals (see below), but
it also appears as protective amulet for the new-born child. Among the Aga Buriads the participants
of the placenta-burial ritual consume some white food and meat together. There should be a tibia,
too (barūn šagait the right for the son, and zǖn šagait the left for the daughter) in the ceremonial
dish (called tutxūr “pail”). This bone (after eating the meat from it) is hung on the baby’s cradle, for
protection from evil forces.109 The same bone of a sheep or bull-calf is used to protect the new-born
child among other Buriad groups. On the occasion of putting the baby into the cradle (when its
umbilical stump fell off), numerous children gather together and one of the woman participants
gives them to eat a šāta semgen, the compulsory object of the ritual. Together with other attributes,
mostly representing the metal element, such as dagger, hammer, arrow, the bone is put around the
cradle, and after the ritual the accurately gnawed bone is attached to the right side of the cradle.110

Bones as objects for trials of strength and skills. Traces of ancient


military practice.
Certain anklebones games, such as the various knuckling and catching games (E.g. gǖ sāx “to
milk a mare”, šagai atgax “to grasp ankle-bones”, šagai nyaslax “to knuckle ankle-bone”, etc.), are
traces of the military practice of archers.111 These practices have transformed into adults’ and
children’s games nowadays. About the ankle-bone games there is a large amount of field materials,
published since the first accounts on Mongolian ethnography112, so to discuss it in detail goes
beyond of the frame of this paper.
The breaking of the ox bones serves even now to prove the strength of the new husband. We
collected a very interesting etiological story about the origin of the breaking of an ox’ shoulder-
blade, according to which this kind of strength trial has been carried out by wrestlers, in order to
demonstrate their power to a judge.113

Dala idičixýd dalān xūdas yasīg setel¤i tasa cokdag n’i ere čidlýn üzsün kerek
yum. Dēr üyüd Gönär geleng, bökä Širaw gidik xoyar munduk kümüs yowý¤ē. Xa¤ūdā
pasa čidltā tengkätý kün daxūl¤e yow¤ē. Nege nutuk xušūnās nögý nutuk xušūndu
zarγa aldasīm bä¤ē. Zarγān awaxīn tuldu bökä Širaw, Gönär geleng xuyar, nögý
čidaltā zalūn xamta zarγa awaxa gi¤i yow¤ē. Tere nutuk xušūnā noyan, nege x« alād,
idýd šaγā čimgýn tata¤i ekellē:
– Zā mý zalūčūd tadčik gýd Gönär geleng, bökä Širaw, öný zalū γuruwda ökguā
yū!
– Ō, manāxančini bolčirγan gi¤i īgi¤i bogīn šīr bärdägim-l, bodīn šīr bärdīm büšǖ
gi¤ē.

107
From fieldwork materials of the Hungaian-Mongolian Expedition, July 1998, Töw district.
108
Csornai Kovács, T.: Nomádok négykeréken. Budapest 1998 (MA-thesis), p. 30 [Nomads on Four Wheels].
109
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. p. 71.
110
Batoeva, D. B. et alii: Obrjady v tradcionnoj kul’ture burjat. pp. 74-75.
111
Kabzińska-Stawarz, I.: Games of Mongolian Shepherds. (The Library of Polish Ethnography 45) Ed. by Andrzej
Woźniak, Warsaw 1991, p. 119-137.
112
B. Sarantuyā has recently published two volumes summaring the types of games and the terminology: Sarantuyā, B.:
Mongolīn cengēn nādam. Šagain nādgain üg, ner tom”yō. Ulānbātar 1996 [Mongolian Entartainment and Games. The
Terminology of Ankle-Bone Games]; Sarantuyā, B.: Mongolīn cengēn nādam. Šagain nādam. Ulānbātar 1997 [Mongolian
Entartainment and Games. Ankle-Bone Games].
113
From fieldwork materials of the Hungaian-Mongolian Expedition, collected from the Dzakhchin Bayarmagnai, August,
1991, Khowd town, Khowd district.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 53

– Iki ügtý zolignūd býný, odā cānāsān nasa kücsün cara ala! – gi¤. Nasa kücsün
cara alād maxanāsni xā γuya xoyarīn čini¤ē. Xā γuyu xoyarīn činixdār öný γurwung
kümün xā γuyu xoyarīn bügdīn möl¤i¤i ide¤ixād tegýd, ¤ā dal šapdūl, tanar iki ügü
kelelguā nādaxa šaγā čimgān’ bär¤ýγýd öbdikdýrýn darčisan šaγā čimgin’ xuγurči¤ē!
– Ā, manāxang bolčirγan gi¤i bogīn čimik bärdäkguāīm, bodīn čimik bärdīm-l gi¤i,
īgýd xuγulčisan učrās car alūlčixa¤i. Nas kücsün car alād, tere nas kücsün tere sýxän
zalū carīčin’i maxī-č čančxad yalzalād bolγād önýxä xā, γuyu xoyarīn maxīn’i cugīn’
idčixýd:
– Zā, čī šabdanā-ū? Bi šabdanā-ū? Kā! – gigýd tege¤i!
– Ō, čī šabdīči gigýd Gönär geleng ni bökä Širawān tege¤i. Bökä Širaw ni:
– Zā ta šabdatän’i enǖg. Bī enǖgö šabdaya gigýd xa¤ūdān nege zalū daxūlsang
tere zalū n’i bolūl yaxuw tere daxūl’ zalū šǖdý! – γýxýd yow¤ýsän. Tegýd önýx čini:
– Ā, kuk, ene örkýn owā zegsen tatčixguā yū gixný:
– Tā zugār ike üge kelýd-ýlguā nādaxān šabda! – gi¤i kel¤i. Tegýd önýxä čini īgýd
šabdičiksän dalīn yasang cūrād örkýn či dunda camarxāg tas cokād, cō tatād γarči¤i.
Īgýd atxād, dalān balca atxačixād γalūr n’i kečixa¤ē.
– Za, bökö Širaw či nādaxa šaγā čimgýn tata! – gi¤i.
– Carān šaγā čimgýn tataxdān, ō bidnir yum kümýr orādakguīm-l.
– Ō, tā nerelkelguā nāda šaγā čimgýn orāγād tat! – gi¤i.
– Orāxa yamrīm, býdīm. Manāxan čin’i bogīn šīr bärdäkguā, bodīn šīr bärdäk
ulus gýd tataxa gýd inggesný – Xōrān sūtun zalūčūd! – gi¤i-l.
– Iki ügü kelelguā nādaxān tat! Či čiddag-l yum bol¤im tat! – gi¤i. Tegýd önýx čini
«d ergǖln gigýd totxūr n’i ergǖl¤iγād tatčigsan, totxīn’ tasa awād ǖdīn’i tasa cokād
γarsam býnä. Tegýd zarγān awād irýsim býnä.

“After eating [the meat from it] the bone of the shoulder-blade is broken through
with one stroke. This is how the man’s strength is checked.
Once upon a time there lived two very strong men Gönär geleng114 and bökä115
Širaw. Another [= a third] strong, powerful man followed them. Their banner failed in
a suit against another banner. Bökä Širaw Gönär geleng and the third strong fellow
[returned to this banner] to win their suit.
The nobleman of that banner slaughtered a sheep and after eating [its meat] they
started to pull [= to break] the shinbone.
– Well youngs, take and pull it! – said [the nobleman] and gave it to them, to bökä
Širaw, Gönär geleng, and that young man.
– Oh, we do not take for this purpose the shank of the small livestock, because it is
too small, we surely take the shank of the large livestock.
– You are very boasting, guys.116 Now, let us slaughter from my herd117 a full-
grown ox!118 [the nobleman ordered]. The full-grown ox was slaughtered, the foreleg
and thigh-bone were cooked. When the foreleg and thigh-bone were cooked those
three young men gnawed off the whole foreleg and the thigh.

114
This man, similarly to numerous out-laws was probably a monk previously, Mong. gelüng < Tib. dGe-slong “monk of
second rank”.
115
The companion of the “monk” seems to be a wrestler, Mong. bökö. Threre are no more data about the two mentioned
persons except for this Dzakhchin story.
116
The word zolig (Mong. ¤oliγ) “figures of dough used for rituals of ransom, scapegoat, also animals or persons could serve
for this purpose”, in the colloquial speach it is used in off-handing manner.
117
Dzakhchin cānāsān lit. means “from there”.
118
Dzakhchin car “castrated bull”, Kalm. car “Ochs (verschnittener), Jochtier” (Ramstedt, G. J.: Kalmückisches Wörterbuch.
p. 422), cf. Khal. šar.
54 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

– Well, now strike it without boasting! – They took that shinbone [now that of the
sheep!] and [one of them] broke it pressing on the knee.
– Oh, we do not take the marrow-bone of the small livestock, because it is too
small, we surely take the marrow-bone of the large livestock. And because we broke
[earlier the shinbone of a sheep] an ox was slaughtered [for us]. – After the full-grown
ox was slaughtered, [the meat] of the good, wholly grown [ox] was boiled and cooked
very soft, and then [they] ate the whole meat from that foreleg and thigh.
– Well, will you strike it or shall I strike it? Friend! [bökä Širaw] asked.
– Oh, you strike [it]! – Gönär geleng told to bökä Širaw.
– Well, you strike it! I will strike this one. – bökä Širaw said. And the [third]
young man, the one who followed them was surprised at them.
– Well, dear, will you not pull the cover of the smoke hole completely?
– Well, you without saying boastful words, strike it. – He said, and he struck, and
the shoulder split and, [flew out through the smoke hole] striking the middle of the
stretcher of the roof-ring as well. Then he grasped the [remaining] shoulder-blade,
[smashed it up] and threw its pieces into the fire.
– Well, [now] you bökä Širaw, pull this shinbone!
– When we pull the shinbone of an ox, we do not roll in [the bone] with anything.
– Oh well, do not stand on ceremony, roll in the shinbone and pull!
– For what reason should it be rolled in? We do not take bones of small livestock,
only the bones of large livestock – he said [and added] – Sit further back, youngs!
– Do not talk boasting, pull this one. Pull if you can do it -. Then he lifted up [the
bone] at the lintel of the door, and while he pulled it, it flew out breaking through the
lintel and the door. This way they won in the suit.”

The Dörwöds also practice the custom of breaking bones119 as a kind of trial of strength, such as
the dal šawdax, čimegen tatax, sēr čičix “breaking a shoulder-blade, pulling a marrow-bone, rifting
throaic vertebra”. For breaking a marrowbone (shin-bone or thigh-bone) they use the bones of a
black male wild goat, or a wild sheep. The shoulder-blade of a sheep is broken with a stroke with
the right middle finger, then the broken shoulder-blade is grasped by the left hand and smashed into
small pieces. Finally the “neck” of the shoulder-blade is bitten off. This custom is practiced among
the Bayids as well. The thoracic vertebra of an ox also appears in the strength-trial games: the
accurately gnawed vertebra must be broken with one stroke. If someone fails to do it, the bone is
kept with an attached silk xadag.120

Bones as sacrificial objects


Bones are believed to be the residence of the soul, or one of the souls, so bones could represent
the living being itself. The so-called “bone-soul” of human beings is mortal, is able to transform
into soul-animals, and originates from Father.121 The bones, as soul-residence should not be harmed,
injured during the animal-sacrifice, to help the animal to a new rebirth. In a Buriad tale about Abai
Geser xübǖn, the heroes are transformed into anklebones, in order to preserve them form harm.
Nine heroes in the tale are turned into bones in the following way: the first hero fights with the
enemy of Geser, and being almost defeated, he calls for help a stronger hero, who turns him into an
anklebone and puts it into his pocket (sic!). This transformation motif is repeated nine times, until

119
Badamxatan, S. (ed.): Mongol Ulsīn ugsātnī jüi. 2. boti. Oiradīn ugsātnī jüi. XIX-XX jūnī jāg üye. Ulānbātar 1996, p. 83
[Ethnography of Mongolia. Volume 2. Ethnography of the Oirads. The Turning of the 19-20th Centuries].
120
Badamxatan, S. (ed.): Mongol Ulsīn ugsātnī jüi. 2. boti. Oiradīn ugsātnī jüi. pp. 264-265.
121
Taube, E. – Taube, M.: Schamanen und Rhaphsoden. Die geistige Kultur der alten Mongolei. Koehler & Amelang,
Leipzig 1983, pp. 80-82; Birtalan, Á.: Wörterbuch der Mythologie der mongolischen Volksreligion. pp. 1004-1005.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 55

Geser himself defeats the enemy, and transforms the previous nine heroes back into their human
shape.122 In this story the bone shape helps to preserve their life and soul.
The prohibition of breaking bones appears in the earliest sources about the Mongols. Plano
Carpini reported from the 13th century about the very careful treatment of livestock bones among the
Mongols. The Mongols burned the bones of sacrificial sheep, while they prepared protective spirit-
figures:

“Die Herstellung dieser Götzen geschieht auf folgende Weise: Alle älteren
vornehmen Damen des betreffenden Heerlagers kommen zusammen und fertigen sie
mit gebührender Ehrfurcht an. Wenn das geschehen ist, schlachten sie ein Schaf und
verzehren es, während sie die Knochen mit Feuer verbrennen.”123

The bones of the sacrificial horse (and other livestock), offered to the representation of Chinggis
Khan):

“Auch Pferde weihen sie ihm, welche bis zu ihrem Tode niemand zu reiten wagt.
Ebenso weihen sie ihm andere Tiere, und wenn sie eins davon töten, um es zu essen,
zerbrechen sie ihm seine Knochen nicht, sondern verbrennen sie mit Feuer.”124

Different bones, but mostly the shoulder-blade and the skull, are used as sacrificial objects also
recently. There are detailed studies from all over Inner Asia and Siberia about the necessary
preservation of the bones, the residence of a kind of souls.125 So the bones of the sacrificial animals
and certain beasts are prohibited to break, because the harmed spirit will not be able to be reborn, or
if it is reborn, it will not be so valuable for the spirits and gods, having wounds on places of the
broken bones. This is the basic principle e.g. of the ¤ükeli-offering,126 when the skin, the skull and
the limbs of the sacrificed animal are hung on a pole. The sacrificed horse also served as a mount
for the deceased in the world of dead, as Plano Carpini reported:

“Ein anderes Pferd dagegen wird bei der Leichenfeier verzehrt, sein Fell mit Stroh
ausgestopft und dann (an einer langen Stange aufgespießt und) über zwei oder vier
Pfählen etwas erhaben über dem Grabe aufgehängt. … und endlich hat er dort auch
Pferde zum Reiten. Die Knochen des Pferdes, das sie verzehren, werden zum Heil der
Seele (des Verstorbenen) verbrannt. Oft kommen auch Frauen zusammen, um
Knochen zum Heil der Seelen ihrer Männer zu verbrennen, wie wir das mit eigenen
Augen gesehen und von anderen Leuten dort zu Lande gehört haben.”127

On the other hand, the bones should not be kept entirely when the rebirth of an animal is wished
to be hindered, as in the case of the killed fox among the population of Inner Mongolia.128 A clear

122
Hangalov, M. N.: Sobranie Sočinenij II. pp. 322-323.
123
Risch, F.: Johann de Plano Carpini, Geschichte der Mongolen und Reisebericht 1245-1247. In: Veröffentlichungen des
Forschungsinstituts für Vergleichende Religionsgeschichte an der Universität Leipzig. II. Reihe 17. Ed. by H. Haas, Verlag
von Eduard Pfeiffer, Leipzig 1930, pp. 63-64.
124
Risch, F.: Johann de Plano Carpini… pp. 66-67.
125
Paulson, I.: Zur Aufbewahrung der Tierknochen im Jagdritual der nordeurasischen Völker. In: Glaubenswelt und Folklore
der sibirischen Völker. Ed. by V. Diószegi, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1963, pp. 483-490.
126
In detailes cf. Bese, L.: The Shaman Term £ükeli in the Secret History of the Mongols. In: AOH XI (1986), pp. 241-248;
Birtalan, Á.: Wörterbuch der Mythologie der mongolischen Volksreligion. p. 1002.
127
Risch, F.: Johann de Plano Carpini… pp. 81-83.
128
Birtalan, Á.: A Survey of the Fox in Mongolian Folklore and Folk Belief. In: Der Fuchs in Kultur, Religion und Folklore
Zentral- und Ostasiens. Ed. by H. Walravens, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2001, pp. 35-58.
56 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

example for the preserving of the bones is the revival rituals in the Mongolian epic tales, and folk
tales. The bones of the killed hero are also kept entirely by his relatives or by his horse and later put
in correct order by a being of usually supernatural origin in order to carry out the revival ceremony.
Bones, like the shoulder blade and the skull are usually offered on altars in the nature, on the
obos. Among the numerous types of the obos there is a certain group, malīn xišgīn owō, “the fortune
of the livestock” which are built for fertility purpose, for the preservation of the livestock’s
reproduction, good quality, and good luck.129 The owners of livestock offer the head of the foremost
cattle, mostly that of the male ones’ on the obo-altar for the local spirits, the spirits of territory,
which are responsible for the good quality of the pastures. This helps to preserve the good quality of
the perished cattle. The holes on the skull (eye, mouth, nose, ears, and the gap on the nape) of the
horse must be covered with pieces of a white stone.130 Earlier the offered shoulder-blades used to be
provided with Tibetan script, the magic formula of Ohm mani padme hum, and offered this way on
the altars.131 The contemporary practice does not use the script any more.
Žukovskaja reports about the custom buyan togtox “acquire merit”, when someone disobeyed
the laws of the community, should offer to the spirits, lords of the territory milk products, or when
his sin was more serious, a sheep, and then leave the sheep’s head and four ribs on the obo-altar,
circumambulate the obo and perform incense-offering.132 The bones of the perished sacred cattle
(seter ongon mal) should be burnt and offered also on the obo, namely in the South-Eastern
direction.133

Bones in healing magic


There are certain bones which are used in healing magic as well. The Kalmyks use e.g. the mole
tooth to cure various sicknesses.134 The bones of livestock could be also used for curing, for
example the shin-bone, used during the wedding ceremony, could be used for healing the ear-
diseases among the Dzakhchins. This is one more additional data of using the tibia which plays a
central role in numerous rituals (see above).

Šaγā čimgīg xadam aelda zāwal kürgündü täwi¤i öngný. Šaγā čimgīg säexang
möl¤ičkýd šaγā čimginý närin tolγāgīč inggýd sýxang orāčikýd kürgün, okān
awaxdām büsdýn xapčūl¤i irný. Tegýd gertýn apčirād derīčný ekendýr un’inda īgýd
närin tolγāg či urū xälýlγýd xapčūlčignā. Tenǖgýn odā xapčūlād tere sýxän xatād
bürü kede yada xongnā tere, arwād xongnū, sara bolna ū, tere ýel awād sýxang
gikčini yumār orāγād awdartān kēgýd xadγalčiknā. Tegýd býlγýd býnē. Tege¤ičiknā.
Tegýd býlγýd býnē. Tege¤i býγād önýxa čimgen sǖldü yow¤ýγād xayakdūl, xayakdanā.
Xayakdaxdān zugār xämýguā xayakdaxaguā-šdā. Tenǖgýn bolūl kǖküd, – ürü sada
γarsanā darādār xadγal¤āγād tere, kǖkdīn čikin öwdäný-dā, kümný čikin öwdäný

129
From our Dzakhchin informant, Bayarmagnai we also collected data about the offered parts of sheep on the obo. This text
appeared in a previous article of the author: Birtalan, Á.: Typology of the Stone Cairns Obos and their symbolical meaning
(Preliminary Report, based on Mongolian Fieldwork Material collected in 1991-1995). In: Tibetan Mountain Deities. Their Cults
and Representations. Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Graz 1995. Ed. by
A.-M. Blondeau, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 1998, pp. 199-210.
130
Žukovskaja, N. L.: Kočevniki Mongolii. Kul’tura, tradicii, simvolika. p. 158.
131
Bawden, C. R.: Divination. In: Die Mongolen. Ed. by W. Heissig – C. C. Müller, Pinguin Verlag, Innsbruck; Umschau
Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, pp. 227-231.
132
Žukovskaja, N. L.: Kočevniki Mongolii. Kul’tura, tradicii, simvolika. p. 110.
133
Nyambū, X. – Nacagdor¤, C.: Mongolčūdīn cērlex yosnī xurāngui toli. p. 43.
134
Bordžanova, T.: Magičeskaja poezija kalmykov. Issledovanije i materialy. Elista 1999, pp. 36-37; Birtalan, Á. – Rákos, A.:
Kalmükök. p. 128.
RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES 57

pasa, čikýr xatxād pasa tege¤i boln-šdā, tegǖl tere čimgīngini pasa eptýxin gikčini
xatasang čimgīg awād čikindi dusāna. Tere doma yumu.135

“The shin-bone is given to the son-in-law in his parents-in-law’s family. The


bride-groom gnaws the shin-bone wholly and takes [to his home] the bride putting
[the shin-bone] into his belt, while the thin end of the bone is covered accurately.
After arriving home he will attach the bone to the roof-pole above his pillow, turning
the thin end [of the bone] downwards. Then after attaching it [to the roof-pole] it is
dried up, then it stays several days, either ten day or a month; [then] the family
members take it and cover it with something nice, and keep in the chest. Then they let
it stay. That marrowbone remains [there], and at last it can be lost. If it is lost, it
should not be thrown away at any place. That [bone] is kept until children are born [in
the family]. When the child’s ear or adult’s ear becomes ill, the ear is inflamed, this
can also happen. In this case the shine-bone is taken – that dried up marrowbone is
taken and dripped into the ear. This is a healing way (dom).”

The Health-giving quality of the shin-bone is mentioned also by Szynkiewicz. He reports that
the tulaγ bone (another name for the shin-bone), the sheep shin-bone prepared for children at the
birth rituals, is used for healing purposes. The bone is used by the child’s mother for dalalaγ-ritual
“beckoning fortune”, or the heated marrow of another, supposedly newly slaughtered sheep used to
drop on the aching points.136

Summary
In our brief presentation we aimed to give a survey about the use of cattle bones in economic
and sacral spheres of life of the Mongolian nomads. We are sure that the above listed aspects could
be completed with more details and data. We need to emphasise once more, that most of the
mentioned aspects of using the various cattle and beast bones could be observed during our
fieldwork in the contemporary life of the Mongolian nomads, as still living customs.
In the present article we tried to summarise the data about the use of animal bones in the ritual
activities of the Mongolian nomads. We have not dealt with the beliefs and activity concerning the
human bones. In the enumerated records there are numerous first publications of fieldwork material
collected by the staff of the Hungarian-Mongolian Joint Expedition.
The bones of animals slaughtered for ceremonial or ritual purposes or the beast hunted by the
nomads serve for protective or fertility magic in the every day and festal activity of the nomads.
However, there are some peculiar bones, as the shin-bone which bears more complex symbolical
meaning. Some questions of using animal bones have already been discussed by the author, such as
the divinatory activities (first of all with the scapula), while others, as the mentioned article about
the systematisation of activities with the anklebone.

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sǖlīn yas (bones of tail)
dal (scapula)

aman xüjǖ (atlas)


RITUALISTIC USE OF LIVESTOCK BONES

dux (coronal bone)

Figure 1 The bones of ox used for ritual purpose (the Mongolian terminology is given in Khalkha language)
61
62 ÁGNES BIRTALAN

dal (scapula) ūc (sacrum)

sǖ¤ (pelvic bones)


erǖ (jaw-bones)

dund čömög (femur)


atgāl čömög (humerus) šānt čömög,
šagait čömög (tibia)

bogt čömög (radius)

šagai (talus)

Figure 2 The bones of sheep used for ritual purpose (the Mongolian terminolog is given in
Khalkha language)

Figure 3 The 25th vertebra of sheep used for eulogical saying among the Kalmyks