The Mongol Tuuli is a living oral tradition comprising heroic epics, crucial for the cultural identity of the Mongolian people and for the historical continuity of their nomadic lifestyle. Epics are performed during many social and public events, including state affairs, weddings, a child’s first haircut, the traditional naadam festival and the worship of sacred sites. The Mongolian epic plays an important role in the traditional education of younger people. During the seven decades of the Mongolian People’s Republic (1924-1992), the traditional nomadic lifestyle and traditional culture were suppressed and, following this, Mongolia experienced rapid urbanization against a backdrop of increasing globalization. In the report it is mentioned that due to the aforementioned political, social and demographic factors, the Mongolian epic had lost its traditional place in the culture, and interest decreased correspondingly among the general public. The number and distribution of epic performances diminished drastically as a result.
Effectiveness of the safeguarding activities
It is reported that inscription led to developing a systematic approach to safeguarding through the adoption of the National Safeguarding Plan of the Mongolian Epic (2011). It emphasizes training young performers in order to sustain inter-generational transmission, while strengthening the status accorded to epics and their performers, and revitalizing the traditional ritual contexts of performance. According to Mongolia, the number of people registered at the national level as epic storytellers through a field study and inventorying has risen from 7 in 2009 to 20 in 2013; their repertory includes now around 30 epics (long and short).
The number of practitioners, researchers and people with an interest in and practising epic storytelling has increased as mentioned in the report. Public awareness of the epic art is also increased and storytellers have been encouraged by public recognition and organizing festivals, competitions, etc. Additionally, the report explains that their repertoire and skills have been recorded and assessed. A new academic discipline was created and a database of the epic performers was established and will be updated annually. The reporting State explains that folk rituals and customs associated to the Mongolian epic have been revived, some forgotten epics revitalized and traditional techniques, methods, skills and rituals relative to the narration of epic acquired. However, from the report it seems important to create sustainable financial support in order to continue and improve the training activities.
The storytellers are reported to be active in most of the safeguarding activities set out in the safeguarding plan, in particular, in training the next generation by teaching them and in keeping the traditional form of epics. They also participate often in national festivals and competitions. Cultural associations (such as the lkh Hogsuu and Aitan Huree Associations in Oirad and Urianhai, respectively) organize traditional art and sports festival competitions. In the report it is explained that the Mongol Epic NGO has programmes aimed at keeping, protecting and transmitting the tradition. Through the local government administrations and cultural centres in each region, the Mongol Tuuli Association has the main responsibility for ensuring the viability of the epic at the local levels and has established a centralized framework for safeguarding the epic and ensuring its viability.
According to the report, epic performers, relevant State bodies, the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO and the Mongol Tuuli Association have all had direct involvement and support for the implementation of the National Safeguarding Plan of the Mongolian Epic. The performers and concerned NGOs have played an important role in restoring apprenticeship training and conducting training for trainer-bearers. Mongolia states that a commission was set up in 2012 comprising governmental and non-governmental organizations, community members, practitioners, bearers and other individuals to prepare national activity reports on the different measures taken to safeguard and protect the several Mongolian elements inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. In particular, the Mongol Tuuli Association and five renowned storytellers were involved in preparing the report submitted.
Viability and current risks
According to the reporting State, at the time of inscription, the Mongol Tuuli was at severe risk because of its shrinking social sphere, changing socio-economic conditions and the weakening of nomadic practices, the difficulties for younger people in mastering the complex poetic language, and the increasing popularity of mass entertainment. Despite the aforementioned challenges, Mongolian epic performers are reported to continue to attach great importance to performing the epic within traditional contexts and in sacred settings, and endeavour to transmit performing techniques to the younger generation in the manner learned from their ancestors. As underlined in the report, the viability of the Mongolian epic stories depends, in part, on which form they take since they are divided into several traditional genres according to the way of telling and the rules governing this: more than half of all storytellers belong to a single tradition while some other traditions have only a few storytellers and this renders them vulnerable to disappearance.
In the report it is stated that the epic is still at severe risk today also because of the increasing popularity of mass entertainment media among youth. It seems therefore necessary to stabilize and improve current measures for epic storytelling and secure sustainable financial support for them. Although Mongolia reported on concrete achievements as a result of the safeguarding plan, it recognizes that it is important that it receive continued financial support.