Mongolian epic: the Jangar

HEROIC EPIC JIANGGAR OF OIRAT MONGOLS

A storyteller singing the Jangar

In Mongolian tradition epic – that is a long poem narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation – has a particular significance. The lack of written sources makes difficult to trace back to origins of Mongolian history, the same is for the starting of epic among Mongols. Historians date it back to the time of Gengis Khan, with the Secret History of Mongols (transcribed shortly after the ruler’s death), when a Mongol identity was emerging. The connection between epic and identity also appears regarding the Oirats, a Mongol clan which most important epic text is exactly the Jangar.

The Oirats’ origin has to be searched in Siberia, hereafter they migrated more and more toward south, until they arrived to Zungaria and Tian Shan mountains, in today’s Xinjiang. Oirats then built an alliance of four tribes (the Four Oirat) that, at least in part, moved to west until reaching the banks of Volga. Here they became known as Kalmyks, actually just one of the alliance tribes. Scholars hold to be true that the birth of the Jangar epic should be dated between XV and XVII siècle, at the same time of the alliance building over mentioned. To this end, it is worth noting how Jangar memory has been shield by the Torgud, the Oirat clan with the most intricate history: from the Volga they returned to Zungaria in the XVIII siècle.

First news in the West about Jangar can be traced back to XIX siècle, when Benjamin Bergmann, a German traveller, became aware among the Kalmyks. Of great importance in studying the Jangar has been China that, through the Xinjiang Jangar Office, during 1970’s and 1980’s of XX siècle sifted the Region looking for facts around the epic text. The upshot was a step from 25 to 124 known parts of the poem; however some scholars consider the known parts be 200 even. But in the past Chinese sources have modified data adjusting them to the constructive knowledge of the events. This issue has been solved in 1999 when in Japan was published a text originated from a living singer of the Jangar, the Kalmyk Singer Arimpil.

The storytellers have an absolutely key central role in Mongolian epic. The Jangar, indeed, was learned by heart and modified for they own use, for example when public started calling for historical facts rather than mythologies; singer were often illiterates and the narration was a source of livelihood. This makes very difficult to understand what in the Jangar is original and what was added later. The plot is a classic one: the struggle between good and evil. Jangar is a miraculous birth hero, which father is the king of Baoumuba, a kingdom without orphans and widows. When Jangar becomes orphan himself, has to fight together to twelve warriors and eight thousand soldiers against the evil, personified through the giant Manggusi.

Other basic subject of Jangar is the research of wife. Among Mongols marriage was the construction of a real network of alliances, so that often future marriages of women were value as the possibility of improving the clan status. To find wife, Jangar must overcame several trials, showing is ability in wrestling, archery and riding. These are nowadays the sports practised during Naadam, the most important Mongolian festival. Some scholars have attempted to compare Jangar to other Mongolian and Turkish epics, noting some similarities, as in the case of the Kyrgyz Manas, where echoes reappears the topic of the twelve warriors, but the task seems be quite difficult.

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