The Genghis Khan Exhibition at the Tech (1 of 3)
Try any of these books for more on this fascinating and amazing era. The Secret History of the Mongols was written a scant 20 years or so after Genghis’ death, and is startlingly realistic instead of sycophantically complimentary. The author of the other two books is eminently readable and well researched. I especially recommend the book on the Mongol queens for a more well-rounded view of the times — as well as possible reasons why there’s such a dearth of information on these women in the Tech’s exhibit!
The day after my graduation (with a master’s, glee! Yep, still inordinately pleased about that!) — ahem. Yesterday, the day after graduation, my parents and housemates were incredibly tolerant, and went at my request to see the Genghis Khan exhibit at the Tech. What can I say? I love research on subjects which fascinate me. ;)
Overall, I’d have to say the Tech tried to play to its perceived audience: there was what I considered an inordinate emphasis on the war-making capabilities of the Mongol Horde. I will not deny Temüjin was a tactical genius, but I would have loved more information on what a brilliant statesman he was, rather than the technical aspects of, say, how long it took to create the empire, and with what siegecraft engines. I was expecting that sort of thing, however, so I wasn’t too terribly disappointed.
For example, despite research to the contrary, there’s a surprisingly firm conviction in the minds of many today that Mongol society was brutally and unremittingly patriarchal — even worse than the medieval societies of the time, which did not allow women to be religious or political leaders. Mongol society, in reality, was nowhere near that bad. I was quite pleased to see the Tech’s signage admit there were female as well as male shamans, although I’d have been really pleased if they’d also revealed to us that originally shamans were all women, and that only the “soft” men or enarees were considered able to be shamans of an ability commensurate with women.
Additionally, if we’re going to be given stories of Temüjin’s past, I’d really like the whole story, please. Women were quite important in Temüjin’s life: trusted advisors, warriors, leaders — from his mother Ho’elun to his first wife Börte, from at least one of his daughters to several of his clever and resourceful daughters- and granddaughters-in-law. For example, the Tech gave us the story of the power-hungry shaman who tried to curry favor by setting Temüjin against his brother, until the Great Khan realized what was up and had the shaman killed. However, the signage told a completely male-populated story. Why didn’t they also tell us who the person was who convinced Temüjin to not listen to the shaman or imprison his brother? That person was Genghis’ mother, Ho’elun — a remarkable woman who kept her small family alive practically by sheer force of will alone, after her husband was assassinated in a political ploy, and the clan threw her and her children out to die.
Regarding the lying male shaman, Ho’elun remonstrated with her oldest son quite dramatically, and it’s a good story that I think is definitely worth the telling. When she heard what her eldest son was doing to his younger brother, she rode all night, so at dawn Temüjin emerged from his ger or yurt to find his mother sitting cross-legged outside, waiting for him — with no shirt on. This was not a means of titillation; it was a direct punishment of Temüjin. To so neglect one’s mother such that she could not decently cover herself was considered a shame on one’s honor. Further, Ho’elun verbally berated Temüjin as well, stating that just as he and his brother had both nursed from her breasts, so should they still be united in brotherly loyalty. Genghis Khan immediately took her advice: he freed his brother and returned all honors to him, and had the shaman quietly killed soon thereafter.