Disclaimer & Invitation:
The de Ruyter family began collecting facts about Mongolia as soon as Shanti received her mission call to this distant and fascinating country. We have compiled them here.
We invite you to join in the fun by adding your own comments and welcome corrections as well as contributions.
Help us learn more…we’re happy to go back to the blackboard!
The de Ruyter Family
Mongolia is the largest landlocked country in the world and is the 18th largest country overall.
It has an area of 604,826 square miles (approximately the size of Western Europe).
Most of Mongolia is desert, but the North and West of the country are primarily mountainous with meadows, steppes and forests that support good pastures.
Mongolia is the home of the Gobi Desert, the world’s coldest, northernmost desert. It covers over 500,000 square miles.
Though landlocked, Mongolia holds Khövsgöl Nuur, one of the largest lakes in Asia.
Khüiten Peak is the highest point in Mongolia at 14,350 feet.
The blue represents the eternal blue sky while the red bands on either side represent Mongolia’s ability to thrive in its harsh environment.
The Soyombo is a columned arrangement of geometric and abstract representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the yin-yang symbol of balance and opposition. A communist star once topped the arrangement, but was removed in 1992, after the transition of Mongolia to a democracy.
More than half of the 2.8 million people living in Mongolia are under 30 years of age.
Over half the population of Mongolia lives in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. It was once known as The City of Felt. The first capital was established in the 1600’s, moved repeatedly along the river, and had many name changes.
Mongolia has the lowest population density in the world with only 4.7 people per square mile.
There are 29 ethnic groups in Mongolia.
The literacy rate is 98.4 percent.
The Mongolians are Nomadic herdsman, traditionally roaming vast stretches of land with herds of yaks, camels, sheep and horses.
The Mongolian people are deeply spiritual and reverent.
Some believe that a Mongol took the long journey to Greece (spiritually or literally) and taught Pythagarus. Thus, what we consider to be “western” civilization may actually be deeply influenced by the Mongolians (A Story Waiting to Pierce You by Peter Kingsley).
Mongolians typically have broad faces, thick dark hair and somewhat almond shape eyes.
The following is based on Ashley’s friend’s traveling companion’s comments, who did study abroad in Mongolia: even in the crowded city of Ulaanbaatar, the people behave like nomads living in the middle of nowhere. For example, if their car breaks down in the middle of the highway, they will fix it right there, oblivious to anyone who may be trying to get by.
Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy.
The Gross National Income per capita is $3770.
Mongolian genetic markers are found in Native American people, and it is believed that people from the Altai region (where Russia, China, Khazakhstan and Mongolia meet) walked across the ice where the Bering Strait now exists, some 13-14,000 years ago and settled in the Americas.
Many Mongols live in gers (also known as yurts), which are portable felt tents.
Mongolian babies sometimes have blue bottoms – this was confirmed by a sister at Church who diapered her friend’s adopted child from Mongolia. The bluish spots which can occur anywhere in the body are most frequently on the back and bottom, are not associated with any disease and are as common as freckles. They typically are present at birth or appear within the first few weeks of life and fade by three years of age. Mongolian blue spots and eye color are produced by the same body cells and in the case of blue spots are trapped as they travel through the developing body. The deeper they are trapped in the layers of the skin, the bluer they appear. This characteristic is also found throughout Asia and amongst darker skinned people, including Native Americans.
Under Russian influence the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced with two additional characters and is currently taught in school, but script is beginning to make a comeback.
Mongolian is of the Mongolic language family, though some linguists classify it within the larger Altaic family of languages, which include Turkic and Tungusik, and usually Koreanic and Japonic languages as well.
Mongolians depend on their herds for food and their livelihood and identify strongly with them. They have tremendous respect for animals and all living things and take great pride in their care of them. More than 3 million animals are held in herds, which means there are more livestock animals than humans in Mongolia.
Mongolia is home to the two humped Bactrian Camel. A baby camel is called a colt.
Yaks can live in temperatures of -40º F.
Mongolian horses are short and extremely hardy and their riders are said to be the best in the world. Children learn to ride as early as three years of age. Mongols hunt on horseback with Golden Eagles trained to catch prey. The wild horses (or Takhi) are revered by the Mongolians. It is thought that one rides to Heaven on a horse.
While elephants no longer exist in (Outer) Mongolia, the animal is an important symbol that carries good Karma for the people. When communism repressed the people’s ability to practice their religion freely, Buddhas were often replaced by innocent looking carvings of elephants, which represented their beliefs instead and served as a meditation tool to keep focused. An elephant can easily be imagined to suddenly run wild and destroy everything in sight, so it provided a good reminder to remain calm and mindful.
The Gobi Bear, a member of the brown bear family, is the rarest bear on Earth, found only in Mongolia with a total population of between 23-35. This animal, which is more bronze colored and smaller than the California grizzly is thought to be the originator of the brown bear family. Gobi bears are now protected and being tagged and studied, but with such a small and dwindling population there is great concern over their future, especially in light of the mining and other development activity taking place in the country.
The Mongolian people love meat and fat. Lamb and mutton are most popular but they also like beef, horse, rabbit, marmot, deer and wild boar.
Buuz is a Mongolian dumpling filled with meat. A hearty version of dumpling doubles as a foot warmer on especially cold days, as the Mongols will place freshly made dumplings in the toes of their boots and enjoy their warmth until they reach their destination and eat them.
Meals for special occasions are sometimes cooked using heated stones within the body of the goat.
In a country with vast distances to travel and harsh weather, visitors are always welcomed with a warm cup of Suutei tsai (salty milk tea).
Mongolians drink camel, mare and goat milk. Camel milk has many nutritional and medicinal benefits. It is a rich source of proteins with potential antimicrobial and protective activities. These proteins are scarce or not found in cow milk. Camel milk has enough nutrients to sustain a person through the day. In many countries, camel milk is given to babies suffering from malnutrition.
Compared to cow, buffalo and ewe milk fat, camel milk fat contains fewer short-chained fatty acids, but the same long-chained fatty acids can be found. Some researchers claim that the value of camel milk is to be found in the high concentrations of linoleic acid among other polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are essential for human nutrition.
Cholesterol in camel milk is lower than cow or goat milk. It has a high vitamin and mineral content and immunoglobin content. Camel milk is three times higher in vitamin C than cow’s milk and 10 times higher in iron. It is also high in unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins but lower in vitamin A and B2 (than cow milk). The composition of camel milk depends on its feed and species: Bactrian milk has a higher fat content than dromedary milk.
Camel milk is lower in lactose than cow’s milk. However, levels of potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, sodium and zinc are higher than in cow’s milk. It is believed to modulate the immune system. A study of eight children showed its ability to ameliorate allergies in children.
Mongol invasions are some of the deadliest conflicts in human history. By 1300 the Mongol Empire covered much of Asia and Eastern Europe.
Elephants may have been used in ancient Mongolian warfare, but mostly the Mongols were on horseback using their long bows and arrows to shoot at the enemy’s elephants feet, causing them to run and trample the enemy’s own army.
Hardy horses and good horsemanship gave the Mongolians a strategic advantage in wartime. Each Mongol soldier maintained 3-4 horses allowing them to travel at high speeds (by changing animals and not wearing them out) for many days. They lived off the land and drank mare’s milk, giving them great mobility.
Mongolia holds military power in Iran and Afghanistan and George Bush visited Mongolia.
70 percent of Mongols are Tibetan Buddhist. 30 percent of Mongolian Men were Buddhist monks in the 1930’s.
Christians make up 2.1% of the population.
Mongolian folk religion or shamanism is an animistic, shamanic ethnic religion that has been practiced in Mongolia and surrounding areas at least since the beginning of recorded history. Originally it was tied to all other aspects of social life and tribal organization in Mongolian society. It has become intermingled and influenced by Buddhism. During the 20th Century socialist years, it was heavily repressed, but is now making a comeback.
The three major tenants of Mongolian Shaminism:
- Maintaining balance in the world
- Reverence for all living things
- Personal responsibility
Clothing and fashion
Mongols wear their boots two or more sizes too big so they can stuff them with extra socks or wool as the weather gets colder. A Deel is a traditional item of clothing in Mongolia.
There are more than 400 types of traditional Mongolian headwear. Russian style felt or fur hats are popular. Traditional head fashion of the Khalkha involves women’s hair intricately wrapped to mimic cows horns or wings of eagles.
The Nadaam festival includes wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Nadaam is celebrated October 17 on Russian Revolution day.
A hair cutting ceremony occurs when a child is 3-5 years old and is believed to have passed the dangers of infancy.
Mongolians celebrate Genghis Khan’s birthday on November 14.
September 1st is a holiday and marks the first day of school. The children arrive in their best clothes and have a big party and sing about being happy to learn.
There are two distinct styles of Mongolian music, the short song and the long song. The short song is more lively and the long song is more slowly paced. Music is written about everyday activities, love, and man’s relationship with nature, and philosophy. They are performed at ceremonies and events and can be as long as 20,000 lines.
The Morin Khuur (horse head fiddle) is a traditional Mongolian stringed instrument. It is often seen as the symbol of Mongolia and is used in many traditional songs and rituals.
Mongolia has pop music in Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolians sing to their animals to calm and heal them.
China divided Mongolia into two parts in the early 1600’s.
Some of Mongolia’s border is the Great Wall of China.
Up to 90% of Mongolia’s international trade is fueled by China.
Mongolians speak Mongolian but write it in the Cyrillic alphabet they got from Russia.
Because conformity was fostered under communism, older people are not used to personal initiative, risk taking, and entrepreneurship.
Some architecture in Ulaanbaatar began to incorporate features of Russian style in the beginning of the 20th century.
The 1940’s version of the Mongolian flag had a communist star.
Mongolia is becoming an increasingly popular adventure destination, especially for people who enjoy the outdoors and are willing to try new things.
One of the most popular times to visit Mongolia is during the Naadam festival in July.
Mongolians point with their hands rather than their fingers and call to come with palms down.
It is rude show the bottom of your feet and to kick someone else’s foot. If it happens by accident the offender is expected to quickly shake the other’s hand.
Mongolians use their right hands to exchange items.
Mongolia is called The Land of Blue Skies with more than 260 sunny days per year
Mongolia has extremely cold winters and mild summers.
Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital city in the world.
Winters where temperatures drop below 40 degrees continuously are called Duzd (or Durs) and result in death of herd animals and starvation.
An anthelion is a rare phenomenon that occurs only when temperatures drop below -30º F and the sun reflects on snow and ice crystals to create a visual effect that looks like there are 3 suns on the horizon.
Mongolia is home to what will be the largest coal mine in the world once completed. The country is so rich in coal, gold and other ores are that the country is sometimes nicknamed “Minegolia.”
Mongolia has extensive resources and could become a major provider of energy. The path being pursued most aggressively is coal mining. Possible alternative energy sources include wind farms (safer construction work, clean energy, and access to a renewable resource). It is said that one (particular) province of Mongolia alone could harvest enough wind energy to provide the power needed for all of China.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Membership consists of 11,000 saints and is growing. There are 120 missionaries serving in Mongolia, the majority of whom are locals. There are more sisters than elders serving.
The largest Christian denomination in Mongolia is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Some believe that with the start of missionary work in Mongolia some 15 years ago, the gathering of Israel has truly begun in earnest, as representatives of all the tribes of Israel are said to be found there. David G. Stewart, Jr., M.D. noted the following:
I had confirmed from missionaries and members that modern patriarchal blessings have identified members of all the tribes of Israel in Mongolia—a greater number than I am aware of being found in any other country to date. These blessings were given independently by Latter-day Saint patriarchs in stakes throughout the world where ethnic Mongolian missionaries served, as Mongolia had no stakes or patriarchs at the time. More recently, a similar phenomenon has been reported from Siberia. A recently returned missionary from the Russia Novosibirsk Mission wrote: “While there, I had the unique opportunity to be present for the coming of two American patriarchs who delivered the first-ever patriarchal blessings to Siberian Saints on two separate occasions. What turned up was a staggering number of representatives from every single tribe in the relatively few blessings given.
See the full text here.
Thanks for reading! Watch here for more fun facts as we find them. We look forward to your contributions as well.
—the de Ruyter Family