ANU Students in Mongolia: Post No. 1. ‘Mining & Dining’

As part of an ANU Mongolia Institute course, twelve students traveled to Mongolia to participate in the intensive study tour ‘Modern Mongolia: challenges to the environment, economy and empire’, coordinated by Prof. Li Narangoa and Dr Jack Fenner. MongolInk will feature a series of posts written by students during their field experience in Mongolia in July 2017. The first post is by Savanna Pilgrim.

Visiting Baga Nuur mine. Photo: Savanna Pilgrim

Mining & Dining: Thoughts about female employment in the Mongolian mining sector from the Baga Nuur cafeteria

I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of ANU students who visited Mongolia on a winter school field trip, exploring the country that is modern Mongolia. On July 5, as a group, we made our first trek out of the big city of Ulaanbaatar towards the yet-to-be explored Mongolian countryside. After an hour of driving our view of green mountains and valleys was interrupted by what some in the group dubbed ‘Mongolia’s Uluru’, or what is otherwise known as the Baga Nuur mine. We were visiting the mine site, one of the country’s largest, to learn more about mining within Mongolia and the ways in which it has been relevant to the economic development of Mongolia in the past, in addition to how it will be important in the future.

 

As a part of the trip, we had each chosen a research area to explore, of which mine was female participation and equality in Mongolia’s post-socialist era. The relevance of this topic was clear to me when we were dining with the Mongolian miners in the mine’s cafeteria; whilst the room was bulging with male miners there appeared to be very few female miners. The reality of the gender divide of workers at the mine was made clear later in our tour when a guide informed us that, of the mine’s 1100 employees, only 150 of them were women. That is a participation rate of one female to seven males.

 

Female employment and participation in the Mongolian mining sector is interesting to considering for a number of reasons. Both historically and contemporarily Mongolia is a country that is typically discussed as having high gender equality. In many respects this is true, particularly in equal employment and education access terms. Women make up over 60% of university students, and go on to dominate fields, such as medicine and legal practices (Rossabi 2005). Mining, however, is very different. In 1999, the Mongolian Labour Law was enacted and Article 101.1, which prohibited female employment in a number of ‘dangerous’ sectors, including mining. This law was in spite of Mongolia’s 1999 signing of and commitment to the United Nations’ Convention Against Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which economic rights are specifically codified (Ellis & Ellison 2015). This deprivation of employment rights within the mining sector is significant given that Mongolia’s mining sector is the nation’s fastest growing and highest paying industry. The mining sector currently makes up over 80% of the nation’s exports and 30% of government revenue, whilst miners make 2.5 times the national average monthly wage (Mongolian Economy Journal 2014). The ban on female participation in the field specifically excludes women from access to this area of flourishing growth and employment, based on a view of needing to keep women ‘safe’ (Khan 2013).

 

The Labour Laws in regards to female employment were reversed in 2008 by Mongolia’s federal parliament (Khan 2013, 8). This theoretically granted women greater access to the mining industry and the large-scale economic benefits the sector provides. Yet, despite the opening of economic opportunities, the female employment rate in the Mongolian mining sector is only currently between 5-10%. This is despite the fact that university graduates in geology (the main group employed in the mining sector) are overwhelmingly women (Ellis & Ellison 2015). Why is there such low female representation in the sector? International Labour Organisation (ILO) research suggests that women are not encouraged to work in mining, despite the economic benefits it could have, due to ongoing social pressure for women to be protected from ‘unsuitable’ and ‘unsafe’ jobs. Furthermore, ILO studies show that mining companies in Mongolia claim they prefer male candidates for jobs and prefer women to fill service, support and administrative positions (Khan 2016).

 

Given Mongolia’s reputation, as being a largely gender equal country, it would be encouraging to see action taken to rectify this ongoing issue of lack of female employment within the mining sector. Khan (2013) suggests the industry should: 1. Enforce the Law on Gender Equality (2011), 2. Promote a healthy and safe workplace environment for all individuals, 3. Enforce sexual harassment laws and create awareness of respect for gender equality, and 4. Create a mandate for companies to report employment practices and policies. Through such changes it could be possible for increased gender equality to occur within Mongolia’s mining sector.

 

With Mongolia’s mining sector predicted to only continue to grow in the decades to come, it would be disappointing and limiting to continue to see a lack of female employment in a sector where women have the rights and skill capacity to work. It will be interesting to see what changes occur in the future.

 

SOURCES:

Ellis, E. & Ellison, M., 2015. “Women in mining: will Mongolia’s proposed new Labour Law encourage greater participation by women?” https://www.expertguides.com/articles/women-in-mining-will-mongoliasproposed-new-labour-law-encourage-greater-participation-by-women/arlillic (accessed 7 July 2017).

Khan, T., 2013. Mongolia: Raising Female Participation in the Large Scale Mining Sector (No. 16499). The World Bank.

Mongolian Economy Journal. 2014. “Average Wage stands at MNT 760 000” http://mongolianeconomy.mn/en/i/6014 (accessed 7 July 2017).

Rossabi, M., 2005. “Women in Modern Mongolia” http://asiasociety.org/education/women-modern-mongolia (accessed on 15 June 2017).

Susanna Pilgrim is a fourth year Bachelor of International Relations/Arts student. She also works at the ANU as the Coordinator of the ANU Learning Communities, a student-led group, which seeks to engage both the ANU and broader Canberra communities in ongoing community-focused learning and development opportunities. 

 

 

Changes in the Mongolian Countryside

 

This year I spent some valuable time filming in the countryside during the Mongolian spring, from March until May. Changes in the Mongolian countryside are not as immediately evident as the rapid development of infrastructure and the polluted and clogged roads of the capital, Ulaanbaatar. When we drove into the river valley I had come to know so well, there were still ger (yurts) dotted in the same sheltered locations, while herds still grazed near the icy riverbanks.

When I was conducting fieldwork in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia during 2005 and again in the spring of 2007, it was complicated to get into and out of remote herding encampments. The occasional herder had access to Russian motorbikes but they relied primarily on horses to visit neighbouring encampments, to ride to local Naadam festivals during the summer, and to herd the sheep, goats, cattle (including yaks) and horses. I relied on one of the herders with a coveted Russian jeep to get in and out. Often as many as twelve people would pack into the jeep with me, alongside dairy products and animal hides. Upon my return, the driver of the jeep joked about how many people would come along with me for the ride. Now almost every encampment has some form of motorised transport, making them less reliant on their horses.

I felt a stab of nostalgia when I found that the hand-made wooden carts that were used for moving peoples’ belongings during seasonal migrations were now only used as drying racks for dairy products, or left discarded and broken. I was told that Ulaanaa was the last ox used by one of the families I lived with. Ulaanaa, a large red ox, was remarkably complacent (nomkhon) and I would often lead him, with the wooden cart and water barrel, to collect water from the river. Ancestors of the family would have worked with oxen, just like Ulaanaa, for such tasks for centuries, possibly even thousands of years.

With such marked changes within ten years, I realised it was important to record herders riding about on horseback. The communication of a person on horseback is remarkable, as the horse intuitively knows to respond to a herder’s body language but not to the lasso-pole (uurga) held in front of its head, or to vocalisations directed at the herd. For Mongolians that still predominantly herd on horseback, much of the day is spent with an individual horse, following the tracks, signs and occasional vocalisations of the roaming herds across the mountainous landscape.

Spring snowstorms can be lethal for newborn animals. It is important for herders to check the herds and to make sure none are snowbound, or too far away from shelter. The video segment above (see: https://vimeo.com/228131918) was filmed using a GoPro camera fixed onto a young herder’s hat. Monkho must have forgotten his uurga, so uses an improvised stick from a nearby tree to signal to the herd. The calls and whistles differ depending upon whether he is communicating with the yak or horse herd, whether he is vocalising to the herd as a whole, or an individual animal. He says ‘chu, chu’ softly to a young foal when trying to redirect it back to the rest of the herd.

Just as has occurred throughout much of the world, people turn to the ease of motorised transport in favour of working with horses. If Mongolian herders increasingly rely on motorbikes to herd in future, some of the unique modes of communication with their herd animals will inevitably change, and the depth of knowledge relating to such close daily contact with horses may be lost.

Dr Natasha Fijn

Fejos Fellow in Ethnographic Film, Wenner-Gren Foundation (2017)

Mongolia Institute, The Australian National University

Are There Human Health Risks in Groundwater in Inner Mongolia?

Groundwater is an essential freshwater resource for many people in dry, remote, and sparsely populated regions. In the summer of 2015 and 2016 we observed the water quality of groundwater within an environmental science study and carried out questionnaires and spoken surveys about their lifestyle within an anthropological study in Inner Mongolia. The survey was conducted with local herders as citizen scientists. Before observations, the herders were trained in how to sample groundwater, how to use a measurement kit and how to take relevant notes.

 

People who live in Inner Mongolia have been required to settle due to the Chinese government’s land use system, established in the 1960’s. The herders began to heavily rely on groundwater as a means of survival. They could no longer use water from other sources, such as river water or snowmelt. In addition, along with economic development, people have begun digging several wells on their properties, which results in groundwater pollution caused by contaminants. This has become a serious problem in many of the areas we have conducted research; in fact we observed fluoriosis during our 2016 research. High levels of livestock waste were also observed around several wells, causing high nitrate ion concentrations in the groundwater.

 

Within a previous study in the South Gobi, our research indicated that, if groundwater is drunk by herders, the fluoride and nitrate ions in the groundwater posed a serious risk to human health. From the very beginning, we have only concentrated on the fluoride and nitrate ions in groundwater in order to estimate the human health risk levels to the population. In order to understand, not only water quality, but also eating habits, the herders’ lifestyle is essential for human health risk assessment. Our results reflect the potential health risks surrounding the drinking of groundwater within the herder population. Thanks to a combination of environmental science and ethnographic research, in collaboration with citizen scientists, this has been the strength of our research.

 

Results from our analysis found that fifty percent of the Mongolian herding population may be at risk, caused by fluoride ions in the groundwater and ten percent could be at risk to their health from increased nitrate ions in the groundwater. The local government has already provided water-filtering systems to some low-income families in the area. The herding community saythat they tried to use this system but they couldn’t use it effectively because the water flow of the system was very slow. They also say that the groundwater looks deceptively clean. Our results indicate that it is important to inform residents about the human health risks of drinking polluted groundwater and to provide the opportunity to think about how to reduce the health risks which may have already occurred through drinking contaminated groundwater.

Researching the quality of groundwater in herding communities in Inner Mongolia.

Research by Koyomi Nakazawa (Fukuoka Institute of Technology), Osamu Nagafuchi (Fukuoka Institute of Technology), Wuqirilteu (Australian National University), Koji Kanefuji (The Institute of Statistical Mathematics), Yi jin (Echoing Steppe NGO), Chen Ji-qun (Echoing Steppe NGO), Sasiqin (Inner Mongolia Agricultural University).

The Spectre of Pan-Mongolism

Sitting in the reading room at the National Library of Buryatia on a hot Monday afternoon in late June 2016, a burst of song erupts from down in the small city square of Ulaan Üde outside. People are singing the Russian national anthem because it is Russia Day, a national holiday celebrating the new constitution adopted after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s. Russia day is not only immensely patriotic, it is genuinely very popular. Thus, there seemed something uncannily jarring when I came across news that in April 2016 a thirty-three-year-old Buryat-Mongolian man from Ulaan Üde, Vladimir Khagdaev, had been charged for threatening the integrity of the Russian Federation by stirring up political dissent online on VK, the Russian version of Facebook. He had been accused of advocating for something which has not been heard in a very long time indeed. The concept of Pan-Mongolism.

Pan-Mongolism was a term coined in the late nineteenth century by Mikhail Solovyev, a Russian mystic. Channelling the expanse and power of the mediaeval Mongol Empire, Solovyev dreamt of a future Eurasian state “from the Altai to Malaysian shores”. In the early twentieth century Central Asia was rocked by the crumbling of the Qing Empire and the Russian Revolution and the Civil War that followed. Pan-Mongolism came to take on a very different meaning for educated Buryat-Mongols such as Tseveen Zhamtsarano and Elbegdorji Rinchino. It was reappropriated as a post-colonial, nationalist self-determination towards a state that united all Mongolic peoples. A twentieth century Mongol Empire redux. A progressive nation state channelling the legitimacy of the past through western modernisation and communism. Both Japan and the USSR supported such movements during the Russian Civil War. This culminated not only in support from Moscow and the Buryat intelligentsia to provoke communist revolution in Outer Mongolia in 1921. It precipitated the rather bizarre formation of two competing and confusingly similar Buryat-Mongol and Mongol-Buryat Republics around Lake Baikal in 1923. By early 1924 Japan’s interest was withdrawn and the White Russian Mongol-Buryat Republic collapsed. Thereafter both were united into a shared Buryat-Mongol Soviet Republic.

Soviet authorities never really forgot about this strange Mongolic dream. In the late 1930s the USSR became increasingly inward looking, fearing sabotage, spies and nationalist reaction in its midst. Once again the term Pan-Mongolism returned. However, this time it was as a pejorative for a movement that no longer existed, except in the minds of Soviet elites. Zhamtsarano, Rinchino and many others were imprisoned and murdered in 1937 on trumped up charges for being secret Japanese spies bent on an imagined Pan-Mongolist enterprise. Moscow even went as far as to break up the Buryat-Mongol Republic into three separate states. The largest of these was also compelled to drop the word Mongol from its title in the early 1940s to become merely the Republic of Buryatia.

Photo of Vladimir Khagdaev in IXTC article, April 2016. Source: http://www.ixtc.org/2016/04/sledstvennyy-komitet-obyavil-voynu-panmongolizmu/

Once again, in May 1948 accusations of Pan-Mongolism arose when the secretary of Buryatia, Alexandr Kudryavtsev, invited the republic’s academics, media workers and propagandic arm to a special meeting. This was in conjunction with a touted six hundred year jubilee celebration of the mythological epic hero Geser. Although Tibetan in origin and a very common figure throughout Central Asia, Geser possessed an important place in academic understandings of the history of Buryat history and culture. As the USSR attempted to create national communist cultures in its republics, scholars had to prove that there was a history of proletarian revolt against religious and secular authority embedded in their folk literature. Yet, at the same time, studying the evil feudal past of khans and gods left one open to accusations of idealising reactionary ideas.

According to Kudryavtsev’s logic if the Buryat Geser epic tradition was too close to Khalkha Mongolian versions, it was worthless for a genuine national celebration of Buryat culture. It was pure Pan-Mongolism. If it was six hundred years old, as most scholars at the time estimated, then this dated the Buryat Geser to the period of the Mongol Empire. This would equally make it Pan-Mongolist feudalist nonsense. A popular idea at the time was that Geser might even represent a mythologised version of Chingis Khan. Chingis was the absolute bete noir of figures such as Kudryavtsev. Nothing was worse than this mediaeval, mass-murdering barbarian. But the worst factor was this. The idea that Geser was the Buryat national epic had been developed by Mongolist Nikolas Poppe, who had defected to the Nazis in 1941. Poppe’s intentions were reimagined by paranoid authorities as part of a “Hitlerite spy” network of Nazis trying to provoke nationalist reaction among the Mongolic peoples. Pan-Mongolism once again. Geser was doomed.

It was not until 1989, at the thawing of the USSR under perestroika that Buryat academics began to consider even collective Buryat identity seriously once again. Between 1991 and 1995, during some of the hardest years of the post-soviet transition, a series of Geseriada festivals were held throughout Buryatia and Irkutsk. Pinned to them were appeals for the renewal of Buryat language, culture and of course the reunity of the Buryat-Mongol state that had been cleaved apart in the 1930s. There was a great deal of hopefulness, but after all the celebrations, no Pan-Buryat reunification ever happened. Certainly no one was thinking about anything as ambitious as Pan-Mongolism.

Many Buryat scholars now look back at this Geseriada period very fondly, as a period of nostalgic pride. Yet, Pan-Mongolism doesn’t exist as a serious political movement any more than Pan-Buryat identity might even during the biennial international Buryat folk festival Altargana. Thus, for Pan-Mongolism to reappear once more and to be viewed as a serious threat in 2016 is bizarre. It means that the same old paranoid narratives about Mongol secession from Russia that have coloured the past century continue. Pan-Mongolism as a myth, however fantastical, isn’t quite dead yet.

Image used for the thirteen locations in Buryatia, Irkutsk, Ust’-Orda and Chita in which the 1991-5 Geseriada jubilee took place. Buryaad Ünen newspaper, June 1995.

Part II of two linked blog posts by Jonathan Ratcliffe. Jonathan is a PhD Candidate in Asian History and a member of the Mongolia Institute, ANU.

Epic at Altargana

During June and July this year, on fieldworld for my PhD, I was lucky enough to be in Ulaan Üde in the Russian Federation for the biennial folk festival of the Buryat Mongols, Altargana. Since 2002 Altargana has been held in various locations in Russia, Mongolia and China because of the liminal nature of the diverse ethnicities that identify as Buryat. It is perhaps the only opportunity Buryats as a whole have to come together and engage in the traditional pursuits of Mongolic communal gatherings – competitive sports, dancing and musical performances.

A young performer accompanied by his sister on Morin Khuur. Epic among the Buryats is traditionally a male pursuit (Photo copyright of the author).

The recent rebirth of epic performance among young Buryat reciters is quite an amazing phenomenon, bolstered because of Altargana’s clever grassroots encouragement and arrangement of semi-finals in regional areas to popularise the events and traditions over the past fourteen years. During the Soviet era, increased Russification of Siberian Buryats and the discouraging of the old tales of epic heroes, lead to the breaking of the traditional paths of knowledge transfer between generations. This means that today’s young reciters, most of whom have no reciters in the family, have had to reincarnate their traditions from whatever they have available. Most often this is derived from publications of epics transcribed by historians and anthropologists during the Soviet period. In the tradition of oral epics everywhere, the reciters modify the material they have learned and then fit it to their own skills, style of performance and according to the kind of audience as an improvised art form. Some sing, others declaim, some play the traditional Morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) as they do so, while others are unaccompanied. The results are diverse and the event is no mere showcase. It is a competition as much as sporting events like wrestling, which also form part of the Altargana. The audience know whether what they are viewing is good or bad and can get quite antsy when someone is awarded with a prize when they think the performer should not have been.

Most notable was a performance by sixteen-year-old Rodion Shantanov from rural Irkutsk, whose parents are only thirty two. Seated on a pelt and dressed in a massive fur hat in forty-degree weather, Rodion had the whole audience of the small, Soviet-era concert hall captivated as he conjured up wondrous images of heroes rescuing their horses from a thieving titanic mangadkhai (monster). This is a typical theme in Buryat epic, very much familiar to me from books, but breathtaking to hear and see delivered in person by a talented storyteller. Rodion, who wants to be a theatre director when he leaves school, has performed in a number of Russian dance productions in Moscow and even in Spain. Yet during his whole life, so he told me, he had wanted to come to Ulaan Üde. A very strange dream perhaps, compared with Moscow and Barcelona, or so it seemed to me at the time, until he explained that it is because in Irkutsk Buryats are much rarer than in Buryatia. Ulaan Üde, especially during the throes of an international Buryat cultural festival, felt like a kind of homecoming.

Everything on show as part of the competition was traditional epic. Here a boy and girl take it in turns to tell a folktale while puppeteers act scenes out behind them (Photo copyright of the author).

Rodion holds the audience in this thrall (Photo copyright of the author).

Rodion explained to me that at home his family often switch between Buryat and Russian, as bilingual people often do, a kind of mercurial game perfect for raising a young performance poet. Yet, many in rural Irkutsk no longer have such a luxury because the Western Buryat languages are, as UNESCO has been saying since the early 1990s “nearly extinct”. Among the educated elites in Ulaan Üde it is increasingly common these days to meet bright young metropolitan and well-travelled Buryats who speak English and Chinese fabulously, but not their own language. A Buryat friend of mine who came to Altargana with me was incessantly asked if she spoke Buryat or even Khalkha Mongolian, only to have to embarrassingly answer each time that she did not. Not a jot. The old Soviet program of Korenizatsia (Indigination) from the 1920s onwards made the creation of minority language print and radio media compulsory, encouraging the transcription, study and printing of Buryat oral epics. However, the irony is that for Siberian Buryats, Russian, as the academic and literary language of art and science became the gateway to perceived social mobility. Attempts since the fall of the USSR to rekindle interest in adult learning of the language have not made a great deal of impact and most children know that to get ahead there is little point in treating the local language as seriously as one would do with Russian.

Yet these young reciters, as much as they are dependant upon old texts, are not from this world of Buryat academia. A lot of them are from the countryside, for whom seeing something like a public performance of epic in a local town hall can be a life-changing event. If there is a creative outlet for performing in language like Altargana, this can only be a good thing.

Winners for the three age groups of Altargana 2016’s üligershedei konkurs (competition of epic reciters) (Photo copyright of the author).

Jonathan Ratcliffe is a PhD candidate in Asian History at The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.