A Missing Stanza from Natsagdorj’s Poem, ‘My Native Land’

By W. Juna.

There has been a lot of recent discussion over the Chinese government’s new ‘bilingual’ education policy in Inner Mongolia. This new policy has  reduced Mongolian language instruction in favour of instruction in Chinese (Also see a post by Prof. Christopher Atwood).

From September 2020, first year Mongolian school children are now required to learn in Chinese, along with their mother tongue. Mongolian textbooks of Morality and Law as well as History will also be replaced with textbooks written in Chinese from 2021 and 2022. The reform not only reduces Mongolian as a medium for teaching and learning, replacing social science subject textbooks, but will also alter the content of Mongolian textbooks. A quick perusal of the new Mongolian language and literacy textbooks reveal that well-known Mongolian authors’ works have been replaced with translated works of Chinese authors. The historical story of Chinggis Khan’s youth, ‘Temüjin’s Childhood’, for example, was replaced by Mao Zedong’s ‘Serve the People’, while the poem ‘Mongolian Language’, written by famous Mongolian writer and scholar B. Rinchin has been replaced by a translation of Chinese writer Weiwei`s ‘Who is the Dearest Person’, an essay paying homage to the Chinese Voluntary Army during the Korean War in the early 1950s. If such changes are conspicuous upon comparing the new textbooks with the old ones, other changes are not as immediately evident, such as the disappearance of the last stanza from Natsagdorj’s most famous poem ‘My Native Land’ (see poem below).

Borjgin Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1906-1937). Source: Wikipedia.

Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj was a Mongolian poet, writer, playwright, and one of the founders of Mongolian modern literature. Within his short lifespan of 31 years, he produced a copious body of works. The poem ‘My Native Land’ was published in the early 1930s and is one of the classics of Mongolian literature. In this poem, the author praises the pristine nature of Mongolia and infuses the lines with pride in the heroic history of the past, the enjoyment of the present and hope for the future. Originally it consisted of 12 stanzas, but is known to Mongols with 13 stanzas. The last stanza reads:

The mother tongue we learn from childhood is a legacy we cannot forget

The homeland we live eternally is a place we cannot depart from

The name Mongol has glory in world history

The heart of all Mongols beats with our homeland Mongolia

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful.

 

According to Professor Kazuyuki Okada in 1955, the 13th stanza, or last stanza, was added to the poem, which was taken from one of his later poems on history by the compilers of the collection of Natsagdorj’s work after his death. This expanded version has become well known across the Mongolian plateau, taught within schools both in Mongolia, as well as Inner Mongolia for decades. In Inner Mongolia, the poem has been included in the Mongolian high school Language and Literature textbook. Thus, hardly anyone remembers that the last stanza was from a different poem.

Natsagdorj’s beautiful rhymes delicately capture the nature of the Mongolian plateau and the Mongols love for their magnificent home and hence pulled at the heart strings of all Mongols. In particular, the 13th or the last stanza of the poem, has been recontextualized in a variety of contexts, ranging from the cultural revitalization movement, to a calligraphy competition, to an online advertisement of Mongolian-themed products (see Figure 1 below). The last stanza, which centers on the mother tongue and a connection to the homeland, evokes pride in Mongolians’ and a love for their language, culture and nomadic pastoral lifestyle.

The last stanza of My Native Land with the image of Genghis Khan (Source: WeChat post.)

Not surprisingly the deletion of this part from the poem in the recently revised textbook caused resentment among Mongols. The editors of the new textbooks may have been unaware of the fact that the last stanza was not in the original part of the poem. Even if they were aware, however, removing this emotionally-loaded stanza, in the context of a highly controversial education reform, makes it an intellectual and political issue. Put in context of the removal of other pieces of Mongolian history and culture from other textbooks, it is clear that the editors of the textbooks aimed to discourage young Mongols’ from an attachment to their language and cultural heritage. This unscrupulous removal of text has further fuelled Mongolians’ dissatisfaction and anger with the proposed new model of education. By tampering with the poem, reformers, who seek to depoliticize ethnic culture and identity, perhaps unwittingly politicized the famous poetry text.

 

My Native Land (Translation by John Gombojab Hangin)

Magnificent are the ridges of the Khentei, Khangai and Sayan.

Forest-covered mountains are the beauty of the north

Vast are the Gobis of Menen, Sharga and Nomin

Seas of sand dunes, supreme in the south

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Crystal-clear are the rivers of Kherlen, Onon and Tola

Health-giving fountains and hot springs abound

Deep-blue lakes of Kubsgul, Ubsa and Buir

Brooks and freshets quench the thirst of man and beast

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Splendid are the rivers of Orkhon, Selenge and Khokhul

Abundant are the mountain passes rich in minerals

Ancient monuments, ruined cities galore

Broad are the highways that vanish into the distance

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Snow-capped mountains gleam from afar

Clear blue skies over steppe, plain and field

Majestic glacial peaks are visible far off

Vast airy valleys which calm the mind of man

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Between Khangai and Altai lies the Khalkha land

Where we galloped to and fro since childhood

The long low foothills where we hunted deer and game

The beautiful valleys and hollows we raced our swift steeds

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Undulating sea of grass, when touched by the gentle breeze

Enchanting are the mirages of the wide open plains

Land with severe terrain that produces the best of men

Here are the sacred heights, worshipped since times of yore

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Luxuriant pasturelands full of fine grass

Here is wide open country criss-crossed by our tracks

A land to move as we like in all the four seasons

Where the soil is rich for the five kinds of grains

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

The sacred mountains where our forefathers rest

The land where our children grew, and rear their children

The meadow and valleys filled with the five kinds of stock

Here is the land which entrances all us Mongols

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

In the winter’s tingly cold-a blanket of ice and snow

The land shines like a crystal mirror

In the warmth of summer season- flowers and leaves unfold

Land where distant birds come to sing their songs

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

The fertile virgin lands between Altai and Khangai

Land of our eternal destiny where ancestors lie

Land grown mellow under the golden rays of the sun

Land grown eternal under the silver moon

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Homeland of our ancestors since the days of the Hsiung-nu

Land of great might in the days of the blue Mongols

Land we become more accustomed to with every passing year

Land where now the crimson flags flutter

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Beloved country of us all who were born and die here

The enemy who dares invade our soil shall perish

Let us build our revolutionary state on the land ordained

Then let us march head high towards the brave future new world

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

 

References:

Kazuyuki Okada, ‘D. Natshagdorjiin “Minii nutag“ ba “Tüühiin shüleg”-iin xarichaa’, in B. Mönhbayar eds, IIh Zoholch D. Natsagdorj Shine Sudalgaa II (Ulaanbaatar, 2017), pp.40-54.

John Gombojab Hangin, ‘Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1906-1937)’, in The Mongolia Socieity Bulletin Vol 6. No. 1(11), 1967, pp. 15-22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanggai: Galloping Across the Mongolian Steppe Between Different Worlds of Music

By Dr Gesar (Gaz) Temur

Gesar finished his Doctor of Philosophy from the ANU in 2015. He continues as a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Mongolia Institute.

Hanggai is a music band from Inner Mongolia, China. The band made their name by playing and singing traditional Mongolian songs with a modern twist. Hanggai’s fame extends from the grassy Mongolian plains and the Altai Mountains, across the Eurasian Steppes to the Volga in Europe, and as far down under in Australia. The modern punk and rock music flowing from the Morin Khuur (horse-head fiddle) and banjos, along with Khoomii (throat singing) and Urtiin duu (long song) reminds the listener of galloping horses.

“Hanggai”, symbolises a natural landscape of sprawling grasslands, rivers, and mountains with green trees under blue skies and is the name adopted by the group, formed in 2004. The band is made up of seven members – band leader Ilchi and singer Hurcha – and others who play horse-head fiddle, electric guitar and percussion.

Hanggai’s extensive, melodic and broad range of music and its interactive performance are regarded as a breath of fresh air in the music world with its crossover hybridisation of folk with contemporary music.  In 2018 the band won a national competition hosted by state broadcaster, China Central Television, gaining millions of fans across the world. Hanggai is a highly successful Mongolian group in both Europe and China.

In an interview on 26 June 2020, the band’s leader, Ilich, told me that ‘this distinctive Mongolian repertoire of sounds relates to our unique Mongol music which represents modern Mongolness. I would say that we are folk music revivalists who use a crossover form of modern and folk music to articulate the values which are embedded in our modern community, especially ethnic Mongolians in China and those who have left and live abroad’.

Ilich continued, ‘The world is changing rapidly due to modernisation and Mongolians are one of the last nomad [cultures] left in the world. We want to send out the message that the preservation of the environment is a way of life for us. The rich Mongolian herding culture – the harmonious way of life alongside nature and animals – is believed to be an important aspect of life, so it must be maintained. We want to tell people that we use our music to promote cultural heritage and thus preserve the environment, our language, and way of life and to stress how important it is that these aspects are respected.’

Ilich explained that Hanggai travel to many continents and countries each year to feature the world of Mongolian music. I asked Ilich what they all have been doing during the COVID-19 lock down: ‘We pretty much have spent time with family and composed music’. The plan for the rest of 2020, from July to November, is that they will perform forty-odd shows, entitled Heading North- Homeward Journey’, in approximately forty cities across China’.

‘Currently, we are practising in our yurt in the countryside and getting ready for the music tour. July and August is the most beautiful time to spend on the Mongolian steppe and our hearts and souls are closer to nature here. We hope that Australian fans and friends will see us in person after the pandemic and that you will all follow us on social media.’

Globalisation and industrialisation have brought huge challenges to local cultural identity and the environment in Inner Mongolia in China. Cultivation and the industrial development of pastural land have not only been causing environmental degradation but also the loss of the Mongolian lifestyle in the form of nomadic pastoralism. Herders are not permitted to herd their animals and have been forced to settle, or look for jobs in cities. This migration into cities and towns, where Chinese is the dominant language, is causing the gradual loss of Mongolian language and other cultural attributes. To avoid loss, modern musicians are clinging onto their cultural roots through a contemporary use of ‘in-betweenness’.

What has made Hanggai so successful in China and the rest of the world is there is a cultural revival in nomadic pastoralism as a concept, yet the way of life has been influenced and changed by the outside world. Hanggai’s music in the contemporary context belongs in this category. Their lyrics and vocal styles express an explicit connection with Mongol perspectives with regard to nature, the foundation of which is the deep reverence for the natural world, the animals that they herd and their surroundings, a worship of the Blue Heavens (Tenger) and a respect for their elders.

 

O, the silence of the Hanggai

stretches to the distant horizon

 

Silent as the grave

Filled with the fragrance of frankincense.

 

O, Hanggai, endless prairie

Give me freedom in life and a great heart 

 

Long live my homeland

Ancestors gave us our ancient gods

 

Who to pass on to? Give us the wisdom to survive 

The cradle of heaven is our inheritance

 

O, blue Hanggai

Melding with the distant horizon.

Horses roam over the green prairie

 

O, vibrant Hanggai

Hanggaithe endless steppe

 

Song translated from the album “He Who Travels Far”, listen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHvUruU5BH8

All images are from Hanggai’s Chinese website and used with the permission of the band.

 

Links to Hanggai information online:

https://hanggaiband.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Hanggai-896344303871919/

https://www.weibo.com/hanggaiband?refer_flag=1005050010_&is_all=1

Шигэp Шигэp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwzwr2VduLs

Hanggai – Baifang (Official Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNJ_FtYbTtc

 

The Changing Face of Mongolia

The Changing Face of Mongolia: Maintaining cultural traditions in a globalized world

By Joseph Fernandez

Figure 1. Naran Tuul Market Entrance.

 

Over half the population of Mongolia was born after 1991, meaning the median age is just 28-years-old. This young demographic plays an important role in shaping the culture and identity of Mongolia but is at times at odds with the traditions of older generations. During my time in Mongolia, as part of an intensive field-based course, this generational divide was clearly apparent.

In Ulaanbaatar, it is almost impossible to miss the signs of westernisation amongst Mongolia’s youth. As we walked past teenagers in vans and through the countless stores selling fake Louis Vuitton in the famous Naran Tuul Market, or Black Market, it became obvious how pervasive American style and culture had become amongst young Mongolians. Our tour guide, a 20-year-old university student who studied at the National University of Mongolia, talked about his favourite hip-hop stars and NBA players. Basketball has become one of the most widely watched sports in Mongolia, despite the national team not being ranked in the FIBA World Cup. The longer we spent in Mongolia the clearer it became that Americanisation had increased exponentially in the last couple of decades, driven primarily by the country’s young people.

Out in the country, there is a far greater level of connectedness to the traditional Mongolian culture and lifestyle. Nomadic kids wear the traditional clothing, or deel, as they play together outside their yurt (ger), whilst a few older teenagers and young adults speed around on motorbikes herding livestock. Here, many people are using technology to help keep the nomadic way of life thriving. Mobile solar panels are set up next to gers and trucks help to ease the seasonal movements of gers throughout the year. An interesting observation that we made was the lack of people our own age out in the countryside. Despite being there in the height of summer, there were hardly any university-age students. It became apparent through talking with local people that many young people had moved to Ulaanbaatar, a move that many older people struggle to come to terms with. Giving up the nomadic lifestyle is, for older Mongolians, turning your back on an ancient and central part of the Mongolian way of life.

Many young Mongolians have moved to Ulaanbaatar in search of a different future and better work or study prospects. Many also move in search of a community bigger than those that exist in small towns or more rural provinces (aimag). With families who desire a retention of a pastoral way of life, young people’s relationships with their parents can become strained. A network of youth centres have opened up around Ulaanbaaatar in recent years, offering a place to meet and create communities. These centres also provide essential information about important issues that are particularly relevant for young people, such as reproductive and sexual health. With sex education rarely taught in high school, these centres and services are vital in helping to educate young Mongolians in preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancies.

Another aspect of the generational divide in Mongolia is the treatment of LGBTQI+ people. Homosexuality was illegal in Mongolia until 2002, and it was only in 2014 that a law was passed to include attacks against queer people as a hate crime. However, members of the community have continued to be victimised, with 80% of people who identified is LGBT having experienced some form of human rights abuse or discrimination in the past three years. This wasn’t always the case. Before the communist revolution in 1921, society largely accepted LGBTQI+ people. Many queer people became shamans, who were gender diverse. With the advent of urbanisation and the breakdown of nomadic family microcosms, the idea of ‘otherness’ emerged, and the criminalisation of homosexuality soon followed. Now, these ideas still permeate many communities, even amongst young people. A UN report found that nearly 87% of queer people in Mongolia hide their sexual or gender identity from their friends and family. However, in recent years there has been a growing tolerance amongst young people, which can be attributed to both the work of NGO’s and activists in Mongolia, increasing exposure in popular culture and ease of access to the Internet.

The connectivity created by new technology in recent decades has enabled young people to interact easily and create communities online. Whilst this has led to a dramatic increase in non-Mongolian media and culture coming into the country and being consumed by youth, there has also been successful efforts to partake in and spread aspects of Mongolian culture. Mongolian fashion, photography and art has flourished on platforms such as Instagram and opened up Mongolia to a global audience. Musicians such as The Hu and Magnolian have incorporated Mongolian melodies and instruments into their music to widespread success with both bands garnering millions of streams on Spotify. It is clear that some young Mongolians are using their platforms online to spread and actively partake in Mongolian culture in the face of globalisation.

Mongolia’s youth are becoming increasingly urbanised, drifting away from the traditions of older generations. Some efforts are being made to blend the old and the new, but it remains to be seen how Mongolian culture will change and hopefully flourish in a globalised world.

 

Joseph Fernandez is currently studying for a Bachelor of Law (Hons) and International Relations at The Australian National University.

http://www.fiba.basketball/rankingmen

https://www.unfpa.org/news/young-people-mongolia-finding-places-where-secrets-are-safe

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/mongolia_human_devlopment_report_2016_english_full_report_2016_06_28.pdf

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2103383/lgbti-mongolia-fighting-rights-and-recognition

https://medium.com/@WorldLearning/embracing-the-lgbt-community-in-mongolia-563f230d0f37

 

Mongolia’s Measures against COVID-19

 

Artist: Ts Orgil.

Mongolia’s Measures against COVID-19

Itgel Chuluunbaatar & Li Narangoa

With the outbreak of COVID-19, as a country Mongolia was expected to have a high number of cases given its proximity with China and a vulnerable health care system. Despite all the odds, the Mongolian government has managed the COVID-19 well with timely management and strict rules. Unlike other countries, Mongolia took immediate measures to prevent and combat the COVID-19 outbreak, well before the first case was confirmed. Mongolia became the second country in the world to close its border to travellers from China, starting on the 25th of January 2020.

The experience of combating the SARS epidemic in 2003 and 2009 was still fresh in the minds of Mongolians and this gave the government the confidence to act decisively. Previously, when SARS cases crossed the southern border from China, Mongolia immediately closed the borders and put in place social distancing measures. Some observers commented then that Mongolia was overreacting but it turned out Mongolia’s stringent measures paid off and within days Mongolia was able to contain the spread with only one internal transmission, while other Asian countries struggled for much longer to tame the spread of the SARS virus.

With the coronavirus, social distancing was introduced long before the first case was confirmed. All kindergartens, schools and universities were closed from the end of January and studies were changed to online modules. Special television programmes were released, dedicated for secondary school students and students were required to submit their homework through social networking platforms. So far 480 online courses and 206 textbooks have been uploaded to a dedicated website (www.econtent.edu.mn). Currently, school and university closures will continue until the 30th of April 2020 with the possibility of extension if the situation does not improve.

In February, the Mongolian president, Khaltmaa Battulga, issued a decree not to publically celebrate the biggest holiday in Mongolia, the Mongolian Lunar New Year, Tsagaan Sar. The president asked people to celebrate at home and meet friends online instead of visiting each other to avoid any possible transmission. The government closed down all roads between cities and provinces to limit movement during the festive season.

Despite discouraging his citizens from gathering, the President visited China on the 27th of February to show Mongolia’s solidarity with the Chinese government and its people in this difficult time. He was the first Head of State to visit China after the outbreak and donated 30,000 sheep. The Mongolian press observed the visit as a brave and smart diplomatic and humanitarian move. The delegation quarantined themselves for 14 days upon returning.

Thanks to the immediate measures taken, Mongolia has only 15 cases confirmed out of 4048 tests as of the 6th of April, including two successfully recovered patients. Currently 2272 people are under observation in quarantine. All 15 cases were from overseas.

The first case was confirmed on the 10th of March through a French citizen, who works in Mongolia, returning from a holiday in France. He stirred up controversy, as he did not follow the rule of self-quarantine for 14 days. He travelled in a train and visited a mine to conduct training. As a result, 120 contacts were quarantined as an immediate measure to prevent potential spread of the virus and over 500 indirect contacts were placed under medical observation. Fortunately, all of them tested negative. Mongolian citizens were shocked by the Frenchman’s irresponsible behaviour and demanded the government take stricter measures on foreign citizens entering Mongolia. Mongolia subsequently closed flights between European nations after this first confirmed case. The company responsible for the Frenchman donated 1 billion MNT (AUD600,000) to support the government’s endeavours in the fight against the spread of the disease.

Eleven out of 14 other cases were from Mongolians returning from abroad, via the government’s chartered flights and as a result of testing positive upon arrival. Over 6000 Mongolians have submitted requests for chartered flights when the virus spread globally. Due to limited quarantine space, Mongolia is delaying future chartered flights.

The Mongolian Ministry of Health has made daily announcements at 11am on COVID-19 related issues but also send text messages to mobile users several times daily to remind the public of the importance of social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks. This has resulted in almost everyone in the street wearing face masks, while strolling through Ulaanbaatar. The shops and stores are well stocked. People do not seem to be hoarding supplies nor have there been battles for toilet paper. The Mongolian Prime Minister assured citizen’s that there is enough meat and other supplies in the national reserve until the end of this year.

Mongolia’s effective control of the outbreak of the coronavirus is partly because it acted in a timely manner, but also because Mongolia is used to acting upon the spread of animal disease outbreaks, such as foot and mouth, whereby the most recent occurrence was a couple of years ago in western provinces. Restriction of movement of human and animals takes place as soon as these kinds of zoonotic outbreaks occur.

Since 2018, Mongolia has been using a Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) system to track the mobility of people in all administrative areas outside Ulaanbaatar to improve the preparedness for natural disasters. The DTM technology has also been used to manage COVID-19 by monitoring peoples’ movements to and from the capital of Ulaanbaatar. Over 400 health and educational personnel were placed at six major checkpoints across the city to collect data on aspects such as people’s length of stay in their point of origin and destination, as Ulaanbaatar is the political and economic hub of Mongolia and presents a potential major source of the virus to the rest of the country.

Like the rest of the world, Mongolia is expected to have serious economic decline in the coming year due to slowing global trade and limited domestic business. To minimise the economic and social impacts of the virus, the government has announced special measures, cancelling individual income taxes and social insurance payments from employees and employers for six months from the 1st of April 2020. All legal entities with less than MNT1.2 billion annual income are also given these tax exemptions. The government announced an additional MNT10,000 for each Mongolian child per month. Despite these measures, with large international bond payments due in the coming years, the Mongolian government will face huge challenges to handle the longer-term economic impacts of the virus.

Links:

https://en.unesco.org/news/mongolia-students-embarked-remote-learning-response-covid-19

https://www.amicusmongolia.com/coronavirus-mongolia-update.html

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/04/02/the-world-bank-approves-269-million-for-mongolias-covid-19-coronavirus-emergency-response

https://migration.iom.int/reports/mongolia-–-flow-monitoring-ulaanbaatar-covid-19-preparedness-–-situation-report-33-1-april

https://migration.iom.int/reports/mongolia-–-flow-monitoring-ulaanbaatar-covid-19-preparedness-–-situation-report-33-1-april

https://www.voanews.com/archive/mongolia-adopts-tough-anti-sars-measures

The Secret History of Star Wars

This is a blog post was written as part of the ANU’s ‘Modern Mongolia’ field course held in Mongolia in July 2019.

The Secret History of Star Wars: Padmé Amidala – Queen, Senator or Mongolian princess?

By Georgie Juszczyk

Note: This blog also contains spoilers for the star wars movie franchise.

The Star Wars franchise is big. Really big. Its box office earnings alone total an estimated $9.323 billion. That is without accounting for the television shows, video games, books, graphic novels and merchandising (think the ‘Baby Yoda’ plush toys about to be released in 2020) that comprise the behemoth franchise.

Part of this success is its incredibly detailed world-building. This includes everything from the ‘Cantina Bar’ song, to the intricate lore that underlies each character and their back story, to the costumes.

Particularly famed, is the character Padmé Amidala and her ensemble of fantastic, rich raiment. She is the love interest of Anakin Skywalker, as well as Queen and Senator of Naboo (the planet is the scene of the climactic battle in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Her character is one possessed with dignity, strength, and royalty (although if you were really nerdy, you would know that she is not technically of royal blood, as Naboo elects their monarchs).

In one crucial scene, where Senator Amidala is beseeching the Galactic Senate on Coruscant to aid her ailing country, she is seen wearing a particularly striking gown and headdress (pictured below).

For detailed pictures of the costume in question, click here.

The costume designers for this piece have since confirmed that they looked at Mongolian, Tibetan and other traditional Asian fashion styles as inspiration for the costume. Red is a lucky colour in many Asian cultures, the powdered white face is a reference to the esteemed Japanese geisha and is a signal of wealth, and the headdress and voluminous sleeves is a common feature of the Mongolian del and Korean hanbok. (Some say that the spacious sleeves in the Mongolian del are indicative of the shape of a horseshoe).

Most striking, however, is the headdress. The construction is mounted on a ‘close-fitting metallic gold cap’ constructed from copper, plated in gold and other coloured jewels. It is directly inspired by the Mongolian headdress used by women from the Khalkha Mongols tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Mongolia today (they comprise an estimated 86% of the modern Mongolian population).

In the Secret History of the Mongols, said to be the oldest surviving literary work of Mongolian history, the anonymous author explains that this odd configuration for women’s hair, styled in place by sheep-fat, represents cow horns. It is a reference to the myth that Khalkha Mongols ‘were the fruit of a love affair between a nature spirit and a cow’, while the jewellery, which accents the protruding ‘horns’, are indicators of wealth.

The use of the headdress for Padmé’s character is also likely to be a nod to the Mongolian tradition of ‘warrior queens.’ Mongol history is peppered with accounts of these fierce women, who ruled the Mongol empire alongside and often in lieu of their male counterparts.

For example, Börte, Chinggis’ Khan’s first wife, capably ruled the Mongol homeland while Chinggis was busy conquering. When Chinggis’ second son and heir to the empire died, Töregene assumed complete power, and relied on Fatima (another incredible woman) and two other female governors, to rule successfully before handing over the empire to her son Guyuk. Referencing such an impressive lineage only bolsters Padmé’s regal credentials.

Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

Yet while Star Wars designers certainly reference this legacy in Princess Padmé’s portrayal, it is not clear that they give adequate credit to it. Are these visual imitations of Mongolian history cultural appropriation or appreciation?

Disney, for example, is no stranger to controversy when it comes to questions of cultural appropriation and cultural imperialism. On the one hand, drawing inspiration from the world around you is an important part of the creative process. Nods to certain cultures and their individual experiences can be uplifting, as well as an enriching part of the creative work in question.

On the other hand, the Star Wars franchise makes no effort to mention or reference the experiences of the Mongol culture, other than simply borrowing from the ‘strength’ and unique look of Mongol heritage. Some have gone further, saying that modern movies’ practice of turning to Asian cultures in order to make something seem foreign and ‘exotic’ (George Lucas himself describes Amidala as ‘exotic’ multiple times) is problematic, and potentially laden with ‘Orientalist’ undertones. Instead, they argue, these cultures should be normalised, celebrated, or only authoritatively represented by the custodians of that culture.

So, is this reference to the Mongol legacy laced with admiration and a positive sign of cross-cultural communication that should be encouraged? Or is it an example of an incredibly powerful franchise failing to pay adequate respect to the content, which contributed to that success? At what point does history end and ownership of the creative process begin and are the concepts mutually exclusive? Should Padmé be rightly portrayed as Queen, Senator or Mongolian princess?