Mongolia Naadam Festival: past and present in the construction of national identity
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This study explores the significant role that Naadam has played, and continues to play, in the creation and maintenance of Mongolian national identity, both within and outside the boundaries of Mongolia. By regularly performing the Naadam festival, the Mongolian people are constantly constructing and restructuring their culture, customs, traditions, values and identity, both to themselves and to the world beyond.
Naadam, or more fully Eriin Gurvan Naadam, the ‘Three Games of Men’ is a specifically and distinctively Mongolian festival, comprising a religious, secular, political or social ceremony followed by the traditional three games of wrestling, archery and horseracing. The Games component of the festival is examined drawing on the anthropology of games and sport related to identity, liminality and the use of ritual to engender unity. Also considered is the historical importance of games in ancient religious and celebratory festivals.
An overview of Mongolia’s cultural history explores the ancient origins of the festival and its evolution from a simple hunting ritual, to its incorporation into a religious ceremony after the introduction of Buddhism into Mongolia, when the ruling Khans gave tribute to the new Living Buddha. It became a political festival by which to publically display and affirm the location of power, demonstrating the dualistic role of church and state in ruling the Mongol provinces under the Qing (Manchu) Empire.
In the twentieth century Naadam became a ceremony of state as it was adopted by the first Mongolia government to demonstrate its new political (theocratic) status. Ten years later, Naadam was instrumental in the construction of nationalism and nation building as the new socialist government sought to impose its communist ideals. The public performance of Naadam successfully articulated the political hierarchy in both the spatial arrangements of the official audience and also in the construction of the festival itself.
The 800th Anniversary Naadam dramatically and colourfully reflects and enacts Mongolia’s development into an independent, democratic nation with a spectacular ceremonial re-enactment of Chinggis Khan’s Court on centre stage - displaying pride and identity in Mongolia’s ancient traditions, symbols and rituals while also demonstrating its modernity.