Mongolia - People

Mongolia is practically devoid of serious ethnic and religious tensions. Unlike manydeveloping and transition countries, Mongolia’s population is quite homogeneous interms of ethnicity, culture, and religion. The population of Mongolia stood at 3.2 million in 2012, which as against that recorded in the 8th Bogd Khan’s Mongolia, i.e. in 1918, has risen as much as 3.7 fold over a more than 80-year period. The population density of Mongolia is 1.5 persons per square km, making Mongolia one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Life in sparsely populated Mongolia has recently become more urbanized. Nearly half of the people live in urban centers, including the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Semi-nomadic life still predominates in the countryside, but settled agricultural communities are becoming more common. Mongolia's birth rate is estimated at 25.1 births per 1,000 people (2009 est.). About 58% of the total population is under age 30, 47.8% of whom are under 14.

The natural growth rate per 1000 of the population made up 3.6 per cent in 1980 and in 2000 was reportedly 1.4. In connection with such a drop in the population growth rates, the President of Mongolia issued a resolution on policies to be pursued in this sphere. The resolution underlined that it would be appropriate to carry out a policy aimed at preventing further decline in the population’s annual average growth rates, securing the purity of the Mongolians’ gene pool. For this purpose, the traditions of keeping genealogical records were reinstated to be kept by every household and ancestry and family records of citizens are being carried out with a view to ensuring favorable social, economic, scientific, cultural, natural and psychological environs for Mongolia ’s population growth and safeguarding the purity of the Mongolians’ gene pool.

During the 13th century Mongols normally followed patrilineal kinship relationships. In the Mongol Empire, Mongolian society was arranged in exogamous, patrilineal clans headed by wealthy Mongol men. Elite Mongol families were based on polygamy with strong paternal authority and families were formed through arranged marriages. The groom’s family paid a high bride price in livestock, that purchased rights over the bride’s fertility and gave her the right to wear boqta, or a married woman’s headdress8. Since marriages linked clans in a continuing connection, the ties were preferably not broken, even after death. Thus, widow remarriages were very rare except in the form of levirate marriages, in which a deceased man’s wives would be taken either by his surviving youngest son or, if lacking a son, a younger brother. The family tone was strongly patriarchal.

Until the 16th century, these kinship relationships were carefully followed and preserved intact. By the 19th Century polygamy had became rare, and cohabitation often began without any formal marriages or weddings at all. The decline in formal marriages coincided with the economic decline after 1825 and a rise in female-headed households, probably due to the sex imbalance arising from widespread monasticism. By the 19th Century, the patrilineal clans were visibly breaking down and urban Mongols today mostly live in nuclear families. Since the 19th century, the number of people knowing 3-4 generations of their ancestors has decreased.

Nevertheless, kinships and clans still managed to preserve the traditional customs of marriage beyond their own kinship bonds. Socialist system administrative arrangements were weighty top down structures splitting provincial authorities into many small units that may have adversely affected Mongolians’ kinship bonds and relationships. Since 1990 initiatives and efforts have been made to re-introduce kinship and clan identities, and explore kinship connections and these are still ongoing to date.

Ethnic Mongols account for about 94.43% of Mongolia's population and consist of Khalkha and other groups, all distinguished primarily by dialects of the Mongol language. Mongol is an Altaic language--from the Altaic Mountains of Central Asia, a language family comprising the Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolic subfamilies--and is related to Turkic (Uzbek, Turkish, and Kazakh), Korean, and, possibly, Japanese. Among ethnic Mongols, the Khalkha, the core Mongolian nationality, comprise about 80-90% and are distributed all along the territory of the country. The other major group, the Kazakhs, makes up about 6 percent of the population and lives in western Mongolia , mainly in Bayan-Ulgii aimag. The remaining 10% include Dorvod, Tuvan, and Buriat Mongols in the north and Dariganga Mongols in the east. Turkic speakers (Kazakhs, Turvins, and Khotans) constitute about 4% of Mongolia's population, and the rest are Tungusic-speakers. Most Russians left the country following the withdrawal of economic aid and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many Kazakhs immigrated to Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, but many have since returned.

The Mongolian group stemmed from the ancient Mongolian people and Mongolian tribes being parts of the Mongol Empire founded in 1206 by Chinggis Khan. The ancient Mongolian tribes comprised the medieval Aimag (principality) of Mongolian tribes. The current “aimag" of Mongolia means its administrative and territorial unit. That is why the dominant tribes and nationalities that used to comprise the ancient Mongolian group are now spread along all the aimags (provinces) of Mongolia . However, the traditional settlement patterns of the dominant tribes and nationalities of the ancient Mongolian principality still can be easily traced back even now.

As for the linguistic reference of the Mongolian population, it relates to the Mongolian group of the Altaic family except for Kazakhs. This group is composed of Khalkh, Durvud, Buryad, Bayad, Uriankhai, Zakhchin, Darkhad, Torguud, Uuld, Myangad, Barga and Uzemchin dialects.

  • Barga. Originally, from the Lake Baigali region of Siberia , they number 1560 and live in remote pockets of Dornod and Tuv aimags.
  • Bayad. Descendants of Oirad Mongols; about 40,000 live in Malchin, Khyargas and Zuungovi district in Uvs aimag.
  • Buryat. Also found in Siberia , they number about 47,500 and congregate in the northern aimags of Bulgan, Dornod, Hentii, and Selenge.
  • Dariganga. About 32,300 live in southern Sukhbaatar.
  • Darkhad. Descended from Turkic people; they are about 15,000 in Khuvsgul.
  • Durvud. About 55,000 in Uvs and Khovd aimags.
  • Khoton. Of Turkic descent, about 6000 live in Uvs aimag
  • Myangad. Also of Turkic descent, about 5000 live in Khovd aimag.
  • Torguud. About 10.500 live in Khovd aimag.
  • Tsaatan. Also known as the "reindeer people", they are perhaps the smallest ethnic group; only about 200 live in the northern Khuvsgul aimags.
  • Uriankhai. Also known as Tuvans; about 21,000 live in the Mongol Altai Nuruu mountain in Khovd and Bayan-Ulgii aimags.
  • Uuld. About 11,400 live in Khovd and Arkhangai aimags.
  • Uzemchin. Only about 200 live in Dornod and Sukhbaatar, sharing similarities with the ethnic Mongolians of Inner Mongolia.
  • Zakhchin. About 24,700 live in Khovd aimag.

Traditionally, Buddhist Lamaism was the predominant religion. However, it was suppressed under the communist regime until 1990, with only one showcase monastery allowed to remain. Since 1990, as liberalization began, Buddhism has enjoyed a resurgence. About 4 million ethnic Mongols live outside Mongolia; about 3.4 million live in China, mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and some 500,000 live in Russia, primarily in Buryatia and Kalmykia.

Mongolian belongs to the Altaic family of languages. It originated from the ancient Mongolians dialect and now Mongolian includes the languages of north Mongolia or vowel harmony, such as central Mongolian, Buryat, Kalmyk, Afganistan Mogol and the languages of south Mongolia or languages without rules of vowel harmony, such as Daguur, Dunsyan (Santo), Mongor and Bayaoni. The development of Mongolian literary language is divided into three stages. The early stage of its history lasted from unknown times until about the fifth century A. D. The second stage started in the fifth century. The third stage began in the 1940s, when the grammar structures of the literary Mongolian developed. This stage is continuing until now.

It is believed that writing was invented about 5000 years ago, writing on Mongolian’s archaeological finds, and ancient monuments can be traced back 2000 years. Speakers of Mongolian had been using many scripts throughout their history. Tabgach people had their own script in 425 A. D. that did not use vowels but letters that wrote syllables. Later, Kitans had two kinds of script "Big" and "Small" and the latter was used to write vowels. It was invented in 925 A. D. by Tela who got the idea from Uighur script. The Mongolian script or Uighur script has played an important role in the history of Mongolian culture. The time when it was invented is still unknown. Some linguists assume that it was in use earlier as it reflects Mongolian phonetics.

The alphabet of the Mongolian alphabet consists of 14 basic that represent 5 vowels and 22 consonants. One peculiarity of the Old Mongolian script is that each letter has different forms at initial, medial and final positions of a word. The main grammar rule is the final letter rule by which 11 consonants (N, B, G, T, L, R, S, D, I, V, NG) end a closed syllable. The Old Mongolian script is very suitable to dialects that are different from each other. "Durvuljin usug" alphabet was invented by Pagva Lama in 1269 although it was no longer used at the decline of Mongol Empire and was only used for decoration and other purposes. "Tod usug" - the Oirat alphabet, which was invented by Zaya Pandita in 1618 and “Soyombo" alphabet by Zanabazar in 1686, could not be used commonly. After the revolution Mongolians started to use the 35 letters of the Mongolian Cyrillic script which are those of the Russian alphabet plus two additional ones (? and ? ) to represent o and u. Besides corresponding a spelling with a pronunciation and reducing the different spellings of one word, it helped a lot to make up a modem grammar of literal Mongolian.

Recently there are many comments and initiatives to have the national script of Mongolia as an official script and to use the Latin alphabet throughout the country.

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