Lineage and Hierarchy in Mongolian Culture
(55th Meeting, 2012)
Sources on the early Mongols and later periods, as well more recent ethnographic data, provide many illustrations of the traditional opposition between “black” and “white” origin (or “bone”) on which are based the respective social status of nobles and commoners in Mongolian pre-modern society. This fundamental opposition has defined a lasting hierarchical distinction between these two main social classes, determining one’s rights, privileges and duties. The Chinggisid Empire, itself based on the rule of Chinggis’ “golden lineage”, rewarded nonetheless individual merits, thus allowing commoners and foreigners to reach a high rank in the imperial army or administration and to obtain benefits and privileges (some being hereditary). Yet this acquired political power and wealth did not modify their ascribed “black” or commoner status nor challenge the traditional dual opposition structuring society. Buddhism, although a universal religion addressing individuals and their own relation to the divinity, did not disqualify it either: on the contrary it took it into account and reflected it by developing the specific category of toin (monk of noble origin).