How to die as a Mongol? (Ideal cycle of life in Mongolian traditions)

Gaelle Lacaze
Centre d’etudes mongoles et siberiennes

How to die as a Mongol? (Ideal cycle of life in Mongolian traditions)

47th Meeting of the PIAC, Cambridge 2004

In nomadic traditions of Mongolian shepherds, in every stage of life, comports tend to be adapted to ideal ways of being fitting with age and gender of each category of person. While I have been studying the Maussian notion of techniques of the body among the Mongols for my PhD, I put in light the formal organisation of comports for each category of person depending on his social status, all along the life. The perfect cycle of life is shared out in three parts: childhood, adulthood and old age. Each passage in a new stage corresponds to a change of techniques of the body and sometimes is marked by a ritual.

The childhood, beginning after the birth, is shared out in two parts: the little childhood before three years and the childhood itself. The first stage is characterized by a humanisation process of the baby and the second one by the socialisation process. The passage from the first to the second corresponds to the mastery of language.

Adulthood is also shared out in two parts: the teenage, until the wedding and the first birth, and the

parenthood. The first consists on a process opening the access to nubility. It prepares the person to play its role in the production and the reproduction of his group. The second marks the efficiency of the whole process of dressage: it is the parenthood, the age of transmission.

Then, the old age begins when the first son is in age to be parent himself. In other words, the old age is socially marked by the access to grand-parenthood. The old age is also shared in two parts: the elder age or the status of anciens and the senility.

In this ideal cycle of life, for each category of person correspond techniques of the body related to his age and gender. The old age seems to be similar but represents opposite process to childhood. During the old age, there is a kind of desocialisation process that we could compare to the child’s socialisation process. In the same way, the humanisation process during the first age of childhood corresponds to the deshumanisation process during the last stage of old age, the senility.

All along the life, the techniques of the body edificate a dressage which we could compare to the domestication prospect of the cattle. Indeed, some passages from one stage to another one are marked by a ritual: especially a hair cutting among Mongolian peoples, for human beings as for the cattle.

The dressage of the body aims to domesticate the components of the notion of person (body, soul and vital energy). It is lasting all the life, varying in each stage and for both sexe. And so the cycle of reincarnation is accomplished.

This traditional cycle of life adapted into the modernity seems to refer to new models but still keeps the same structure.