Mongols - customs & taboos


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Previously, we introduced the "Kings of the Grasslands", the Mongols and their history. Now we look to the cultural norms and taboos of this largely nomadic and remarkably hospitable people.

When greeting guests or visitors, a Mongol will clasp the visitor's right hand in front of their bosom and say "Ta sai yin bai nu," a warm greeting of 'hello'. After that, it is customary for them to invite the guests into their yurt (a large tent home) for conversation and tea with the family.

Mongols ceremony - Having tea - China Grassland culture
Offering Tea: When in a Mongolian nomad's home, the host will begin with the traditional Mongolian etiquette of offering a cup of milk tea. At this time, you should rise and use both hands to receive the cup as it is passed to you, making sure to never use only your left hand, which is very rude in Mongolian culture.

It would be rude to refuse the cup of tea, but you may find that over the course of the time together your host will keep your cup filled and encourage you to keep drinking. Should you find that you have had your fill and do not want any more tea, you can use your spoon to touch the spout of the kettle and the host will understand your meaning. After the tea and rousing conversation, the family will probably  treat you to a feast with delicious local fare and often much mutton, the best they have to offer - sure to satisfy any appetite.

Mongolian in traditional dress with a hada (khata) - Chinese minority cultures

Offering A Toast: Drinking wine and offering toasts are huge parts of hosting in Mongolian culture, because Mongols believe that the wine is one of the most important parts of the meal. Toasts will be used to express their respect and affection for the guests and for each other. Usually they will put the wine in a silver or gold bowl and give to the guest with a white hada. Whether you prefer to drink alcohol or not, you should not refuse the gesture, which would be a sign that you are not sincere in your intentions.

Singing: Mongol culture loves to use song to express ideas, and singing always goes hand-in-hand with toasting. Most often, one person or a group of people will sing one song and then make a toast. After toasting, they will sing again or pass the responsibility to the next part, which makes their dinners raucous and joyful. This tradition of singing songs is carried over from ancient times, which shows just how important hospitality and entertaining are in Mongol culture.

Worshiping: Mongols have a long tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, dating back to the ruling Khans, and the spirits in their pantheon are sometimes worshipped during ritual banquets. In total, Mongols revere seven deities (or sources of power), including Heaven, Earth, Buddha, Ghosts, Mountains, Water, and the Emperor. During these banquets, they will always divide all the mutton into seven parts and offer some to each deity.

Mongolian wrestling - Mongol culture - China Minority Cultures

Taboos: In addition to graciously accepting all Mongolian offers of hospitality, when you are in a Mongolian home it is also important to respect the host by sitting cross-legged on the carpet around the stove, a place of familiarity and inclusion. Since water is regarded as a pure spirit in the Mongols' minds, and one should not wash dirty things or women's clothing in rivers, and Mongols also worship fire as a deity who drives away evil, so no one should dry wet feet or shoes over the fire or throw trash into the stove.

Thank you for reading, make sure to check back for our blog on the wedding customs of the Mongols. If you have questions or comments, please email

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