Guest Post: Naadam Festival – Honouring the Past, Embracing the Future

By Zorigtkhuu B

The Naadam Festival is a one-of-a-kind celebration of nomadic culture, symbolizing national independence and featuring a blend of arts and sports, which took place last week. It is the largest gathering for all Mongolians, taking days off to celebrate their traditional nomadic culture and heritage. It is beautiful to see almost everyone in their traditional clothing Mongolian deel and happiness, pride and joy on everyone’s face.

In recent years, it is not only limited to Mongolians wearing their traditional clothing but also thousands of tourists from all over the world are seen in Mongolian deel during the Naadam festival. Every year, an increasing number of international travellers visit Mongolia during the Naadam festival, to enjoy and experience the festival.

Herder Ulaankhuu’s triumph

One of the highlights of this year’s Naadam festival was the unexpected and remarkable victory of Mr. Ulaankhuu’s horse in the three-year-old horse (Шүдлэн) racing tournament held on July 10th, the first day of the festival. Mr. Ulaankhuu, a regular horse trainer and genuine nomadic herder, pleasantly surprised everyone with his achievement. Mongolians were especially thrilled by this accomplishment since it’s been decades since they last witnessed a horse from an ordinary nomadic herder claiming one of the top 5 positions in the prestigious horse racing tournament.

Despite being called the “Public” Naadam festival, in recent years, the public has expressed criticism, labeling the horse racing events at the state level as the “Oligarchy” Naadam. This is due to the prevailing perception that winning a top position in horse racing is heavily influenced by factors such as being a successful businessman, a member of a business group, or a member of a political party. As a result, ordinary horse trainers and herders have very limited opportunities to secure top positions for themselves and their horses. The cost of supplements and IVs necessary to support their horses is often beyond their financial means.

Conversely, the “oligarchy” has a distinct advantage as they possess the financial resources to afford skilled horse trainers and a dedicated team to prepare their horses for state horse racing. As a consequence, they dominate the competition and consistently claim titles and reputations without much difficulty. This situation has led to the public’s frustration and perception that the festival, which is supposed to represent the nation’s cultural heritage, has become skewed towards favoring a privileged few, rather than embracing a fair and inclusive spirit.

As a result, Mr. Ulaankhuu’s achievement brought immense joy to the audience, and their happiness was evident through the outpouring of support on social media. People had been eagerly waiting for a long time to witness an ordinary horse trainer/herder succeed in the competition. When he entered the central stadium to receive his prizes, he was greeted with a heartwarming welcome from the entire audience. They cheered enthusiastically for him and his horse rider son, celebrating their remarkable accomplishment with genuine excitement and admiration. The moment was truly special and memorable, as it symbolized a triumph for those who felt underrepresented in the face of prevailing challenges within the horse racing community.

Preserving and enriching the culture amid challenges

As a Mongolian, I find the Naadam festival incredibly beautiful to watch. However, I get concerned how some of these unfair or corrupt practices are normalized rather than preserving and enriching the three manly games. In my previous year’s articles, I highlighted the ongoing presence of backroom dealings for the state title and the problem of doping in Mongolian Wrestling. Recently, a young wrestler named E.Oyunbold, who holds the second highest state title “Арслан,” has been prohibited from participating in any wrestling tournaments organized by the Mongolian National Wrestling Association due to multiple instances of doping. However, he maintains his innocence, claiming that he has been falsely accused and defamed. Moreover, there is an ongoing issue where higher state-titled wrestlers make the backroom deal with lower-ranked wrestlers before the 5th round of the wrestling tournament when the lowest state title is awarded. Higher-ranking wrestlers deliberately lose to the potential wrestler who will earn the state title. Following the matches, the senior ranking wrestlers claim that they were merely offering support to the lower-ranked wrestlers. However, whether they genuinely supported them or intentionally lost them for financial gain remains uncertain. This raises concerns about the integrity of the sport and the authenticity of the competitive spirit in Mongolian Wrestling.

Despite these issues around wrestling and horse racing, Mongolians celebrate their traditional cultural ceremony “Naadam” every year. The Naadam’s celebration in addition to the three games, archery, wrestling and horseracing can be enriched to showcase wider range of skills in addition to the horse racing. I recently attend a Stampede in Williams Lake, BC, Canada for the first time. This cultural event was exceptionally interesting for me to watch as the bull and horse riders are very skillful, professional and very well trained. It was clearly seen that this event attracted thousands of local and international tourists from Canada and Internationally. It is the same as the Mongolian Naadam festival, held once a year for 3 days. As a Mongolian living in Canada, I think we need more entertainment involving our bull and horse riders to entertain the local and international audience during the Naadam festival.

About Zorigtkhuu (Zorig)

Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU is a mining professional currently working at Gibraltar mine in BC, Canada. He holds a Master of Applied Science degree in Mining Engineering from the University of British Columbia, where his research focused on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia. Before pursuing his academic career, Zorigtkhuu worked for the Mongolian Mining Corporation, in Mongolia.

Zorigtkhuu’s experience in the mining industry, combined with his academic research, has given him a unique perspective on mining local procurement and its impact on the industry. He continues to be passionate about finding sustainable solutions for the mining industry and improving the lives of local communities affected by mining operations.

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