The Horsehead Fiddler

This interview is part of the the Eucid Series, which highlights the voices of contemporary, urban women from Mongolia to draw up a genealogy of female mentorship. At the end of each interview, each woman describes a role model, whose interview will be published next.

This week, we meet Urangoo Batjargal.

There are other stories, but this is the story I know.

There was one man. He was married, and he could sing very beautifully. He loved a woman who was not his wife. This woman gave him a horse. The horse could fly. His wife knew about the horse, but she did not know the horse could fly. He hid the wings—the wings were thin like paper—he hid them under his saddle blanket. Every night, he took off the blanket and flew on his horse to the countryside where there was his lover.

But his wife, she suspected him. She watched him one night go to his horse and run his horse uphill into the sky. He came back very early in the morning. She was making food—maybe a buuz or a curd. She said to him—“Your horse is a flying horse.”

He did not lie to her. He told her truth—it was a flying horse, and the woman who gave it to him was his lover.

But it was his wife he loved, really loved. He promised not again to go to see his lover. To prove his love, he took the knife, and he cut the wings away from his horse. But the wings were skin. They were flesh. The horse bled from its wings and died.

After this, the man realized he didn’t love his wife. He didn’t love the other woman. He loved the horse.

So he took the bones of the horse to make a box. He took the skin of the horse to cover that box. He took the hair of the horse and strung it to make the bow, and he carved the head of the horse from wood for the scroll. This was his instrument, the fiddle. He played the instrument to hear the voice of his horse.

The way you play the morin khuur is between your knees. One hand is for the bow, one hand is to play. We play with our fingers against the sides of the strings, not like a cello. In the beginning, it is so difficult to hold the bow. We have to sit for long hours, just holding the bow and trying to play.

When you listen to someone playing the morin khuur, you hear the horses. You hear them running. You hear the laughter of the horses. The scream.

Mongolian women are very patient women. More and more patient than other country’s women.

For example, since the 13th century, men played the morin khuur. The woman waited and now, maybe the last fifty years, women also can play. I learned before going to Germany. I wanted to play this instrument in Germany, to show it for the German people.

Now I work in Germany at the kindergarten. I work and I study. When do I have time to play the morin khuur?

Before, the men collected money and fed the family, and the women were taking care of the home. It is—the word “wife” in Mongolian is like “the keeper of the house.” Then, women got their rights. Now, women collect money and feed the family and take care of the home. It is more easy for women to get the education and the jobs. It is more easy for men to get flying horses.

My father is a driver for a bank. He does not have a horse. He has a truck. But every week he drives away from his family, away to the countryside. What does he do out there?

I have a boyfriend. We met in university. He sent me a message on my phone, and I decided I liked him. We started meeting after one month. Now, we live together in Germany.

For us, it is 50/50. Fifty percent taking care of the house is his. Fifty percent is mine. When it isn’t 50/50, I remind him I require that.

We don’t give each other horses or babies or the musical instruments. We give each other airplane tickets to Germany. I flew to Germany with my boyfriend and my morin khuur.

Those are my wings. This is my life.

I don’t play big sounds. I play small melodies.

For me, I admire the women who study hard. They are role models for me in my studies. There was the one woman…she wrote a book. We read some of her book. What was her name? It is a book about the one word…”Mongol.”

Morgan Thomas received her MFA from the University of Oregon and was the recipient of a 2016-2017 Fulbright grant to Mongolia.

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Morgan Thomas received her MFA from the University of Oregon and was the recipient of a 2016-2017 Fulbright grant to Mongolia.