Monthly Archives: January 2014

Landscape 01: The Dog of Heaven

Just as a blue wolf may choose to show herself to you out on the steppe

So too does ethnography diligently wait

For a glimmer of creativity to emerge 

And be noticed, amidst everything else  (CP)

Dedicated in memory to the precious life of his son Hatagin Baasandorj, Hatagin Gotovin Akim’s book The Dog of Heaven: Truths and Myths of Blue Mongolia’s Blue Wolf [translated from the Mongolian by Hargana G. Dashdavaa. English language text edited by Ming Holden (2008) Ulaanbaator: EDO Publishing LLC.] is a joint work of Mongols. These are stories about people as well as wolves.

Please note that In my short introduction and postscript to Akim’s work, his words are rendered in italicised text.

 H.G. Akim has collected the accessible stories, myths and legends about wolves and composed one manuscript which in 2008 became a published book translated for western readers into English. In all, there are thirteen such detailed narratives along with other information. To assemble this compilation of Mongol stories,, Akim travelled all over Mongolia interviewing local people who were considered highly knowledgeable on the topic of wolves. It is from these primary sources, the Mongol people themselves, that this particular collection of stories and orally translated myths has been compiled.

Hatagin Akim is an established scholar amongst his Mongol peers.  The Khalkha Mongols with whom I work, unpredictably and often spontaneously express a genuine and deep respect for their ancestors. A compilation of such orally transmitted stories is, in this context, a treasure trove of local insights and wisdom.

The practical skills and insights acquired, through repetition and practice, by Khalkha Mongols who have worked with wolves, reflects an ‘indigenous intelligence’, something that that James Scott refers to as metis. (Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State pp314-315). However, the words of D. Purevdorj  (Mongol poet and State Prize Winner) in the foreword to the book, through Ming Holden’s beautiful translation, put this more eloquently than I ever could:

I wonder at the genius of my ancestors, who knew to attribute animals to the earth while extolling them as heavenly. I am envious of the wolf’s skill and courage, either adroitly escaping or bravely dying in challenges to the dangers that await it at every step. A man, the King of Earth, who follows the way of the Dog of Heaven, might learn a useful lesson.

From the many well-structured narratives in this book, I have selected one that I think may be of interest to western students of contemporary Mongolian society and culture. Rather than consider this account through my own anthropological  filters, I have elected on this occasion to let the story of indigenous practices by a contemporary Mongol author speak for themselves. I was particularly drawn to the creative literary device by which the issue of veracity has been addressed by Akim. Whenever one is dealing with real people and their account of events, it is important to skilfully and respectfully manage (in one’s own retelling) such matters.

The following excerpts from “The Dog of Heaven” appear with written permission of the author. No modifications have been made to researcher Akim’s original text.

No Animal Conquers its Female with as much Courage as the Wolf by Akim 2008 pp36-39.

As begin fairy tales

Before going to sleep

Before beginning a new chapter

Let’s hear another tale about the wolf

Once upon a time there were two brothers. They had one wife between them. When one of the brothers was having intercourse with the wife, he would leave a boot outside the ger as a signal to the other brother. One night the younger brother was having intercourse with the wife, and the wolf who terrorized their livestock absconded with the boot left outside the ger. The older brother also desired the wife that night, and he approached the ger, where there was no boot. He came in, where his brother was copulating with their wife, and all three of them panicked in shame. The two brothers came to the god and told the god their story. The god decided since the wolf had tormented the brothers during copulation that the wolf should be tormented during copulation as punishment. Thus began the suffering of wolves during copulation.

I tell you the truth in this fairy tale

But I can’t make you believe it

Who except wolves really know if mating is a torture or a pleasure. But some hunters say that if two wolves see someone approaching while so connected, the female bites off the male’s penis and runs away. There is a wise saying that all rumors have in them a grain of truth. Here is another case from the wolver Michig:

In the northern part of Batsumber Sum, Central Aimag, there is a place called Ringing. There one morning at dawn Mishig spied two wolves connected. When he howled, the wolves ran away, somehow still connected. There is an unwritten law among Mongolian hunters not to kill wolves who are copulating. Mishig therefore did not kill the wolves but instead delighted in their cleverness.

From one month before the period of heat in females, male wolves eat less and their testicles burn unedurably. So they sit with their crotches on the ice—some hunters say this is also to strengthen the testes, while others say that the testicles melt the snow, emitting a specific odour that attracts females. In any case, this habit of cooling the balls with snow or ice is particular to the wolf.

Packs of male wolves test their might by fighting for a female. The victorious he-wolf follows the female he wins, taking up the place that is his by natural law. I asked the hunter Choton of Tunkhel county, Central province, about hunting. He is such a legend in his land that a local schoolchild wrote a report about him that said, Wolves are the enemy of livestock and Choton is the enemy of wolves. Choton said to me, When I look through binoculars from a distance, I see that the female leads the pack. The pack follows where she leads. The he-wolf who won the place of her mate occupies the second leadership role. When he stops and looks back, all other dozen or twenty male wolves stop immediately and retreat. They never attack one wolf in numbers. If they did, entire wolf generations would be abolished. They fight honestly in pairs, and the lsoer retreats. Last year I say that one of the wolves I killed had had its testicles cut off. Laughing, Choton added, No doubt it was a strong competitor, so it was gelded. There are sometimes male wolves that do no join in the mating frenzy and instead hunt livestock alone. Perhaps they are such gelded wolves.

During mating season, female wolves use a particular method to choose their companions. The female runs incessantly and only the stronger males of the pack can keep up enough to follow her. Eventually, the weaker drop off, and the last one runnings wins her. The poet Enkhtuya descrbes it vividly in her poem, Honeymoon Wolf (Enkhtuya, Ulaanbaator 1999 pp196-203):

 Lovely young bitch, saturated with youth’s power

Piercing through frost across three valleys

Wolves lost in succession left behind

The last three wolves strive for the mountaintop

The fact that only the he-wolf who wins in a desperate fight or in suffocating chases possesses a bitch is fact of the wolf’s instinct, the instinct that leaves offspring capable of enduring any natural dangers waiting to destroy them at their every step. Further on, by the magic of her inspired mind, Enkhtuya writes:

 Young hot bitch reaches mountain

Summit: object of pleasure, of desire, warming

Bitter cold, howling at the moon with longing and grief:

A princess adorned by all creation.

The last fight takes place under steep cliff rock.

The last winner strives towards her, her

Specific pleasure-odor boiling his blood.

In one bound he reaches her

As a blue thunderbolt strikes

Over a blue rainbow

The she-wolf with a flower-like footprint

Is enveloped in flaming blaze,

Melting snow of winter’s first month

Warming bitter cold and intoxicated with

Lust mortal world plunges.

Generation to generation is

Hereditary life passed, poured

Into her, the pride of escape immediately

Tamed

When the he-wolf sniffs the buttocks of a she-wolf, it provokes her passion. She lays her ears back, puts her tail between her legs, and lies on her side. Then the he-wolf brings a tree branch or takes a stone between his teeth. The she-wolf plays at him, biting his muzzle, taking the gift, toiling away at it. The kind wolf, before the other wolves who stand in rank, begins to howl and the others follow, joined in a chorus wishing happiness upon the pair, filling the mountains and steppe with echoes: a wolf “wedding” after which the pair leave the pack for a while, as the Europeans say, to spend their honeymoon.

Amalgan, an animal trainer, once told me, Female animals initiate hunting: trapping, hunting, attacking, and contriving methods of catching prey. If the female’s power isn’t enough to overcome prey, then a male animal comes to make certain the defeat. Females also play the main role in rearing offspring. It’s no wonder females learn faster when trained for things like the circus. It would not be an exaggeration to say that matriarchy dominates wolf relationships.

end of excerpt.

This is one of many interesting stories about wolves in Akim’s compilation which he, following the example of previous Mongolian men of literature, concludes with dedication prose of his own (Akim 2008 pp131-132):

 Though spurned in the world as man’s enemy

Stalked and slain, losing where to dwell

I only thought to save lambs lost from the flock

Not to salivate with lust to eat, committing sin.

Hunted by vehicles, fighting to live

Escaping rifles aimed at me

I never damaged Mother Nature

Who keeps me in her bosom, never treaded on flowers.

Unable to find scraps of food though hungry,

Suffering the loss of my cubs at the hands of humans

I never intended to kill a child lost in the open

But to feed it with my udders, avoiding sin.

 I wish these rhymes would become a chant of the wolf … let us, all creatures of the world, be safe and in peace.

Selected extracts from The Dog of Heaven appear in CPinMongolia.com with permission from the indigenous Khalkha Mongol author-ethnographer, Hatagin Gotovin Akim (2008). “No animal conquers its female with as much courage as the wolf” in The Dog of Heaven: Truths and Myths of Blue Mongolia’s Blue Wolf (translated from the Mongolian by Hargana G. Dashdavaa. English language text edited by Ming Holden). Ulaanbaator: EDO Publishing LLC.

© 2013-2018 CP in Mongolia. This post is licensed under the  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions.   Posted: 30 January 2014. Last updated: 29 October 2017.