RIDING TO THE AID OF JENGHIZ KHAN    [HUNTER GRAY / HUNTER BEAR   OCTOBER 7 2001]

 

From Jack Weatherford, major Jenghiz Khan scholar to Louis Proyect

Louis,
 

Thank you very much for the comments by Hunterbadbear.  I agree with him completely. He said in a few words what it takes me a whole book to say. But it's nice to know that we are on the same track.  1/15/2004

 

With An End Note By Bill Mandel  1/19/03

 

An Expanatory Note to ComeOverRedRover Discussion:

I'm coming to the side of Jenghiz  [Genghis or Genghiz]  Khan.  I'm riding
hot and hard -- tied feathers waving from my rifle.  Provocatively.  [And
this is international in nature.]

I've been -- and it seems to me increasingly -- seeing  weird comparisons
between Jenghiz Khan and Hitler.  In a word, I dispute all of this:
diametrically, sharply -- right into the bone marrow.  My first substantial
college paper, as a freshman, was a 43 page [double-spaced] tribute to the
Great Organizer and Strategist -- whose example, even now, stirs my blood
and soul.

Not long ago, the Jenghiz Khan/Adolph Hitler issue arose on a far-off
discussion list -- one of whose members asked me to contribute via him my
thoughts.  Here, just for the hell of it, are those thoughts -- followed by
excerpts of my response to an especially thoughtful question that then
arose:


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Jenghiz Khan et al. have frequently  gotten a raw deal from history -- and to compare the Mongol leader with Hitler is flagrantly and cruelly denigrating to Jenghiz.  I'll say a quick, corrective word on behalf of our cousins in the Gobi.  As I outline the matter, the Grand Canyon of differences vis-a-vis Hitler /
Nazism will be quite obvious.

Mongol social organization was classically and nomadically tribal [and
tribalism is still a major  component of the social scenery in Mongolia.]
Among other things, this involves a cohesive network of kinship
relationships, essentially  democratic and egalitarian with communalistic
dimensions -- and, traditionally, characterized by  a hereditary [life]
chief system.  Jenghiz Khan [1162 - 1227], originally named  Temujin
orTemuchin, unified the related tribes in the Lake Baikal and general Mongolian region into what was essentially a confederated One Big Tribe encompassing all of the foregoing tribal characteristics -- and one which remained very
democratic with himself as the leading chief.  None of this was, I
reiterate,  a totalitarian or even authoritarian structure in any sense --
and, as a traditional tribal chief, Jenghiz  was certainly not a dictator.

In a series of extraordinary military and political moves -- motivated by
adventure and booty / tribute -- he and his  descendant successors conquered
China and environs, much of the northern Middle East, western Siberia, all
of Russia -- and moved very deeply into Europe.   They would have conquered
all of Europe had Ogadai [Ogdai] Khan, then key chief, not died [1241.]
Mongol tribal law required that all of Jenghiz's descendants return to Mongolia to pick the next chieftain.  At that point the conquest  -- then under the
military leadership of Jenghiz's grandson, Batu -- stopped and the Mongols
withdrew into Russia which, as the Golden Horde, they then held for more
than three hundred years.

In the course of the Conquest, the Mongol leaders could be ruthless.  If a
jurisdiction did not heed their order to surrender, large numbers of the
inhabitants were slain.  If, on the other hand, the target surrendered, the
people were  well treated with virtually no changes in their life-style.
The emergent Mongol "empire" was anything except  totalitarian -- pervasive
or otherwise:  it imposed no Mongol culture -- including no religion,
entertained no ideology of any kind,  left the conquered people pretty much
alone -- but it did systematically tax. And, in return,  it provided
protection for all of the people against any intruders.

Frankly, in a word, if the taxes were paid, no sweat.

The Mongols killed no one because of their race or ethnicity.  In fact, the
Mongols intermarried legally and freely and far and wide with those whom
they conquered.

The vast Mongol "empire," never rooted in anything except traditional
nomadic tribalism, eventually -- as was the case with the much smaller
Toltec Empire of Meso-America [whose capital, Tula,  was physically bigger
than Rome] -- gradually returned to the old traditional tribalism as the
Mongols [and Toltecs], perhaps sensing they were losing the traditional wild
free life of the mountains and canyons and plains, went, as we Native people
sometimes put it, "back to the blanket."

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]


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Dear T:

First, although I'm trained formally as a sociologist, I do have some other
fields -- and one is Native American Studies.  Frankly, I was born into that
one!  As such, though, I know a good deal about our Native tribal structures
and, although I've never been in Siberia, I have spent a good deal of time
researching the very obvious parallels between aboriginal tribalism in the
Western Hemisphere -- and that in Siberia.  There are no significant
differences when you look at the traditional dimensions -- and actually not
many vis-a-vis the acculturated ones.  Mongol tribalism, even now, is much
like the Siberian and Native American situations .  In fact, the Athabascan
language Native American  family -- which includes, among others, the Apache
and Navajo, were probably the last big group to cross the Bering Straits and
there are marked linguistic similarities between some Navajo words and those in
several Mongolian dialects.

On the basis of all of that -- and very much from that which I know of
current Siberian and Mongolian tribalism -- I think we can definitely assume
that the tribal framework out which Jenghiz et al. arose, and the
confederation he spearheaded, would fit ( at least roughly )  comparable --
but not quite  as spectacular --  Native American tribal structures and
developments.

None of these tribal structures, anywhere -- no matter how traditional --
could ever be perfectly classless [or, put perhaps more accurately, totally
without ownership inequities] but tribalism, certainly by Western standards,
is quite classless.  To non-tribal people, the traditional Life Chief --
often a hereditary matter -- does not seem at all "democratic."  Yet the
chief -- and various sub-chiefs and/or clan/council members -- are carefully
chosen, operate on a basically consensus fashion, and can be withdrawn and
replaced in certain circumstances.  In the extremely complex and far flung
Iroquois Confederacy -- still quite functional--  the clan grandmothers can
remove a Life leader and replace him forthwith.


In instances where a tribe or a tribal confederation has serious leadership
problems, secession has not been unknown.  The Mongols in the time of
Jenghiz et al. appear to have been kept very busy in a variety of
challenging and profitable adventures!  After the administrative phase went
on for a long time, they appear to have become restless -- and, in the end,
most went back home.

Immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Mongolian situation was
quickly assessed by representatives of the Communist International -- who
found, at that time, centuries after Jenghiz, some  inequities:  some
families had  much more livestock and others had less -- and the Buddhist
monks and priests were very pushy and greedy.  But even the most
jaundiced -- and, understandably self-serving -- assessments by the CI reps
[who, after all, at that point were Europeans and non-tribal people] could
hardly produce a picture of substantive social class inequity -- or tyranny.
There were certainly factions. Almost all Mongols at that time were nomadic
and pastoral  tribal people -- simply kept moving.  Ostensibly, Mongolia
went Communist -- but it doesn't seem to have altered the old basic tribalism any more than it did in Siberia or anymore than the even-closer-at-hand American system has  basically altered the tribes over here.

So I'm coming at it from a Native American perspective.  I'm half Indian and
half Scottish.  While I don't know much about the traditional tribal
structures of my Highland ancestors, I have gotten the impression -- mostly
from a few books and flicks -- that their tribes were roughly similar to our
Native ones.  Anyway, once over here, many Highland Scots could certainly
display an affinity for the "Indian Way" and frequently moved easily into
Native tribal structures -- generally via intermarriage.

The evidence -- some secured and expounded by Gibbon, but other sources as
well -- certainly indicates that the Mongol approach to their "conquered"
subjects was not  heavy-handed.  As I indicated, the Mongols wanted and got
their tax money and tribute. [Hell, maybe some of the Mongol tax men were
reincarnated into IRS.]

I hope this is something of an answer.  I might add this:  I grew up in
Navajo country -- although I'm Micmac/St Francis Abenaki/St Regis Mohawk.
I've had much to do, in all sorts of capacities, with the Navajo people much
of my life and our family has extremely close personal ties with the Navajo
[Dine'] Nation.  Navajo colleagues of mine have visited Mongolia and have
pronounced the tribal similarities between the Mongol bands of the Gobi and
the Navajo to be extremely similar.  The cultural parallels are very
striking -- except for camels.

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]

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An October 7-01 comment:  A spin-off -- unilateral  figure -- in all of this
was Tamerlane [Timurlane], ca. 1336 to 1405.  His regional focus of interest
lay between the Black Sea and the Upper Ganges -- far to the south of the
traditional domain and interests of the Golden Horde.  Tamerlane was
apparently extremely ruthless. According to legend, he -- on at least one
occasion -- built a massive pyramid of skulls.  Tamerlane was not a
descendant in Jenghiz's line  and it's very possible that he wasn't a Mongol
[either biologically or culturally] in the classic sense.  Occasionally,
the identities of Jenghiz and Tamerlane are confused by some people.    --
Hunter

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NOTE BY BILL MANDEL [1/19/03]

Hunter:
       I find this article of yours quite remarkable in terms of what I
observed in Kyrgyzstan and Buriat-Mongolia (which encompasses the east
shore of Lake Baikal) in the early Gorbachev years and 1990. Those
visits were after I wrote my SOVIET BUT NOT RUSSIAN, which went to press
immediately before Gorbachev came to power.
       Russian attitudes in those years were exactly like American in
their view of Genghiz (pronounced Chingiz) Khan, and I hadn't given him
much thought, although I was deeply interested in contemporary tribal
peoples. At all events, I was amazed to find buttons with his picture
worn in Kyrgyzstan [whose greatest writer, translated into English, is
Chingiz Aitmat[ov] and Buriatia particularly. In both places, the
revival of nationalism included revival of pride in him as a great
ancestor. Your article provides an understanding of why educated people
of our day could think so
Bill Mandel



 

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