Norov Urtnasan
Secretary-General, Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO

Mongols have practiced pastoral nomadism for centuries within the vast steppe that stretches throughout Central Asia, which has led to the creation of a nomadic civilization, a distinct civilization accepted worldwide. Within the context of this residing landscape, the main features of spirituality, and oral and intangible cultures practiced by Mongols have been crafted and determined.

The oral traditions, music and dance performing arts, customs, social practices, and festive events of Mongolia are all closely linked to nature and the universe, while manifesting their numerous patterns and sounds. Listening to Mongolian traditional long songs and the sound of the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddle) naturally recalls the vast endless steppe, whereas the melody of khuumii (throat-singing) and flutes inspire the sounds and images of mountainous scenery and rivers. Mongolians honor Father sky and Motherland in their songs of praise, well-wishing songs, well-wishing poems and worshipping verses. In this way, these types of intangible cultural heritage along with ballades, social practices, ceremonial and festive events, and folklore arts have formed an entire system for the protection of nature.

However, a departure from pastoral nomadism toward intensive urbanization and the prevalence of globalization in educational development along with technological breakthroughs have been the prevailing characteristic of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Subsequently, the new lifestyle that has emerged within Mongolian society has begun to push intangible culture heritage traditions away from daily life.

In response to these present-day challenges, the government of Mongolia has tried to raise the awareness of the public, policymakers, and heritage practitioners of the significance of intangible cultural heritage as well as to strengthen the safeguarding capabilities through intangible heritage inventory making. A brief history of these endeavors follows:

  • The Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage was approved in 2001.
  • The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was ratified by the Government in 2005.
  • The Mongolian President’s Decree on promoting and developing traditional culture of morin khuur, long songs, and khuumii was issued.
  • Projects and activities to establish a safeguarding system and inventory for the intangible cultural heritage in Mongolia have been implemented.
  • The National Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding were formulated and approved by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia.

Currently, on-going activities include extensive field surveys and research on the status of intangible cultural heritage and its bearers together with the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, elaboration of fundamental normative instruments for the establishment of a legal framework for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, the creation of an inventory and reference materials for the intangible cultural heritage of Mongolia and so on.

The Cultural Heritage Centre, one of the key institutes for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, has undergone major structural change and is starting a national project to establish an extensive database and inventory on the intangible cultural heritage Mongolia. Furthermore, the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO has been implementing a number of activities through international joint projects aimed at safeguarding and promoting intangible cultural heritage and its bearers.