Morin Khuur: The Lament, The Longing, The Beauty Trash primaldermacare
On the old steppes of Mongolia there aren’t a lot of trees and so a two string instrument like the morin khuur would seem to be a strange one to conjure in that forestless place. And yet, this iconic instrument has been made for thousands of years. In a place you would think that every piece of wood would be saved for either fire wood or home building for these nomadic people, there was always some wood and craft saved for this instrument of coaxing beauty from the landscape.
As one legend goes a young boy named Sükhe had his prized white horse killed by an evil king. For a horse riding people this was a devastating cruelty. As brutal as taking of a limb or the killing of a sibling or parent. Sükhe was undone but one night shortly after the deed of the king Sükhe’s horse appeared in a dream to tell the boy that the tears drew him back to the boy so that they might ride together again and instructed the boy how to fit the leg bones into the neck of the instrument, how to cure the horse skin and stretch it over a wooden framed sound box, how to pull 130 hairs from his tail and 105 hairs from the tail of a mare, and carve the scroll into the shape of horse head.
Sükhe did all this and this instrument, made from material that had sprung from the land, emerging from heartbreak and love of place became over time the national instrument of Mongolia. While the instrument is, as you would expect, be pulled out for festivals, entertainment, funerals and ritual times it has a unique function that only a few know how to draw a bow in such a way to coax a particular kind of music out of the strings.
In this part of the world camel herding is still an active way of life. Camels are a kind of wealth but also to have them is to increase your chance at life – their wool, their milk, their capacity to carry your home. So every one is a treasure. But every once in a while a camel mother will either die in labor or the labor will be so hard that she will reject her calf and not offer her milk to the newborn.
And it is in this case that the herder must quickly act and send for a morin khuur player who will play a mournful song that will bring tears to the eyes of the camel and coax her heart to either accept her rejected calf or coax a nursing mother to accept the orphan.
This is well documented in the amazing German documentary The Story of the Weeping Camel which charts instances of this happening.
Have you ever heard such a song? That such a song could emerge is a stunning testament to the deep relationship between humans and animals and the capacity of each to be touched by the other.
Primal Derma is, all willing, an echo of such a tradition and a reminder that such culture making and human making endeavors still exist and have a place among us in concert with animals. May we long for such a thing and for such a capacity. At even a quarter of the octane of that song you’d be transformed.
But why tell this to you now? Why today, when the election is playing out and, as of this writing, is still unknown in outcome?
I can’t say for sure but it might be that, whatever your political position or analysis, there is a kind of profound heartbreak that is – broadly- not contended with that the nation hasn’t yet learned to beautifully sing about or hasn’t found a who, if you will, to sing the lament and the longing towards.
May such a song, may such a longing, may such a lament come to your lips in the days to come and in the years as well. And may a reluctantly willing ear be present for the singing and the playing.
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