Mongol Tuuli, Mongolian epic

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): Mongolia



Mongol Tuuli, Mongolian epic

The Mongolian Tuuli is an oral tradition comprising heroic epics that run from hundreds to thousands of lines and combine benedictions, eulogies, spells, idiomatic phrases, fairy tales, myths and folk songs. They are regarded as a living encyclopaedia of Mongolian oral traditions and immortalize the heroic history of the Mongolian people. Epic singers are distinguished by their prodigious memory and performance skills, combining singing, vocal improvisation and musical composition coupled with theatrical elements. Epic lyrics are performed to musical accompaniment on instruments such as the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) and tovshuur (lute). Epics are performed during many social and public events, including state affairs, weddings, a child’s first haircut, the naadam (a wrestling, archery and horseracing festival) and the worship of sacred sites. Epics evolved over many centuries, and reflect nomadic lifestyles, social behaviours, religion, mentalities and imagination. Performing artists cultivate epic traditions from generation to generation, learning, performing and transmitting techniques within kinship circles, from fathers to sons. Through the epics, Mongolians transmit their historical knowledge and values to younger generations, strengthening awareness of national identity, pride and unity. Today, the number of epic trainers and learners is decreasing. With the gradual disappearance of the Mongol epic, the system of transmitting historic and cultural knowledge is degrading.


Decision 4.COM 14.10

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: A living oral expression that is crucial for the cultural identity of the Mongolian people and for the historical continuity of their nomadic lifestyle, the Mongol Tuuli epic plays an important role in the traditional education of younger people living in the communities where it is performed;
  • U2: Although Mongolian singers continue to attach great importance to performing the epic within traditional contexts and in sacred settings, and endeavour to transmit performing techniques to the younger generation in the manner learned from their ancestors, the epic is today at severe risk because of its shrinking social sphere, changing socioeconomic conditions and the weakening of nomadic practices, the difficulties for younger people to master the complex poetic language, and the increasing popularity of mass entertainment media;
  • U3: A safeguarding plan, developed from a careful analysis of urgent needs and long-term goals, emphasizes training young performers in order to sustain intergenerational transmission, while strengthening the status accorded to epics and their singers and revitalizing the traditional ritual contexts of performance;
  • U4: The nomination resulted from a wide-reaching consultative process that involved local communities and epic performers, whose views and aspirations are clearly reflected in the safeguarding measures proposed and whose free, prior and informed consent is demonstrated through letters;
  • U5: Mongolian Tuuli is listed in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Territory of Mongolia, where it is prioritized as Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.



© 2009 by Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO

These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website