Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): Mongolia



Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei

Khöömei is a form of singing originating in western Mongolia, in the Altai mountains. The performer imitates sounds of nature, simultaneously emitting two distinct vocal sounds: along with a continuous drone, the singer produces a melody of harmonics. Khöömei literally means pharynx, and it is believed to have been learned from birds, whose spirits are central to shamanic practices. The multitude of Khöömei techniques in Mongolia are grouped within two main styles: the kharkhiraa (deep Khöömei) and isgeree Khöömei (whistled Khöömei). In kharkhiraa the singer sings a drone in a normal voice, while emphasizing the undertone or subharmonic one octave below. In isgeree Khöömei, it is the overtones above the fundamental note of the drone that are emphasized, creating a higher-pitched whistle. In both cases, the drone is produced with very taut vocal cords, and the melody is created by modulating the size and shape of the mouth cavity, opening and closing the lips and moving the tongue. Khöömei is performed by Mongolian nomads in a variety of social occasions, from grand state ceremonies to festive household events. Khöömei is also sung during herding, and inside the yurt to lull babies to sleep. Traditionally, Khöömei is transmitted orally from bearer to learner, or via master-to-apprentice.


Decision 5.COM 6.31

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

  • R.1: An essential part of ritual ceremonies, the Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei praises and shows respect to nature; passed on from generation to generation, it is continually recreated and renewed as a symbol of the community’s identity and continuity;
  • R.2: Its inscription on the Representative List could contribute to the visibility of intangible cultural heritage by reflecting the interaction and harmony between humankind and nature, while creating a bridge of dialogue between different communities and cultures in the region;
  • R.3: Efforts to safeguard the Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei at both the State and community level have been made that will benefit from the clear commitment of the community to maintain its viability;
  • R.4: The element has been nominated following wide participation of the relevant communities and bearers whose perspectives are evident throughout the file, and who have given their free, prior and informed consent;
  • R.5: The Mongolian traditional art of Khöömei is included in the National Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mongolia maintained by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.



© 2009 by Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO

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