Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance
Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance
The Mongol Biyelgee – Mongolian Traditional Folk Dance is performed by dancers from different ethnic groups in the Khovd and Uvs provinces of Mongolia. Regarded as the original forebear of Mongolian national dances, Biyelgee dances embody and originate from the nomadic way of life. Biyelgee dances are typically confined to the small space inside the ger (nomadic dwelling) and are performed while half sitting or cross-legged. Hand, shoulder and leg movements express aspects of Mongol lifestyle including household labour, customs and traditions, as well as spiritual characteristics tied to different ethnic groups. Biyelgee dancers wear clothing and accessories featuring colour combinations, artistic patterns, embroidery, knitting, quilting and leather techniques, and gold and silver jewellery specific to their ethnic group and community. The dances play a significant role in family and community events such as feasts, celebrations, weddings and labour-related practices, simultaneously expressing distinct ethnic identities and promoting family unity and mutual understanding among different Mongolian ethnic groups. Traditionally, Mongol Biyelgee is transmitted to younger generations through apprenticeships or home-tutoring within the family, clan or neighbourhood. Today, the majority of transmitters of Biyelgee dance are elderly, and their numbers are decreasing. The inherent diversity of Mongol Biyelgee is also under threat as there remain very few representatives of the distinct forms of Biyelgee from different ethnic groups.
Decision 4.COM 14.09
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: The Mongol Biyelgee includes a variety of dances performed by men and women of different Mongolian ethnic groups during important events of their communities, and reflecting in their movements the activities of nomadic life; it is passed on from generation to generation while constantly being re-imagined and recreated, its participatory aspect reinforcing social cohesion and promoting distinct local identities;
- U2: Despite the importance of this traditional dance as a manifestation of the strong relationship of the Mongolians with their environment, socio-historical changes of the last decades, including migration and a shift in cultural values, have led to a weakening of the transmission cycle, and the Biyelgee finds itself threatened by the reduced number and advanced age of its practitioners as well as diminished interest among young generations;
- U3: The safeguarding measures proposed not only include research and new legal protections, but also attempt to change people’s perception of the Biyelgee and to support its primary tradition-bearers; by trying to change young people’s attitudes towards the Biyelgee, the safeguarding plan can encourage them to embrace it and to recreate it as a marker of identity;
- U4: Comments, recommendations and suggestions of Biyelgee bearers, individuals, organizations and researchers have been reflected in the nomination and safeguarding plan, which were prepared with the involvement and consent of a broad range of communal and individual tradition bearers;
- U5: Biyelgee is listed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the territory of Mongolia and prioritized as Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
© The Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) and Harari Culture, Heritage Tourism Bureau, Ethiopia
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website