Two Swiss in Mongolia – discovering folktales and legends

A camel with horns? Why? – Have you not read my folktales, asks Jacqui

In the Gobi camp I notice the statue of a camel with horns. I have never seen a camel with horns before.

“Jacqui, why does this camel wear horns?” I ask. Jacqui frowns at me: “Have you not read my folktales?  Have you not seen “camel, deer and horse”? Well, a long long time ago the camel had wonderful horns. At the water hole, the deer asked the camel: “please lend me your horns – I will bring them back later”. The camel was generous, lent out the horns and never got them back. This is why the camel has no horns today. Later the horse asked for the fluffy tail of the camel. The camel lent out his tail and never got it back. Ever since the camel has looked sadly into the water regretting the loss of his horns and his tail. And to remind the deer to bring back the horns, he loses them once per year.”


About Jacqui’s folktales

Jacqui is called Batochirun Jagdal. The tourists just call him Jacqui. He loves to share Mongolian wisdom and culture with the visitors. Jacqui also welcomed that I blog about the folktales that he has translated to German with Sara Hellmuller. The booklet is called “Mongolische Märchen” and contains about  25 Mongolian folktales. “Camel, deer and horse” is one of them.


The title page shows a dreadful monster. Next to that monster is a boy that looks perfectly happy. Why is this boy not afraid of the monster? Well, the boy knows that this monster is protecting him against any evil demons – and being close to the monster the boy feels safe. The monster looks so scary, because he has to fight the demons that might be dangerous. Such monsters also appear on the paintings (thangkas) in the monasteries of Mongolia  and they protect us and our temples.

Here are three more examples from the “Mongolische Märchen”

Gold and silver are metals and wheat is life

A king collects what he thinks is valuable, namely gold and silver. But when famine hits his country and the people and the animals die from hunger, he tries to sell his gold and silver for food – but nobody buys his metals and he dies. Now this is written on the castle gate: “Gold and silver are metals and wheat is life”.

The fox, the hedgehog and the wolf

The fox, the hedgehog and the wolf found butter and debated who should eat it. Eventually they agreed that he who runs fastest, shall eat it. The hedgehog climbed on the tail of the fox, the fox ran as fast as he could – but when he arrived at the target line, the hedgehog asked: “Do you arrive here only now?” And the hedgehog ate the butter… It is interesting that a German folktale is about the race between a hare and a hedgehog. The hedgehog wins, because he and his wife wait at the target lines, and the hare can run as fast as he can – the hedgehog is always first…

The clever hare

Two horses that had been sold to a place far away decided to return home. On their way home one of them felt that he will die soon. To the younger horse he gave the advice not to pick up any bundle that he will come across. The young horse continued alone, found a bundle, opened it – and a wolf left the sack. “I am hungry”, the wolf said, “and now I am, going to eat you, stupid horse.” A hare comes along. He thinks about how to rescue the horse and teases the wolf. “Is it true, you were in this sack?, the hare  asks, “I cannot believe this, can you prove it to me?” The vain wolf returns into the sack – and the hare immediately cords it up again…

Another folktale: The horsehead fiddle or Morin khuur (German: Pferdekopfgeige)

The horsehead fiddle or Morin Khuur is the national instrument of Mongolia (see entry of Wikipedia).


In the Zanabazar museum I found the book of Ч. Баярмаа telling us “the legend of Khokhoo Namjil” (2010). This is the legend about the origin of the horsehead fiddle. Khokhoo Namjil was a handsome man and a famous singer. After having founded his first family, he had to go to the army, where he met a wonderful woman in a green deel. He married her as well and commuted back and forth between her and his first family sitting on a yellow horse with wings that the lady in the green deel had given to him. Before getting to his old home he just had to let the horse breathe.


Once he was late and did not let the horse breathe. An evil woman cut away the wings and the horse died. Khokhoo Namjil was very sad and did not drink or eat for three months. Then he carved the head of his horse into wood, built a wooden sound box, covered the box with the skin of his horse and used the tail of the horse to make strings and a bow. And ever since the horsehead fiddle has been one of the main music instruments of Mongolia.

Two more sources of Mongolian folktales

The following book by D. Altangerel is on sale in museums and souvenir shops:


On the Internet I found the TaleTellerin that blogs about Mongolian tales.

TaleTellerin’s blog telling Mongolian tales

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