Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

2 posts from January 2014

30 January 2014

Year of the Horse

Many of you may realise that it is Chinese New Year – the Year of the Horse. It is also the Lunar New Year for Mongolians, known as Tsaagan Sar. So it seemed appropriate for today’s blog to include images of horses that make up part of the Mongolian photographic archive EAP264.

For a nomadic culture, the horse is of paramount importance and it is very hard when thinking of Mongolia, not to visualise herdsmen riding across the Steppes on their sturdy steeds. The rider being almost motionless as the horse travels at great speed.

A Mongolian on horseback with his cattle and the vast sweeping steppe  in the distance.
EAP264/1/8/6/18 A young herdsman tending a herd of cattle on a pasture (location unknown) [1940s]

The only truly wild horse (known as the Przewalski or Takhi breed) can be found in Mongolia and is known for having short legs and averages 13 hands in height.

Four wild horses graze on the grassland steppes.EAP264/1/7/9/62 Takhi - a wild horse grazing on a plain [1930s]

There have also been attempts to rear cross-breeds and the photographs below show what magnificent animals they can be.

Mongolian holds the reins of a horse that is in profile. The horses coat looks like velvet.
EAP264/1/8/6/134 A horse farm raising cross-breed horses, Ulaanbaatar [1930s]

A man holds the reins of a much taller horse.
EAP264/1/8/6/135 A horse farm raising cross-breed horses, Ulaanbaatar [1930s]

The horse is an essential part of the traditional economy for herders. Not only is it the main form of transport (though now often replaced by motorbikes) but it also provides important produce.

A man holds the foal as his wife milks the mare
EAP264/1/8/6/69 A herdsman helping his wife in milking a mare (location unknown) [1940s]

During the summer and autumn months, mares’ milk is fermented to produce the slightly alcoholic drink ‘airag’ - a very popular and refreshing seasonal beverage. It holds a special place in society and is regularly passed around during gatherings, often when songs about horses are sung. It is extremely impolite to refuse a sip of it when offered.

Horse-racing is one of the most popular competitive sports and it is often done during the summer Naadam festivities. The jockeys are boys and girls aged about 8-11, and the distances they cover depends on the age of the horse. Two year old horses will race about 15km while six and seven year olds will race up to 30km.

Young boys on horseback
EAP264/1/3/4/98 A jockey boy-a winning rider near the grandstand in the Naadam field at Yarmag [1951]

It is gruelling for both the horses and the jockeys. The winning jockey is named ‘leader of ten thousand’ (tümmy ekh) and they are offered a bowl of airag, often also sprinkled on the jockey and horse as an act of good luck. For the horse that comes last in the two year old category all is not lost as it has a song sung to it.

Young boy on horseback drinks from a large ceramic bowl presented by an old man.
EAP264/1/3/2/8 The winner-jockey boy tastes airag-fermented mare’s milk at the Naadam festivities [1950]

The horse is the most revered out of all herded animals. This can be seen in the traditional game ‘shagai’ which uses four sheep ankle bones a bit like dice. The way the bones land represents either a camel, goat, sheep or horse.  If the bone lands with the concave sides showing, it represents either a goat or camel and is considered unlucky, if it settles on a convex side it represents a sheep or horse and they are deemed lucky. And of course if you toss ‘four horses’ you will have the best luck of all.

EAP would like to wish you all good fortune during this Year of the Horse.

06 January 2014

New online collections - January 2014

Happy new year from the Endangered Archives Programme! To celebrate the start of 2014 we have four new online collections available with over one hundred thousand images. Two of these collections come from India with the other two collections originating in China and Indonesia.

The first collection is EAP143, this project preserved Shui manuscripts in China. These are considered to be one of the few remaining types of documents in China that are written in a hieroglyphic style.

The manuscripts give a rare insight into Shui culture as well as being useful for studying history, anthropology, folklore and even palaeography in general. Shui manuscripts are written, kept and taught by the native priesthood. The manuscripts are used in rituals, as well as in teaching the next generation of priests. The contents of the manuscripts cover a variety of topics including Shui knowledge on astronomy, geography, folklore, religion, ethics, philosophy, art and history.

The project surveyed about twenty villages in Libo County and a selection of approximately 600 Shui manuscripts was chosen and then digitised; these are now available to view online.

EAP143/2/118 – Image 9

EAP208 set out to digitise palm leaf manuscripts from northern Kerala, India. These documents, which are in a fragile and endangered condition, contain several insights into areas of knowledge such as ecology, agriculture, science, art (the arts) and spirituality.

The project was successful in digitising 275 manuscripts with over 50,000 images.

EAP208/15/37 – Image 21

EAP281 located and identified Lepcha manuscripts in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim in India. The Lepcha people are local to Sikkim but represent a minority of the population in Sikkim and neighbouring areas. The culture and language has been diminishing for over a century as many young Lepcha give preference to learning English or Nepalese and are less interested in their traditions.

The Lepcha people have their own indigenous script which dates back to the 18th century. The manuscripts reveal the earliest stages of Lepcha literary heritage. The oldest handwritten materials that have so far been identified were written in the second half of the 19th century. Many of the manuscripts contain texts of a Buddhist nature, a smaller number of texts reflect older Lepcha traditions. The project successfully digitised 40 manuscripts and located many more.

EAP281/1/5 Image 9

EAP329 digitised private collections of Acehnese manuscripts located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies. These had been surveyed by a previous pilot project EAP229. The content of the manuscripts is a part of Acehnese history with regards to lifestyle, the kingdom of Aceh, and the war against colonialism. They also relate to Islamic knowledge and Islamic mysticism (Sufism) and its order. The project successfully digitised 483 manuscripts with over 46,000 images.

EAP329/1/17 Image 1

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.