Updated: Aug 14, 2020
The ancient Mongolians developed a portable dwelling suited to their nomadic lifestyle. It was a long lasting configuration that was easy to build or dismantle. This traditional Mongolian dwelling is called ger, derived from the word "home" in Mongolian. But it is widely known as yurt(from the Turkic languages) in the world. Ger had been invented in various designs before being found in its current form about 3000 years ago. For instance, the kings of the Mongolian empire had their gers permanently erected on carts for ease of mobility(dragged by oxen).
Mongolians are not the only ones to live in gers. Many nomadic tribes of Central Asia lived in some sort of gers such as the ones in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The gers of different tribes may vary in size, shape, and materials but the core structures are mutual.
These nomads had the parts of the ger carried or transported on the backs of yaks, camels, and horses.
Parts of the ger
Basically, the Mongolian ger is constructed with wood and wool/felt. The wooden structure consists of Uni(slender poles), Toono (wooden compression ring or crown-wheel), Khana (lattice wall), Bagana (columns) and Khaalga ( door and door frame). Felt (Esgii) is used for insulation. Wool pieces are also used as strings or ropes (Hoshlin) to tie parts of the ger.
Building a ger
It takes about half an hour to build or dismantle a standard sized family ger. However, there needs to be more than 2 people as it involves accurate balancing and spacing. Sometimes, it could take up to two hours if the ger is large and has much furniture. Here is how you establish a ger:
First, the sets of lattice walls (Khana) are placed in circle, with the door frame positioned in the front, facing south. Then the two columns are placed in the center of the circle. Next, the Toono or the crown-wheel is attached on top of the columns with ropes. The Toono has wood interlock tenons on the ring surface. One end of the slender pole (Uni) should be placed and tied at the top of the latticed wall while the other end should be placed as a joint into the Toono's tenons. Now that the anatomy is built, it is then covered with felt on the outside for insulation and canvas for shedding rain.
Interesting facts of ger
You may wonder about the air circulation in a ger. The Toono or the wooden compression ring at the top of the ger functions similar to windows in houses. It is usually open, as a means for the fresh air to enter and the smoke to escape- given that Mongolians burned dried dungs for fuel(in a stove with chimney stretching out of Toono). However, it can be closed with a felt-flap (called Urkh in Mongolian) from the outside during dust storm or heavy rain. Nowadays, the open parts of Toono are filled with glass or transparent plastics framed in wood which are made to be opened easily just as if you were opening a door.
The entrance of the ger always points to the south or southeast. This way Mongolians get most of the day light through the roof and the door, in between the sun rise and the sun set.
The Uni (slender poles) forms the roof top along with Toono. While the slender poles inside could be used to hang things, the outer side , flat rooftop, is used to dry the cheese and curds in wind and sun.
Customs inside a ger
The right side of the ger is designed for guests to come in and sit, while the left side is for the woman in a family with kitchen facilities. The northern center of the ger is for the man of the family. It is also where the most important items of the family are kept: like religious items, family photos etc. At the center of the ger is where the fire/oven is. Mongolians consider fire as the base of a family, so it is one of the most important sections of the ger. Visitors come in and leave in clockwise direction.
There are some actions forbidden to do in ger such as whistling walking, giving or receiving things in between the columns, standing on the base of the door, stepping over tea and food on the floor etc. These are believed to bring bad luck.
Ger is still widely used by Mongolians due to its practical functionality especially in the rural areas.