From an email to Mara:
"i hope i can get a grasp of the language within the next 2-3 weeks, before I head up north/ west of Ulaanbaatar. There are practicing shamans out in the hills/ lakes there. There are shamans in the city, too, but I think a lot of them are performative/ working the tourist market (kind of like whats happening in Lijiang); people keep saying that I should get out of the city if i want to find 'the good ones.' I’m interested in meeting all kinds of Mongolian shamans- older/ younger, rural/ urban, real/ fake, men/ women/ other, and I want to ask them, what do they think of Dongba-ism? If I can’t speak at all I’m going to have to get a guide/ translator, and thats a whole other bag to deal with
I brought a Dongba drum, crown, necklace, and funeral scroll with me. Also a dictionary, some photos, and a few random puppets/ props. I didn’t bring a cymbal, but today I stopped by a religious-items-shop and the guy there is going to try ordering one for me.
So far, my rough plan is this:
Study language really hard until August 14th, then head west for that Buddhist festival.
Go north after that, see if I can contact/ interact with shamans by the reindeer tribespeople.
Return to Ulaanbaatar by late August/ early September. Troubleshoot; assess strengths/ weaknesses, communication gaps, tools, etc.
Spend another 2-3 weeks with language classes and pursuing urban shamans, then head out west for 2-3 weeks. There is a Shaman Center in that region, founded by an American-Mongolian woman, want to contact/ see them if possible!
Return to UB by mid-October, because I want a good 1-2 weeks to relax, wrap things up, prepare a report and maybe even some kind of final show/ performance? If I can get that cymbal I can do a legit Dongba dance in Mongolia, and since i didn’t bring a robe, I’d do it in Mongolian robes/ shoes probably, I don’t see anything wrong with that! It’s an interesting blend of cultural elements/ context, based on necessity and what is readily available."
Other Questions (gathered from friends + family):
- What do Mongolians think about the #BlackLivesMatter movement?
- What are the racial dynamics like? Attitudes towards colorism? History that informs such?
- Presence/ occupations of black people in Mongolia? What is the historical relationship between Africa and Mongolia?
- For a lightweight, nomadic way of life, consider efficiency of tools/ belongings. What kind of artwork do nomadic Mongolians make/ keep? How does this information relate with your own style of contemporary nomadism?
- Is my presence as an American citizen/ artist (with Mongolian ancestry) some by-product of capitalism/ an extension of American imperialism? Whether the answer is yes or no, how can that be explained? Knowing this, how might we best continue our journey? Do our objectives change, and how?
- In regards to modern American society having "no place" for shamanic philosophy/ practice, and the idea of creating such a space- Q: Is it "cult-y"..?
- Where can we find hawk-training helmets?
- How is the alcohol/ wine?
"Don't worry about the relevance of Mongolia! Just be a student! Learn whatever comes your way! You create the relevance." -M. Hart
"If you came to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you came because your struggle for liberation is tied up in mine, then let us work together." -Australian Aboriginal proverb (via Amy D.)