Identity is very important to us humans because it determines our relations in life, particularly in terms of cultural practices. In this respect, the people of Central Asia have adopted a number of policies to assist them in forging new identities as the age of colonial rule and international oppression came to an end. The substance is one way in which they establish and grow ethnic identities. Weatherford (283) states that the inhabitants of Mongolia prefer to return to a civilization they once knew. This means that find value in what they originally practiced based on the simple explanation that it has always worked for them. There is substance proof in the previous culture and that is why after years of oppression and being forced to have a new identity, gaining their independence for them means embracing that which they were once accustomed to.
There is also the element of nationalism where other ethnic groups choose to make a whole new identity based on their ability to create images that best defined who they were (Weatherford 284). Under this, the central Asian people defined their own heroes and built their identities around what that particular hero called for in life. A great example as explained by Weatherford (284) is of the Uzbekistan government who formed a new identity in honor of Tamerlane, their national hero. Closer to this theme of identity creation is the aspect of personal power where an identity is solely based on the leader. It is important to note that most of these identities for the central Asian people was new to them and for smaller nations with no national hero to look up to, the new ethnic would most likely come from the presidents (Weatherford 285). This is what happened in Turkmenistan whose president at the time called for the entire nation to adorn his image in every public location as a means of identifying with the new ethnic that they wanted to embrace after the oppression
Religion also played a key role in new ethnic identity more so for persons who did not feel like their government rules were superior enough to govern the people. This is a theme that has been associated with most Muslim ethnicities given their constant resistance to government authority. According to Weatherford (286), people who feel cut off from the central powers of the government are the most likely to form new identities with religion as their central focal point. Under such situations, there is likely to be a clash between the people and the government. Elevating from this is the use of crime to form an identity. The Reebok Mafia as explained by Weatherford (287) best explains how crime leads to an identity by showcasing how the Karakalpak identify with the illegal fishing and to know each other, they wear the famous Reebok label.
Lastly, they did use sex to give new identities meaning. To explain this, Weatherford (288) tells the traditional story of how people of Kirghiz took on the practice of kidnapping a girl in order to marry her. After the kidnapping, both families would take and the two would be considered married. However, as communism took over this practice, it stopped but was later to start again but this time as an illegal activity. The men who known practice it hides their ill intentions by explaining their behaviors to constitute those of their forefathers. Though illegal, the police either take bribes or turn a blind eye to it for the traditional attachment to the act but it is a new ethnic identity that is camouflaging criminal behavior (Weatherford 288).
Question 3 – Why have the Mongols elected to recreate their ancient identity as they seek to establish themselves in a global world?
Even with the opportunity to carve out an entirely new identity for themselves, the Mongols choose to recreate their ancient identity simply because this is what worked for them. One reason as to why the Mongols recreated their ancient identity is because, from it, all they came to know was oppression in the sense that they were considered savages who needed to be watched over and controlled (Weatherford 283). Given such circumstances, it is easier to acknowledge why they choose to do away with any form of foreign domination because it oppressed their own way of life. According to Weatherford (283), “for the first time in 600 years, the Mongolians are free to roam the steppes of their independent country and establish their own identity without fear of foreign intervention.” This shows for how long they had to disregard their own culture just to please the foreigners but with independence, it allowed them to revisit their roots.
Secondly, their ancient identity is strong for economic growth and development. According to Weatherford (283), the Mongols had to find a way to support their economy after the Soviet subsidies were cut off. This meant that the production life that was wholly supported by the Russians, the Mongols were in no position to carry on with the same and as such had to return to life on the steppes. This was simple but delivered the kind of results that they were looking for.
The Mongols knew they needed their tradition in order to establish their place in the global world and for this; they had to embrace their old cultures (Weatherford 283). From this point onwards, they used horses to travel as they were cheaper compared to fuel and power. They also went back to using the gers as they were effective for winter and to keep warm burnt dung for warmth and as a source of fire to cook their meals. Simply put the Mongols slowly embraced their old cultures as a means of creating an identity after the foreign oppression because this is what they knew to work. It can further be explained that their economy was too small to allow them to develop extreme identities as it was the case of their counterparts.
According to Weatherford (284), ethnic identity is constantly changing given the prevailing cultural components. For the Mongols, the world around them was changing and in order for them to make economic sense out of it, they had to be practice enough to recreate their ancient identity. That is why they are the largest human population who still live in tents, use falcons to hunt, and salt their milk tea (Weatherford 283). This is all because it was economically easy for them to achieve and forge their own identity in a world full of evolving ethnic identities. In summary, it can be explained that when the Russians left Mongolia, the larger population of the country, the Mongols, were faced with a crisis of either continuing with the identity as established by the Russians or making their own. Given that the previous proved to be economically straining as per the financial demands it took to maintain that kind of a lifestyle, the Mongols way of life soon because what they once practiced before the Russians took over. As such, it could mean that if the Mongols had the economic capabilities of maintaining a new identity closer to that of the Russians, they would not have recreated their ancient identity.
Weatherford, Jack. Blood on the Steppes: Ethnicity, Power, and Conflict