Bodonchar Munkhag

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Bodonchar Munkhag (born c. 850 to 900 CE) was a renowned Mongol warlord and a direct ancestor of Genghis Khan as well as of the Barlas Mongols, the tribe of the Central Asian warlord Tamerlane.

According to the Secret History of the Mongols, he was the 12th generation nominal (non-biological) descendant of Borte Chino. Genghis Khan was the 9th generation biological descendant of Bodonchar Munkhag (sometimes written Butanchar the Simple). Bodonchar Munkhag is the founder of the House of Borjigin. Chagatai tradition dates 'Buzanjar Munqaq' to the rebellion of Abu Muslim or 747 CE.[1] The name Borjigin does not come from Bodonchar but from Bodonchar's nominal great-grandfather Borjigidai the Wise (Borjigidai Mergen). The date 747 CE corresponds better with Borjigidai Mergen. A confusion with Bayanchur Khan could also account for this date discrepancy. Bodonchar Munkhag means "little misbegotten simpleton". Bodonchar or more accurately Butunchar (Mongolian back vowel ʊ) is a diminutive form of "butuchi" (illegitimate child, misbegotten, bastard) using the diminutive suffix "-nchar" while Munkhag means fool or simpleton. The meaning of the name contrasts with his elevated stature among the Mongol tribes.

Historicity of Butunchar Munkhag[edit]

The Mongol tribes of Genghis Khan's time had a very good knowledge of their genealogy, second only to the Arabs according to Rashid Al-Din Hamadani. In the Secret History of the Mongols (Paragraph 121) Old-man Khorchi Usun of the Baarin tribe leaves Jamukha and joins Genghis Khan. He tells Genghis Khan: "We (the Baarin) were born from the captured wife of Butunchar Bogd (Butunchar the Divine Ancestor). Therefore we are one womb, one blood with Jamukha. We would never leave the side of Jamukha. But Zaarin (a message bearing spirit) came and showed me a vision." He goes on to say that the vision predicted the future rise of Genghis Khan. Butunchar Munkhag was a commonly known figure even among distant tribes such as the Baarin who were descended from the first wife of Butunchar, a captured pregnant woman who described herself as "Jarchuud Adankhan Uriankhajin" ("-jin" is a feminine suffix) meaning "female of the Jarchuud Adankhan clan of the Uriankhai tribe". Although the Secret History of the Mongols includes some mythical elements such as visions and so forth, the individuals and tribes are seen as historical.

Circumstances of birth[edit]

Butunchar (in blue) shown listening to his mother Alan Gua in a Persian painting from 1430.

At the time Butunchar Munkhag was born (around 900CE) the Mongol tribes were located around Mount Burkhan Khaldun at the source of the Onon River. The Mongols were the Menggu Shiwei (蒙兀室韋) of the larger Shiwei (室韋) confederation, a Mongolic-speaking group closely related to the Khitan people. The paternal (non-biological) great-grandmother of Butunchar was called Mongoljin Gua meaning "beautiful Mongoless" or "fair woman of the Mongol tribe".

The Mongol tribe had lived around Mount Burkhan Khaldun since at least the time of Borte Chino, 12 generations before Bodonchar Munkhag or around 600CE. They shared the area with the ancient Uriankhai tribe, a prominent Shiwei tribe named Wuluohu (烏羅護) in the Chinese histories. There they lived a pastoral life supplemented by hunting the abundant game of the surrounding forested mountains. To the north was located the Bargut tribe (around Lake Baikal) and the Khori Tumed tribe (also around Lake Baikal). To the east was located the Tatar tribes (Airigud Tatar, Buirigud Tatar etc.) who also belonged to the Shiwei group. Slightly to the west of the Mongols were the ancient Bayid tribe. These are the pre-Butunchar early tribes mentioned in the Secret History that had marriage relations with the early Mongols.

Many of the other tribes in the Secret History were later descendants of Butunchar, such as the Jadaran, Baarin, Jegureid, Noyokhon, Barlas, Budagad, Adarkin, Urugud, Mangud, Besud, Oronar, Khonkhotan, Arulad, Sunid, Khabturkhas, Geniges, Taichud and Jurkin. All these core Borjigin tribes were clustered around Mount Burkhan Khaldun and were still known as Mongols. In the Secret History (Paragraph 52) it says after listing all the tribes born from Butunchar Munkhag: "Khabul Khan was in charge of all Mongols (Khamag Mongol). After Khabul Khan, although Khabul Khan had seven sons, Ambaghai Khan the son of Sengum Bilge took charge of all the Mongols."

The Secret History of Mongols gives the following account of the immediate ancestry of Butunchar Munkhag:

Kharchu's son was Borjigidai Mergen. His (Borjigidai's) wife was Mongoljin Gua. Borjigidai Mergen's son was Torgoljin Bayan (Torgoljin the Rich). His wife was Borogchin Gua. He had a servant called Boroldai Suyalbi and two famous horses, one black, one brown. Torgoljin's sons were Duva Sokhor (Duva the Blind) and Dobun Mergen. Duva the Blind could see with only one eye, a very long distance. One day Duva the Blind ascended Burkhan Khaldun with his younger brother Dobun Mergen. Duva the Blind looked out and saw a group of people moving towards Tunkhelig Stream. He said "Among that moving camp of people there is a beautiful girl sitting in the exposed seat of a covered carriage. If she hasn't been given to anybody, let me beg her for you, my younger brother Dobun Mergen." And he sent Dobun Mergen to go take a look. Dobun Mergen reached those people and saw that she was indeed an exceptionally beautiful girl, named Alan Gua, of great renown and not given in marriage to anybody.

As concerns that group of migrants, Bargujin Gua, the daughter of Bargudai Mergen the ezen (owner lord) of Khol Bargujin Tukhum (Khol Bargujin Forested Valley), had been given in marriage to Khorilardai Mergen the noyon (ruling lord) of the Khori Tumed tribe. That girl named Alan Gua was born in the territory of the Khori Tumed at a place called Arig Us (Pure Water). Khorilardai Mergen had had disputes over hunting ground at his native land of the Khori Tumed. He was fenced out. So he left saying "Burkhan Khaldun is a good hunting ground, rich in game" and became the Khorilar clan. That was why he came to Burkhan Khaldun, to the local ezen Shinchi Bayan (Shinchi the Rich) of the Uriankhai who had erected a burkhan (Buddha statue) on the mountain. This was how Dobun Mergen begged and received in marriage Alan Gua the daughter of Khorilardai Mergen of the Khori Tumed, born at Arig Us.

Alan Gua came to Dobun Mergen and bore him two sons. Their names were Belgunudei and Bugunudei. Dobun's elder brother Duva the Blind had four sons. Suddenly one day his elder brother Duva the Blind was no more. After Duva the Blind died, his four sons looked down on their uncle Dobun, excluded him from the clan, left him and moved away, becoming the Dorben clan. After that, one day Dobun Mergen went up on Mount Togotsog Ondor to hunt. In the woods he saw an Uriankhai man roasting the ribs of a recently killed three year old deer. Dobun Mergen said: "Friend, let me have a share of the roast." The man said "I will give" and gave him all of the meat except the skin and upper torso with the neck, lungs and heart which he kept for himself. While Dobun was carrying the deer meat back he encountered a poor man leading his son by the hand. Dobun Mergen asked "What manner of man are you?" The man replied "I am Maalig Bayagudai (of the Bayid tribe). I have hit hard times. I'm poor and tired. Give me some of your game meat and I will give you my son in return." At those words Dobun Mergen cut off one of the deer's thighs and gave it to him. He took the man's son, brought him home and made him do chores in the house (ger).

Suddenly one day Dobun Mergen was no more. After Dobun Mergen was gone Alan Gua gave birth to three more sons, although she didn't have a husband. Their names were Bukhu Khatagi, Bukhatu Salji and Butunchar Munkhag.

Events of Bodonchar's Life[edit]

The Secret History continues with the following account of Bodonchar's life:

Belgunudei and Bugunudei, the two sons previously born from Dobun Mergen, spoke secretly from their mother Alan Gua: "This mother, although she is without a man, has given birth to these three sons. In the house there is only that Maalig Bayagudai person. These three sons must be his." Their mother Alan Gua figured out they were speaking these things in secret. So on one spring day she boiled mutton and had her five sons Belgunudei, Bugunudei, Bukhu Khatagi, Bukhatu Salji and Butunchar Munkhag sit next to each other facing her. She gave each of them a single arrow and said "Break it". They snapped the single arrows easily. Then she gave them five arrows in a bundle and said "Break it". Each of the five tried breaking that bundle of five arrows, taking turns and trying from different angles, but couldn't manage to break it at all.

Then their mother Alan Gua said: "You, my two sons Belgunudei and Bugunudei, say I have given birth to these three sons and you are now suspicious and question whose sons they are and where on earth they came from. Your are right in being suspicious. Every night a radiant yellow person used to come in through the opening in the roof of the ger (yurt) or through the space above the ger entrance and caress my belly, his light getting absorbed into my belly. When he left, he left like a yellow dog rising and twisting away along the dividing line of the sun and the moon (at the meeting line of dawn and night). Why do you lightly speak such futile words? If we interpret this sign, it is clear they are sons of Heaven (Tengri). Why do you speak of them as if they were black-headed commoners? When they become Kings of All (Khamag-un Khagad), then will black commoners see who they really are!"

And then Alan Gua told them a word of wisdom: "You, my five sons, were born from my one womb. If you become separate like those single arrows, you will be easily broken in half by anybody who passes. If you become one union like that bundle of arrows, how will anybody be able to break you easily?" And then suddenly one day their mother Alan Gua was no more.[2]

After their mother Alan Gua died, the brothers divided their property. Four of them, Belgunudei, Bugunudei, Bukhu Khatagi and Bukhatu Salji took shares. They excluded Butunchar from the clan, saying he was stupid and didn't give him any share. Butunchar, seeing he was not counted as urag (blood relation, member of the clan) said "What's the point of me being here!" and galloped off down the Onon River on his black-speckled white horse with a stripe down its back and a scanty tail saying "If I die, so be it! If I live, so be it!" He rode downstream till he reached Baljun Aral (Baljun Island) where he made a grass tent for himself and settled there. While he was staying there he saw a female brown hawk catch and eat a black pheasant. He plucked some hairs from the tail of his horse, made a snare, caught the hawk and reared it. When he had nothing to eat he shot and killed wild game penned in against a cliff by a pack of wolves or went and collected the scraps left by the wolves, fed his stomach as well as his hawk's and survived the winter that year.

Spring came. Wild geese and ducks began to arrive and Butunchar after starving his hawk for a while released it, and it caught for him so many geese and ducks that he could not eat them all and hung some of them on a withered tree, where they stayed till they stank. A group of people came to Tunkhelig Stream from the forests on the northern side of Mount Duiren. Butunchar would leave his hawk, go to those people, drink fermented mare's milk during the day and go back to spend the night in his grass tent. Those people asked for his hawk but Butunchar refused to give it to them. Those people never asked Butunchar "Whose son are you? Where are you from?" nor did Butunchar ask them "What people are you?" They simply continued living close to each other.

Bukhu Khatagi came searching for his younger brother Butunchar Munkhag saying "this one has disappeared down the Onon River". When he asked the people camped at Tunkhelig Stream "Have you seen a person looking like this and this? With a horse like this and this?" they replied "The man and horse are both exactly as you say. He has a hawk. Every day he comes to us to drink fermented mare's milk and goes back. No one knows where he spends the night! Whenever the wind blows from the north-west the feathers of the wild geese and ducks caught by his hawk come whirling down like a snow-storm. He must be close by. Now is almost the time for him to come. Wait just a little bit!" After a short while, a man came up towards Tunkhelig Stream. When he came closer, it was indeed Butunchar. Bukhu Khatagi saw and recognized him and led him back, galloping up the Onon River. Butunchar was trotting behind his elder brother Bukhu Khatagi. He said as he was trotting: "Elder brother! Elder brother! It is good for a body to have a head, for a coat to have a collar." He repeated the same words but his elder brother didn't make anything of it and didn't reply. Butunchar rode on and said the same words again. At this his elder brother said "What are these words you have been muttering all this while?" Butunchar said "Those people camped at the Tunkhelig stream, they have no great and small, no good and bad, no head and feet. They are equal one to the other. An easy people. Let us conquer them."

His elder brother then said: "Alright, if that is the case, when we come home let us hold a meeting of brothers and having agreed, let us conquer those people." They came home, a discussion among brothers was held and they rode off to conquer. They sent Butunchar ahead to reconnoitre as forward scout. Butunchar went as forward scout and caught a woman midway through her pregnancy. He asked "What manner of person are you?" The woman replied "I am a woman of the Jarchuud Adankhan clan of the Uriankhai tribe". The brothers, all five of them, conquered those people and came to enjoy an easier life with a good number of beasts, bread and bondservants (fixed phrase meaning greater prosperity).

The account goes on to say that the captured pregnant woman gave birth to her son who became the ancestor of the Jadaran tribe. She also bore a child from Butunchar who was called Baaridai who became ancestor of the Baarin tribe. Butunchar got another wife who came with a proper dowry. The dowry included a female servant who became Butunchar's third wife. Genghis Khan was descended from Khabu Baatar the son of Butunchar's second wife. Jeguredei was the son of the third wife and was later excluded from the tribal sacrifices.

See also[edit]

House of Borjigin

References[edit]

  1. ^ Munis, M.R.M.Agahi, Firdaws al-iqbal, p.15
  2. ^ Erich Haenisch, Die Geheime Geschichte der Mongolen, Leipzig 1948, p. 1-3, 6-7 (= sections 1-22, 43-50). Eleven generations after the grey wolf and the white doe: sections 1-7. Nine generations before Genghis Khan: sections 43-50. Alan Goa's life: sections 5-22.