Mongolian Knucklebone Shooting
Knucklebone or Anklebone Shooting is very popular nationwide game in Mongolia. In terms of divisional units it is composed of "Shagai Toirom" or "Knucklebone Circles" which is a permanent bond of teams consisted of highly experienced masters and proficient pupils of the local community.
There are more than 10 active traditional "Knucklebone Circles" in Dundgovi, Dornogovi, Umnugovi, Uvurkhangai, Selenge, Bulgan aimags and provinces of the country.
A single unifying force of all Knucklebone Shooters of Mongolia is the Mongolian Federation of Knucklebone Shooting headquartered in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
Since the ancient times Mongolians held a reverence to some parts of bones of their domestic livestock animals and are still accustomed to use them in their religious rites, traditional games and plays. One of those exalted bones is the "knucklebone or anklebones" of sheep. Such worship led to the origin of the "culture of knucklebone art" and consequently to more than another 120 kinds of various games with knucklebones. A large number of traditional Mongolian games are played using the anklebones of sheep (knucklebones), known in Mongolian as "Shagai". Depending on the game the anklebones may be tossed like dice, flicked like marbles, shot at with arrows, caught in the hands, or simply collected according to the roll of a die. The most sophisticated kind was the "Knucklebone Shooting" which grew even deeper in terms of technique and methods and by the test of time it evolved to become a heritage of national status. It represents the very core of Mongolian psychic embossed with its folk cult mentality.
Specially polished to shine knucklebones are shot in the straight downwards direction in the angle of about 30-45 degrees into the target zone named as "Zurkhai" by flicking 30 domino-like shooting tablets of marble named "Khasaa" laid on a lined smooth wooden surface from a distance of 9 elbows (4.72 meters) towards a target of sheep and goat ankle bones that are arranged to the given orders of the current game rule. Its technique demands high accuracy and precision and might seem somewhat similar to bowling, with the object being to knock down more of the ankle bones than your opponent.
During the shooting tournaments shooters communicate with each other not with words, but in a specific manner of singing of traditional "Knucklebone Shooting" melodies and songs with cheering lyrics such as "Hail you, friend", "Hit the target", "Hail the board" which sound more or like "Long Songs". Costume designs for all knucklebone shooters have their own distinguished characteristics depending on their ranks and merits.
Thus, the "Knucklebone Shooting" is undoubtedly one of those splendid cultural heritages of Mongolia along with "Urtyn Duu" - "Long Songs", "Khuumii" - "Throat Singing", "Morin Khuur" - "Horse Cello" and "Mongol Naadam" - "Mongolian Festivity" that are already in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Heritage.Each tournament last for 2-3 hours depending on the scale and type of the competition. It demands high tolerance and endurance from competitors as they sit and rise up to 50-60 times as they compete, as well as maximum precision of sight and accuracy of fingertips performance. It is also a magnificent tradition that, in respect of their seniority, some elder players of 60-90 years of age are allowed to use their "chavkh" or "shooting bow".
The Knucklebone Shooting competitions are organized in two manners: "Temtseen" or tournaments and "Toirom" or Premierships'. Tournaments are organized according to the rules set by the Federation and are considered to be as the main event. Premierships are held in the regional parts on the initiatives of local masters and specialists as they sometimes gather in the countryside, valleys and mountains to compete and to celebrate according to the ancient rituals and customs in order to affirm that traditional spell of Knucklebone Shooting. Usually tournaments involve 50-80 teams with 500-1,000 shooters at once which is an impressive figure and a sign of high popularity of the heritage in Mongolia. Team members are tied by unbreakable internal bonds and follow clear ethical rules of mutual respect and dignity. No conflicts and contentions can be tolerated within or between the teams as certain moral codes of lawful honour are strictly obeyed. Up-to-date the Federation has had organized over 30 major nationwide tournaments and the titles of "Mighty par Excellence", "Genius par Excellence", "Par Excellence", "Winner par Excellence" had been granted to more than 3,000 most powerful and astute shooters in accordance with their ranks and merits. Since 1998 a tradition of participating in annual National Naadam Festivities has been established and the President of Mongolia personally awards the winners on the ceremony of victory held at the Central Stadium in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
In 1998, President of Mongolia declared the "Knucklebone Shooting" as an official customary imperative of the state and approved the standards of its ranks, titles and awards. Nowadays, this national game of "Knucklebone Shooting" has been recognized as game of national status.
On November 27, 2014, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed sixteen new elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in which Mongolian Knucklebone Shooting is included.