Barga researcher and Head of the Barga Research Association L.Gombo gave the following interview. He was named a state honored cultural figure of Mongolia just before the 2021 Naadam. Even though L.Gombo is a road engineer, he researches and promotes the history, culture, traditions and customs of the Barga ethnic group to make it known to the public. His mother S.Lkhamjav was a Barga, a native of Gurvanzagal soum of Dornod Province and died a few years ago at the age of 95. The life she lived led his only son to become a Barga researcher. L.Gombo, who grew up listening to his mother sing folk songs, became interested in researching his mother’s ancestry.
“Barga is a nationality,” some say. What do you think?
In recent years, as a result of many people’s efforts to develop Barga Studies in all aspects, information has spread widely. Considering the history of this ethnic group, there is reason to determine that Barga was a nationality. It is not recognized as one now. People say, “There are only two main ethnic groups in Mongolia, Mongol and Kazakh.” When I started to be interested in the history of Barga, I asked one of the historians of the Institute of History Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and he told me, “We have not finished studying Mongolia, let alone the Barga ethnicity group.” Therefore, I thought it was an abandoned topic, so I firmly decided to study it myself. In the “Brief Glossary of Mongolian” by scientist Ya.Tsevel, Barga was written as a nationality. The book editor is the famous scientist, Kh.Luvsanbaldan. Considering that two leading linguists said so and even defined it as such in the glossary, it can be said that Barga was a nationality.
Barga and Buryat have a long history. Many Barga ethnics call themselves Buryats. In fact, there are many Barga people, but according to the census, there are only more than 3,000 in Mongolia today. If it is said that the ancestors of the Buryats are the Bargas and a part of the Bargas became Buryats, but there will probably be no one to accept it. The reason is that people don’t know history well, and secondly, people today only believe what they read. Therefore, there are few people who would claim that they are Barga. I only speak after researching, analyzing and evaluating. Some people and my friends tell me, “Why are you talking like that? Is it because you are Barga?" I was born in Sainshand city and I am Khalkha. My father is from Airag soum of Dornogovi Province. When I say that, people’s attitudes change a bit.
For the Bargajin Festival, I organized an academic conference on Barga studies, and I wrote and published the reports of scientists in Mongolian, Russian, and Mongolian script. In 2011, just before the conference, People’s Writer L.Tudev told me, “You are going to hold an academic conference, right? Can I meet you? I need to talk.” I was glad that he contacted me. When I met him, he said, “I congratulate you on studying the history of Barga. This is a very important topic. The history of this ethnic group had been erased by our government due to the influence of Russian and Chinese government policies. It is a very good thing that you are trying to restore it now. I will share my speech at the conference. I can’t give my speech in person though.” L.Tudev added strength to our efforts with very important information and knowledge.
What did he write in his speech?
It was a speech on “Bargas living in the West and Southeast”. Let me quote in more detail. He wrote, “Most people don’t believe me when I say that Barga Mongols live in Russia, Buryatia, Tuva, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkiye, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, India, Canada and the USA. When I say that there are at least 2 million Barga people living in nearly 30 counties and provinces and cities of China, many people nod their heads saying, ‘Maybe.’ A foreigner would believe that there are Barga people in all provinces and cities of Mongolia. But the Mongolians themselves do not believe it. Let’s take a broader look at the history of the Mongoloid, which is divided into six or seven parts. Barga ethnics live in the area from Bargajin Taiga (Russia) to Khulunbuir (China), Uriankhai Mongols in the back and lap of Soyon Mountains, Khalimag Mongols around the Volga River (Russia), and Oirats live near Khovog Sair (China). If you look at the ancient history, you can clearly see that the lineage of the Barga people originated from the descendants of Bargujin Gua, daughter of Head of Bargujin Province Bargudai Mergen. There is no need for a special ‘telescope’ to observe the history of Alun Gua, daughter of Bargujin Gua, who became the wife of Dobu Mergen.”
Mongolians know the history after that to a certain extent. There is an idea in his speech that there was a nation called Barga that spread over a vast land in ancient times.
At the 2011 Bargajin Festival, I invited 15 people from the Barguzin Province of Russia and covered their expenses. Since then, relations between the Mongolian and Russian Bargas have become closer. Subsequently, the 2015 Bargajin Festival was mainly organized by Barguzin. It consists of two districts. One of them is Barguzinsky. Eighty percent of the population is Russian and 20 percent is Buryats, while Kurumkan District’s 80 percent of residents are Buryats. On the northeast side of Lake Baikal, there is the Barguzinsky Ridge, which stretches for 400 kilometers. The Barguzin River flows for 300 kilometers along it. Selenge River of Mongolia and Barguzin River are two big rivers that flow into Lake Baikal. There is also Barguzin Valley. The Buryats there are called Barguzinsky or Bargajin Buryats. Because of this importance, organizing the Bargajin Festival there, providing information about the history and origin of ethnicities to the citizens of both countries, and creating another channel for cross-border business and tourism in the three countries, are considered to be useful for planning the future of this ethnic group.
So, you’re saying that the lack of information on Barga was related to the government’s old policy and the fear caused by repression, right?
Yes. My uncle was arrested and killed in 1937. Actually, every man of my mother’s relatives went to prison. In such a case, no one dares to say, “I am a Barga.” Not to mention, in order to survive, they had to become non-Barga ethnics.
How is Barga different from other Mongolian ethnic groups?
Since it is Mongolian, its language is the same. In some cases, Barga people express the same meaning with different words and expressions. But this is related to spoken language. Clothing, especially women’s jewelry, is different. I think that the most beautiful ethnic clothing is the Barga women’s dress. Moreover, the Bargas have “hip” archery. It is unique in ancient tradition. A 32-centimeters diameter, five-color circular target, an animal hip bone, is placed on a rope stretched between two 185-centimeters high columns and is shot from a distance of 32 meters. “Hip” archery can be considered the original and root of national archery. Barga researcher Ts.Tumen published a book titled “Barga’s ‘Hip’ Archery”, which explains this archery in detail, for the 2022 Bargajin Festival. On top of that, Barga wrestling is different from Mongolian national wrestling. People are well aware of this. Barga wrestling is called “Toliot” wrestling. Wrestling researcher and State Honored Coach, Dr. G.Purev-Ochir published a research journal called “Barga or Toliot Wrestling” in 2013, which made an important contribution to the study of Mongolian wrestling.
Barga Mongolians have always been characterized by the fact that they were well-off people. Even now, there is still talk among the people that “Barga people are rich”. It is plausible as they tend to be hardworking. No Barga person lies around lazily. They worship and respect animals. That is why Barga people consider themselves to be noble people with good fortune and good energy. But they are humble people who do not often talk about it, do not boast about it and have good relations with everyone.
Why did you cry every time your mother sang?
The Bargas and Buryats prefer family on the mother’s side rather than the father’s side. It means that they respect, worship and imitate their mother’s family more. But it’s different for me. My parents divorced when I was four years old. Since then, my mother did not remarry. My mother was talented and sang well. She died at the age of 95. My sister and I used to cry when we heard our mother sing. I don’t know what my sister was thinking and why she was crying. I imagined my mother as the woman in the song and I cried, pitying her. My mother nursed me until I was eight and I slept with her until I was 13, so I love my mother very much. The song my mother used to sing is about a 14 or 15-year-old girl going to another country to become a bride. Its lyrics are deep and the melody is catchy. My mother also used to sing Barga folk songs to me. Many Mongolian folk songs are called Barga songs. When I was young, many ethnic songs such as Buryat, Khotgoid and Uzemchin songs were broadcasted on television or radio, but they did not broadcast Barga folk songs. So, I was surprised and wanted to know about it, which was the beginning of my desire to become a researcher. That’s how I began to learn about the origins, history and traditions of Barga.
When I started researching, I couldn’t find any books on the history of Barga. But Director of the Natsagdorj City Public Library and my friend Mijigdorj told me that there was a book called “History of Barga Mongolia” written by associate scientist J.Ulzii and published in 1999. In addition, in 2006, a group of Barga scholars, including former Official of the Ministry of Culture A.Tsogt, former Professor of the National Academy of Governance D.Namsrai and Dr. G.Myagmarsambuu, formed the Barga Research Association. They invited me to attend a meeting of the association. That’s how I came to join the association. A lot of work has been done since then. Recently, I was elected as the head of the association. It can be said that Barga Studies is on the way to development with the efforts of scientists. I sincerely hope that young people will read the book “Barga’s Freedom Struggle” by Dr. Professor G.Myagmarsambuu, who is devoting his academic knowledge to this work. As a result of the work of Barga researchers, today many people are proudly declaring that they are Barga ethnic.