Myths and Legends

Uliger - Why things are the way they are

Uliger, tales, are an important part of oral traditions among the Buryats and other Siberian peoples. In fact they are known as uliger in several Siberian languages as well as in Mongolian. The purpose of these tales are to explain why the world today is the way it is, such as in the myths about Angara and of the evergreen trees. Other uliger, such as the ones about tobacco and alcohol, help convey social values about appropriate behavior. Longer myths, such as those of Geser and Nishan, were important vehicles for the transmission of shamanic traditions. The setting for the telling of these tales was usually around the fire in the winter. Under normal circumstances uliger are only told in the wintertime; if they are told in the summer it may cause winter weather to return. The Geser legends, however, may be told at any time of the year if done in connection with shamanic ritual, for it is believed that it brings shamanic power, good luck, and healing in its telling.

Whether long or short, uliger offer interesting glimpses into the lifeways and thoughts of the Buryats. On this page I offer a few stories, and more will be added over time. The Seven Suns page, which is linked below, is a collection of stories I had translated while I was in Siberia last year and were published on the web by my friend Ed Anderson. Many of the stories on these pages are being told in English for the first time. It is my sincere hope that you will enjoy reading them.

The Legend of Tobacco:

Long time ago a prince had a young son of marrying age, but to his father’s dismay he had no interest in finding a wife. The problem was that no woman had the beauty and charm to win his heart. One day, however, the young man went hunting in the forest and discovered a woman wandering about in the wilderness.

She was so lovely that he fell in love with her straightaway, never thinking of how strange it was that a woman like her would be living so far out in the taiga forest. He decided that he would marry her at once and took her home to his camp.

The son never told his father of his sudden marriage to the mysterious woman. Man and wife lived happily together for a long time. Other people, however, noticed that the woman was very strange, that she seemed to have no past and that she would eat the meat of badgers she clubbed to death in the forest.

When rumors of the son and eccentric wife reached the noble father, he traveled to his son’s camp to find out what had happened. He suspected that the woman was a “bong,” a form of undead being that is created when a “shutger” (evil spirit) enters into the body of someone who had just died, bringing it back to life. These creatures live deep in the forest, eating small animals and avoiding the wolves that hunt them.
When he reached his son’s home, he found the beautiful and mysterious woman who had become his daughter-in-law. He had her siezed and when his men pulled back her hair they found the extra eye on her scalp, a sure sign that she was a bong. The father ordered that she should be beheaded.
Before her death the wife made one last promise to her husband. “Come back to this place in one year and where my blood had been spilled on the ground you will find a beautiful plant growing. Take the leaves, dry them, and then smoke them. They will make you feel the happiness you felt with me.”
The next summer the young man returned to the site of his wife’s execution. There in the clearing there stood a tall, beautiful plant, like none he had seen before. He took the leaves, dried, and smoked them as he had been told. As he smoked he felt happiness and comfort from his wife’s last gift.
To this day many men enjoy this woman’s gift to humans. But like the love of a beautiful woman it has its danger, for it will enslave a man with its addictive power.

Angara, Daughter of Baikal

Baikal, the ezen (master spirit) of the great lake, had 337 daughters. Of all of them by far the most beautiful and intelligent was Angara. She had many suitors, but none of them had pleased her. One day, however, young Yenisey the Brave came as a guest to their ger (traditional dwelling, yurt).

From the first time they saw each other Yenisey and Angara fell in love. In the short time he stayed in Baikal’s household Yenisey decided that he would marry Angara, and the two young lovers promised that they would marry but keep their plans secret until Yenisey could come back to discuss marriage with Baikal. Before they parted, Yenisey gave Angara a gift of a white bird.
Only a few days later a prince named Irkut came to visit. He made a great impression on Baikal, and when Irkut offered to marry Angara the father agreed immediately and they started making wedding plans. After Irkut had left Baikal announced his plans to his family and Angara was upset because she was secretly engaged to Yenisey. As soon as she was able to she told the white bird a message to give to Yenisey and let it free so it could carry the message to her lover.
Days passed and there was no sign of Yenisey’s return. Indeed he lived in a very distant country. News arrived that Irkut and his brother Akha were on their way from their home in the Sayan Mountains and intended to celebrate a wedding when they arrived.
Angara stole a horse and ran away westward toward the country where Yenisey lived. When her father saw that she was gone, he saw her far off in the distance, riding west. In his fury Baikal grabbed a huge boulder and threw it after her. The rock missed her, landing on the shore of Lake Baikal, where it is now known as Shaman’s Rock.
Before Baikal’s anger had even died down Irkut and his brother arrived and were surprised to hear of Angara’s escape. They turned around and rode west in pursuit of her. After riding for a long distance Irkut’s horse collapsed from exhaustion. He told his older brother, Akha, to continue the pursuit. Further to the west, Akha’s horse fell down and died. Angara kept on riding, and met up with Yenisey. They married, and Angara never returned to her homeland.
For this reason, the Angara River is the only river flowing out of Baikal, while the 336 rivers of her spinster sisters flow into Baikal. Where Irkut’s horse fell the Irkut River flows into the Angara from the Tunken Valley of the Sayan Mountains. Where Akha’s horse fell the Akha River flows into the Angara from the Eastern Sayans. Further west, at the place where Angara and Yenesey were reunited, near the border of Tuva, the Angara and Yenisei Rivers merge to form one of the great rivers of Siberia.

The Fable about Alcohol

Once upon a time a Buddhist lama was traveling in the steppe as a “badarch,” a holy man that brings blessings to the nomad families in exchange for food and lodging. It was close to sunset, and he came upon a lone ger and some livestock. When he approached the ger a young woman came out to greet him. She was the only person living there.

When he requested hospitality she said he could stay the night only under one condition. He had to choose to do one of three things. He could drink alcohol, sleep with her, or sacrifice a goat. The last was taboo for lamas since only shamans sacrifice goats. Since all three choices were in some degree sinful, he had a difficult decision. He decided that drinking alcohol would be the least harmful.
He drank the alcohol, and while he was drunk he killed the goat. When he woke up the next morning he was in bed with his hostess. He then learned that drinking alcohol is a small sin but it can easily make a man do bad things under its influence.

The Origin of Evergreen Trees

In the early days of the earth all trees used to lose their leaves in the fall. Since Erleg Khan had brought disease to the world humans sicken and die when they grow old. The Raven, however, felt pity for mankind and desired to restore the original immortality of human beings.
At that early time a giant mountain, Humber Ula, grew at the center of the world and its summit touched the entrance to the upper world. At the top of this peak grew an aspen of gold with silver leaves which stood by the spring of the water of life. Whoever drank of this spring would be restored to health and could live free of all illness.
The Raven flew to the spring of the water of life and took up as much water as he could in his beak. He planned to bring the water to the human beings so that they would get a few drops and become immortal. As he flew back down to earth he neared a grove of pines standing beside the humans’ camp. Suddenly an owl cried out from the trees. The Raven, starled by the cry, opened his beak and the water spilled down onto the pines. For this reason pine trees stay green throughout the year, while the leaves of other trees, like humans, grow old, fall down, and die.

The Geser Epic

Nishan Shaman

Iron Warrior

Ashir Bogdo, son of Geser

Adventures of Tolei Mergen

Sagaadai Mergen

Uliger are traditionally told by the uligershin (bard) who may play the moriin huur, the horsehead fiddle, while telling his stories.