ICH of Mongolia: URTIIN DUU

B.Myagmardorj GoGo

2016-12-20 14:01 GMT+8

- GoGo Mongolia delivers you the intangible cultural heritages of Mongolia as series -

“Urtiin Duu” (Traditional long folk song) is the first element on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mongolia. It is also registered in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Republic, located in the northern part of the People’s Republic of China.

What makes Urtiin Duu special is denoting the long duration of its tunes as well as its long history and a lyrical chant, which is characterized by an abundance of ornamentation, falsetto, an extremely wide vocal range and a free compositional form. The rising melody is slow and steady, while the falling melody is often intercepted with a lively rhythm.

Widely believed to have originated 2,000 years ago, the Urtiin Duu has been recorded in literary works since the thirteenth century. Performances and compositions of Urtiin Duu are closely linked to the pastoral way of life of the Mongolian nomads on their ancestral grasslands. A rich variety of regional styles has been preserved until today, and performances as well as contemporary compositions still play a major role in the social and cultural life of nomads living in Mongolia.

The most prominent people in the history of the Urtiin Duu are Ms.Norovbanzad N. and Mr.Dorjdagva J.


By being registered on the UNESCO list, the Urtiin Duu has been afforded with an important advantage that will enable it to develop and spread across the globe as a special cultural heritage item.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sport of Mongolia implemented a project entitled “Morin khuur and Urtiin Duu” (Morin Khuur is a horse head fiddle, a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument) in 2005, i.e. before the Urtiin Duu was registered on the UNESCO list. The project finished in 2014, but whilst it was running it trained 2,766 Urtiin Duu singers. During this period, the Ministry also ran a project entitled the “Great Festival of Traditional Art” throughout the country, including all the small villages. Other than this, the Ministry has not carried out any similar projects nor does the Ministry hold any kind of Urtiin Duu event on a regular basis, whether for professional or amateur Urtiin Duu singers. Nor is it clear whether any international competition will be organized periodically. An official from the ministry stated “After the heritage was registered by UNESCO, only one project has implemented in Mongolia, and that was funded by the Chinese government. I am not sure about sponsor of the project, but I assume that the budget came via UNESCO to the Chinese government. Besides this, we have not as yet received any financial support from UNESCO for Urtiin Duu.”

The last time that Urtiin Duu students had a competition was in 2011.The only annual event - “The Melody to be kept in your mind forever with Morin Khuur”– that has been held since 2007 for amateur singers was sponsored by the Administration Office of the Nalaikh District (a district of the capital city). Although, the event is the only regular Urtiin Duu event, it has a budget of only 1 million MNT (currently approximately US$400). In Inner Mongolia they have periodical and independent competitions and festivals in provinces and even in small villages that have budget of 10 – 20 million MNT and the winner of the state competition is awarded 30 million MNT and so on.

However, last September the Norovbanzad Foundation, the Mongolian State University of Culture and Art and the Association of Urtiin Duu organized an international competition, named after the singer Norovbanzad. 


Another example of how Mongolia is not really paying attention for its traditional heritage is that there less than 10 students who attend Urtiin Duu class in at university. Officials have stated “Mongolians do not need to go to university to learn Urtiin Duu, because Mongolians have the skill in their genes and blood. Each and every Mongolian family has at least one Urtiin Duu singer family member.  These statements are not correct and are careless way to assess the situation. Although Mongolia started officially train professional singers in university in 1990 and the first students graduated in 1995, there are less than 100 professional Mongolian Urtiin Duu singers today. The use of the word “professional Mongolian Urtiin Duu singer” is a reference to those who hold a Urtiin Duu masters degree from the Mongolian State University of Culture and Art, where30-40 Inner Mongolian students but only 3-4 Mongolian students study.

We must protect and support Urtiin Duu before the situation gets worse, rather than having to use increased efforts after it becomes endangered.

Thus the numbers of students are studying Urtiin Duu in Mongolia is more than 10 times lower than the number of students studying Urtiin Duu in Inner Mongolia. The issue could be related to amount of population, but the population of Inner Mongolia is only twice that of Mongolia. Finance could be the reason why only few Mongolians go to university to study Urtiin Duu professionally, but again, the tuition fees for Inner Mongolians are 2-3 times higher than the tuition fees for Mongolian students.

Overall, there is no support for the people who are going to inherit the rare traditional cultural heritage of the nation. The Urtiin Duu Association made a request to the President's Office to have a National Urtiin Duu Day once a every year, but the request was declined. We must protect this intangible cultural heritage and support it before the situation gets worse, rather than having to use increased efforts after it becomes endangered. We should also support our youth who wish to be educated as a professional Urtiin Duu singer to learn the unique techniques as a profession, instead of making incorrect and careless statements.

GoGo Facebook Page



Go to top