Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Illusion of Non-Attachment:
Negotiation Strategies over Material Things
in the Mongolian Nomadic World


(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies, Department of Regional Studies)

Key words:

Mongolian nomads, ownership, possessions, negotiation tactics, information control

This article aims to clarify the place of material things in the Mongolian nomad’s world. It does not rely on the discourse about nomadic values, which has held that nomads make do with the bare minimum and are not attached to things, but rather it is based on findings acquired in field work. In an exhaustive survey conducted in Arkhangai Province, I found that a nomadic household possesses a considerable number of material things—1,539 items of 373 different kinds of things. Further, I found that things have an existence that goes beyond the sphere of everyday life, and they change hands frequently by means of transfers and loans. Possession of things does not always mean continuous custody. Nomads may keep at hand an item that they have borrowed even after they have finished using it, until the owner comes to take it back. Nomads usually think that they do not have to be surrounded by their things all the time. It is only when they need a particular thing that they think they should either ask for its return or go to borrow the item from another house.

However, nomads occasionally resort to fierce tactics when they demand or request transfers or loans. Both the owner and the requester assert themselves in various types of negotiation. If the owner refuses the request, there could be a risk of causing a future refusal of their own demand. Thus it is extremely important to try to seek and reach a compromise by negotiation. As a strategy to push negotiations forward to one's own benefit, efforts at concealment and information control are often part of the process.

We can say that nomads are not deeply attached to possession of things, from the fact that their strong attachment to things does not always mean having concrete custody of them. The most important thing for Mongolian nomads is information about where things are. It is this information that allows them to negotiate with others and brings a chance to obtain the things that they need. That is to say, they do not have to keep things around them at all times. In conclusion, it can be said that it is information about things, not things themselves, that nomads are deeply attached to.