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Flexibility and Limitation in Steppe…
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Flexibility and Limitation in Steppe Formations: The Kerait Khanate and…

by Isenbike Togan

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What ideology underlay the detribalization policies of Chinggis Khan?
What ideology did the old tribal order have – and those who stood against Chinggis, his sworn brother Jamugha, or the mysterious figure of Jaqa Gambu, brother of his ally-turned-enemy Toghrul Khan?

This is a reconstruction from the texts – one that very carefully tries to give back to obscure tribes and individuals on the steppe of the twelfth and early thirteenth century, their motivations, their beliefs, their commitments.

The conflicts and the social changes of this critical time revolve around ‘the underlying principles of steppe society, redistributive economics and power-sharing politics’. Isenbike Togan comes to talk in terms of a pluralist old order versus a new universal order – the old, perhaps, whose prime commitment was to a coexistence of local leaders, the new that was anti-lineage and cared most about equity of distribution.

None of this tale is simple, nor should it be; ideas and ideals aren’t familiar to us. In most histories, these tribes, defeated by Chinggis, blur into a nondescript tribal background, assumed to be fairly simple rivals for power. Isenbike Togan takes the case of the Kerait, Toghrul Khan’s tribe, to study them ‘in their own right’, to ‘follow a tribe’s history’ – that tribe only known to us because it lost out to Chinggis Khan – and thus to give a much, much deeper context for his emergence on the steppe. In her introduction she writes, ‘I encountered the conflicts and tensions of those times and tried to show the complexity of a situation that we usually regard as primitive.’

There are many and wildly varying interpretations of the Chinggis project and what its politics were. As an exercise, I ask myself what if it were thirteenth century Europe where we have this lack of consensus on the basic questions? It brings home our state of knowledge, and one suspects, the level of knowledge we’ve been happy to have… Isenbike Togan complains well about this sort of thing in her introduction. I think her book, with its painstaking construction from the sources, with its determination to treat the tribal world with respect – as a social world, an intellectual world, an ideological world – has to be a great step forward. ( )
  Jakujin | Oct 20, 2014 |
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