The ‘Mongolian ger’ has evolved from ancient times to suit the needs of the Mongolian people following their herds
in search of new pastures. The collapsible and easily transportable ger continues to be used in modern
times, but it is quickly giving way to more permanent housing.
A traditional Mongolian Ger
The traditional ger has a latticework frame of narrow birch willow boards held together by leather strips. The sections are about 230 cm long and bound together to form a large circular structure with a height of 150 to 180 cm. This collapsible lattice is called ‘khana’.
The number of khana used determines the size of a ger. The average ger uses six to eight khana, with the doorframe as a separate unit, and the ceiling formed from an umbrella-like framework of slender poles called ‘uni’. In the center of the ceiling is a small hole, a ‘toono’, approximately 90 cm across, which allows smoke to escape and fresh air and light to enter.
The Mongolian Ger in summer and winter
The entire ger is covered by a layer of thick felt held in place by ropes made of hair and wool. During the summer, one layer is sufficient, but during the winter, two or three layers are necessary. The bottom of the felt is arranged so that it can be raised about 30 cm from the ground to allow for more ventilation during warm weather. During the winter wood is stacked against the ger to prevent cold air or rain from entering.
A single wooden door opening outward, or a double door opening inward, may be covered by a flap during poor weather and is the sole entrance to a ger. Mongolian gers always face south-east, mainly because the winds come from the north-east.
Customarily, when entering or leaving gers, Mongols open the door flap with their left hand and will always leave from the right side; using the wrong side is considered to bring bad luck. There is also a taboo on stepping on the threshold of a ger, as it is believed to be like stepping on the owner’s neck.
The floor of a Mongolian Ger
Since the floor surface of a nomad’s ger receives more use than those in most other societies, it is most important. Ordinarily, in laying out their accommodation, a family places as many hides as they have next to the ground. On top of these is placed older felt. The final layer, which is never felt, may be decorated. Wealthy families may cover the ger floor with rugs on top of the felt.
Furnishing of a ger
Due to the life style, the furnishings of Mongol homes are simple and consist of several standard chests and shelves upon which objects are placed. Smaller tables are always present, but play a less important role.
Mongols never sit on a table.
The family altar, the bed of married couples, and other such objects are precisely defined as to function, which is maintained in a rather formal fashion. Furnishings are placed in a definite position, and members of the family or visitors coming in ordinarily never move the heavy cushions used for seating from one place to another. Mongols regard the right side of the host as the honoured side. Thus, just to the right of the bed is the traditional place for the Buddhist altar, sutras, or other religious objects. The central hearth area is regarded as sacred, for fire is sacred to Mongols.