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Old 12th August 2012, 05:16 PM   #1
Stasa Katz
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 18
Default Long knives -- usefulness in Mongolia

Dear friends, I got hold of a copy of a book published late in the 19th Century, entitled Among the Mongols, by James Gilmour.

Gilmour was a medical missionary, became friends with the people he lived with. For us, his text give possible clues on why knives on some Tibetan and Mongolian and certain Chinese trousse sets have longer blades.

In areas where food was not pre cut before serving, and where a man had to do his own carving, a longer blade would have been needed for the task.

A person with a trousse might and still may, if host or a guest of honor, be expected to know how to cut entire boiled sheep or half of a one and then do the honors of serving portions to the other guests.

To do such carving and serving a long "kitchen sized" blade would have been necessary.

Here is Gilmour's description pp 114-115

But the silence did not last long, for soon the mutton for soon the mutton was pronounced " done," and and the serving lama who held
the keys and acted in general as butler to the mandarin
produced two great brass flat dishes.

One of these he heaped up with meat for his master.

The other was filled with one huge piece of mutton, the hinder part of
the back bone, including the great, broad, fat tail, several smaller portions, such as ribs, etc.

We set to work, the lama explaining that to present the rump and tail was the highest honour that a host could offer a guest at a feast.

Armed only with a knife, we soon made havoc of the steaming mass, when the mandarin remarked that evidently I was not aware of the proper custom.

The lama explained that a portion should be given to all in the tent, which was now nearly full of neighbours and children who had collected for the occasion.

At my request, he kindly undertook to perform the office of dissection and distribution for me.

His knife knew all the joints and turns among the bones, and in a short
time all in the tent were eating. While we were going on with this first course, millet was added to the water left in the pot in which the mutton had been boiled, and by the time that we had finished the tail and picked
the bones the millet was ready, and was dealt out to all who could hold out a cup.

This page gives an engraved illustration of a Mongol knife and sheath.

However, tthis particular reproduction of the engraving omits what to me is an important feature.

My edition of Gilmour depicts, in this engraving, what look like two chopsticks lying just beneath the knife and sheath. the tops of the chopsticks are connected by what look like cord.

It is hard to tell if the chopsticks were in the original engraving and later omitted, or in a later edition of the book, were added to the engraving after the author had a chance to read it and offer corrections to a future edition.

The engraving may therefore depict a knife that formed part of a trousse.

Gilmour himself did not mention any use of chopsticks during this first visit to a tent.

He also described how dangerous those knives could be in the hands of angry drunks.

(personal note: I recently aquired two Tibetan bo an knives. Their sheaths resemble smaller but identical versions of the sheath depicted in the Gilmour engraving. But the blades of bo an knives are short--4 inches to 5 inches at most--not suitable for carving large hunks of meat, as necessary when presiding at the kind of meal Gilmour described.

Last edited by John Aubrey; 12th August 2012 at 05:24 PM. Reason: spelling correction
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Old 14th October 2012, 05:17 AM   #2
Timo Nieminen
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Here is what might be a Mongolian trousse. At least, a trousse in the Mongolian style.

Shown with a Chinese trousse for scale. The chopsticks are missing from the "Mongolian" one.

The knife alone weighs 233g, compared with 61g for the Chinese one. It isn't that much longer, but is wider and thicker (maximum thickness of 6.25mm compared with 4.5mm for the Chinese one; the Chinese one tapers a lot more, too).
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Old 11th November 2013, 04:33 PM   #3
blue lander
Join Date: Nov 2013
Posts: 456

Hi all,

Sorry for digging up such an old thread, but I just joined the forum and I'm looking to contribute any way I can. Mongolians still follow this custom during their lunar new years celebration, Tsagaan Sar and I've attended a few here in the USA. Traditionally you're supposed to visit the houses of friends and family to give traditional new years greetings, drink vodka, have snuff, and of course there's a feast. The table is set out with a large plate of meat, here in the US they usually use beef but I think in Mongolia it's usually sheep.

There's a knife placed on top of the meat, (which has to be placed in a specific way in relation to the door of the house) and you or the host are supposed to cut off pieces and serve yourself. Only men are supposed to cut the meat, so they'll serve the women. I've only seen kitchen knives used for this.

Even though there's a knife provided, traditionally you bring your own knife with you to cut the meat. Some men wear very elaborate traditional Mongolian or Buryat outfits, but I've never seen anyone carry a trousse like below. Mostly I've seen western style hunting or military knives. The USMC Kabar seems to be very highly regarded choice. I've asked a few about it, and none of them seemed to be familiar with the trousse at all, although they knew what the tinder pouch was that you some times see them with.
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