“Temujin!” yells Hoelun.
“Coming mother!”, the 9-year-old boy came running holding fruits and berries he foraged from a nearby watering hole.
He was a shy child, timid, filled with bliss, and cheerfulness. Running bearing berries to his bosom his older half brother was intrigued while at the same time looked at him with a haughty demeanor - slightly mocking.
Funny enough, Temujin is named after a powerful warrior that their father defeated a few months before Temujin was born. His father might be honoring his enemy - through a common practice in the steppe of honor-bound warfare. The man must’ve been powerful - goes to show how strong Temujin’s father is.
“How can a witless man-child like that be from my father?” He said as he strung his horsehair string across a bow of his own design.
Their father, Yesugei, was a fearless warrior. He was also among the bravest of the camp’s horseback riders. But as if to contradict his reputation, he is not the wealthiest of the warriors. You see, Yesugei was not the richest man in the camp. But he has two wives, I hear you say.
Yes, he does indeed have two wives, but not one out of the traditional hard-labor way. Yesugei won Hoelun by chasing her down across the steppe from one camp to another.
She was on horseback with her husband - who took years to win her from her family in the traditional way, with gifts and work. He became a part of her family, of her camp - and just as they were on the way back to his camp to show her off to his family, Yesugei came and took her from him.
Hoelun, can still remember her husband, the sweet nothings they shared at night, the loving care he gave her. Sadly, she will never get to see him again. She is now Yesugei’s.
Yesugei came inside their Yurt. A big dominating figure, he looked at his family - coming from a hunt, he was battle-hardened and ready for a fight. But not today. His youngest children came running towards him with a hug.
“Father!” They were happy he returned. His hard chiseled appearance changed into a soft mellow and cheerful look. Much like that of Temujin. Matter of fact, Temujin was one of the kids that came running towards him.
The father looked towards his one of his wives - Hoelun, his only son from her on his arms, and said. It’s time we found him a wife. Hoelun immediately looked sad.
She nodded and said “Can it be from my tribe?”, “I agree,” said Yesugei, it’s high time he met his mother’s kin. Early next morning, Temujin - a boy not older than the kids today who can barely hold their own at home - would pack his garbs and prized possessions onto a dried leather bag, swung it over his fathers’ horses’ back, and rode off with Yesugei to his mother’s tribe.
Its steppe tradition for a 9-year-old boy to be arranged to marry a girl in the future. This, of course, is preceded by gift-giving, and hard-labor for a few short years. But because Yesugei’s tribe was poor, considered quite destitute, he has no choice but to help his son in labor.
On their way to Hoelun’s tribe, they passed by a small yurt, not part of an encampment, and asked if they can spend the night. It was culturally acceptable for strangers to accept travelers; Yesugei, bearing the 9-year-old Temujin, even more so.
As Yesugei ate with the family, both he and his host - the father of the family noticed Temujin and Borte, a 9-year-old girl, getting along quite well. The next day, it was decided that Temujin will be married to Borte after several years of hard work and labor with his father.
A few years later, Yesugei noticed Temujin able to hold his own in the wilderness. The kid can now hunt fowl and prey on his own, can shoot rodents from yards away while riding horseback without fail, can read the stars, and navigate landscapes nigh without bearings. He is well on his way to becoming a man.
At 12 years old, he now seems strong and resilient, but still bearing the same compassion his mother has. He remembered Hoelun and felt sad. He spoke with their host, Borte’s father, and bid farewell. He knows his son can take it from here - and felt nothing but pride.
And so, a few days later, he said his goodbyes and hugged his son one last time. Temujin felt a slight pang at the back of his throat. The heartfelt goodbye his father gave him felt final, oddly enough - but he gave no mind to it. For him, it’s like his father’s just going out to hunt again and be back a few days later.
Temujin knew his father was strong, a scary man by most standards - terrifying to many. No one would dare attack their tribe encampment, and so he knew that after he and Borte marry he can see his father once again - and this time he will be, in fact, a man.
Yesugei started off to his tribe’s encampment, and on the way, he stopped by a small camp to ask if he could dine with them. As usual to customs, they agreed.
As Yesugei ate with them, one of the men recognized him as the man who killed their comrade - Temujin’s namesake. So, as an act of revenge, he poisoned Yesugei’s drink. It was good that Yesugei caught on immediately and did not finish the poisoned concoction - he drank a bit, however, and so in anger, he killed all the men in the small camp.
He had enough strength to get on his horse and ride back to his tribe. But as he came back, he was already dying from the poison. Hoelun saw her husband - a man who took her from her real love - and felt nothing but compassion. This man, in spite of stealing her - was in fact a good person deep inside. A loving father.
She ran to him, with tears in her eyes, much like the day she made her love leave her for his life.
She had one of their riders go and fetch Temujin from the other tribe, to see his father goodbye. But he would never make it in time.
Temujin arrived to see Yesugei’s body on the mat, lying as if he were asleep. He stood beside his father crying and sad. But was strong enough to lead his father’s funeral. His half brother would not come back from a raid until after their father was buried.
Temujin married Borte early and went back to stay with his father’s tribe - with Borte.
One day - the tribe started packing but did not inform Heolun and her family. As if they did not exist. They started off without looking back at Hoelun - and she was left to fend for herself, her children, and Yesugei’s other wife and family. Such was the way of life in the steppe.
But Hoelun would not let her family’s life be in jeopardy, she packed her family’s supplies and yurts up and started to follow the tribe a bit ways back. Just as they did, an old man, stopped the tribe in its tracks and walked to the back of the caravan. Saying..
“You should all be ashamed of your self! Yesugei has just passed away, one of your strongest warriors and a valued member of the tribe has just died and the first thing you do after we bury him was leave his family to fend for themselves? Shameful!”
Just as Hoelun’s family caught up to the tribe and heard the old man defending them, they saw a spear thrust through the old man’s chest, as easy as a knife would cut butter.
Temujin was shocked and outraged. How could people be this unkind, and harsh? This old man was trying to be the voice of reason in the tribe and the killed him - on the spot - no questions asked. This was the last straw for Temujin.
He would remember this, all the days of his life. This would be the turning point to make Temujin - Genghis Khan, the great unifier.
I like asking myself this question. “Are the security, and safety of life, we enjoy now - the privileges brought to us by the hard work and sacrifices of man and women in our past - worth the sedentary thought process that many of us now have?
We call so many of the men and women before us, “the greats” but you will never find anyone by that title in recent history. Is it only because “the great” can only be achieved through a nature-filled with violence, anger, distrust, and chaos?
Or can we also have people that can change the world as we know it, be one of the good guys?
Watch out for the next installment on June 8, 2020.
Allow CentrAsia Tours, Central Asia Tourism Agency, to be the team that helps you bring out the adventurer in you. With planned tours in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, we make sure you come out with more than when you went in.
Rhiz Manalo is the co-partner to CentrAsia Tours, Co-Founder, and Co-Owner of The White Dog Collective. He is a seasoned digital marketing expert, an experienced blogger, systems architect, web designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!
Check out his portfolio here.