Interview with Noble Qarakhan Monchuq

Qarakhan Monchuq

Barony of Twin Moons

What got you started with the SCA?

A friend brought me to a 12th night feast. There was a casbah in one of the rooms and I borrowed a drum. I had taken drum lessons since I was really young so I fell in love with the doumbek right away. It was a great time.

As far as persona, I started researching steppe nomads when I was a teenager. The steppe nomads are part of my heritage, but it is also the freedom of the open steppe that calls to me. It fits my personality and who I am. Back when I started, most of the personas for women required dresses, which I do not wear. I absolutely love anything steppe nomad from the early groups like Scythians and Sarmatians to Huns, Turks, and Mongols. I am even interested in the Germanic peoples like the Gepids and Ostrogoths who adopted the steppe-nomad lifestyle. I’m surprised more people don’t do Migration-Era Ostrogoth personas because they were fascinating.

What is the reason behind your chosen Heraldic device?

I wanted to display some authentic Central Asian heraldry. I took elements from the soyombo which is an ancient symbol that is still on the Mongolian flag today as flags of all other Mongolian peoples throughout Central Asia. I rearranged the symbols so they would be unique and put them on my device.

So, what it means is…in Mongolian heraldry, the two vertical rectangles symbolize that two friends are stronger than any wall- which means that friendship is sacred. The horizontal rectangles means that honor, honesty, and justice should be expected of all people in society, whether they are the rulers or the ruled. The triangle pointing down means the willingness to defend these values and to defeat all enemies.

Do you follow Mongolian shamanism?

Yes, I am a shaman and actually licensed with the Mongolian government. I used to be the North American Outreach officer for the Mongolian Shaman’s Association, but I am fairly retired from that today. 

Understanding Central Asian shamanism can help those with Central Asian personas. The spiritual worldview affected their culture, their warfare, their societies. It’s all entwined in their laws and more. I want people to just have a better understanding of their world view to help with personas and understand how they would have acted during those times.

Mongolian shamans were tasked with maintaining balance in their community. During my time period, they were heavily involved in government functions and warfare. 

Would you say you are an artisan, or a craftsman? Have you taught others about your art/craft?

I don’t really consider myself an artisan. There is a difference between my goals and that of a true artisan. An artisan strives to perfect a craft or skill. My passion is research and my persona. My goal is to create a camp that is an immersive experience that makes people feel like they are in a real Hun camp in the 400’s. This includes my tent as well as all the other tents in my household. Every physical and cultural aspect of the camp is being worked on (tents, decorations, garb, weapons, food, language, traditions, etc.). If I can master a skill well enough to make something functional and that looks ok, then I am satisfied. Then I move on to the next part of the camp that needs to be worked on. I don’t personally craft everything in the camp. I often rely on real artisans to help me with projects like re-creating artifacts. When this happens, I always make sure to credit them. 

The one class I am itching to teach is about Central Asian tents. There is a big misconception out in the SCA, that if you want a steppe nomad persona, then you have to have a Mongolian ger. That can be really problematic for people who just don’t have the means to buy or to transport a ger. I want to try and educate people on the great variety of types of dwellings that were used throughout Central Asian history. It is really rich and you can trace cultural aspects of each tribe through the architecture that they used.

What are some arts/crafts you have worked on? What are some you wish to learn more about?

I used to do a lot of work with leather and fur. When I first started doing SCA, my friends and I all needed hats, pouches and other basic items to help get our garb kits together. I made garb out of hide and fur for all of us. I’ve learned a lot about fur and how to tell quality over the years. I even worked as an apprentice (modernly, not in the SCA) to a tanner for a couple of years to learn more. That was something that I really enjoyed. 

The past few years it seems like I have mostly been painting. The camp kitchen needed quite a bit of decorating between the table, benches, storage boxes etc. If it could be painted, it was. 

I would say that I enjoy painting and it is a medium that I am comfortable with. I used to do it professionally, but I prefer to do it as a hobby. 

My favorite thing to do now is finding new ways to expand on the fine details of the nomad camp experience. Details all add up to help create the total vision. My focus is to get my Scythian wagon built and other household projects. I believe the difference between good and great is always in the details.

One interest I would like to learn more about is to experiment with natural dyes from plants indigenous to my persona’s homeland. I want to make sure that I can have some natural-colored cloth for my household’s garb. Another skill I would like to try out is working with horn. Horn is something steppe nomads had in abundance as opposed to wood. I would like to make kitchen items like spoons etc. out of horn for the camp.

Did you always have such an elaborate camp?

No, my first tent was a pup tent and we have had mundane camps as well. My first period tent was a Mongolian ger. My persona is an earlier period than that style of tent, so later on, I got tents that reflected the earlier time period.

My goal/vision is to make the camp look like it belongs to an actual tribe of the time period instead of a random gathering of tents. If done right, you should be able to identify someone in my tribe just by looking at them or their yurt. Then, if you really look, you can see subtle differences between individual tents due to their owner’s persona history. Each person portrays a different background/vocation within the Hun Empire (hunter/herder/merchant etc.). So, when decorating their garb and camp, I get to reflect their persona story. That part is really fun for me.

I am really happy that people like the camp we have. I can’t emphasize enough though, just because it is my thing, doesnt mean others are on the same level of passion about what I do. You don’t have to have a period camp in the SCA. We are all there to have fun on our own terms.People are always welcome to come to me and ask me about Central Asian topics. Please do not be afraid to come to the camp and hang out with us. We always bring extra food and drink to share. We also have our Atenvedlt Wiki page up for anyone who wants to learn more about our household. https://wiki.atenveldt.org/index.php?title=Horde_Ernak_(The_Huns)

What is a Scythian wagon?

It is one of the early styles of wagons that were used by those nomad peoples. I plan on building two Scythian wagons for the camp. As a Hun chieftain in the Eastern part of the Hunnic Empire, my persona would have been granted some of the war trophies that we took from the Scythian/Sarmatian tribes we conquered. These tribes were then integrated into the Hun Empire. That is why I chose to build Scythian style wagons.

The look of the wagons will be different from the popular Romani vardo-style wagons used in the SCA. They will not have rounded tops, and won’t bow out like a vardo. I am also mounting large bronze, Scythian ibex heads on the top. They will fit in well with the rest of the camp theme.

Can you chat about some of the camp decorations?

For the projects I work on, I can get inspired from anything that holds cultural significance. Photos of artifacts from grave findings are a common inspiration for me.One inspiration I have used for some of my art is the symbols on kilim rugs. Kilims are flatwoven rugs that were made by Central Asian nomads for centuries. The symbols on them all have meaning and I have enjoyed learning about them. I have used several of the symbols for decorations around camp and as badges for the people in my Horde to mark their gear. 

My favorite decorations I have are some kilim rugs that horse hides are sewn onto. Chieftains would sometimes have animal hides hung up around their tents as a sign of wealth and power. So, those are like saying “I have so many horses, I can line my walls with them”. I did not weave the rugs myself, but I did get them from Central Asia.

The item that took the longest for me to make was dyeing the ordon tent. That is the biggest tent in the camp. It took months. We could only work on weekends out in the backyard, with dye and brooms. Temperature plays a huge part in the process, so I would have to constantly adjust the times we met to do it all. 

I entered the camp Altai yurts in a Baronial competition for Tir Ysgthir and I wrote a paper on the whole process for the design of the yurts. The yurts look like they are made out of leather. I won Laurel’s Choice for it which is pretty cool since I have never entered a competition before. 

Do you plan on entering more competitions?

I have no plans on entering anything else at this time. Some of the things I have are just so personal. I made a shaman robe (bohoyug) that, culturally, no one besides me should handle. It is considered bad luck, and irresponsible, to allow anyone other than the shaman to handle the robe. So it obviously could not be part of a competition. It is one of the pieces I am very proud of, though. I am more focused on teaching than I am on competitions.

What Peerage path are you on?

I don’t consider myself on any formal path because I am not doing anything in a conventional way as far as that goes. I have never been an apprentice and I don’t enter arts competitions (with one exception). I have conducted in-depth research for my persona, and so if Laurels recognize persona and cultural research, then I would say I am on that path.

What would it mean to the SCA if you were asked to be a Laurel? 

If I were to be offered now, I hope that I can help people understand that they can follow their passion within the SCA. One of the beautiful things about the SCA is that it allows people to find their own path. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. If your passion is showing up in a bubble tent and going out and fighting and having a great war, then that is fine. There is room for everyone in the SCA. That is what I think is one of its strengths. As for me, I think that for somebody who has done something off the beaten path, it can signal to others to also enjoy the SCA in their own way.

Written By: Artisans Now!

This is Artisans Now! We interview populace all around in the Kingdom of Atenveldt for their talents and knowledge! Lots of fun, lots of Arts/Science, lots of populace!

August 21, 2021

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