Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hat Honor

I am sorry that I haven't been able to reply to the very interesting comments threads. On Monday, I'm going on a big trip and I have had to prepared some conference papers for that. Last night I finished at the office around 12:30 AM and walking home was treated to a magical scene of the sky flashing with lightning over the horizon to the south, and hundreds of fireflies winking in the trees. The last week we've had several awesome rain storms, the kind where the rain seems to fall not in drops but in sheets blown along by the wind, and you stand in your door way and marvel. In the pools a few frogs have begun croaking.

Since this is part of what I've been working on, I would like to share some curious anecdotes from the life of Chagha'an, a Tangut expatriate in the service of Genghis Khan:

As child herding sheep in the fields, he planted a staff in the ground, and taking off his hat and placing it on the top of the staff, he knelt down and worshipped it with song and dance. Genghis Khan went out hunting and observing this asked him about it. Chagha’an replied, "When a man goes alone, then his hat is on top in the place of honor, and when two men go together, then the elder is honored. Now I am going alone, so therefore I do homage to my hat. Moreover, I have heard that there is a man in high office arriving and I am practicing courtesy and rituals beforehand." The emperor thought this a marvel, and so led him back to his home and spoke to [his lady] Börte Hüjin, saying "Today while going out hunting, I found a handsome boy; it might be good for you to take a look at him." He ordered him given into the service of the inner court.

When he became an adult, he was granted the family name of Mongol and married to a woman of the palace of the Qonggirad line.

Once when he encountered hardship on the road, he took off his boots and rested his head on the grass to sleep. An owl hooted next to him, and when he felt revulsion and threw his boot and hit it, there was a snake that fell out from inside the boot. On returning, he informed the emperor about this story. The emperor said, "That bird is one that people hate, but for you it became a good luck spirit. You should admonish your descendant to not kill birds of that kind."

Chagha'an's ceremony for his hat probably included offering it the cup of honor. Singing and dancing were part of the presentation of drinking cups in Mongol etiquette, something noted (with disgust, for the most part, by William of Rubruck -- here, chapter II).

Hat honor was a very important concept in England and colonial America. Quakers could be thrown in jail for not doffing their hats to the lords. Today the last traces of hat honor are being contested.