Chinggis Khan and his wife Börte in The Secret History of the Mongols
Chinggis Khan had four sons by his principal wife Börte, though there is some question as to his eldest son Jochi’s true father. Börte and Temüjin were married as children, and shortly afterward, she was abducted by the rival Merkid confederation, and stayed with them several months before Temüjin recovered her. (Abductions such as this were common among steppe peoples.) Jochi was born shortly afterwards. Chinggis Khan always treated Jochi as a son, but his younger brothers, especially Chagadai, sometimes disputed this, particularly when it looked as if Chinggis Khan would make Jochi his sole successor. In this passage from The Secret History of the Mongols, Chagadai has just called Jochi “bastard son of a Merkid.” His adviser chides him for this, laying out all the things his mother Börte has done for him, his brothers, and the Mongol Empire, and everything his father has accomplished. In his portrayals, one can see the ideal Mongol man and woman, and in his criticism of Chagadai, the fact that the ideal son was to honor his parents.
This source is a part of the Masculinity and Femininity in the Mongol Empire teaching module.
“Chagadai, how can you say such things!
Of all his sons, your father had highest hopes for you.
In the time before you were born
the stars in the heavens were spinning around.
Everyone was fighting each other.
Unable to sleep in their own beds,
they constantly stole from each other.
The crust of the earth was pitching back and forth.
All the nations were at war with each other.
Unable to lie beneath their own blankets,
they attacked each other every day.
When your mother [Börte] was stolen by the Merkid
she didn’t want it to happen.
It happened when one nation came armed to fight with another.
She didn’t run away from her home.
It happened when one nation attacked the other.
She wasn’t in love with another man.
She was stolen by men who had come to kill other men.
The way you speak will harden the butter
and sour the milk of your own mother’s love for you.
Weren’t you born from the same warm womb as Jochi?
Didn’t you and Jochi spring from a single hot womb?
If you insult the mother who gave you your life from her heart,
if you cause her love for you to freeze up,
even if you apologize to her later the damage is done.
If you speak against the mother who brought you to life from her own belly
even if you take back what you’ve said the damage is done.
Your father the Khan has built this whole nation.
He tied his head to his saddle
poured his own blood into great leathern buckets,
never closed his eyes nor put his ear to a pillow.
His own sleeve was his pillow and the skirt of his jacket his bed.
He quenched his thirst with his own spittle
and ate the flesh between his own teeth for his supper,
fighting on till the sweat of his forehead soaked through to the soles of his feet
and the sweat of his feet reached up to his forehead.
Your mother fought there beside him,
she placed her headdress on top of her head
and tucked in the ends of her skirt.
She fastened her headdress firm on her head
and pulled in the waist of her skirt.
She raised up her children,
giving each of you half the food that passed by her mouth.
Out of her great compassion she even blocked her own mouth
and gave all her food to you.
leaving her own stomach empty.
She pulled you up by the shoulders and said to herself,
‘How can I make these children as tall as great men?’
She stretched you up by the neck, saying,
How can I make him a man?’
She cleaned out your diapers
and lifted your feet to teach you to walk.
She brought you up to the shoulders of men,
to the flanks of the horses.
Don’t you think she wants to see you all find happiness?
Our holy Khatun [that is, Börte] raised you up
with a heart as bright as the Sun,
a heart as wide as the Sea.”
From The Secret History of the Mongols: The Origin of Chingis Kahn, adapted by Paul Kahn (Boston: Cheng and Tsui Company, 1984), pp. 153-4.