A century later, Kublai Khan presided over Naadams from his stately pleasure domes in what is now northern China. “These games have gone on forever,” says Professor Weatherford. “When Mongolians hold a celebration, this is what they do.”
The pro-Soviet puppet regime that ruled Mongolia between 1921 and 1990 turned Naadam into a celebration of the socialist revolution, which is why it starts on July 11, the anniversary of the revolution. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent Mongolia, the games have become more of a celebration of Genghis Khan’s “Great Mongolian Empire.”
Genghis Khan’s skills as an anklebone tosser are shrouded in the mists of time. But the accuracy of today’s champions is startling.
Dressed traditionally in square felt caps with a decorative spike, richly decorated robes and calf-high riding boots, they sit impassively on low stools, deep in concentration, and use their middle finger to flick a small, wedge shaped piece of animal anklebone from a polished wooden launchpad at two other pieces of bone – scarcely larger than dice – sitting on a platform five paces away.
Competitors send the target bones skittering away with extraordinary regularity.