Yas Kemyalgn and Dalyn Shinj

Yas kemyalgn refers to a peculiar competition in wit involving two participants during which they recount the characteristics of the 25th bone in the vertebra of the sheep. This particular bone has 12 prominent curves and about a hundred tiny details. Each protrusion and hollow in the bone has its own name alluding to that particular detail’s similarity to someone's bodily part or to something (e.g. a mountain, a river, a valley, front teeth of a horse, a saddle, ears of a hunting dog, a hero's forehead, a woman's hips, a curve on a craftsman's thumb, etc.). The skill of a yas kemyalgn teller consists of finding these similarities and describing a similar object in a poetic language.

Dalyn shinj, which means '(seeing) signs on a shoulder blade', is a technique of prophesizing through using the shoulder of a sheep. The shoulder to be used for prophesizing should be cooked first and then its flesh eaten. By examining the markings on the shoulder blade - such as cracks, lines, and the colour, shape and size of various areas, etc. - the fortune teller can foretell not only the future of individuals, families, or societies but also provide long-term weather forecasts.

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  • ItemOpen Access
    Yuriy Sangadzhiev, About dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Koldaev, Tseren
  • ItemOpen Access
    Yuriy Nurdaev, Dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-05-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Sergei Muchiryaev, Yas kemyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2014-11-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Okonov, Andzhur
  • ItemOpen Access
    Nina Mandzhieva, Dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-02-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Nimgir Mandzhiev, Dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2014-07-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Kovaeva, Bair
  • ItemOpen Access
    Bembya Lidzhiev, Yas kemyalgn and fairy tales
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Andrei Ochir-Goryaev and Vasiliy Mandzhiev, Yas kemyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2014-08-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira
  • ItemOpen Access
    Andrei Boskhomdzhiev, Story telling with ankle bones
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-11-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
  • ItemOpen Access
    Yuriy Sangadzhiev, About yas kemyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Koldaev, Tseren
  • ItemOpen Access
    Andrei Boskhomdzhiev, Dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-11-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
  • ItemOpen Access
    Nikolai Khatuev, about dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-05) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Nikolai recounts a legend about the origin of dalyn shinj, or traditional weather forecasting by burning a sheep’s shoulder blade: In ancient times, Kalmyks did not have a calendar. Because they could not predict the weather and seasons, nomads suffered a lot from livestock mortality, cold and hunger. It was in such circumstances that one wise man decided to produce a calendar. One day his papers got scattered by the wind. The sheep grazing nearby picked the flying papers one by one and chewed them. What was written on the papers miraculously appeared on the shoulder blades of the sheep. Since then Kalmyks burn a sheep’s shoulder blade to forecast the weather.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Dordzhi Nandyshev, about dalyn shinj
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-04) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton; Sandzhiev, Artur
    Dordzhi explains what dalyn shinj is: During weddings, the parents of the newlywed are given a sheep’s vertebra bone which they need to describe. If a person cannot do this, the bone is given to the next person. In a wedding delegation at least one person should be able to recount all the signs of the bone. It is done as follows. It involves two people: one asks the other to describe various parts of the vertebra. When answering, the first person should make a mistake on purpose once and then correct it by providing the appropriate answer. All parts of the vertebra have specific names such as ‘the Altai mountains’, ‘the ears of a taigan’, ‘the forehead of a warrior’, ‘a silver saddle’ and so on.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ksenia Kardonova, About the Sheep's Shoulder Blade
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-06-06) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    When the meat from ram’s shoulder was eaten, people used the shoulder blade for divination. Each protuberance had its meaning. Knowledgeable people would tell something by looking at them. I don’t know that. Then the head of the shoulder should be broken off in a special way. It was usually done by a man and if he did it he was regarded as wise, strong and powerful.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Boris Dochkaev, Fortune-Telling with a Rosary and a Sheep's Shoulder Blade
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-07-18) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    This is Boris’ story: Before doing divination with a rosary, one should read the mantra of Okn Tengri. First, hold the main bead of the rosary and roll the rosary on your hand arbitrarily. Then pinch an occasional bead and start counting every three beads. The number of remaining beads is used for divination: three beads means ‘it is closed’ (byutyu), two beads – ‘a road’ (khaalg), one bead – ‘a joy’ (bair). Next, read the mantra again, hold the rosary from its short side and count every three beads. To be sure, one needs to do the divination three times. For the third time, take a bead from the middle of the rosary. At the end, analyse all three results. For example, if two results are ‘one’ (a joy), and one is ‘three’ (closed), then this may be interpreted as a good result overall: despite obstacles, in the end everything will be alright. The divination should be only performed early in the morning. Kalmyks traditionally did divination by using a stick or a rosary. By contrast, Tibetans used dice. Kalmyks used a sheep’s shoulder blade for divination rarely. This type of divination was used mainly to predict the upcoming winter. One should look at the shoulder blade by holding it against light and examining it. If the wide part of the shoulder blade is white, it means that the winter will be cold and snowy. If the blade has dark strips along its edges, the beginning of the winter will be muddy. I do not know the rest. Kalmyks used only sheep’s shoulder blade for divination, may be because the head of a sheep is used as an offering.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Baira Goryaeva, About Yas Kemyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Sandzhiev, Artur
    Baira says the following: Sandzhi Kalyaev was the first to write about yas kemyalgn. Performed at weddings, this genre consists of two people talking with each other about symbolic aspects of certain bones. According to the rule, one of them deliberately misinterprets a bone, and when asked by the other to repeat it, he says it correctly by uttering ‘ebe, ebe, bi endurzhyazhv’ (oh, oh, I was mistaken). According to N. Ubushaev, the word ‘ebe’ originally meant a woman or a mother. Therefore, this genre may have been originated in the period when the ancestors of Kalmyks lived in a matriarchal society. Yas kemyalgn is mentioned in a fairy tale about ‘Yovgn Mergn Baatr’ (Hero the Walking Shooter). The fairy tale has an episode where the hero roasts saiga meat, and when he starts eating he discovers that one of the vertebrae has not been roasted properly, being covered with a blood vein. Since it was considered a bad omen to each such a piece of meat, the master of his fate asks the hero to compose a story about the bone. In the past, if the groom’s people could not recount yas kemyalgn, they were fined with a horse. Today, by contrast, yas kemyalgn has lost its sacred meaning and people may say it incorrectly without consequences.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Boldyreva, Using Shoulder Blades and a Dog for Divination
    (2017-01-16) Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Baasanjav, Terbish
    Ekaterina’s grandmother used to do divination on marriage prospects for girls. For this she used sheep’s shoulder blades and a dog. She would write the names of several girls on the blades and put them on the floor. Then she would let a dog in to pick up a bone. The first blade bone that the dog chose indicated which girl would marry first.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alena Lidzhieva, About Yas Kemyalgn and Dalyn Shinj
    (2015-06-12) Dovurkaev, Karu; Chryumov, Anton; Baasanjav, Terbish
    In the past the vertebra of a sheep was used for divination. It was called kemyalgn. The shoulder blade was also used for divination. Before divination, the shoulder meat had to be eaten by old people. After divination the bone had to be broken with a middle finger. Those who could do so were considered good people. The shoulder blade is thin in the middle, which is where the bone starts to crack from.