“The Story of the Weeping Camel”


Posted to www.marxmail.org on January 6, 2006


“The Story of the Weeping Camel” is a beautifully filmed and completely engrossing movie about the lives of Mongolian sheepherders in the Gobi desert for whom the camel is an indispensable means of production. Filmed on location and employing a nonprofessional cast, it is on a level with the best of Robert Flaherty’s work, especially “Nanook of the North.”


While Flaherty’s approach was to simply document the lives of Inuits, who are the distant relatives of Mongolians, the directors of “The Story of the Weeping Camel” decided to construct their film as kind of folk tale, not much different than those told by the elders in the film to their grandchildren late at night within the confines of the spare but gorgeously appointed yurts they dwell in.


The first third or so of the film depicts an extended family as they go about their daily tasks. In one scene the men cut the beard from a camel which a female village elder weaves into rope. I was immediately reminded of how the Northern Plains Indians made use of every inch of the bison, either for food, clothing or shelter, etc. Such peoples can teach industrialized societies a thing or two about recycling.


Every spring it is time for the camels to give birth. For one camel, this is a painful ordeal as her rare white colt comes out feet first. When she refuses to accept her offspring, the villagers decide to carry out a ritual to reconcile the two beasts. Since the ritual requires a musical offering, two brothers are dispatched on camel-back to a distant town to recruit a master violinist.


While they are there, the younger gazes in wonder at a television set at a local store. The happy ending of this film involves a positive outcome for the ritual as well as a new television and satellite dish. The fact that such “primitive” peoples can happily reconcile ancient customs with new technology counters Jerry Mander’s warning in “In the Absence of the Sacred” that television and other such devices can spoil them.


How “The Story of the Weeping Camel” got made is a story in itself. As a film student in Munich, Germany, Byambasuren Davaa decided to make a film set in her native Mongolia. She told a fellow student, Luigi Falorni, about mother camels rejecting their young and being coaxed into nurturing them through a musical ritual. They eventually traveled to the Gobi Desert, spending nearly a month with one family and their 60 camels, 300 goats and sheep and a few cows. That is where they encountered the birth of the white colt, which was actually rejected by its mother. In keeping with the deeply fortuitous circumstances that accompanied the making of this film, the chanting ritual actually worked!


As inspiring as this film is, I could not stop thinking about the 1996 Monthly Review article that describes the collapse of Soviet Mongolia, which concludes as follows:


“Beggars and the homeless are now on the streets in freezing winters that reach minus 40 degrees. Though restaurant waiters and hotel staff may proudly decline service tips, and rural herding families in their ghers (traditional dome-shaped tents) still offer free meals to passing travellers, pickpockets now haunt buses, prostitutes line the karaoke bars, and some children live in sewers. And the Western NGOs, churches, and charities have joined the armies of aid-workers to perform their good deeds in Mongolia.”


full: http://www.blythe.org/nytransfer-subs/99lab/The_Marketization_of_Mongolia


Ultimately, the redemption of such people will depend on the renaissance of socialism which Marx and Engels were anxious to point out will synthesize the values of primitive communism with the technology of advanced capitalist society.