Adoption pt 2: when Genghis Khan kills your parent and makes you his little brother

In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford brings us a fascinating adoption account:

In the long history of steppe warfare, a defeated tribe was looted, some members taken prisoner, and the rest left again to their own devices. … In his defeat of the Jurkin, however, Temujin [Genghis Khan] followed a radical new policy that revealed his ambition to fundamentally alter the cycle of attack and counterattack and of making and breaking alliances.

(In short, he executed all of the Jurkin’s leaders.)

He then took the unprecendented step of occupying the Jurkin lands and redistributing ht remaining members of their group among the households of his own clan. … Temujin took them into his tribe not as slaves, but as members of the tribe in good standing. He symbolized this by adopting an orphan boy from the Jurkin camp and presenting him to Hoelun [his mother] to raise in her ger [yurt] not as a slave but as her son. By having his mother adopt the Jurkin boy, as he had her previously adopt one each from the defeated Merkid, Tayichiud, and Tatars, Temujin was accepting the boys as his younger brothers. …

In a final display of his new power, Temujin ended the Jurkin episode with a feast for both the victorious Mongols and their newly adopted relatives.

In Genghis Khan, Conqueror of the World, Leo de Hartog recounts a similar story:

While they were plundering a Tatar camp the Mongols found a small boy. Genghis Khan took the boy and gave him to his mother, Ho’elun, who adopted him as her son. She called the boy Shigi Qutuqu. There is another version of the story. The child was taken by Genghis Khan in 1182-3, after a raid against the Tatars. He and Borte [Genghis Khan’s wife] at that time had no children. He gave the young tatar to Borte, who brought him up as an adopted son. … Some call him a stepbrother of Genghis Khan, others his adopted son. Shigi Qutuqu, who was very intelligent, later became lord chief justice of the Mongol empire.

Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan, famous softie

Genghis Khan’s sympathy for the orphans of war may have been due to his own childhood experiences; when he was nine years old, his father was murdered by the Tatars and he, his mother, and brothers were driven out of their clan, rendered essentially homeless. Later he was captured and enslaved by the Tayichiud. (Obviously he escaped.)

Approximately 1 in 200 people today appears to be a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, making him the one of the most evolutionarily successful humans in all of history. (If not the most successful.)

If we want to get technical, some of those folk are probably descended from Genghis Khan’s brothers, making Genghis Khan’s dad history’s most successful guy, but Genghis Khan achieved that success by conquering one of history’s biggest empires, and Genghis Khan’s dad achieved his success by siring Genghis Khan.

While I don’t normally advocate “be like Genghis Khan,” simply because I like being alive, if Genghis Khan thought adoption was a good idea, maybe it can be a viable evolutionary strategy.

 

Tomorrow: A bit of historical and cross-cultural context

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4 thoughts on “Adoption pt 2: when Genghis Khan kills your parent and makes you his little brother

  1. This feels like too small and distorted of a data point to be of much utility. The closest paradigm I can come up with is “if group A laps group B, they can demonstrate their dominance by being nice to some from B.” Affirmative action comes to mind.

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