Oral reciting of laws and rules of conduct

I was reading a book entitled Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford and came across a description about Mongol oral communication that I found interesting in how memorization of laws and rules of conduct is somewhat similar to Buddhist chanting, sans the music, of course.

"With his men spread out over such a large area, communications became more important, yet more difficult. Conventional armies moved and camped in massive columns, and the commanders could easily communicate with one another through written messages. For the Mongols, the troops were more spread out, and even the officers were illiterate. All communication at every level had to be oral, not written. Orders moved by word of mouth from man to man. The problem with an oral system of communication lay in the accuracy of the message; the message had to be repeated precisely each time to each person and then remembered exactly as spoken.

To ensure accurate memorization, the officers composed their orders in rhyme, using a standardized system known to every soldier. The Mongol warriors used a set of fixed melodies and poetic styles into which various words could be improvised according to the meaning of the message. For a soldier, hearing the message was like learning a new verse to a song that he already knew.

The soldiers, like bands of riders on the steppe still do today, frequently sang as they rode in their small groups. In addition to singing about what soldiers always sing about—home, women, and fighting—the Mongol soldiers sang their laws and rules of conduct, which had also been set to music so that every man might know them. By memorizing the laws and constantly practicing the format of their message-songs, every man was ready, at any moment’s notice, to learn a new message, in the form of a new verse to these well-rehearsed songs, and take it where ordered."

4 Likes