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Not to be Sneezed At

By interserve

Mongolians are generally very loose about hellos and goodbyes, but part of the traditional Mongolian greeting when you meet a friend or visit someone's home, in the countryside especially, involves the exchange of snuff bottles. They are always offered to the other person by being held in your open right hand. The other person does the same, and as the hands come together, much like shaking hands, you take the other person's bottle. Once exchanged, you can then either takes a pinch of snuff or just have a sniff of the neck of the bottle. You would then have a look at the bottle, which is usually made of semiprecious stone or wood, compliment the owner and then pass it back as he (or she) returns yours.

For the nomad who has no bank account, owning a snuff bottle is one way of carrying your wealth around with you – some of them are worth $1,000 or more; your wealth is one of the things your bottle says about you.

Interestingly, some Western Christians here refuse to have anything to do with the snuff bottles because of the tobacco implications. My personal feeling is that it's better to be accepting of the culture rather than put barriers up. A few of the older men in our church exchange their snuff bottles before or after the meetings. I always carry mine, and when one of the men offered his to my parents (when they were visiting) after exchanging with me, I introduced my parents and he told them I was his Mongolian son!

Our Christian friend Baagii is an excellent wood carver, and can make almost anything he puts his hand to. Recently he has been making snuff bottles engraved with Christian insignia. Obviously if your snuff bottle has Christian insignia on it then it says a lot about you, and will hopefully start many conversations about the meaning of the symbols, particularly in the countryside where many people still know nothing of the gospel. It is a really good example of contextualising the gospel.

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