Suho’s White Horse: A Mongolian Legend is the retelling of one of the legends that explains the origins of Mongolia’s national musical instrument, the morin khuur, or horse hair fiddle, which always has a carved horse’s head at the top of its pegbox.
Suho, a young Mongolian shepherd boy, rescues and rears a white foal. A few years later he is persuaded to enter a horse-race with the governor’s daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize. With his beautiful white horse, of course Suho wins the race – but when the governor finds out that Suho is a shepherd he not only goes back on his word, but has his soldiers beat Suho up and steals the horse.
Suho manages to get home and is nursed back to health. Meanwhile, the white horse escapes. Incensed, the governor orders his men to catch the white horse – and if they can’t catch it, to kill it. The white horse does manage to return to Suho but is so badly injured that it dies. Suho is heartbroken but the horse comes to him in a dream and tells him to use different parts of his body to create a musical instrument – and so the morin khuur is born.
This retelling of Suho’s White Horse by Yuzo Otsuka, and translated by Richard McNamara and Peter Howlett (RIC Publications, 2006) is great for reading aloud, with plenty of detail. Both Older Brother and Little Brother became emotionally involved in the story very quickly, reacting to the different stages with outrage, horror and sadness. Hans Christian Andersen Award winner (1980) Suekichi Akaba‘s illustrations are beautiful, conveying the vastness of the steppe as well as the story’s emotive narrative.
And a real bonus with this edition is the accompanying CD that contains a musical retelling of the legend played on the morin khuur itself by “the horse-head fiddle’s finest player” Li Bo (scroll down this page to read an interview with him). We were all captivated by the haunting music and the boys had quite a deep discussion of which bit of music referred to which bit of the story.
I’m excited to have found this recording of Suho’s White Horse on You Tube with Lai Haslo playing the morin khuur and Zhang Lin on the Chinese dulcimer. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have – listen out for the horse galloping.