Hoelun, the mother of all mother’s belonged to the Olkhunuund tribe, a group of people known for the beauty of its women.
Hoelun was the wife of Chiledu, a skilled warrior from the Merkit tribe who had crossed the eastern steppes to find her. Shortly after their marriage, Chiledu and Hoelun began the long journey to return to the territories of Merkit, which would bring the first of many hardships Hoelun would endure.
During this journey, a horseman with his brother who happened to see them attacked the newlyweds to kidnap Hoelun. While Chiledu wanted to keep them away, Hoelun realized that Chiledu would be killed if he resisted so she surrendered.
From the Secret History we learn that Hoelun said to her Chiledu to convince him of sparring his life:
“If you but live, there will be maidens for you on every front and every cart. You can find another woman to be your bride, and you can call her Hoelun in place of me”.
Then, she removed her blouse and placed it to his face saying: “Take this with you so that you may have the smell of me with you as you go”.
While in today’s culture this may seem like a strange thing to do while being kidnapped, the scent from her clothes had great significance. It was very important to the people of the steppe. They believed each human being had a unique scent and this was an integral part of their soul. As she surrendered to her new captives to spare the life of her husband, Hoelun’s act was also a reminder that the love for her husband was everlasting.
Hoelun’s would-be kidnapper took Hoelun to be the wife of a chief named Yesugei. Yesugei belonged to the Borijin clan, one of the five clans who constituted the first official years of the Mongol nation.
Yesugei’s first-born child with Hoelun was Temujin (who would later be called Genghis Khan), which meant blacksmith. Temujin was the name of a Tatar warrior that Yesugei had killed shortly before the birth of his son.
Mongols selected only one name for their children, often rooted in the names of the other children in the family. This explains the close connection to Yesugei and Hoelun’s other two children’s names, Temüge and Temulun. Temujin’s love for Yesugei could never compete with the special love he had for his mother.
According to some historical accounts, Genghis Khan’s father abandoned him even before his father died. It was said that they met at a camp when Genghis was young and Yesugei had been journeying abroad. But Yesugei left Genghis behind. Temujin was found by Targutai, the leader of the clan Tayichigud, who took him and kept him safe for a short period while it was Temujin who raised Genghis until he was an young man and returned to his family shortly there after.
Upon his return, Hoelun wanted her son to meet her family and possibly marry a woman from her tribe. Yet, instead of finding Hoelun’s tribe, Yesugei and Hoelun’s family met and stayed with another family along the way. This is where young Temujin met Börte, a daughter who was a few years older than Temujin. The families agreed that the two should be engaged.
Once again, however, Yesugei decided to leave his son with another family. One can only imagine the disappointment Hoelun must have felt as the man who kidnapped her would defy her yet again and abandon their on. As fate would have it, this brought more hardship upon her.In the Secret History, we learn that Hoelun’s story worsens when Yesugei returns to his family after stopping at a Tatarian camp while a celebration was happening. His decision to stay and enjoy the festivities would have grave consequences. Unfortunately, Hoelun’s second husband Yesugei would be poisoned for killing the man his son was named after. This revenge was devastating for Hoelun.
Yesugei managed to return to his family and ordered Temujin to also return immediately. But according to the tradition of the steppe, Hoelun would have to marry one of Yesugei’s brothers or even Yesugei’s and Sochigel’s (Yesugei’s other wife) son. It was common for the female Mongols, who lost their husbands to marry younger men from the same family.
In Hoelun’s case, none of this happened because her large number of children was not something anyone wanted to support. This meant Hoelun and her children were cast out of their clan and the tribe cut off their food supply to make matters worse. Yet, Hoelun and her children found a way to survive with no help from their clan. As Spring arrived, the clan migrated south taking all the animals and knowing the widow Hoelun and her children would probably die.
But Hoelun did as she had always done: she found a way to keep her family alive. They caught rats in the steppes and dug up roots from the ground hoping to find anything to help the family survive. During the cold winter months and within this desolate environment, they did just that – survived.
The harsh environment was a great test for Temujin who learn from this cruelty. In him grew a determination, ambition and the desire to survive at all costs. He also learned the value of compassion and the fortitude Hoelun modeled. By overcoming so many challenges, Hoelun ensured her family’s survival and would eventually become one of Temujin’s most trusted advisers.
Hoelun was the single most constant influence in shaping the character of Temujin and the Great Khan he would become. These early traumatic events described in the Secret History helped him to be a relentless warrior, filled with the conviction needed to overcome any challenge. Family influences so much of how we see the world and the love of Genghis’ mothers help to mold him into a man that defied the traditional social structures of the steppe. Genghis took nothing for granted and learned the value of building strongholds making him the greatest conqueror of all time.