Field Notes: The Khanate of the Golden Horde
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: The Khanate of the Golden Horde.
WHAT IT IS
The Khanate of the Golden Horde is a living history group with a unique niche: mid-13th-century nomadic life in the northwest territory of the Mongol Empire. Originally ruled by one of Genghis Kahn’s grandsons, this vast corner of the Mongol realm was a crossroads between East and West. The Horde is dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of the period. Mostly, though, members dress in homemade armor and pummel each other with rattan swords and other weapons.
Anyone who might have appeared at the court of the khan, the Mongol ruler, circa 1250. With the Mongol Empire stretching from Korea to Hungary, and international exchange flourishing along its Silk Road, Horde members have a lot of cultures to draw upon—sometimes with unlikely results. It would not be unusual, for instance, to see a Japanese samurai fighting a medieval knight at a Horde gathering.
Mongol warriors are the most popular characters, but only one Horde member ever gets to play the Great Kahn, and that’s Chris Greywolf, the group’s founder. The Horde has about 65 members, Greywolf says, though he concedes there have been times when he was the only guy to show up for their weekly Sunday meetups.
The Horde originated in the early 1990s as a small band of Mongol archers within the Hawaii branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group dedicated to recreating medieval European times. Tensions between the Mongols and the medieval knights arose for a variety of reasons, including the archers’ aggravating ability to kill the knights within moments of commencing battle. Eventually, the knights and the Mongols went their separate ways.
When enough members get together, they stage battles between armies. Sometimes the battles include historic twists, such as attacking the Great Wall of China or invading Japan. The rules of fighting are the same as those used by the Society for Creative Anachronism, with fighters judging for themselves whether a blow they receive would have wounded or killed them.
Weapons include swords, spears, axes, bows and arrows, and even a working catapult. Foam rubber, PVC pipe, duct tape and other materials that would have been foreign to the actual Mongols are used liberally. Despite the use of armor, shields, padded weapons and other safety precautions, fighters routinely end up bruised and bloody. But it’s all in fun. “This is the only way you can hit somebody without somebody getting mad at you,” says one of the regulars.
After battle, the Horde sometimes feasts on the cuisine of one of the lands the Mongols invaded. Usually, this means Chinese, Korean, Indian or Vietnamese takeout. Someday, if Greywolf has his way, they will feast on mutton, boiled in the body cavity, Mongolian style. “I’ve been looking for a sheep, but nobody will sell me one,” he says. “They know what I want to do with it.”
Did you know? The Golden Horde was a Mongol army that swept across Eastern Europe in the 13th century. The name may have been inspired by the Mongols’ yellow tents, but nobody knows for sure.