The White Cloud of Genghis Khan

The White Cloud of Genghis Khan

by Chingiz Aitmatov (1990).

Translation (from Russian) mine.

This literary work uses oral history—a nomadic story from Central Asia about Genghis Khan, which Aitmatov described as “poorly correlating with history, but quite indicative of national memory” in the introduction to the work.


[As he headed westward,] [t]he most remarkable thing was not Genghis Khan’s retinue—fearless kezeguls and zhasauls whose life belonged to Genghis Khan more than it was their own—and that is why they were selected like blades, one in a hundred. Nor was it their horses, rare as nuggets of gold in nature. No, the most remarkable aspect of that campaign was something completely different. The entire time, a cloud floated over the head of Genghis Khan, protecting him from the sun. Wherever he went, so did the cloud. This was a small white cloud the size of a large yurt following him as if it were a living creature. And it never occurred to anyone—after all, as if there are no other clouds up above—that this was a sign that the Heavens themselves manifested their blessing to this Lord of the Worlds in this particular manner. As for Genghis Khan himself, he was aware of the latter, watching the cloud little by little and convincing himself further and further that this truly was a sign of Tengri-the-Sky’s will.

A certain nomadic prophet, whom Genghis Khan once permitted to speak with him, predicted the cloud’s appearance. […]  The foreigner was tan, had a stern look, an impressive beard, and dry facial features.


My sketch is based on some of the photos I took of Native Americans riding horses bare-back. 

- I came to you, O’ Great Khagan, to tell you—he passed the message through his Uighur interpreter—that by the will of the Supreme Heaven, you will receive a special sign from above. 

Surprised, Genghis Khan paused for a moment. The newcomer is either mad, or does not understand just how this might end for him.

- What is the sign, and how do you know that?—asked the All-Powerful barely containing irritation and frowning.

- How I know cannot be disclosed. As for the sign, this I will tell you: there will be a cloud over your head, and it will follow you.

- A cloud?!—Not even concealing his amazement, exclaimed Genghis Khan, sharply raising his eyebrows. And everyone around involuntarily tensed up anticipating an explosion of Khan’s wrath. The interpreter’s lips turned white from fear. Punishment could affect him, too.

- Yes, a cloud,—said the diviner.—This will be a gesture by the Supreme Heaven, blessing your highest position on earth. But you must take care of this cloud because, having lost it, you will also lose your power.