Origin Stories: The 803-year-old tale of PAPU’S PROPS (1216)

Mongol_Archer

Now is as good a time as any to look back at one of the origin stories that led POPS PROPS to evolve into the free, prop-based, universally acclaimed spectacle that it is today.

PAPU’S PROPS were written in 1216 by an anonymous author (likely named PAPU) in the Uyghur language. The props were translated into Chinese characters by Ming Dynasty scholars near the end of the 14th century and eventually rediscovered and translated for Western audiences by Russian sinologists in 1875.

The fact that we don’t know anything about PAPU isn’t surprising. We don’t know much at all about the Mongol Empire, even though it was once the largest contiguous empire in history. Historians don’t even know what Mongol Empire founder Genghis Khan looked like, even though he’s widely considered to be the most bloodthirsty leader in world history.

What we do know is that in 1216, the year of the Wood Dragon, Genghis Khan was angry that Kuchlug, the Naiman prince who eight years previously escaped the Mongols’ crushing defeat of the Naiman, was still at large. In 1208, Kuchlug was welcomed by Zhilugu, the Gur-khan of the Qara Khitai, and allowed to form a military unit.

Three years later, Kuchlug seized power from Zhilugu, and in 1213, Zhilugu died. Left in complete control of the Qara Khitai, Kuchlug (a Buddhist and formerly a Nestorian Christian) persecuted the Muslim majority and forced them to convert to Buddhism or Christianity. When Kuchlug moved on the Karluk city of Almaliq, the Karluks pleaded for help from Genghis Khan, who was more than pleased to assist.

The Great Khan dispatched one of his most-trusted military generals, Jebe, to take 20,000 horse-soldiers, kill Kuchlug and conquer Qara Khitai territory for the Mongol Empire. The following are PAPU’S PROPS, translated from the original Uyghur:

1. What do spirits inhabit?
a. The sun!
b. The moon!
c. The sky!
d. The stars!
e. The mountains!
f. The water!
g. The trees!
h. All of these things! (Bonus)

2. The universe is our…
a. Land!
b. Sky!
c. Soul!
d. Tent!
e. All of the things! (Bonus)

3. All those who accept Mongol suzerainty will be allowed to worship?
a. Buddhism!
b. Christianity!
c. Islam!
d. Shamanism!
e. Nothing!
f. Whatever they wish to worship!

4. At what rate of speed can an urgent message be transmitted by horse-courier?
a. Over 200 ½ miles per hour!
b. Under 200 ½ miles per hour!

5. Which of these things has the great Khan decreed?
a. If any man offends against the law, report him to me!
b. If any men need to be executed, I shall execute them!
c. If any men need to be beaten, I shall lie them down and beat them!
d. If you lay hands upon my guards, who were once your equals, with
hands or feet, or beat them with a rod, simply because you are now their
seniors, you shall be repaid in kind! If you beat them with a rod, you
yourself shall be beaten with a rod! If you beat them with your fists, you
yourself shall be beaten with fists!
e. Two or more of the above!
f. All of the above!
g. None of the above!

6. Which of these things is true?
a. Any person who eats in front of another without offering that person
food must be executed!
b. Anyone caught stealing anything of value may be freed after paying back
nine times’ its worth!
c. Anyone guilty of hurting a horse’s eyes must be executed!
d. A and B, but not C!
e. B and C, but not A!
f. A and C, but not B!
g. All of the above!
h. None of the above!

7. How will the opposition be vanquished?
a. By being tied to the spoke of cart-wheels in the cold-winter nights!
b. By being wrapped in birch bark during the hot summer!
c. By breaking the shining stones to pieces!
d. By parting the deep waters!
e. By smashing the ores!
f. By the necks of the powerful, the buttocks of wrestlers!
g. Two or more of the above!
h. All of the above!
i. None of the above!

8. How will Jebe pursue Kuchlug?
a. Like a mad beast!
b. Like a mad dog!
c. Like a mad fox!
d. Like a mad hare!
e. Like a mad wolf!

9. At the gates of Balasagun, how many opposition soldiers will Jebe slaughter before entering the Qara Khitan capital in triumph?
a. Over 29,999 ½!
b. Under 29,999 ½!

10. After seizing the capital, Jebe will pursue Kuchlug for 350 miles through which of these geographic features?
a. Through Kashgaria!
b. Through the Muztagh Ata mountain range!
c. Through the Pamirs to the plateau of Badakhshan at 9,000 feet!
d. To a height of 12,600 feet to get through a pass!
e. Through desolate stark peaks!
f. Through plungine ravines!
g. Through massive glaciers!
h. All of these things! (Bonus)
i. None of these things!

11. How will Kuchlug blunder?
a. By wandering into a box canyon, where he and his detachment will be
captured by local hunters!
b. By getting bogged down by unseasonable rains and boggy marshes near
the headwater of the Oxus, where he and his detachment will be
captured by local hunters!
c. By slowing down while navigating glacial moraine at the border of
Badakhan and the mountain Wakhan region, where he and his
detachment will be captured by local hunters!
d. None of these things!

12. After beheading Kuchlug, Jebe will do what with the severed head?
a. Place it on a pole and parade it all the way back to Almaliq!
b. Place it on a pole and parade it all the way back to Almaty!
c. Place it on a pole and parade it all the way back to Karamaty!
d. Place it on a pole and parade it all the way back to Urumqi!
e. Place it on a pole and parade it all the way back to Yining!

13. After beheading Kuchlug, Jebe will send how many chestnut horses with white muzzles to Genghis Khan?
a. Over 999 ½!
b. Under 999 ½!

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