Where are nomads now
Mongolian nomads with no future
The nomad people of the Dukha live in the forests of the Sayan Mountains bordering Russia. In the tradition of their forefathers, the dukha have been active as reindeer herders, hunters and gatherers for centuries. Erdenebat Chuluu is one of them: "It is our will to uphold the tradition of keeping reindeer as our ancestors practiced it," he told Reuters.
In the landlocked country between Russia and China, nomadic families traditionally live from cattle-raising, which makes up all of their property. Reindeer are well adapted to the conditions in the rocky and snowy environment. This enables the dukha to avoid the political turmoil that has plagued the people of the lowlands throughout history.
Tsagaannuur is the closest village for the reindeer herders who live in the forests. It was founded during the Soviet occupation of Outer Mongolia, beginning in 1924, to support a fishing collective. Many dukha were also employed there until the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. In 1992 Mongolia introduced the market economy.
From pastureland to national park
A hunting quota from the Soviet era to preserve the game population was forgotten in the 1990s. Nomads captured huge amounts of deer for the Chinese market; the species were threateningly decimated. To protect the ecosystem, Mongolia made a large part of the traditional pasture land of the Dukha a national park in 2012 and gave them where they were allowed to hike.
The government pays the shepherds monthly compensation for restricting their freedom of movement. The dukha fear not only financial loss, but also for their identity. “It feels like we've lost something because we can't wander all over this land that was given to us by our ancestors,” says 26-year-old Naran-Erdene Bayar.
Family coexistence and the preservation of traditions play a major role in the Dukha community. They teach their children everything they think is important in life. While the nomads used to live completely isolated, the tent camps are already more modern: telephones and televisions connect the dukha with the outside world.
The original religion of the Mongolian nomads is shamanism. Shamanic elements also play a major role there today. About what it's like to become a shaman, Kyzyl-ool says: "In the beginning I often thought, why me? I didn't like to have these spirits inside of me, but there is nothing I can do about it because I was chosen."
The women cook food for the family in the tipi-like tents. Nomadic peoples like the Dukha feed on wild animal meat and flour products such as dough, which they use to make dumplings or a regional type of pasta. As self-sufficient, they live largely directly from the produce of their reindeer. They process their milk into cheese, yoghurt or milk tea.
Jewelry made from wolf bones
There are now only about 40 dukha families left. Literally translated, Dukha means "the people who have reindeer". Hunting deer is now a punishable offense for them. In order to earn money with tourists, the dukha kill wolves. They use their ankles to make jewelry that is sold in the settlement of Ulaan-Uul. That is more lucrative than herding the reindeer, says Purevjav Roslov.
The language stays away
The Dukha language, which is one of the Turkic languages, is threatened with extinction. The reindeer herders sometimes live semi-nomadically and send their children to school. The younger generations have not learned Tuvinian anymore. "I regret that I cannot speak the traditional language of my parents," said one student to his teacher.
Preservation of Heritage
The generation of 35 to 40-year-olds is the last to speak the original mother tongue of the dukha, explains linguist Elisabetta Ragagnin from the village school in Tsagaannuur. Together with the headmistress, she is writing a grammar and text books so that the traditional nomadic language does not fall into oblivion in the new generations.
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