Mongolia travel tours focused in the northern area offer a chance to see a large population of reindeer and other remote places ethnic group. Among the nomadic peoples who inhabit Mongolia’s northern forests and steppe are the Tsaatan, members of a small Tuvinian ethnic group who have herded domesticated reindeer for centuries. The culture of these herdsmen has changed little since the Ice Age, and like many of Mongolia’s nomads, and particularly those in the north, shamanism plays an important role in their lives.
Mongolian Kazakhs are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, herding sheep, goats, yaks, camels and horses. Kazakhs have a rich culture, close extended families, and many traditions that are still practiced today that are centuries old. The Kazakhs are the second largest ethnic group in Mongolia. Most live in Bayan-Olgii Aimag. The aimag or province was created in 1939 as a semi-autonomous homeland for Kazakhs living in Mongolia. Today, Bayan-Olgii has a distinctly Kazakh culture. Kazakh is the language of everyday communication, with Mongolian used for inter-ethnic interactions and official communication. The Kazakhs were themselves descendents of Mongols and other nomadic tribes of Central Asia. The Kazakhs quickly developed a distinct identity and a powerful state for several hundred years until the Russian Empire began absorbed the Kazakhs in the mid 18th century.
Dukhas live differently from most other people in the world. The Dukha’s sense of community is structured around the reindeer. The reindeer and the Dukha are dependent on one another. Some Dukha say that if the reindeer disappear, so too will their culture. The reindeer are domesticated and belong to the household. In many ways they are treated like family members and shown respect. The community’s chores and activities are centered around the care and feeding of their reindeer. Dukha communities on the taiga are usually a group of tents of two to seven households that move camp to find optimum grazing for the reindeer. Herding tasks are shared amongst the camp with children at a young age learning to care for the reindeer and keeping them safe. The girls and younger women do the milking and make yogurt, cheese, and milk tea. Young men and women and elders help with herding. A few of the men stay with the reindeer in the winter months, living in the open air with their herds to protect them from wolves and other predators. The men also make and repair their hunting tools and reindeer saddles and carts. Since they rarely kill a reindeer, they supplement their diet of reindeer milk products by hunting wild animals from the forest.
Uriankhai is a Mongolian term applied to several neighboring “forest” ethnic groups. Uriankhai have historically been cattle-herding nomads, tending to their herds of goats, sheep, camels, reindeer, cattle and yaks for the past thousands of years. They have traditionally lived in yurts covered by felt or chums covered with birch bark or hide that they relocate seasonally as they move to newer pastures.
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