Everything about Mongolian Reindeer herders Tsaatan tribe (Dukha)

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In the deepest and remote part of the Mongolian Northern forest, Dukha is also known as Tsaatan (Reindeer herders) has lived for a thousand years keeping their ultimate unique tradition. 

Like other nomadic people of Mongolians, moving from one place to another every 10 weeks all year to give their reindeer the best care, the Dukha people are one of the last remaining tribes of this kind.

 

In a history of  Mongolia the Dukha culture was known as citizens of the taiga, and citizens of the forest. The Uriankhai ancestors of today's Dukha were one of the first peoples subjugated by Zuch, the eldest son of Chinggis Khan, whose earliest exploit was to bring the "peoples of the forest" under the Mongol yoke. This conquest, more than 800 years ago, was likely bloodless and amounted to no more than a demand for tributes in the form of furs to the great Khan of the Mongols.

And now in Mongolia, an estimated 500 hundred Dukha people are divided among 40 families, with approximately  1500 reindeers. 

The Dukha are divided into two major territorial groups: the Western Forest group and the Eastern Forest group. The Western group tends to be more remote, but the Eastern Forest grouping practices a less traditional form of nomadism. They are adapted in the face of outside influences such as interaction with tourists.

They speak the Dukhan language, and they use their language mixing together with the Mongolian language therefore it sounds like a really strong accent. 

A residential group consisting of several families is called “olal-lal” (meaning “them” in the Tsaatan language). They usually refer to a specific group by the name of a representative member.

Tsaatan people believe that their ancestors’ ghosts live on in the forest as animals that give guidance to the living, so they practice Shamanism, a religion based on nature worship. The Shamanistic practices among Mongolians are different from each other as their region or tribes, shaman worship among the Tsaatan people is thought to represent the oldest variant of Shamanism practiced by Mongolian nomads. Not only do they worship their Shaman, but they have many mystical holy books as well, and use many different treatises in their daily lives, including those for hunting and for calling or banishing the rain.

The reindeer and the Tsaatan people are dependent on one another. The reindeer are domesticated and belong to the household. The community’s chores and activities are centered around the care and feeding of their reindeer. Herding tasks are shared amongst the camp with children at a young age learning to care for the reindeer and keeping them safe.

Reindeers provide their herder Tsaatans with milk, cheese, meat, and transportation. They also sew their clothes with reindeer hair, reindeer dung fuels their stoves, and antlers are used to make tools.

Reindeer lose their antlers once a year and grow a new rack in late spring to early summer. Females, like this one, keep their antlers longer than males.

It is widely known through Tsaatans, “if the reindeers disappear, so too will their culture.”  

However as the world develops, the Mongolian Tsaatan tribe slowly reaching out to modernity. 

Even though Tsaatans did not use their animals for meat, since 1992 in Mongolia, hunting has become illegal especially they live in the nature reserved area. Therefore now they use their reindeer for meat too. Dukha tribe struggling to support themselves financially, facing threats of reindeer extinction, the danger of their culture dying out. 

Therefore Mongolian government and tourism companies are reaching out to them, trying to support, creating Tsaatan festival, increasing tourist numbers, trying to develop sustainable tourism last decade. 

The Reindeer Festival is held on the July 8-9th in Khuvsgul province, the land of Mongolian reindeer herders to promote reindeer culture internationally. 

The festival has 16 years of history and attracts thousands of tourist travelers each year. The main goal of the festival is publicizing the unique lifestyle, culture, and customs of the Dukha people living in the northern region of Khuvsgul Province in hopes of improving their livelihoods via tourism incomes of the locals. 

The event features a reindeer race and many interesting activities such as demonstration of reindeer herders’ camp, reindeer riding, mini Naadam with 32 wrestlers, shaman rituals, cultural concerts, and more. 

When you travel to Mongolian Dukha tribe please note this: 

You will need to especially customized tour package with Mongolian local travel experts.  Even though many tour companies offer this tour but be careful to make a choice. This kind of tour could easily be falling apart by inexperienced tour management companies. Because of remoteness, bad road conditions, poor connections with local communities or less experience of conducting horse riding and etc.

Try to find trip advisors from the local community. This case is simple and all you have to do is reaching out to Murun town and end in there as well. From Murun city local community-based trip advisors will organize your border permissions, a vehicle from Murun town to reindeer herders taiga base camp and another way, cook- food, horses or reindeer, lodging and so on. 

Please note that hitchhiking or backpacking to this region almost impossible. To avoid so many issues, it is better to book your tour in advance. 

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