Photographer Captures Stunning Photos of a Lost Mongolian Tribe with a Reindeer Culture

Most of us know only our civilization that is based on modern technology, but there are people in the world whose life is not based on smatphones or Internet. The Dukhan people, also known as the Tsataans, belong to a tribe that follows their old way of living which is not based on technology and modern society as they are traditional reindeer breeders.

The pictures of Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, a photographer and anthropologist have brought this tribe to the eyes of the world. Hamid has travelled the world for more than a decade, visiting remote places and tribes and capturing their lives and traditions with his camera.

In the East Asian tour he visited Mongolia and the lost tribe of Dukha. He really depicted into the lives of the Dukha people spending several years with them fully absorbing their simple ways of communal living. He documented their way of living by making fascinating photographs proving to the world that life can be beautiful outside the civilization.

The Dukha people belong to a Tuvan-Turkic ethnic group residing for thousands of years on the border of Mongolia and Russia. This nomadic tribe is native to Russia’s Siberia and Khvosgol, a northern province in Mongolia. They have descended to this desolate area and live in remote forests moving from one pasture to another staying there for 7 to 10 weeks. They change the pasture five to ten times in a year. Nevertheless, they are hospitable people and welcoming to the visitors.

Dukha people kept their way of living as it was hundreds of years ago, and are herding reindeers as their great grandfathers were, the only thing that has been changed is their way of clothing accepting the modern apparel.

They are the reindeer breeders and use the animals for their milk, yogurt, and cheese which are the staple foods in the Dukhan diet. The reindeers are a common means of transportation in this area and they offer reindeer rides to tourists. They hunt for food but never eat the reindeer meat unless the animal is sick, wounded, or no longer useful to them. They protect the reindeer species as if they are extinct they will be extinct as well. The Dukhans are highly spiritual people that have a supernatural connection to wildlife.

The reindeers that they raise are sometimes sold to traders from the cities and other communities.

Reindeers are also a part of the lives of the youngest population of Dukhans who are in charge of taking care of the young reindeers as they cannot be ridden by adults. So young Dukhans groom and train young reindeers.

The wildlife is very important for the Dukha people and aside the reindeers they also train wolves, bears, and eagles. The eagles are helping them in the hunting and not every Dukhan can train an eagle only the ones that are considered remarkable can successfully train an eagle.

Indigenous tribes on the verge of extinction

The Dukha people in count are only about 282 people as per the data of the 2010 census, about 44 families less than the previous census. In the past few centuries their count is getting lower and as well as the reindeer population.

As Hamid stated to CNN “They’re certainly a dying culture.” This tribe is also being attracted by the modern way of living meaning away from the extremely cold forests which was the main reason for their migration.

Hamid reported: 

The number of families has fallen because a lot of them have been synthesized with the mainstream community. Many of them have moved to the towns and even to the capital cities. The biggest threat in Sardar-Afkhami’s view is the defection from the younger Dukha generation, who don’t want to live in the harsh conditions in the taiga (or “snow forest”). They want to go down and stay in warm cabins in the winter, maybe buy a car and drive. There’s a big appeal to the modern life. The hardships of the traditional life as a reindeer herder certainly play a factor.

However, Hamid believes that the government took part in their migration as it has decided to close off the Dukhans’ hunting ground and make it a national protected park. The way of living of this tribe is based on hunting, but they also need the pastures for their reindeers to graze upon. Hamid added: “When you pay them off like that, you’re destroying a part of their culture.”

Moreover, the reindeer population is in rapid decline as the animals are frequently dying from diseases and lack of medication.

Decline in tourism

This tribe successfully survived thanks to the tourism too. They offered the tourists the experience of deer-rides, horse-rides, and pictures and tours of their camps and animals. The reindeers are the integral part of their touristic attraction and people would pay 5,000 Mongolian tugrik ($2.50) in order to get a few pictures of a reindeer. So, in average the Dukhans could earn $200 a day from tourism.

But, there was a fuss about their use of reindeers as a tourist attraction and popular travel companies have begun to discourage clients from visiting the Dukha. One of them is Intrepid Travel. The spokesperson for Intrepid Travel in Mongolia, TimurYadamsuren stated the following:

Many travelers are of the opinion that this area isn’t the best environment for the reindeer as they’re native to much colder climates and are brought to Lake Khovsgol so the herders can benefit from tourism. For these reasons Intrepid Travel doesn’t recommend this activity.”

In response to that the Dukhan people say that they take good care of the reindeer treating them as family being their direct link to wildlife that they appreciate a lot.

Enkhatuya, a leader of a group of Dukhans who have settled on the outskirts of the forests, close to Lake Khovsgol stated the following:

As a culture we’ve deep connections with our reindeer. They’re like our family. We would never abuse them as such. I can assure you they aren’t suffering.”

Enkhatuya believes that her people will survive the influence of modern living as the young people have slowly but surely returning to their community.

She said:

“Our young people are returning to continue our ancestral tradition. They’re as close to the tribe and culture as they ever were. They’re continuing to speak our native language.”

It is good to know that tribes like Dukhans can withstand the pangs of civilization and keep their traditional way of living respecting nature in its highest form.