Mongolia: journey to discover the history of the Reindeer Men / Pictures

Traveling means getting to know new worlds, populations different from our own, languages and cultures that until that moment we didn’t even know existed. The amazement created by these moments will be similar to the one you will probably feel reading this article that tells the story of the Tsaatan, better known as reindeer men.

The Tsaatan were a large ethnic group thousands of years old of Turkish origin that today is reduced to only 50 families. They are the people of the taiga, or, as they call themselves, the Knights of the Reindeer or the Reindeer Men. As told by National Geographic, this population lives between Mongolia and Siberia: it is a very remote and isolated land, covered by wild nature and the largest forest in the entire northern hemisphere.

How the Tsaatan live

The reindeer here live in very difficult conditions: they migrate almost 11 times a year and have to survive very cold winters where temperatures can reach 50 degrees below zero. The Tsaatan are a population of nomads and hunters, but their peculiarity is that they have a special relationship with the reindeer because in addition to milking them they ride them. The Tsaatan respect the reindeer, they do not kill them and they are domesticated from a very young age, getting used to being ridden just like horses, loading them first with a 20 kg weight and then with 40 kg and in five years from their birth they are ready to be ridden by the Reindeer Men.

The National Geographic, which has dedicated ample space to this population, has found many similarities between this population and the American Indians, both for the way of living and the lodgings which are a sort of teepee, but also for the religious practices.

All Reindeer Men live together, like in a big family and they share everything. But then again, in geographical and environmental conditions like those, probably the sharing of food and material goods, above all, is very important. A peculiarity of the Tsaatan is that if there are problems, quarrels or you can not live together in a perfect way, you turn to the shaman. In the population of the Reindeer Men there are as many as two shamans: a woman and a man use that healing powers and talk to the spirits.

But why is something destroying and slowly making this population disappear? The creation of the village Sagam Nur by the Mongolian government near the main camp of the Tsaatan with the intentions, albeit good, to give support to the people of the taiga is changing everything, including the way of life of men and reindeer.

In fact, since in this small village created ad hoc by the government, there are wooden houses, doctors, restaurants and schools, almost all the families living in the taiga move in September from their camp and then return in June. There are now so few left to live in the taiga all year round and even the language and their dialect, is slowly being lost. Where they wanted to try to give a hand to the survival of these populations, in reality perhaps damage has been done: the hope is that the reindeer men, the extraordinary reindeer riders, will somehow manage to survive and above all to pass on and keep alive their memory, their traditions and their way of life.


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