MINORITIES IN MONGOLIA

MINORITIES IN MONGOLIA

Ethnic groups in Mongolia: Khalkh 81.9 percent, Kazak 3.8 percent, Dorvod 2.7 percent, Bayad 2.1 percent, Buryat-Bouriates 1.7 percent, Zakhchin 1.2 percent, Dariganga 1 percent, Uriankhai (Tuvans) 1 percent, other 4.6 percent (2010 est.). In the 1980s, nearly 90 percent of the population was Mongol. The rest were Kazakh (5.3 percent), Chinese (2 percent), Russian (2 percent); Tuvans, Uzbeks, Uighurs, and others (1.5 percent). [Source: CIA World Factbook; Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The 1979 census identified the "nationality" of 5.5 percent of the population simply as "other," an undefined category that presumably included small numbers of Tungusic-speaking hunters and reindeer herders in the northeast, some Turkic-speaking Tuvans in Uvs and Dzavhan aymags, and, in the Altai region, isolated clusters of Uzbeks and Uighurs (the latter of whom--whose ancestors migrated north from Xinjiang in northwestern China--grow irrigated rice in the relatively sheltered Hovd Basin).

According to the U.S. Department of State: Ultra-nationalist groups, although less active than in the recent past, continued to commit isolated acts of violence, most often targeted at Chinese nationals. In March, members of an ultra-nationalist group stopped Inner Mongolian tourists (ethnic Mongols from China) who were hiking at Burkhan Khaldun Mountain, a sacred site. The tourists were forced to kneel, verbally assaulted, photographed, and then forced back down the mountain without completing their pilgrimage. Government officials, including the president and the mayor of Ulaanbaatar, apologized to the tourists and publicly condemned the attacks. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

Small Minorities in Mongolia

Mongolia is home to 22 smaller nomadic groups, most of whom live in western Mongolia. Ethnic group that live in eastern Mongolia include the Barga, orginally from the Lake Baikal area, with 2,000 members who live in pockets in Dornod and Tuv; Dariganga, with 32,300 members who live in southern Sukhbaatar; the Uzemchin and Dariganga, similar to ethnic Mongolians in Inner Mongolia, with 2,000 members who live in Dornod and Sukhbaatar. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

Ethnic group that live in western Mongolia include the Bayad, descendants of the Oriat Mongols, with about 40,000 who live mostly in Uvs; the Durvud, with about 55,000 members who live mostly in Uvs and Khovd; the Uuld, with 11,400 members who live in Khovd and Arkhangai; the Khoton, with 6,000 members who live in Uvs; the Myangad, a Turkic group with 5,000 members who live around Khovd; the Torguud, with 10,500 members who live around Khovd; and the Zakhchin, with 24,700 members who live around Khovd.

Ethnic group that live in northern Mongolia include the Darkhad, a Turkish group with 15,000 members who live in Khovsgol. Shamanism is still practiced by minorities such as the Tsaatan, Darkhad, Uriankhai and Buryats.

Russians in Mongolia

In the Soviet era, Russians made up about two percent of the population of Mongolia. Today few remain. Some Mongolians don't like Russian. Some foreign tourist have gotten into fights with local because they were mistaken for Russians.

Mongolia's 1956 census counted Russians as 1.6 percent of the population, but as of 1989 no totals for those groups had been published since. The United States Government in 1987 estimated 2 percent of the population as Russian. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

In the 1980s, Soviet residents of Mongolia were always described as helpful foreigners who would return to their proper homes when their terms of service were over. Most presumably were not included in the Mongolian census figures. There were small numbers of descendants of Russian settlers along the border, and the "national" status of Buryat Mongols, Tuvans, or Kazakhs who at some point had crossed the border from their home territories in the Soviet Union was not clear. *

Thousands of Soviet nationals were working in Mongolia as technical experts, advisers, and skilled workers; they were a noticeable presence in Mongolian cities in the late 1980s. Erdenet, which was built around a joint Mongolian-Soviet copper-molybdenum mining and processing complex in the late 1970s, had a 1987 population of 40,000 Mongols and 10,000 Soviet workers on three-year contracts. In the 1980s, an estimated 55,000 Soviet troops were based in Mongolia, and some of them worked on construction projects in cities. Although since 1920 many Russians have settled in the Tannu Tuva and Buryat Mongol regions of Siberia across the border from northern Mongolia, there has been no Russian migration to, and settlement in, Mongolia. *

Chinese in Mongolia

Mongolians have interacted with the Chinese for a long time. There has been relatively little intermarriage between the two ethnic groups. Mongolia's 1956 census counted Chinese as 1.9 percent of the population, but as of 1989 no totals for those groups had been published since. The United States Government in 1987 estimated 2 percent of the population as Chinese. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Historically, the Gobi served as a barrier to large-scale Chinese settlement in what was, before 1921, called Outer Mongolia; the unsuitability of most of the territory for agriculture made southern settlement less attractive. The small Chinese population in the early 1920s consisted of merchants or peddlers, artisans working for Buddhist monasteries or Mongol aristocrats, and a few market gardeners near Ulaanbaatar (then called Niyslel--capital--Huree, or Urga) and the smaller population centers of the Selenge region. Many of the Chinese married or formed liaisons with Mongol women. *

Their children, who spoke Mongol as first language, were regarded as Chinese by the rules of patrilineal descent common to both Chinese and Mongols. In the early 1980s, Ulaanbaatar was reported to have a small Chinese community, which published a Chinese-language newspaper and which looked to the Chinese embassy for moral support. In 1983 the Mongolian government expelled about 1,700 Chinese residents, who were accused of "preferring an idle, parasitic way of life" to honest labor on the state farms to which they had been assigned. At the same time, ethnic Chinese who had become naturalized citizens were reported to be unaffected. Because the presence and the status of Chinese residents in Mongolia were politically sensitive subjects, Mongolian sources usually avoided mentioning the Chinese at all. *

Chinese Businessmen in Mongolia

Chinese, particularly people from Wenzhou, are a powerful force in many businesses in Mongolia. Reporting from Erenhot, Don Lee wrote in Los Angeles Times, Jin Xiancong “ships 10,000 VCRs each month into neighboring Mongolia, runs his own logistics firm and builds office properties. He will soon be mining iron and other minerals in the region. Jin was just 23 when he arrived in 1993 with little more than two large sacks stuffed with hairpins and trinkets to peddle to Chinese, Mongolian and Russian tourists. "My parents told us, 'Go out and explore,' " says the brush-cut Jin, whose four brothers and sisters are scattered in Italy making and selling apparel. "The farther you can reach, the stronger you get." [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2007 *-*]

“Like modern-day Marco Polos, the people of Wenzhou are extending the frontiers of China's booming economy. Hundreds of entrepreneurs from the southeastern Chinese city 1,200 miles away have flocked here, opening retail stores and developing hotels and apartments, even a $1-million nightclub featuring topless Mongolian dancers. (The club is named SOS, presumably after the distress signal.) *-*

“About 100,000 Wenzhou natives now live here in China's Inner Mongolia. Like others from their hometown, they shun politics but have taken pains to dispel the notion that they are carpetbaggers. Some have given up their Wenzhou hukou, or residence cards, and switched to those of their adopted homes.Erenhot is on China's only railway route to Mongolia, but it wasn't until 1992 that authorities in Beijing allowed the town to operate as an open international hub. Then, only about 8,000 people lived in Erenhot. The city's population now hovers around 100,000 -- with 40,000 migrants coming in to work on construction sites and other jobs, many of them created by Wenzhou merchants. *-*

Ying Hongju, 37, arrived here three years ago, after roaming China's rugged far western Xinjiang region and the northeast. Ying left his village when he was 15, but all his travels didn't prepare him for Erenhot. In winter, powerful gusts of bai mao feng -- literally "white hairy wind" -- can blind drivers and knock their cars off roads. On summer evenings, he says, hot air seems to rise up from the ground. "My lips and nose bled," he says, adding that there's nothing fun to do here. He winces when someone mentions SOS, the name of the Wenzhou bar with the Mongolian dancers. "I don't like it here," Ying says. *-*

“But he stays for business. Ying and two partners recently raised $15 million and, in five months, built the International Trade City mall, a block-long, three-story wholesale market that houses 527 tenants who sell silk fabrics, rabbit and fox furs and other commodities. The mall, festooned with red signs in Chinese and Russian, opened last summer and is fully occupied. "Next year, I'm going to Russia and Mongolia for business," says Ying, whose two children live in Wenzhou with their grandparents while Ying's wife travels between two homes in Inner Mongolia. *-*

“For Jin Xiancong, his wife and their two children, Erenhot is home. Not that they've forgotten their first winter, when the couple huddled around a coal-burning stove in a 15-foot room where they lived. That was behind their counter, where they sold hairpins and ribbons for a dime each. Jin remembers his black mustache turning to ice outside, making him look like Santa Claus. "I would be talking and my eyebrows would freeze," recalls his wife, Xu Xihong. "I just focused on making money." They made money that winter of 1993. The town was growing and Wenzhou people were repairing shoes and selling watch batteries and items such as buttons, then lacking in this remote outpost. "My friends said anything that's red and green would sell well," says Jin, sitting in his 40-room Golden Leaf Hotel. *-*

“Like most Wenzhou businesspeople, Jin does not want to disclose much about his company's sales and his personal wealth. But he and his wife own four apartments and several shops in Erenhot, and they pull in tens of thousands of dollars more through trading and investments. On summer weekends, their children go horseback riding nearby in the Mongolian grasslands. Jin and his wife rarely take vacations, although once a year the entire family returns to Wenzhou. *-*

“Jin says he isn't done roaming the Mongolian region. He wants to find oil and dig up iron ore. On a recent frigid afternoon, Jin feasted on strips of beef and sheep stomach boiled in soup, then walked along Dinosaur Park, a large field with statues of the sauropods that trampled the area eons ago. For now, Jin says, he is content to stay in Erenhot. But he sees himself eventually moving back to Wenzhou. The air outside was below zero. He paused, then recited an old Chinese saying: "A fallen leaf will return to its roots."” *-*

Kazakhs

Kazakhs make up Mongolia's largest minority. They account for 3.8 percent of the population, down from 5.3 percent in 1979. There are about 115,000 Kazakhs in Mongolia. They live mostly in the Altai region of western Mongolia. There over 11 million Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, which has a population of 18 million. There are also about 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, mostly on Xinjiang, and a significant number in Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union. Traditional Kazakh culture is arguably much more alive in Mongolia than it is in Kazakhstan, where they Kazakhs have been heavily Russified.

The Kazakhs are a pastoral, Turkic-speaking, and traditionally Muslim people who live in Bayan-Olgiy Aymag in extreme western Mongolia. Bayan-Olgiy is a largely Kazakh administrative unit, where the Kazakh language is used in the primary schools and in local administrative offices. Kazakhs of the Altai traditionally have hunted from horseback with trained golden eagles on their wrists and greyhounds slung across the saddle--both to be launched at game-- and pictures of eagle-bearing Kazakhs are common in Mongolian tourist literature. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Kazakh herders mostly keep sheep, goats and yaks. Herding is often done on motorcycles rather than on horses. Hunters come home mostly with marmots and foxes. Women still spin raw wool into yarn. According to the Lonely Planet, eagle hunters are most likely to be seen in the Tast Ull mountain region between Khovd and Bayan-Olgi and the Deluun, Tsengul, Byanurr regions of Bayan-Olgii Province.

Bayan-Olgii (1,000 miles west of Ulaanbaatar) is Mongolia's westernmost province. Separated from the rest of Mongolia by the Hovd River and from Russia and China by the Altai mountains, it is barren place in the rain shadow of the Altai mountains. Most years it receives less than ten inches of rain. The soil is rocky and poor for agriculture. Bayan-Olgii (also spelled Bayan-Olgiy) is inhabited almost exclusively by Kazakhs. Some members of the Dorvod, Uriankhai, Tuva and Khoshuud minorities also live here.

Describing the hospitality of ger life among the Kazakhs in western Mongolia, Michael Benanav wrote in the New York Times, “Without fail, bowls of salty, milky tea were poured even before I sat down on felt carpets laid over dirt. Plates of food like goat cheese, dried sour kurd, fired dough and homemade butter were spread on low tables. Multicolored tapestries hung on lattice walls. My hosts were always curious and open-hearted.”

History of Kazakhs in Mongolia

In the 1600s, a small group of Kazakhs settled in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia’s westernmost province. A century later, the Manchu’s wiped out the Mongols that lived in the area and the Kazakhs took control of this barren land in the rain shadow of the Altai mountains.

In the mid 19th century, different groups began bringing animals to the high mountain pastures in the Bayan-Olgii area in the summer and returned to Kazakhstan and Xinjiang in the winter. They continued the practice after borders were drawn up between the Soviet Union, China and Mongolia in the 1920s and kept doing so until the 1930s. Because the region is so isolated, the Kazakhs have been able to keep their language, lifestyle and customs alive.

Many Kazakhs fled to Mongolia during the Bolshevik Revolution. In the Soviet era, there was a fairly high level of contact with the Soviet Union's Kazakh Republic, which provides textbooks for the schools. Mongol was taught as the second language and Russian as the third in Kazakh schools. Bilingual Kazakhs appeared to participate in the Mongolian professional and bureaucratic elite on an equal footing with Mongols. Kazakhs also made up a disproportionate number of the relatively highly paid workers in the coal mines of north-central Mongolia; this situation may have been the result of either limited opportunities in the narrow valleys of Bayan-Olgiy Aymag or government efforts to favor a potentially restive minority, or both. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the Kazakhs migrated to Kazakhstan. According to some estimates only half of 70,000 Kazakhs that lived in the region in 1991 remained there a few years later. The current Mongolian government tried to prevent Kazakhs from returning to Kazakhstan by allowing classes to be taught in Kazakhs in the Kazakh-dominated areas in western Mongolia.

Uriankhai (Tuvans)

There are about 21,000 Tuvans in Mongolia. They live mostly in the Mongol Altai Nuruu mountains, Khovd and Bayan-Olgii. They are known in Mongolia as the Uriankhai. Tuva was part of Mongolia until it was claimed by the Soviet Union after World War II. See Russia.

The Tuvans are similar to the Buryats and Altai and live relatively near them. The Tuvans are a Turkic-speaking people that practice Tibetan Buddhism with a touch a paganism. They look like Mongolians and have many similar customs. They have traditionally been hunters and nomadic herders that lived in yurts and raised sheep, goats, horses, yaks, cattle, camels and reindeer in the high altitude forests.

Tuvans have traditionally lived in yurts in settlements called aal, based on kinships and led by a chief. The yurts were arranged in accordance with the relationship of their owner to the aal leader. They also lived in hexagonal log dwellings and conical tents made of birch bark. Men traditionally did the hunting and livestock rearing while women took care of children and household chores. Some Tuvans still live in yurts.

Tuvans have traditionally been livestock breeders supplemented by hunting and some irrigated agriculture. Herding was done along designated routes to specified pastures, Hunting was done mostly for furs and horns as a source of money. The primary grain crops are oats, barley, millet and wheat. In the old days arranged marriage were the norm, polygamy was not uncommon and couples were often married when they were 12 or 13.

Typical Tuvan foods include meat from sheep, horses, cattle, goat, camel, reindeer and wild game, roots, cedar nuts, and dairy products such as dried curds, melted butter and cheese. Arak (fermented milk) was traditionally made for festive occasions. The Tuvans traditionally did not eat bread, vegetables or fruit but most eat these things now.

See Tsuur Music

Buryat

There are about 50,000 Buryat in Mongolia. They live mostly in th northern aimags of Bulgan, Dornod, Khenti and Selenge. The Buryats are the largest indigenous group in Siberia. They are a nomadic herding people of Mongolian stock that practice Tibetan Buddhism with a touch a paganism. There about 500,000 Buryat today, with half in the Lake Baikal area, half elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and Mongolia. Also known as the Brat, Bratsk, Buriaad and spelled Buriat, they have traditionally lived around Lake Baikal. They make up about half the population of the Republic of Buryatia, which includes Ulan Ude and is located to the south and east of Lake Baikal. Others live west of Irkutsk and near Chita as well as in Mongolia and Xinjiang in China. See Russia.

The Buryat language is similar to Mongolian and is a member of the Altaic family of languages. It is spoken by some Buryats at home and taught at some schools. Until they 1930s the Buryats used a Mongol-Altaic script which was written from top to bottom. The Buryats were forced to abandon their script in favor of Cyrillic by the Soviets.

The Buryat traditionally were Shamanists. Traditional beliefs still remain. Before a meal, they scatter a little bit of the food and drink as an offering to the Gods. For the Buryat white is associated with milk and good things. Silver, the white metal, is prized as an indication of wealth. The bride's dowry usually includes silver as well as coral and sheep. According to the Buryat creation myth the 11 Buryat tribes are descendants of a man and beautiful creature that was a swan by day and a woman by night, After the were married the man asked for her wings so she could no longer change into a swan. Sometime later she asked for her wings back and then flew away never to return.

The Buryats used to be nomads who lived in yurts in nomadic camps. They moved their camps as their animals migrated to find new pastures. Buryat hunters hunting in the taiga used conical shaped tents called chums. After being introduced to Russian-style wooden architecture by the Cossacks the Buryat built eight-sided wooden facsimiles of their yurts, Today most live in Soviet-style apartments blocks or Russian-style wooden houses.

The Buryats have traditionally been known as hard workers. In the old days wealth and property was measured in terms of animals rather than land and these animals were owned by the clan rather than individuals. Unlike other Mongol groups they cut hay for their animals for the winter. Under Russian influence the Buryat the concept of private ownership of land took hold and traditional aristocratic classes used the new concept to secure more wealth and land.

Buryat society has traditionally been organized around clans and lineages within clans. Each lineage was made up of several families headed by a chief. In the old days these grouping were tied together through feudalism. Under Russian rule settlers were divided from nomads and each was required to pay a certain amount of tribute. Feudalism no longer exists by ranking based on clan hierarchies and status within clans is still important.

Tsaatan

The Tsaatan are reindeer herders that live around Lake Khovsgol. There are only about 200 of them. “Tsaa” means reindeer. They are true nomads and their lifestyle is similar to that of reindeer herders in Siberia. The Tsaatan are related ethnically to the Tuvans and Darkhad tribe. The 60 or so Tsaatan families range over an area of about 100,000 square kilometers in northern Mongolia. They practice shamanism and move their reindeer-skin tents every two or three weeks so their reindeer can get adequate supplies of grass and moss.

Luke Distelhorst of Reuters wrote: “North of nowhere and high above the pristine, alpine Khovsgol Lake in the forests of northern Mongolia, the Gansukh family sits in their teepee home while their reindeer graze outside. A tiny ethnic minority, the Tsaatan live far from the rolling grassy steppes that characterise Mongolia. Surrounded by 3,000-metre peaks, dense forests and pristine lakes, the scenery closely resembles Siberia, just over the border to the north. The Tsaatan share little with other Mongolians. They herd reindeer instead of traditional livestock and adhere to shamanism instead of the more widely practised Buddhism. High in the country's northern reaches, many tribe members are also cut off from Mongolia's rapid development. [Source: Luke Distelhorst, Reuters, April 2, 2007]

On his encounter with Tsaatan, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “A tepee in the middle of Mongolia? Then we saw the two large animals tethered to ropes. One was white, the other half-gray and half-white, and both had enormous racks of horns that sprouted from their heads in fantastic shapes. A woman in a thick black robe stood at the door of the tepee alongside her husband, who was dressed in a dirty smock. They were Tsaatan, also known as Dukha, the nomadic herders who used reindeer for every necessity in their lives, from milk to the leather that formed the walls of their tents. My guidebook said there were only 200 of them left in northern Mongolia, and only a handful wandered this close to Khovsgol Lake, away from the Darkhad Depression. Their tepees and shamanistic practices suggested a connection with American Indians, whose ancestors had crossed over from Asia in prehistoric times. We edged closer to the couple standing by their tepee, but our horses kept their distance because of a snarling guard dog. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, August 6, 2006]

Andrea Sachs wrote in the Washington Post:“On a bright April morning, three tribal girls streaked through the Central Asian taiga atop reindeer as white as the snow melting underfoot. The young herders steered their charges toward higher ground, whooping and giggling as if they were chasing a wind spirit. “We milk, eat and live with the reindeer. We feed them from our hands. I will follow the reindeer and live in the mountains until I die,” said Zorigt Chuluun through a translator. Zorigt belongs to one of 20 Tsaatan families remaining in western Mongolia. Dressed in a brown del, or long robe, cinched with a golden sash, Zorigt cuts a compelling figure, especially riding a reindeer across the steppe. [Source: Andrea Sachs, Washington Post, May 13, 2011 <*>]

“The Tsaatan move camps six times a year in search of the best grazing land and climes for their reindeer. In early April, they were between seasons, living on the slope of a taiga accessible only by horse. “The reindeer is our source of life,” said Zorigt. “We want the reindeer to become more and more. The forest could hold 50,000.” <*>

Tsaatan Threatened by Modern World

Reporting from Khovsgol Lake, Luke Distelhorst of Reuters wrote: “ As development creeps in even here, leaders say they know they may be the last generation of Mongolia's nomadic reindeer herders. "Of my four sons, two will learn to herd reindeer," said Gansukh. "But my other two sons must go to school, be educated and can live in the big city. This is a developing world," he said, his thin moustache stained with the residue of his tea. [Source: Luke Distelhorst, Reuters, April 2, 2007 ***]

“Pressure for development is strong as Mongolia's...democracy tries to diversify away from livestock and mining and bolster an economy that nearly collapsed with the fall of its old overlord, the Soviet Union. Some Tsaatan say they are being forced to turn to more developed areas of the country for sources of income in the absence of any assistance projects that allow them to maintain their cultural heritage. ***

“South of Khovsgol Lake in Khatgal, a provincial centre of 5,000, some residents are welcoming technological advancements. At the local hospital, a solar panel is a symbol of development in the remote area. "Otherwise we wouldn't have power," one of the hospital's doctors said. A few years ago the hospital had little equipment and no electricity. ***

“Rather than resent the intrusion of modernity into their lives, some tribe members are clamouring for more technology. "We don't have any computers or anything to train the children for the necessary skills of the new century," said Bolormaa, a teacher at Khatgal's secondary school. "We need better technology here," said Bolormaa. ***

“Outside the school, two children push a rickety metal cart full of freshly baked bread down a dusty road. "Our parents told us to learn how to make a business," said the brother and sister, aged 8 and 12. Yet not everyone in the region is ready to abandon centuries of livestock herding for business and technological advancement.

“For many families, new efforts to bring development to their region are just a throwback to their experience under Soviet-led communism, when the government attempted to move the nomadic Tsaatan into settled areas in the 1950s and 60s. Many who worked for the state at the time simply wandered back into their nomadic lifestyle in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. "Our herds and livelihood are completely dependent on weather," said on Tsaatan elder. "So if the sky turns bad, then we will also have to find new lives."

“The story of the Tsaatan goes beyond generational divides. A shy 15-year-old boy, one of seven sons of a Tsaatan shaman, said he wanted to keep herding reindeer. "I don't want to go to school and live in town, I don't like it," said the boy, blushing. His father, a weathered 50-year-old, said he would support his son's decision. "One of my sons has to continue our family tradition of being a shaman," he said. "Maybe it will be him."

Tsaatan Culture Becomes Extinct

A high-level conference held in 2008 warned that the language and culture of the Tsaatan could vanish from Mongolia within the next decade. Andrea Sachs wrote in the Washington Post: The endangerment of Mongolia’s traditional livelihoods, especially reindeer husbandry, follows an oft-told narrative in developing nations. It’s a story that centers on modernization and urbanization, on opportunities for some but not for all. It exposes a tug-of-war between the suits in luxury SUVs and glassy high rises and the nomadic herders on horseback who move their shelters with the seasons. “It is very serious if our language and culture becomes extinct,” said Zorigt, the 42-year-old father of four girls and a boy. “If the Mongolian government can’t take measures [to prevent this], maybe the world should pay attention.” [Source: Andrea Sachs, Washington Post, May 13, 2011 <*>]

“Due to mass migrations to urban centers, Mongolia’s population of Tsaatan herders has dwindled to about 400. The number of reindeer has also drastically fallen, from 10,000 in the early 1990s to roughly 1,000 today. A main culprit for the decline was a devastating case of hoof and mouth disease in 1993. The families rely on the reindeer for milk, cheese, yogurt, transportation as well as meat and clothing. But they also have a strong kinship with the animals. “The reindeer are part of our family,” said Zorigt. <*>

“Yet that connection might not be enough to hold the tribe together. Zorigt’s 19-year-old daughter wants to be a hairdresser, and his niece wishes to move to Los Angeles. The traditions are also in jeopardy: The school in Tsagaan Nuur recently lost the only teacher who taught the native Tsaatan language. She moved to the capital hoping to earn more money to help her daughter, a budding contortionist. “We send our children to school in Ulaanbaatar,” said Zorigt before our group’s departure. “Hopefully they will save the Tsaatan.”“ <*>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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