NOMADS IN THE MODERN WORLD

NOMADS UNDER COMMUNISM

Before the arrival of Communism, most Mongolians were nomadic serfs in a hierarchal feudal society. When the Communists came this hierarchal system was adapted easily into the hierarchal state farm system. What changed was mobility. The nomads were no longer able to roam freely over a large area, they were relegated to provinces drawn up by the Soviets.

Under Communism, nomads were organized into government-controlled cooperatives, animals were nationalized and became property of the state, and gers were sometimes transported on trucks rather than pack animals. Nomads were called breeders and they were regarded as the richest people in Mongolia. They were told by the government how many sheep, goats, yaks, camels and horses to raise, and sometimes told where to graze their animals and how long to stay there. Children attended boarding schools.

The state bought animals at a stable, guaranteed price or they were paid a wage. Sheep were taken to the cities by the state. Incomes were secure. The government made all the decisions.

The individual ownership of animals was forbidden. People were allocated a certain number of animals. If any of the animals died the nomads were punished. If nomads didn't meet their quotas or their animals were underweight they didn't receive full payment.

Traditional communities were broken down and traditional skills were lost. Families were encouraged to specialize. Some produced camel hair. Some produced wool. Other raised horses. Instead of being jacks of all trades and taking care of themselves traditionally nomadic people began to rely on the state for things like helping sick animals or fixing the felt on their gers.

The Moost collective in the Altai Mountains covered 1,500 square miles and was home to 4,000 nomads, Cynthia Beall and Melvyn Goldstein wrote in National Geographic: "The communist collective, or negdel, was little more than the classic Mongol pastoralism overlaid with centralize planning. each herdsman still made the everyday decision—where to graze, when to move camp...while he government handled marketing and set product targets." One nomad told National Geographic, "The collective was good to us. We had enough food, free health care for our children, free education." They enjoyed luxuries such as Russian sugar cubes, East German strawberry and dumplings made with wheat flour.

Modernized Nomads in the 1980s

In contrast to the period before the collectivization of herding, which was carried out in the late 1950s, the work of individual herders in the late 1980s was more closely supervised by administrative authorities. Herders were responsible for a herd of collective animals that usually included some of their privately held stock as well, thus providing an incentive for careful management. Herders with a record of losing too many animals or failing to meet monthly or annual quotas were deprived of custody of the collective animals and were reassigned to other tasks. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The moves of the herds and the herding camps were plotted on a map in the cooperative's headquarters, and officials of the cooperative--riding on motorcycles or jeeps, and on a more limited basis, airplanes--scouted for good pasture and then told the herding camps where to move next. Moves from one campsite to the next usually were made, using the cooperative's jeeps or trucks, and sometimes crossing the roadless steppes at night with uncanny accuracy. The cooperatives attempted, with mixed success, to grow hay and other fodder, which was stored at the winter campsites, some of which had barns and sheds to shelter animals. Herding camps were assigned to winter campsites, which often were provided with stocks of coal and sometimes with portable electric generators to provide power for lights and even television sets. Herders on the range used transistor radios to listen to weather reports and storm warnings. *

The somon center became a miniature urban outpost, providing a meeting hall for regular assemblies of the cooperative, political rallies, plays, concerts, and films; for the administrative offices of the somon and the cooperative; for a clinic, or small hospital, and a veterinary clinic; for the motor pool and vehicle repair station; for shops, run by the state trading organization; for storage and processing facilities for food and wool; for a sports ground, and for a school with boarding facilities. The center kept in touch with the herding camps through radio telephones and motorcycle couriers, who, bearing messages, mail, and newspapers, usually visited the camps every three to five days. *

Like urban residents or state-sector employees, herders from cooperatives were eligible for annual vacations, often spent at the holiday camps or spas operated by aymag governments. The government and the party took care to recognize the value of the herders' work and devoted resources to improving their lives without demanding that they settle down in permanent dwellings. In this regard, Mongolian pastoralists were more fortunate than their counterparts in many countries in Asia and Africa. There, urbanbased governments attempted to force nomads to settle down and to abandon their migrations for what was thought of as a more modern and civilized way of life, but that usually proved detrimental to the livelihood of the nomads and to the national economy. The pastoral background of Mongolia's leaders and their understanding of the realities of the nomadic way of life produced policies designed to modernize, but not to destroy, an ancient and productive ecological system. *

Planned Modernization of the Herding Economy

Modernization in Mongolia has meant establishing new, special-purpose organizations, expanding the scope and responsibilities of the government, generating new occupational roles and hence increasing the division of labor, as well as formulating new mechanisms to integrate and to coordinate a society that is much more differentiated than its predecessor. Mongolia's modernization has, furthermore, taken place at the direction of a political party and a foreign patron the ideology of which emphasizes rational planning and disparages the use of market mechanisms to integrate the society. In the 1980s, Mongolia's leaders and mass media continued to stress the necessity of planning, of meeting goals and targets, and of carrying on large-scale projects. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The former value of accommodation to, and harmony with, the natural world has been replaced by a fervent assertion of the dominion of man over nature and a major effort to control and to conquer the natural environment. Science in the form of veterinary medicine, artificial insemination, and selective breeding has been applied to the herds in the effort to reach the increases in sheep, yaks, horses, and goats that were set in the five-year plans. Mongolia's press has publicized the number of hectares of steppe planted with wheat and has praised the labor heroes who level mountains of copper ore or control huge excavators at open-pit coal mines. The application of the most up-to-date science and technology has been expected to result in "the comprehensive development of the productive forces of socialist society," which in turn would produce rapid economic growth and increases in people's prosperity. The value of control, over both the natural environment and the human population, was associated closely with the ideology of planning, and carrying out the dictates of the plan has been made a primary political virtue for Mongolian citizens. *

Social change in modern Mongolia has consisted of the enrollment of previously self-sufficient herders into bureaucratically structured and economically specialized productive units, such as herding collectives or state factories and mines. Most Mongolians have become wage-earners, subject to labor discipline and to the supervision of a new class of managers and administrators, most of whom belong to the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. In return for submission to labor discipline and surveillance, workers have received greater security and a range of welfare benefits from their enterprise or herding collectives. Benefits include free medical care and education, child allowances, sick leave and annual holidays, and old-age pensions. The government has made considerable efforts to reduce the gap between the benefits and the opportunities available to industrial workers and urban administrators and those provided to the pastoralists. *

A modernized state farm and its machine operators were described in a Mongolian magazine in the 1980s. The drivers of tractors and combines were graduates of a three-year vocational secondary school, and each had a daily quota of plowing or harvesting. Those who fulfilled their day's quota received a free lunch, "prepared by professional cooks," and overfulfillment of the daily quota brought additional remuneration. Like most Mongolian workers, they engaged in "socialist emulation" contests, a Soviet practice under which teams of workers competed to do a task quickly or to surpass a quota. Each worker was rated as a first-class machine operator or a second-class machine operator, and the skill rating, in combination with an increment for length of service, determined the wage level. The state farm's chief agronomist, a graduate of an agricultural college, toured the area on his motorcycle to check the quality of each day's plowing. The state farm's administrative center was described as an urban-style community with two-story buildings and such amenities as a secondary school, medical facilities staffed with physicians, day-care centers for children of working parents, shops, and a "palace of culture." *

Modernization has meant the creation of a substantial body of planners, supervisors, accountants, and clerks. The state has clearly attempted to control and to monitor the performance of all workers, including herders, who had quotas for weekly and monthly production of milk, butter, cheese, and wool. *

Unifying Structures in Soviet-Era Mongolia

As the economy has developed, the population has increased, the society has grown more differentiated, the people have come to have less in common, and the need to coordinate and to integrate their activities has become more pressing. The society formerly was held together and was coordinated by a set of unifying structures, of which the most significant were the ruling party, the educational system, and a set of party-directed organizations intended to enroll nearly every Mongolian in their activities. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, like other ruling communist parties, directed the activities of all enterprises and large-scale organizations, from herding collectives to the national government. Collective farms and factories usually were run by the first secretary of the local party branch, and the party made an effort to recruit outstanding workers and people with leadership and managerial potential. Party members belonged to two organizations, their work unit and the party, and were the intermediaries who linked enterprises and local communities with the national political system. Party members constituted most of the extensive ranks of administrators who ran the country on a day-to-day basis. They were political generalists, generic managers; those at the higher levels usually had been trained in special party schools in the Soviet Union or in Ulaanbaatar.

In marked contrast with the past, almost all young Mongolians were enrolled in schools in the 1980s (see Education). Eight years of schooling was claimed to be universal, and most cities and centers of collectives offered ten-year schools, usually with boarding facilities for the children of herders. Literacy among young people was reportedly nearly universal, and the schools provided explicit training in nationalism and party ideology. Like schools in most countries, Mongolian schools also provided the training in punctuality, respect for abstract rules and standards, and participation in collective tasks needed to prepare young people for employment in formal, bureaucratic organizations, including the military services.

A set of organizations--trade unions, children's Young Pioneers, the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League (modeled on the Soviet Komsomol, for people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight), the Mongolian Women's Committee, and various sports and hobby groups--was intended to enroll every member of the population and to ensure that citizens who were not members of the elite party nonetheless were exposed to its ideology, example, and leadership. Mass organizations were controlled by the party (see Mass Organizations Under Political, Government). Although the extent to which mass organization actively enrolled and mobilized the citizenry was unclear, they claimed huge memberships--94.7 percent of all laborers and office and professional workers in state-owned enterprises belonged to trade unions in 1984; they were obviously intended to unify the populace and to promote identification with national goals (see Trade Unions under Labor, Economics). The responsibilities of the Mongolian Women's Committee included "the enlistment of women in the conscious performance of their civic and labor duty," which was accomplished through such means as annual rallies for female stockbreeders. By cutting across local and regional boundaries, the mass organizations promoted identification with the nation rather than the locality and with vocational or avocational rather than regional or ethnic interests.

Nomads in the Post Soviet Era

The collectives were privatized in 1996. Many people were given livestock and the rights to use some grazing land. Herders could buy and sell their animals. Some people took up herding who had never herded before.

Some collectives became shareholding companies. Herders used government vouchers to buy animals that belonged to cooperatives and state farms. Many families took ownership of more than a hundred animals. Some nomads set up systems called horshoo, in which individual families took care of their own animals but joined together to transport them to market. By this time much of the herding was done on motorcycle rather than on horseback.

In the early 1990s many herders didn’t want to sell their meat products because the prices were too low. This resulted in food shortages in the cities. One nomad told National Geographic. "Unless the price is right, we don't want to sell animals. So meat and milk in the cities are getting scarcer and more expensive."

Some herders did very well financially. In the early 1990s a family with 600 animals was considered rich. By the mid 1990s, many families had 400 animals and families with 1,300 animals were not uncommon. The cashmere trade was particularly lucrative.

The modern world initially came to nomads through satellite technology: On herders in northern Mongolia in the early 2000s, Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: “The big new thing in the Darhad valley is solar-powered satellite TV. Every year a few more of the six-foot (1.8 meter) dishes dot the steppe, and at night the gers next to them grow quiet in the glow of small black-and-white sets. The dishes only pull in one channel—Mongolian Television, which serves up an odd stew of badly dubbed Hollywood movies, judo competitions, government talking heads, and shampoo commercials—but one day soon people in the valley will surely get MTV and all the other channels available in Ulaanbaatar, and the number of dishes will multiply accordingly.” [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, October 2003]

Michael Kohn and William Mellor wrote in the Washington Post: “Out in the Gobi Desert....Aimtan Ulam-Badrakh, 54, stands stoically beside his isolated yurt watching his 300 sheep and 10 camels graze on tufts of brown grass. At first glance, it’s a way of life unchanged since the days of Genghis Khan. Step inside the yurt, however, and a different story unfolds. The stocky herdsman can afford a leather couch, a television and a computer. An iPhone 4 lies on a bed — one of three mobile devices his family shares. His wife works part time at the airport built for the miners. His daughter teaches English at a local school, having learned the language while on a scholarship in Malaysia. [Source: Michael Kohn and William Mellor, Washington Post, May 4, 2013]

Nomads Face Problems Transitioning to the Market Economy

The introduction of the market economy in the 1990s took away the herder’s safety net and access to free state services. The distribution system collapsed. Nomads far form the cities had difficulties selling their animals. The number of animals increased from around 18 million in 1989 to 30 million in 2005. This has meant overcapacity and lower prices.

In a market economy, herders no longer had a guaranteed market and wages. They had difficulty moving their animals to markets. They couldn't use state farm trucks like they had used in the past. Those that had only goats and sheep lacked big animals to carry their gers. Many could not afford hay to feed their animals in the winter.

Under communism, yak herders used to drive their animals 250 miles north to trade for fuel, manufactured goods, foodstuffs and machinery. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians didn't have as many goods to offer and they were more particular about what they bought. One nomad told National Geographic in 1993, "To be honest, I don't understand how a market economy will work. I've never sold my livestock privately and I don't know where I would do this. Who would buy my cashmere? I can't go to America to sell it." One district manager told National Geographic, "It will take time to educate the herders about managing and marketing. But t must happened. A free market economy is our only hope for security and prosperity."

Many nomads ended up making deals with Chinese enterprises, trading wool, skins and meat for Chinese canvas, tea, matches, flour and a wheat-grinding mill. Others relied on loans, foreign aid and government handouts to keep going. Theft increased. In the 1990s was particularly tough for some nomads. Nomads have been forced to "tighten their sashes." One elderly nomad told National Geographic in 1993, "When I was a girl, before the state farms, we almost never had wheat flour. We ate local barely back then. And that's what we'll do now.

United Nations Program to Help Herders

Ajay Chhibber wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “In Mongolia, an initiative sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is offering hope and a future to thousands of herders who are trying to reboot their lives and the country's economy after the worst winter in memory killed more than 8.5 million goats, sheep, horses, camels, yaks and cows, leaving herders without income. [Source: Ajay Chhibber, Daily Yomiuri, June 15, 2010. Chhibber is U.N. assistant secretary general, UNDP assistant administrator and director for UNDP's regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific. He holds a PhD from Stanford University and an MA from the Delhi School of Economics. He was born in India. <^>]

“Under a cash-for-work project, herders can earn a decent wage for removing and burying carcasses. It provides much needed income at a time when debts are due and food and other supplies are running low. Money in the hands of the herders will also address their immediate needs during this difficult period--needs for food, medicine, children's clothing and heating. <^>

“On a longer-term trajectory, the focus will be on improving herding practices, focusing on fewer, better-quality animals. Families are being offered land to start vegetable plots and communities are exploring small-scale businesses such as dairies or wool processing. These small goals have a potentially transformative impact on Mongolia's nomadic culture and its economy.” <^>

Urbanites Take up the Nomadic Life

Food shortages and unemployment in the cities encouraged many city people and industrial workers who lost their jobs in the post-Soviet era to move to the countryside and start raising animals. One woman told Newsweek, “moving back to the nomadic life was the best decision she ever made...herding is something really special. They would never give it up for the sedentary life.”

The number of herders tripled between 1990 and 2000 from around 150,000 to 450,000. Many of these new herders brought trouble on themselves and on other herders. They were unable to deal with difficulties of the herding life. They put stress on scarce water supplies and grazing land by not moving their herds enough and raising cashmere goats which eat everything in sight, right down to the roots, damaging the ecology of the steppe more than other animals. One environmental activist told the Washington Post, We Mongolians think we have a genetic ability to raise animals. Many of the rookie herders didn't realize how hard it would be.”

Some urbanites enjoy the nomadic life on weekends and during the summer vacation. One aid worker told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s still very much romanticized. Much as we romanticize cowboys, they romanticize nomadic herders.”

Declining Nomadism

Many Mongolians have moved from their gers into cement and brick houses and replaced their horses with bicycles and motorcycles. Children of nomads have ambitions to be a policemen and policewomen because of what they have seen on television. Other want to be doctors or sports stars.

One government official told Reuters, “There will always be herders. At the moment most children finish school and will return to herding...Maybe in the future, there will be fewer herders, but they will tend greater flocks, live in bigger houses and use more sophisticated methods of herding.”

The Mongolian president told U.S. News and World Report, “The romantic idea of a herder living in a remote area, in a tent with cattle all around, is a very appealing image. But no American would want to live there.”

Daniel Griffiths of BBC News wrote: Once half of Mongolia's population lived as nomadic herders “but now things are changing rapidly. Sharhuu has spent his entire life on the grasslands. Now in his sixties, his face weathered from years spent on the steppe, he is thinking the unthinkable - giving up the old ways forever. "My family can help me for now," he says, but, "I know that can't live this way for much longer." And he is not alone. A series of long tough winters have hit the nomads hard, destroying livestock and leaving many here with nothing. There is little good grazing land for the animals that are left. And since the end of communism in the early 1990s, and Mongolia's move to a market economy, there has not been much help from the government. Like many nomads, Sharhuu has little option but to move to the cities.” [Source: Daniel Griffiths, BBC News, January 11, 2007]

Environmental Issues Facing Nomads and Herders in Mongolia

Rachel Nuwer wrote in the New Yorker, “For millennia, nomadic herdsman have raised goats, sheep, and cattle on the grassy steppes of Mongolia, packing up their circular tents, known as ger, several times a year to migrate with the seasons. This is still the way of life for approximately a third of Mongolians. But, over the past four decades, the combined effects of climate change, overgrazing, and other human activity have caused the desertification of vast swaths of the country’s vital grasslands. In the past fifteen years, two hundred thousand herders have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle; many have moved into Ulaanbaatar, the country’s polluted capital, where they pitch their tents on the city’s outskirts and find work as construction workers, cab drivers, or custodians. [Source: Rachel Nuwer, The New Yorker, May 5, 2015]

Andrew Jacobs, wrote in the New York Times, “Environmentalists and government officials agree that the two decades of unbridled privatization and a boom in cashmere exports upended the traditional mix of livestock, which had long favored sheep over goats. In the past, sheep made up 80 percent of small-animal herds and goats the rest. But as the price of cashmere soared over the last decade, that ratio reversed, with devastating results for the ecology of the steppe. Voracious eaters, goats often destroy the grass by nibbling at the roots. Their sharp hooves also damage fragile pasture by breaking up the protective tangle of grass and lichens, allowing the wind to sweep away topsoil and encouraging desertification. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2010 <+>]

“The other wildcard is climate change, which many herders blame for the increasingly inhospitable weather. Winters are longer and colder, the winds blow stronger and the summers, they say, are drier. “I don’t know what happened to the mild spring rains that the grass needs to drink,” said Degkhuu, 62, a lifelong herder who lost his entire flock. “Now, when the rains come they are heavy and create flash floods.” A recent World Bank study found that hundreds of rivers and lakes had disappeared in Mongolia, and the diversity of plant species had plummeted by a third since 1997, although researchers partly blamed the proliferation of goats. <+>

Arshad Sayed of the World Bank wrote: Today, Mongolian herders, who wear boots with upturned toes so as not to damage the land, face the extreme forces of the very nature they have traditionally worshipped. How much of this is Mother Nature and how much is a result of the continuing environmental degradation caused by man? Mongolian elders” have blamed some environmental problems not on nature but of “our carelessness and neglect of nature...looking to the future, other questions come to mind: Can fragile ecosystems like those in Mongolia continue to bear the burden of an ever increasing livestock herd that continues to deplete pastures and threaten long run sustainability? What is the balance between allowing a traditional culture to flourish yet ensuring that modern requirements –such as good quality, access to markets, and access to health and services– are provided in good measure to all, including the far flung herder? [Source: Arshad Sayed, World Bank, January 31, 2010 <>]

See Overgrazing, Desertification and Mining Under Environmental Issues and Resources

Impact of Mining and Government Policy on Gobi Nomads

Brett Forrest wrote in the New York Times, “The Gobi desert is losing its nomads — just over 1 percent of the total population — to the mining industry: Mongolia had the world’s fastest growing economy in 2011, thanks to mining activity and the foreign direct investment it attracted. Mongolia’s two largest untapped mines — Oyu Tolgoi (copper and gold) and Tavan Tolgoi (coal) — are also two of the most promising mines in the world. [Source: Brett Forrest, New York Times, January 14, 2013 ^^^]

“According to a impact study funded by the World Bank, Gobi nomads would largely prefer to maintain their traditional ways. The government has tried to move some nomads to other parts of the country, away from the advance of the mining life. But, the study shows, many of the relocated nomads complain that their herds have thinned because the new grounds offer inadequate animal housing and reduced access to pasture and water. ^^^

“Erdenebolor Baast, one of the report’s authors, told me a few weeks ago in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia: “Pastoralism is not only an economic activity. It incorporates the whole culture of Mongols. So do we want to see a Gobi that is populated by expats and domestic migrants smelling of gasoline and oil, looking like a huge industrial complex, where some people make billions of dollars? Will it still be Mongolia?” I asked if the country might indeed lose a way of life that has existed since the time of the great khans. “It’s more than real,” he said. “It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” ^^^

“The Mongolian government is rightly trying to translate the presence of international mining companies into economic development — higher salaries, investment in infrastructure, improvements in health and education. But it is stuck haggling with them over royalty payments and ownership stakes. And its subsidy program is inadequate. According to Baast, it provides about $3.60 per kilogram of cashmere and $1.40 per kilo of wool. A herder who owns a combined 200 animals, which is average for a family, might get something like $500 per year in assistance. Even the new subsidies expected to take effect later this year — $11 for a hide of camel, cow or horse; $2 per skin of sheep or goat — can’t compete with salaries from the mining companies, some of which pay a truck driver up to $1,000 per month. ^^^

“A better alternative is a new plan under discussion in academic and legislative circles in Ulaanbaatar. It calls for privatizing public lands so that they could be held and shared by a collective of nomads. To encourage this process, the government would increase subsidies to those nomads who agreed to collectivize.This proposal isn’t a case for building a living museum. It’s a case for preserving the unique lifestyle of Mongolia’s nomads by offering them a diversity of financial and social choices.” ^^^

Impact of Coal Mining Angers Gobi Nomads

Bill Donahue wrote in the Washington Post, “Tserenbazar, 60, is a herder whose family has for 200 years lived on the patch of Gobi striped by a road that Energy Resources built to connect its plant to China, 150 miles away. He says that the road isn’t working. “The coal trucks are supposed to drive on it,” he says, “but Energy Resources charges the other mining companies a toll. So their drivers travel beside the road, right over the soil. There is dust. The animals cannot breathe. The grass is dirty. If the animals eat it, they get sick — cut open their innards, and they are black. And I am sick, too...Nothing, nothing can save the real Mongolia. I feel like I want to die.”[Source: Bill Donahue, Washington Post, September 20, 2013 |::|]

“Tserenbazar is sitting cross-legged on the floor of a friend’s ger. He has a long gray and white beard, and his skin is weathered and red, and so chapped it’s almost a hide. “My lungs,” he says. “The doctor told me I should not smoke.” Tserenbazar grins now, devilishly, for he is savoring a long loose cigarette rolled in old newsprint. “I should just die,” he says. “I should die now.” He is still smiling even as he says this, and five of his neighbors sit by him in the tent, laughing. Tserenbazar is their mordant old salt comedian. He taps the ash off the tip of his cigarette, slowly, milking dramatic tension out of the pause. “I am already dead now,” he cracks. |::|

“Global climate change has dried up the desert. The coal trucks have come rumbling along over the loose soil, and now there are more cars, too, driven by newly moneyed Mongolian coal miners. The South Gobi is suddenly a world of swirling dust. In January 2012, Tserenbazar, along with 30 other herders, tried to put the brakes on the change. For eight hours, they stood, arms locked, carrying sticks, in a chill 30 degrees below zero Celsius by the side of the road, blocking about 300 coal trucks from traveling over the dirt. The herders wanted local officials to force all truck drivers to stay on the asphalt — and by day’s end the politicians promised that everything would soon be fixed. |::|

“What happened?” I ask. Tserenbazar shrugs, with comic exaggeration. “Nothing.” He says: “And now I am grazing in a new place 15 kilometers from the road. A very small herd, and the animals are not used to the grasses there. I have to watch them all the time” — he jabs at his eye — “or they wander too far. I cannot do it. I am old. I am done.” Even as he says this, Tserenbazar is still smirking.” |::|

Impact of Tourism and Modernism on Northern Mongolia Nomads

Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: “A Harrison Ford movie is playing on the TV in his two-room house in Renchinlhumbe as we talk over boiled mutton and Korean beer. "In town you have warm houses, electricity, television," Mishig says. "When people come into town, they see this life is easier—they're not stupid. You know what I hear young people say all the time? 'I'm becoming an animal slave. I have just one life to live, but I spend it following animals.'” [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, October 2003 /=/]

At a family gathering before the winter migration begins, Lhagwaanaa “raises her hands and sings a song of more recent vintage. "My brother is calling me from far above—he looks like he's in the sky—I want to be a construction worker just like him, in buildings way up high." Then she stops singing and begins what appears to be a familiar routine. "I want to go to the city," she announces. "I'm going to tell my father to put me on the truck to the city." Doesn't she want to be a herder? I ask. "Why would I want to be a herder? I'm not going to be a herder! I'm going to be in the city, where I'll have clothes to wear!" With that she says a dramatic goodbye, walks out into the night air, and yells to the sky. "Someday when I'm old and feeble I'll have to ride in a box like my mother," says 70-year-old Darisuren, taking the first few steps of the migration. For now, she'll move the sheep and goats by foot, thankful for one more healthy year. /=/

“I ask her what she thinks of the prime minister's idea of having nomads relocate to cities. "I don't like to think of people not herding animals, but right now it's hard to make a living without jobs." People in the capital, she says, can make as much in a month as she makes in a year.” /=/

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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