The magazine of the photo-essay
December 2016 issue
Tsaatan and Mongolian People Khovsgol Province, Mongolia
by Madoka Ikegami
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I shot this photo series of the Tsaatan and Mongolian people in my three-day stay in the Tsaatan campsite in the East Taiga region of Khovsgol province, the northernmost tip of Mongolia in September 2015. The Tsaatan ethnic minority are one of the last remaining groups of nomadic reindeer herders in Mongolia, and have maintained their traditions for thousands of years.   They seasonally migrate within the forests of the Taiga according to weather and food conditions for their reindeer, which they depend on for milk and transportation. They face challenges to their traditional way of life, with laws, introduced in recent years, aimed at conservation limiting their ability to hunt wild animals for food, and climate change affecting their habitat and possibly exposing reindeer to disease.   Previously self-supporting, they now are partly dependent on government handouts and tourism to enable them to buy meat and other supplies.
During sunrise domesticated reindeer wait at a Tsaatan campsite before being taken to a nearby forest to forage for food.
Ortz, the teepee-like tents, are the Tsaatan people's home. Made from wooden staves and canvas they can be easily packed up and carried to new locations.
Ganbat (43) milks her reindeer at sunrise before her husband takes them to a forest to forage for food. Reindeer milk makes up an important part of the Tsaatan diet and reindeer’s antlers are used to make handcrafts.
Lkhagvasuren (59), a Mongolian guide, chops down a tree for firewood to be used in a stove inside an ortz. The firewood burns so well that it heats up the ortz quickly but it also burns fast, requiring a constant supply of firewood.
“My life is like ortz. I move a lot every year.” Saintsetseg (49), a member of the Tsaatan ethnic minority, describes her life. The Tsaatan people seasonally migrate within the forests of the Taiga region according to weather and food condition for their reindeer.
Lkhagvasuren poses with an ox which he had borrowed from his friend to carry his tourists' bags to the mountainous Tsaatan campsite. When the pictured ox and a horse disappeared from the campsite, he jumped on his other horse and embarked on a search by following their hoof prints in the vast forested area. He said, "They always try to go home. They feel comfortable being with sheep and other animals that they see every day.”
Shortly after sunrise reindeer forage for moss and other vegetation on a snow-covered forest near the Tsaatan community campsite. Their owner either ties them in a pair or ties their legs to limit their ability to run far from the campsite.
Bayandalai (11) races on his father’s reindeer with his friend.
Tsaatan teenagers race on reindeer.
Ganbat (57), an elder of the Tsaatan community in East Taiga, second right, and his wife, Khurlee (58), right, talk with tour guides inside Ganbat’s ortz.
Lkhagvasuren, right, and Buyan-Ulzii, a driver, left, relax in an ortz.
Lkhagvasuren ties his rented ox with rope in snow.
Ganbat, the elder of the Tsaatan community in East Taiga, prepares firewood for the night.
A young guide rests while looking after oxen. Guides mostly rely on horses to carry tourists and their baggage but sometimes use oxen for heavier loads.
Ganbat, far left, leaves the Tsaatan campsite in East Taiga with his two sons and their friend to a car pickup point for a ride the rest of the way to their school in the nearest town in Tsagaan Nuur. The boys stay at the school’s dormitory during the week and return to the Tsaatan camp for weekends.
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