Hamid Sardar-Afkhami’s photographs capture the enthralling, yet simple life of Mongolian reindeer herders

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Despite their perilous and difficult life as nomads, the Dukha people of Mongolia are known for their unabated courage, unwavering patience and near-stoical endurance. An ancient tribe of Turkish descent, they are presently localized to the mountainous region of Khövsgöl, in the northern part of the country. Hamid Sardar-Afkhami is a world-renowned film-maker, whose works in exploration photography actually record the intrinsic relationship that many endangered and ancient cultures share with the natural world. His collection of photographs on the Dukha way of life, for instance, provides a fascinating narrative of their long-forgotten culture and customs.

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The Dukha are a rapidly-dwindling community of nomadic herders. Their main source of subsistence is rearing reindeer; an animal that not only provides food (in the form of milk and cheese), but also offers transportation for the purpose of hunting. Today, there are only 44 families left, totalling between 200 and 400 people. One of the major reasons for this is the fast-declining population of reindeer in Mongolia. Due to lack of proper government initiative, the estimated number of reindeer has decreased from 2000, as recorded in the 1970s, to a mere 600.

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A Ph.D. from Harvard in Sanskrit and Tibetan Studies, Sardar has been exploring this part of the world for almost a decade now. His yearly expeditions to Mongolia have finally culminated into a film titled The Reindeer People. It documents the constant struggle of the Dukha amidst the harsh, unforgiving and resource-deficient natural world. He has immortalized various aspects of their endangered culture, in the form of a collection of breathtakingly beautiful photographs. Among the pictures are some which flawlessly capture the close and intrinsic bond the “Tsaatan” people share with animals. Sardar says:

In Northern Mongolia, there exists a sacred alliance between people, ancestor spirits and reindeer. This film is an intimate portrait of a family of Dukha reindeer nomads following their migration through the forests of Mongolia’s Hovsgol province. They move with a herd of about a hundred reindeer through a sacred forest inhabited by the spirits of their ancestors, who communicate to the living through songs. The oldest Dukha, is a divine seer, a 96-year old shaman, called Tsuyan. She is the link between the healing songs of the forest ancestors, her people and their reindeer. She is the centerpiece of an extraordinary adventure that unites people and animals in one of the wildest regions of Mongolia – where people still live and hunt in a forest dominated by supernatural beings. To live in harmony with them, people had to learn to respect nature and animals and to pass down their beliefs, from generation to generation, by invoking the song-lines of their deceased ancestors.

Sardar’s film has won the Best Film on Mountain Culture award at Banff Mountain Film Festival. To know more about him, head over to his official website.

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Via: My Modern Met

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