When we think of reindeer, Christmastime is usually the first thing to come to mind. Often referred to as caribou in North America, these animals are commonly found in the coldest of Northern climates all over the world.
Aside from physical characteristics, reindeer separate themselves from other types of deer in that they are semi-domesticated. Many different cultures have historically used the animals as a source of meat, but some have raised them as livestock for their milk and a means of transportation.
Some cultures, however, have an even deeper relationship with reindeer. Living deep in the harsh climates of Mongolia’s wilderness is a tribe of people commonly known as the Dukha. Photographer and Mongolian/Tibetan language scholar Hamid Sardar-Afkhami spent some time with this incredible tribe and documented their lifestyle with these incredible images:
A nomadic tribe that has very minimal contact with the outside world, the Dukha’s way of life is largely entwined with reindeer.
Living in the Altai Mountains of Outer Mongolia, children are introduced to and raised among the animals starting from a very young age.
The animals are cared for as if they are members of the family. Here, a baby is seen about to be washed by a tribe member.
Being so reliant on the reindeer, they regularly move their camps year-round to find optimal grazing locations for the animals. When the herd is thriving, so is the tribe.
The tribe's contemporary name is the Mongolian Taïga Dukha. The word Taïga comes from the local name of the mountain range in the Khövsgöl area of Mongolia.
The region is neighbored by the Russian border and the remote Darkhad Valley.
Much of the area is difficult to access, even by the standards of the locals.
Although reindeer are pivotal to the Dukha, they never use them as a source of meat.
Wild horses, bears, eagles and wolves are also all common to Khövsgöl's landscape.
The Dukha have carefully bred docile reindeer for generations. Their unique practices take into account the area's conservation and biodiversity. This results in the tribe having a very minimal impact on the area’s ecosystem.
The reindeer provide a great means of transportation along the rough terrain for migrating, hunting and occasionally taking trips into town. Nearby villages will often purchase and collect the antlers that the reindeer naturally shed during wintertime.
Beyond the reindeer, Dukha have a tradition of eagle hunting.
The Dukha practice Tengrism, a shamanistic type of religion. Its tenants emphasize totemism, the spiritual connection and kinship with animals, plants and spirit beings.
The practices of Tengrism are easily observed in their everyday lives.
One of the most honorable titles passed down by generations is the eagle hunter who tames and trains eagles to hunt small prey for food.
Wolves are also kept by the tribe. While they are used for hunting and for protecting their camps from other wildlife, they are also seen as companions like a traditional dog.
Credit: Messy Nessy Chic | Hamid Sardar-Afkhami