Deep in the Mongolian snowforest, the Dukha (also known as Tsaatan) people have herded reindeer for thousands of years. They are one of the few remaining nomadic tribes still living remotely from civilisation, but their lives have changed rapidly over the last 15 years.
Dutch photographer Jeroen Toirkens — who has documented nomadic peoples for a decade — traveled to Mongolia a few years ago to find out how life for the Dukha has changed and how it has remained the same.
When he got there, Toirkens found a traditional way of life at constant odds with a country attempting to modernize. With the government contracting foreign mining companies to develop its lucrative natural resources, the Dukha have often been left by the wayside.
Mongolia is more than twice the size of Texas but only has a population of 2.76 million people compared to Texas’s 26 million. 30% of Mongolia’s population is nomadic or semi-nomadic.
The Dukha live under extreme circumstances in the taiga, or snowforests, of Northern Mongolia. During the winter months, the temperatures can fall to 50 degrees below zero.
The Dukha families relocate their camps five to eight times a year. This young Dukha girl is swaddled and tied on to a reindeer. The fully domesticated reindeer are ridden and used for transporting loads.
Often, Dhuka families travel to cities to sell goods such as reindeer antlers and penises (which fetch high prices from Chinese traders) in the marketplace and purchase things they can’t find in the taiga, like technology.
The Dhuka have begun to utilise some aspects of modern life, including solar panels for power, radios, and mobile phones.
When Toirkens visited, families gathered every day in one of the community’s yurts (a traditional Dukha tent) to watch the national soap opera on TV.
Many of the Dhuka’s children and young people have begun to move away from the traditional way of life in search of better conditions in the cities.
Dhuka and other nomad groups settle in “Ger” districts on the outskirts of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where they erect their traditional yurts.
The city has ballooned in size because of the settling nomads. Half of the nomadic population has moved to the cities in recent years, but Ulaanbaatar does not have the jobs to put its growing population to work.
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