Reindeer are often associated with Christmas time, flying sleds and fairytales, but the Dukha people from northern Mongolia rely on reindeer to sustain their entire existence.
Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, a professional photographer and scholar, offers a rare glimpse at life for reindeer people from Mongolia in one of his latest photo projects.
The nomadic Dukha people domesticate, breed, and ride reindeer to hunt wild elk and boar. They also rely on the majestically beautiful reindeers for milk, cheese and fur. It’s a happy, peaceful existence but one that is sadly becoming rarer with each passing year.
There was once around 2,000 Reindeer People but current estimates put that number at only 44 families, or 200 to 400 individuals, still living life as one with the reindeer in northern Mongolia. There is also a noticeable decline in the size of reindeer herds.
Today, the group relies on profits from tourists that visit to ride a real reindeer and buy crafts sold by the locals.
Sardar-Afkhami has a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Tibetan Studies from Harvard, making him the ideal individual to study and document the day-to-day life of Dukha people, also known as The Reindeer People from Mongolia.
Along with his breathtaking photographers, Sardar-Afkhami has also created a documentary titled The Reindeer People. The eye-opening film earned a jury prize for Best Film on Mountain Culture at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and for good reason.
A synopsis for the film reads, “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 leader of The Reindeer People is a 96-year-old shaman known as Tsuyan. She is the oldest Dukha and a divine seer; “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-Afkhami’s life goal is to use his camera to share the stories of endangered cultures that still rely on a spiritual dialogue with the natural world. Sardar-Afkhami has been creating award-winning films for over 10 years, and he has been featured in National Geographic, Le Figaro Magazine, Paris Match and Geo.
Photo Credits: hamidsardarphoto.com