tsaatan people


WHAT IS THEIR PHILOSOPHY OF LIfE

"THE DIFFICULTIES & LACK OF COMFORT MAKE YOU ENJOY LIFE MORE"

The inhospitable border area of Eastern Sayan Mountain btw. Russia and Mongolia, where the Subarctic begins is called home by the nomadic tribe Tsaatan. They have learned how to live in peace together with reindeer as a form of symbiosis.  Today there must be less than 50 families left, who still follow the simple life philosophy inherited from their ancestors.

WHERE TSAATAN PEOPLE LIVE


finding harmony - A STORY OF reindeer & humans


SAYAN MOUNTAIN AND THE TSAATAN CAMP IN THE TAIGA, MONGOLIA

Siberia stretches for 13.000.000 sq. km from the Ural mountains that separate Europe from Asia to the Pacific ocean, as well as from the far northern Arctic all the way to the Northern part of Mongolia and Hoevsgoel Lake. Vast, cold, wild, beautiful and in the same time frightening. Deep inside of the taiga lives a group of nomadic people known as Tsaatan.

REINDEER HERD 

The soil of the taiga is humid and fertile. The moss can be found in many places and attracts plenty of reindeer.

TSAATAN CAMP  IN SIBERIA, MONGOLIA

At the beginning of the winter the soil was stiff from the early morning cold. I used this to my advantage to travel faster on the back of my horse. But in the afternoon the sun was shining and the temperature rose to about 3~4C turning the icy soil into a kind of mess consisting of soft mud and pine tree roots. The hoofs of my horse start to sink deeper and deeper and his movements were hindered. To avoid any serious leg injury, I continue on foot. Few hours later noticed a herd of reindeer. Right next to it, the Eastern camp of the Tsaatan people was located along a small river welling from the nearby mountain. There was something strange, because in the camp I didn’t see any humans.

Suddenly from everywhere Tsaatan start to appear bringing more of their reindeers.

Some of the reindeers were completely white and huge. I felt like in a fairy tale.

NARA AND HER REINDEERS

Tsaatan people have learned to live in harmony with the reindeer. Humans took care of finding fresh moss and protecting the animals from predators. In return Tsaatan received milk, transportation and occasionally fur and antlers for the making of warm cloths and a variety of basic tools. Only if an animal was sick or seriously injured, it will was killed. The clothes of pelts ware very precious. They helped Tzaatan survive the -40C winter. Living conditions were harsh and with scarce resources. 
However, there was no warm welcome for my attendance. I knew i had to talk to the tribe's chief in order to obtain permission to stay.

TSETSE SHAMAN LADY

When Tsetse was in her '30s she experienced her first vision and was nominated as the shaman of the tribe. As such she was the one to decide all important matters....including who can stay or should leave.

Every early morning Tsaatan gather all their reindeer to milk them and then bring them to more rich of moss places in the surrounding forest.

In the late afternoon just before dusk Tsetse invited me to her tepee (tent). 

In the middle of the tepee there was steel stove where reindeer milk mixed with some local herbs simmered. I was about to take part in ancient shaman ritual. Tsetse changed her outfit and prepared to bridge this world with the one of the dead. She was talking some incantations to a mirror alike bronze plate. Then she was playing on Khel Khuur (a kind of Jew's harp) instrument...till she could connect to the spirits of the forest. And she started speaking. Initially was difficult to understand her....but gradually the words start to emerge into meaningful text. It was my fortunetelling...

Every early morning I broke a hole in the frozen river with my axe to get water and make tea. 

MANHA & HER UNCLE 

Manha and her uncle prepared the reindeer for a long journey. Their camp needed to be moved to a new location, where reindeer and Tsaatan people can survive the Subarctic winter taking care good of each other.