Tsaatan : The Reindeer People

To the extreme north of Mongolia, within the confines of Siberia, the Tsaatan are a people on the margins of the world who perpetuate an ancestral way of life passed down since prehistoric times. These reindeer breeders (Tsaatan means literally the reindeer people) live nomadically in the red taiga forest to the rhythm of the seasons and live under canvas tents evocative of the American Indian tepees. They move around on reindeer-back, drink their milk, eat their meat and sell their wood, which they also sculpt with artistry. There are only today 35 Tsaatan families, roughly 200 people. Their existence is threatened with the extinction of their flocks, victims of in-breeding. Their livestock, which counted about 2000 heads thirty years ago, has been divided by three. Since the closing of the borders after the Second World War, the Tsaatan can no longer freely exchange reindeer and pastures with their brothers of the neighbouring republic of Tuva, with whom they share both a language deriving from Turkish and shamanistic beliefs. Projects involving artificial insemination, the implantation of Siberian or Canadian reindeer, organised by non governmental organisations does however leave room for real hope. The love of the Tsaatan for their reindeer is legendary. They give the young fawns affectionate names like “The Little Loved One”.The elder adorned with yellow scarves are seen as gifts from the gods and considered sacred.