Mongolian Lifestyle

Unique Reindeer People: The Last Civilization of the World

Reindeer herder Tsaatan family in Khuvsgul

The Unique Reindeer People: Dukhas

The Dukha, Dukhans or Duhalar are a small Tuvan (Tozhu Tuvans) Uighur community of reindeer herders living in northern Khuvsgul Aimag of Mongolia. The name Tsaatan, which means ‘those who have reindeer’ in the Mongolian language, were originally Tuvinian reindeer herders. Originally from across the border in what is now Tuva Republic of Russia, the Dukha are one of the last groups of nomadic reindeer herders in the world. As the reindeer populations shrink, only about 40 families continue the tradition in the year 1998.  Tsaatan people living in the taiga herding reindeer in all four seasons of the year counted 814 reindeer at the end of 2006, while by the end of 2018, 85 households had 2,396 reindeer.

Tsaatans are an ethnic minority with their own language, customs, religion, and way of life. They speak Uighur. In the taiga, they speak Uighur to each other. Main religion of them is Shamanism which was the state religion of ancient Mongolian Empire. The main way of livelihood is to herd reindeer and benefit from it. Also, hunting is one of the keys to live Every Tsaatan family has a Spirit in the back of the hut, according to the ritual of placing objects in the ger. However, the Tsaatans of the same tribe have their own sacred places of worship, and it is customary to visit them 1-2 times a year.

Tsaatan people have lived in the HUT (Yurt) since ancient times. When the huts were erected, trees were stitched together and covered with skin. 28-32 trees will be used for large huts, 22-25 trees for medium huts and 17-22 trees for small huts. Spruce trees are usually dry Siberian larch and are 3.5-4 meters long.  In the past, huts were mostly made of game and reindeer skins and bark, but more recently, materials such as cloth and tarpaulins have been used.

Their diet consists of reindeer meat and dairy products made from reindeer milk, and their dried curd is soft and contains high percentage of fat. During lactation, 96-100 liters of milk are produced. Because reindeer milk is thick, it boils without stirring. Reindeer milk is given to infants because it is so good that it can replace breast milk. Tsaatan households will slaughter 2-3 reindeer for winter food in October and November and prepare meat for consumption. The meat is delicious, soft and produces thick brown soup when it boils.