In a remote area of northern Mongolia, on the border of Russian Siberia, live the Tsaatan People. Tsaatan means ‘those who have reindeer’.
Let’s explore these fascinating people.
Home, Home on the Taiga
This culture of about thirty families (500 people) live and have their being in a taiga biome.
Did You Know?
- Taigas are evergreen forests of the cold subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
- Taiga environments are found near the Arctic Circle, between the tundras to the North and the temperate forests the South.
- These areas include Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia.
- There is only summer’s warm, rainy, humid weather or winter’s bitter cold and snow.
Here is home to the Tsaatan, called the Reindeer People, one of the last of their culture in the world.
The Reindeer Come First!
The Tsaatan people wake to a routine of survival. Each community, usually 2-7 households called ‘olal-lal’ (meaning “them”) first tend to the needs of the reindeer members of their family.
Fun Fact: Like the Bison to the Native American Plains Indians, and the Llama to the ancient Incas of Peru, the reindeer provides for all the needs of the Tsaatan people.
The reindeer are safely tied for the night. The morning brings them freedom. They are milked, then set free to roam the taiga for the bright, sweet, green lichen they love to eat. They will return in the evening.
A Day on the Taiga
The Tsaatan, in their tepee-like shelters called yurts, begin the chores of the day, which are much like any other people.
An ‘ever-ready’ wood stove in the yurt provides warmth and a cooking appliance. Dairy products from the reindeer milk include butter, yogurt, and boiled milk for a protein-rich cheese. Other foods for the day may be berries, bread, and fresh fish caught from nearby streams.
Fun Fact: The Tsaatan are unique in the cultures of herding nomads. They normally do not eat reindeer meat.
Other daily chores include making/mending clothes, boots, and rugs from the hides and fur of the reindeer. Reindeer hair makes a good sewing thread. Tools are fashioned from the antlers.
Time to Move On!
The Tsaatan migrate according to the needs of their reindeer, usually about five to ten times a year.
It is easy to break camp by folding the yurts and gathering belongings to pack on the reindeer for traveling.
In summer, the Tsaatan migrate to the tundra valley patches of long-frozen snow packs and ice, called munkh mus. This region provides freshwater. The reindeer lay on the ice and snow. This soothes their skins, which can be infested from the many insects of the taiga.
Best of all, the Tsaatan ride their very gentle reindeer. Children, even one-year old babies ride reindeer like horses!
“Without the Reindeer, We Would Not Exist”
Scientists are seeing that the munkh mus are shrinking or vanishing. Reindeer habitats that are diminishing signal danger to the animals whose lives depend upon that special type of biome.
The rare groups of Reindeer People whose livelihood depends on their reindeer herds are also endangered. But, as climate and circumstances change, so, too will the remarkable peoples and wildlife of the far North adapt, survive, and strive to continue the traditions of their ancestors before them.
What do you think of these special people? Tell us in the comments section.