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Mongolia: Nomads in Transition

 
 

Mongolia’s vast steppe is home to one of the world’s last surviving nomadic cultures. Situated between China and Russia, the Mongolian steppe remains mostly intact, and its nomadic way of life has been largely unchanged for generations. Some herding customs alive today pre-date the era of Genghis Khan. Slowly, however, the steppe’s landscape is changing, as more and more of its nomadic population move to urban areas in search of education, employment, and modern conveniences. Indeed, modernity attracts not only those Mongolians who have moved to the city, but also those who have chosen to continue with their nomadic lifestyle.

Today the nomads who remain on the steppe combine old traditions with new means. They continue their lifestyle as pastoral herders, but many use motorbikes to herd cattle and horses. To move their homes, trucks have taken the place of ox carts. With the growing use of motorbikes and trucks, gas stations now begin to dot the landscape. Solar panels are becoming an addition to the traditional Mongolian home, the ger. The panels are a way for them to gain access to electricity without being confined to one place. The nomads use solar energy to power television sets, and to maintain the use of mobile phones, which, for parents, are the only way to stay in touch with their children attending boarding schools in the city. Mongolian children, whether from urban or rural backgrounds, conventionally study in the city. During the summer, children with rural family backgrounds return to the steppe to help their families maintain the herds, and some come back to live in the steppe after finishing their education.

With the rise of accessible technology, changes in lifestyle are almost inevitable. But these changes also help longstanding traditions thrive. Rather than abandoning their lives on the steppes, Mongolia’s nomads are adapting to modernization in their own way. This culture in transition reaps the conveniences of modern society, while keeping an ancient and fascinating lifestyle alive.

Hannah Reyes is a photojournalist based in Phnom Penh.

Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A young man from Ulaanbaatar poses with a falcon used by eagle hunters. Nomadic eagle hunters put the birds on display for passing tourists who want to interact with them, as a side business.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A ger on the steppe at night.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
Young nomad boys ride horses without a saddle. In the summer, nomad children leave boarding school and urban life, and come back to their families in the steppe.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A man builds the skeleton of his Mongolian ger, the traditional nomadic shelter. Today, both nomads and a number of the population living in urban areas still use gers are their main housing.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A nomad man rests inside his Mongolian ger. The furnishing inside his ger is comprised of both Mongolian patterned rugs, and furniture from modern shops.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A young girl helps her mother build their ger. In the summer, children who are educated in the city's boarding schools come back to the steppe to help their parents with their herd.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A flat screen television set is seen inside a traditional Mongolian ger. Today, many nomads use solar panels to power modern conveniences such as television sets and cellphones.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A herd of horses is seen on the road in the Mongolian countryside. Horses, a national symbol, are an important part of Mongol culture, as they are used for travel, herding, hunting, and sport.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
Buddhist sacred areas line the steppe, where the spirituality is geared towards respect for nature.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
Solar panels are seen outside traditional Mongolian gers. Today, nomads use solar energy for electricity in their home.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A nomad man in traditional Mongolian dress is seen on a motorbike. Though nomads traditionally use horses to herd, today he uses the motorbike to manage his horses, sheep and cattle.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
Mongolia: Nomads in Transition
A young girl watches as her mother milks their cow. In the summer, nomad children leave boarding school and urban life, and come back to their families in the steppe.
Image Credit: Hannah Reyes
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