Reindeer Dance of the Evens of Siberia
In Siberia, shamans combine a distinctive imagery of reindeer and of bird-flight. Their costumes sometimes include imitation reindeer antlers, occasionally tipped with wings or feathers, placed on the headdress or attached to the shoulders at the very point where reindeer are tattooed on the Pazyryk mummies. Like the participants in the Eveny (Evenki) midsummer ritual, shamans may ride to the sky on a bird or a reindeer.
The reindeer-herding peoples who make up the South Siberian and Mongolian Reindeer-Herding Complex include the Dukha of northwestern Mongolia, the Tozhu of the Republic of Tyva, the Tofa of Irkutsk Province, the Soyot of the Buryat Republic, and the Evenki, who range throughout south Siberia and into the northern tip of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Inhabiting a fragile transition belt of taiga and alpine tundra between the Siberian boreal forest and the Inner Asian steppes, these peoples represent the southernmost extreme of reindeer pastoralism in the world.
Piers Vitebsky – “The Reindeer People” - In Siberia, shamans combine a distinctive imagery of reindeer and of bird-flight. Their costumes sometimes include imitation reindeer antlers, occasionally tipped with wings or feathers, placed on the headdress or attached to the shoulders at the very point where reindeer are tattooed on the Pazyryk mummies.
Like the participants in the Eveny (and the related Evenki) midsummer ritual, shamans may ride to the sky on a bird or a reindeer. But their relationship with these animals goes far beyond mere riding. One shaman is suckled by a white reindeer during his initiatory vision as he incubates in a bird’s nest on a branch high in the tree that links earth and sky. Another becomes a reindeer himself by wearing its hide, while hunters with miniature bows and arrows surround him and mime the act of killing. The hide is then stretched across the broad, flat drum that the shaman will beat as accompaniment to his trance. Another shaman, seeking to consecrate his reindeer-skin drum, is guided by spirits as he combs through the forest to find the location where the reindeer was born and traces every place it has ever visited over the course of its life, right up to the point where it was killed. As he picks his way through bogs and over fallen branches, he picks up the scattered material traces of its existence — snapped twigs, dried dung — to gather together every possible part of its being, and then moulds them into a small effigy of the reindeer. When he sprinkles the effigy with a magical ‘water of life’, the drum comes to life. Like a reindeer itself but with enhanced power, it is now capable of bearing the shaman aloft with its throbbing beat to nine, twelve, or more levels of the heavens.
The Reindeer People of Mongolia
A film by Hamid Sardar: In Northwestern Mongolia, there exists a sacred alliance between people, ancestor spirits and reindeer. This film is an intimate portrait of a family of Dukha reindeer nomads following their migration through the forests of Mongolia’s Hovsgol province.
They move with a herd of about a hundred reindeer through a sacred taiga or boreal forest inhabited by the spirits of their ancestors, who communicate to the living through songs. The oldest Dukha, is a divine seer, a 96-year old shaman, called Tsuyan. She is the link between the healing songs of the forest ancestors, her people and their reindeer. She is the centerpiece of an extraordinary adventure that unites people and animals in one of the wildest regions of Mongolia – where people still live and hunt in a forest dominated by supernatural beings. To live in harmony with them, people had to learn to respect nature and animals and to pass down their beliefs, from generation to generation, by invoking the song-lines of their deceased ancestors.
The Troubled Taiga: Threats to the Reindeer Husbandry Way of Life
From Cultural Survival: The peoples who make up the South Siberian and Mongolian Reindeer-Herding Complex all are confronting, to varying degrees, similar threats to their cultural survival, including transitions to market-based economies, land privatization, mineral extraction, tourism, global warming, language endangerment and loss, and assimilation into the dominant Russian, Mongolian, and Chinese cultures. These peoples have a combined population of approximately 10,000, which represents only a small fraction of the total population in the regions they inhabit. Of these 10,000, however, fewer than 1,000 are still actively involved in reindeer husbandry. This disparity is due in large part to the drastic decline in the numbers of domesticated reindeer. About 3,500 domesticated reindeer remain in the region, down from 15,000 just a decade ago.