Tsaatans are one of the minority ethnic groups of Mongolia. The direct translation of the word means people who live with reindeer. They live in perfect harmony with nature for which they devote an unshakable cult, have shamanic rituals, and unique traditions. Since the dawn of time, they have lived in a location that’s farthest to any ocean in the world and contains breathtaking landscapes. There are so many reasons that intrigue us to meet these nomadic people.
Of Turkish origin, the Tsaatans, also called Doukhas, are a minority ethnic group living in a remote Taiga area in the far north of Mongolia. This community takes its name from their main activity, reindeer herding. “Tsaa” means reindeer and “Tan” translates into people; in other words, they are people who live with reindeer.
For many years, the Qing Dynasty managed the northern taiga area, but during Mongolia's independence in 1911, the Tuva republic included the northern area of the taiga. This event resulted in many Tsaatans, and other ethnic groups tried to flee the zone. The Mongolian government kept sending them away, but it wasn’t until 1956 that Mongolia granted them Mongolian citizenship. Today, there are just over 220 Tsaatan individuals and less than 50 families living in the taiga area!
The Tsaatans use reindeer, and other animals, as their main resources. They use them to feed themselves, make clothes, build teepees, as a method of transportation, and even as a bargaining chip. To survive, they have no choice but to shift to different areas to offer new pastures to their herds. Due to the lichen-rich grass and its moist, the taiga is ideal for feeding their animals, despite its far location from any civilization.
Beyond being a source of income, reindeers are sacred animals for the Tsaatans. They have a vast admiration for the natural resources of the earth, making Mother Nature their spiritual guide. They also have many traditional songs dedicated to the elements of nature such as water and land.
Another characteristic of the Tsaatans is their shamanism traditions. Their social and material traditions have hardly changed, and many totemic rituals are the heart of their social organization. It is said that shamans are guides and messengers whose purpose is to connect men and spirits. If you go to meet the Tsaatans, you will have the opportunity to learn more about their traditions and rituals.
In a world that is constantly developing, the Tsaatans are trying to maintain their lifestyle and traditions. Because they have a precarious living condition, to help preserve their culture and earn money, Tsaatans are open to tourists and welcome many visitors that are looking to experience and live their land, culture, and unique traditions.
So if you are planning to go on a trip to Mongolia, why not plan a short break in the Taiga? You can stay in a traditional tepee, discover the daily life of this ethnic group, feed their reindeers, eat their traditional meals, learn about their household chores, have an introduction to shamanism, discover their legends and myths, and enjoy family evenings around the fire. This is what you can do during a stay with the Tsaatans. And don’t forget the splendid landscapes that you will discover throughout your journey to reach this remote taiga region.
Share these experiences by going with us on our Mongolian Nomads tours, From Yurts to Tepees and Meeting with the Dukhans.