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The Dukha: Reindeer Herder/Hunters of Mongolia


The Dukha are a small group of nomadic reindeer herders and hunters who live in northern Mongolia in the north-western section of Hovsgol Province, an area characterized by its forests, rivers, lakes and abundant wildlife, as well as by its remoteness. The highland taigas have some of the lowest temperatures in Mongolia, dropping to -40 C degrees in winter. Today there are only around 200 Dukha people who maintain a nomadic lifestyle in the taiga, living in tent shaped dwellings called alaci. They are the smallest ethnic minority in Mongolia, with a population of 500 people in total. The Dukha are originally from Tuva republic in Russia and they speak a Turkic language, called Dukhan, although all of them are bilingual today and speak Mongolian fluently.  The Dukhan is under serious threat of disappearing since young children do not learn the language anymore and most families use Mongolian; only the elders speak the Dukha language among themselves.

Their subsistence is traditionally based on hunting wild game and breeding small stocks of reindeer for transportation and milk. They do not slaughter the reindeer unless an animal is too old or in times of severe scarcity and milk the reindeer daily from April to September. They traditionally hunt wild animals such as bear, deer, boars, elk, moose, sable and so on to get their protein and they collect wild potatoes and berries. One of the most significant uses of the reindeer is for transportation both as riding and pack animals during nomadic movements or when men go out hunting. In this geography with deep snow, reindeer is the only animal that can survive and feed itself so the most important partner for humans.

The social organization of the Dukha, similar to other hunter-gatherer groups, is pretty egalitarian, with no formal leader making decisions. Although elders are well respected and followed, the Dukha do not name a leader and the autonomy of each family is highly valued.


The Dukha practice shamanism and their cosmological world consists of spirits and land owners in the geography. They always make offerings to cer-eezi, the owner of the world and to the local spirits around them.


The Dukha practice shamanism and their cosmological world consists of spirits and land owners that need to be respected and prayed for regularly. They always make offerings to cer-eezi, the spirit of the world and to the spirits protecting them.


Most people among the Dukha have spirits in the form of eerens at their home that needs to be respected. The eeren, a spirit, is a piece of fabric that has been animated by the shaman, turned into a protector spirit. When people have a problem, they go to the shaman and the shaman tells the source of the problem after making a ritual and connecting to the spirits. At the end of the ceremony, if needed, the shaman makes an eeren for the family or the specific person to protect them.


There are mainly four elements that the Dukha perceive as sacred and pray for. People make offerings to them everyday and call them as harehan, which means almighty. The first sacred and respected element is the universe itself or earth, which people call as oran hangay harehan or cer-eezi harehan. The other one is the sky, which people call as gök deeri harehan literally meaning blue sky. The other sacred element is the fire, called ot harehan and the last one is cayen or eeren harehan which are the animated or spirited fabrics at home that I mentioned above.

Today the Dukha community is going through a transition period. Since children go to school, families have a close relation with the nearest village and some of them are moving in the village to a sedentary life. This also naturally brings the need for money. They do not have an income from the reindeers but they make a small earning with the souvenirs they make from reindeer antlers that they sell for tourists visiting the camp mostly in summer.  Another challenge the Dukha face today is related with the hunting ban in their territory. Since their ancestral land was declared a national park in 2011, called Tengis-Shishged National Park, all of a sudden, hunting was banned in their area and strict restrictions on movement were imposed. Because of this ban and also with emerging into the mainstream society, today they buy supplies from the village so their subsistence is supported by different diets.


Photo Gallery

Dukha Türklerinin Dili

In the Field

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