Hunters and Shamans of Mongolia

Artist Statement

My journey as a photographer and as an ethnographer has been a personal pilgrimage. I am in search of the very soul of the people, the place, and culture. Images of primal people have always elevated me. There’s a humanness aspect of the struggle and the survival that you have in common with these people, but the context may be utterly exotic. I see my work veering towards a different kind of composition. Humans no longer occupy the center of the image. My formal portraits gave way to dreamscapes that harken back to an earlier phase of human consciousness where spirit animals appear as kin to humans. In the Mongol religion, the soul can sometimes take refuge in an animal—a bear or deer. Without the animal companion man would appear lost. The mysticism binding man and animals became the essence of what I am looking for—the essence of hidden Mongolia. There’s something in the eyes of people when they’re living in harmony with nature and animals that connects to the heart. It reminds us why we are alive. It’s a pure visual feast.

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above.The Dukha are one of the few nomadic communities left in the world that live in harmony with nature. The hunter-gatherer society, located in Mongolia, has a unique relationship to their animals and to the land spirits that protect the mountains, rivers, and soil. Hamid Sardar-Afkhami has captured their spirit in photographs in Gallery Three.
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Male children are taught to train the reindeer when they are very young.
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The reindeer are considered family members, treated with love and respect. Even the youngest bond emotionally with them.
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The people live a pure life. Polluting the earth is taboo as it harms other living beings and interrupts the harmony of nature.
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The Dukha feel grateful to the land spirits for giving them the animals and plants.
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Elders are respected in the shamanic spirituality of the Dukha. Wisdom shines through the face of the eldest member
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Reindeer are used primarily for transportation over the treacherous terrain of Mongolia.

Update: The Dukha Tribe, December 2015

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The Dukha hunt for wild animals but do not eat their beloved reindeer.

The nomadic reindeer-herding Dukha tribe of northern Mongolia is struggling to survive after being banned from hunting in the name of ‘conservation.’ Their land was declared a protected area in 2013, and, if caught hunting, they must pay fines they cannot afford or face a long prison sentence. They are also facing restrictions on where they migrate and now need permission to go to their own distant camps.