May 7, 2018

Kazakh Eagle Hunters

Jimmy Nelson

A visual homage to the indigenous Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia by Jimmy Nelson

The Kazakh of today are the descendants of Turkic, Mongolic and Indo-Iranian indigenous groups and Huns that populated the territory between Siberia and the Black Sea. 

The Kazakh are a semi-nomadic people and have roamed the mountains and valleys of western Mongolia with their herds since the 19th century.

Western Mongolia
The Kazakh mainly live in the province of Bayan-Ölgii, meaning ‘Rich Cradle’.

Mongolia's winters are home to an incredible seasonal landscape. Winters here are long and harsh, with temperatures ranging from -20°C to -45°C degrees.

Western Mongolia
Oral history
The Kazakh have a tradition of oral history. They lean heavily on their clan and remember at least seven generations of their ancestors' names in order ''not to forget where they come from''.
Traditional yurt tents
A traditional yurt is a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt, and is used as a dwelling by the nomads of the steppes of Mongolia. Walls are either made out of wood or bamboo and are arranged in an angled assembly or latticework. The traditional yurt furthermore has a door frame, ribs and a wheel. The roof structure is often self supporting, but large yurts may have interior posts supporting the crown.
Nomadic lifestyle
Most Kazakh in this remote, mountainous region are dependent on domestic animals for their livelihood. For more than two centuries, Kazakh have hunted on horseback with trained golden eagles. 

Across mountains and steppes, a large variety of animals are hunted for their fur, including rabbits, marmots, foxes and even wolves. This fur is an integral part of traditional Kazakh clothing.

The skill of training golden eagles is passed on through generations.

Transition from childhood to manhood
Many families move several times a year with their herds between fixed seasonal settlements. Others with smaller herds will set up a yurt closer to their winter home during the summer.
Mongolian republic
Up until 1930, the nomads would freely move between Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Modern borders have restricted their movement. 
After the founding of the Mongolian People's Republic in 1924, many of the Mongolian Kazakh gave up their semi-nomadic lifestyle and began settling down in the western Mongolian highlands. 

Today the Kazakh in the province of Bayan-Ölgii number around 87.000, which is 88.7% of the provincial population.

Across the country they represent around 4% of the Mongolian population. 
Eagle hunters wear boots, black coats and fox fur hats called 'loovuuz'. 

The mid-October Golden Eagle Festival signals the opening of the hunting season. It's a colourful and picturesque event attracting the best hunters and their birds.

Bayan-Ölgii provence is located in the extreme west of Mongolia, only separated from Kazakhstan by a 40km strip of Russian and Chinese mountains.

Spectacular landscapes
Mongol horses
The Mongol horse is the native horse breed of Mongolia. Because of their small size, they are often mistaken for ponies. In Mongolia, the horses live outdoors all year. 

The horses play a central role in the daily life of the Kazakh. Mongolia holds more than 3 million horses, the equine population outnumbering the country's human population.

Mongol horses

It is traditionally said that "a Kazakh without a horse is like a bird without wings".

The Kazakh have close extended families, a rich culture, and many old traditions that are still practiced today.

Shamanic beliefs
The Kazakh wear beads and talismans to protect themselves from evil. Shamanic beliefs have been widely preserved among the Kazakh.
Back of beyond
Islam was brought to the ancestors of the Kazakh in the 8th century. Most Kazakh are Sunni Muslims. More often than not, they continue to believe in pre-Islamic cults of the sky, the ancestors, fire and the supernatural forces of good and evil spirits, giants and wood goblins. 
See time having passed
Cultural difference
The Kazakh of Mongolia are culturally and ethnically different from Mongolians, language and religion being the two primary cultural markers. 
The Kazakh language belongs to Turkic family of languages, and is the dominant language in Bayan-Ölgii.

Behind the scenes: at the end of the day, Jimmy shows his pictures to several Kazakh men, making plans together for him to return to share the pictures.

Preview of the pictures
Stories of our cultures
“When you are vulnerable you can connect with people on any level. We just have to wake up to a new reality: a traditional way of living is disappearing among indigenous peoples. These extraordinary cultures have an important message for modern man as we are all at a vulnerable junction in the history of human. We should forever be grateful to them for sharing their knowledge and wisdom with us - for showing us, in many diverse ways, what it truly means to be human. Not one of us will live on this earth forever. But the stories of our cultures will be passed on from generation to generation."
A visual homage of the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia, by Jimmy Nelson
Credits: Story

Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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