13th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest People
Reindeer Man

“Sometimes I feel like giving up when the snow is 2 meter deep and no matter how much I try, I can’t reach the wood that I need to chop for firewood.” Ganbat Tsendee (45), a father of 5 children, describes his life. “But I love my reindeer which my ancestors raised for generations. Only thing keeping me here is my reindeer.” Ganbat is a member of the Tsaatan ethnic minority who are one of the last remaining groups of nomadic reindeer herders in Mongolia. They have been maintaining their traditions for thousands of years and seasonally migrate within the forests of the Taiga according to weather and food conditions for their reindeer, which they depend on for milk and transportation. In this picture, Ganbat holds a small tree over a smoking fire in a ceremony to honor his late mother, after taking his reindeer to this hilly forest for foraging. His departed mother was a shaman. Her body, her drum and her heavy-weighted shaman clothes were buried in the mountain opposite to this hill. Every month on a specific day, he goes to this spot and performs a ceremony to show respect to his mother. The Tsaatan people, who practice shamanism, respect mountains and believe each of them has a different god. To show respect to mountains, they usually share everything they have in their everyday life with the mountain. In this ceremony, Ganbat was splashing reindeer milk from his plastic bottle, a few of his cigarettes, and some biscuits which he also shared with me during this shoot.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 09.2015
Date Uploaded: 11.2015
Photo Location: Khovsgol province, Mongolia
Camera: NIKON D800
Copyright: © Madoka Ikegami