Young generation of Mongolian Eagle Hunters inheriting their culture
Mongolian Eagle Hunter’s tradition is more than thousands years old which earliest archeological discoveries of eagle hunting back to 3-4 century B.C.
Later around 1270 AD Marco Polo described about -central Asian nomads hunted on horseback with hawks, falcons and eagles during his journey.
However Eagle Hunting is disappeared from many places as it was commonly practiced and now one of few places in the world eagle hunting is kept alive as way of making living is Kazakh dominated area of westernmost Mongolia, Bayan-Ulgii province which is two times bigger than El Salvador.
Called as Berkutchi in Kazakh language –Eagle hunters inherited their unique tradition from their ancestors of Mongol and Turkic nomads while practicing it and emerging as ethnic group.
As spotted on my camera lens after 5 years of the Golden Eagle festival experience , I am so happy that Kazakh kids and youths once again think- it is essential part of their nomadic ancestry and proud of it and keep their rare tradition going. It is not sport or something whoever wants to become like them, it is in their blood.
Finding ‘The Youngest Huntress’ through my camera lens
I photographed- 5 years old girl named Aimoldir Dailbek who practices with Hawk not Eagle which is considered very suitable for children and maybe few years later she will hunt with her own eagle. Hunting with hawks and eagle has so many similarities.
She is considered the youngest huntress in the festival who broke the ages of huntress history.
Regardless of her young age, she decided to inherit her father’s hunting tradition, started learning to communicate her hawk, put risk of danger against her and even handling heavy hawks on her little arm.
New young Eagle Huntress
Another young girl, Burkitshi, attended in the festival was Zamanbol, daughter of Tolap from Sagsai soum.
I believe -Hollywood movie star- Mongolian Young Eagle Huntress Aisholpan Nurgaiv had inspired many young Mongolian Kazakh girls to inherit this wonderful cultural legacy.
Taking my attention to twin Eagle Hunters
With richly embroided overcoat called as Chapan, these two young Eagle Hunters attracted my camera on to them. I thought them as twins, but they are cousins who are proud of their Berkutchi, fathers, Khantai and Khanas from Ulaan-Us soum and keep their family and ancestor’s tradition going.
They work well on horseback with their Eagles and achieved awesome skills of horsemanship.
Charismatic Young Eagle Hunter
Young Eagle Hunter-Baglan Khandai who wears fox fur coat and hat and carries his Eagle on special device named Baldak.
As most of the hunting happens during winter time, overcoming coldness and extreme nature conditions from young ages with their Eagles makes their relationship much closer as family and creates skilled pair together to have higher possibilities of successful hunting.
Aisholpan Nurgaiv- Mongolian Eagle Huntress
She is the first girl Eagle Hunter who competed in Golden Eagle festival and achieved honor of Champion. Her achievement as only 13 years old girl against skilled and experienced hunters was really impressive.
Her desire is to simply become doctor. Many of the sources say that she received several scholarships from well-known universities; however she is going to study in Kazakhstan. Moreover, she explains that she never gives up her Eagle hunting tradition.
Oirat Mongol Princess- Eagle Huntress in the earliest of 1900’s
She was daughter of Prince Palta who was governor of nowadays Mongolian Altai mountain regions of Bayan-Ulgii province during 1908-1917. She educated in the west, lived mostly in Paris and spoke languages of the West which made her legendary female figure on the steppes of Mongol.
She said to the National Geographic Magazine- We Mongols are emancipated –A good horse and wide plain under the God’s heaven, that’s our desire and we all knew it.
She is true example of female Mongolian brave Eagle Huntress in the beginning of 19th century.
Princess Nirgidmaa Torgutska with her hooded Hunting Eagle in National Geographic Magazine of November 1932
Mummified Eagle Huntress
The discovery of the Tarim mummies witnessed Kazakh Eagle Huntress’ proof back to 3-4 BC. Modern DNA and ancient DNA show that people of Xinjiang are mixture of Uighur Mongols, Kazakh Mongols and people of Central Asia.
The cemetery contained 29 mummies, 21 of which were Mongols and rest of which are the same Caucasian physical type. One of them is mummified Eagle Huntress which wore same outfit which modern Kazakh Eagle Hunters do. Oirat Mongol Dzungar’s Khanate was located around nowadays Tarim basins region.
Mummified Eagle Huntress dressed in thick sheepskin coat and on her left hand and forearm she wears large eagle hunting mitt. This is now displayed on Urumqi Museum (Xianjang, China) photo and sketch courtesy of Victor Mair
The 20th Anniversary of Golden Eagle Festival
Just like as in ancient times, eagle hunting was always open to youth especially young girls, same as they could involve in horse racing, archery and fighting on war. This year is important year for Young Eagle hunters and Huntress' for challenge, show and prove their skills among experienced hunters at 20th Anniversary of Golden Eagle Festival and it is great chance to learn from them. Download here -Golden Eagle Festival 2018 Program / few changes can be made in 2019/.
There are about only 200 Eagle hunters remained now while total population of Kazakh ethnic people around 86,000. It is not big number. To preserve this tradition as way it is, not become touristy event or sport, young generation of eagle hunters are must needed.
Honestly, according to the archeological source, female eagle hunters were more common than male hunters in ancient times, even though male hunters are dominated nowadays.
I see these young kids especially girls as future of Eagle hunting tradition.
Eagle Hunting Tradition resides in the HEART and in the SOUL of Mongolian Kazakh Nomads.