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The Horsemen of Mongolia


Franco Zecchin

"If you want hung yourself, you must before walk for one hundred miles". Therefore Pantzrakch says resting to the saddle-back, while it withholds with decision the reins of the wet and nervous horse. There are not trees, there is only grass in this great windy space; the horizon expands on hills and far mountains, where the stone re-emerge between scents of wormwood and alpine stars; the climate changes in continuation, lastly; the temperature can vary of 20, 30° C in the course of the day. The icy whistling of the wind, the call of the eagle that circles in the immense sky is alternated to rarefied silences, broken only by the song of Pantzrakch that is already far away, has changed again the horse, already the third of the morning; he still chases the semi-wild herd, trying to capture one stallion with its uurga, one long flexible perch with a lace of leather in top. They are acrobatics that demand great skill and mastery, and he executes them with fluid elegance and lightness, singing. From far away, one ten of white ger appears on the green prairie. Light, resistant to the wind, these nomadic residences protects from the winter cold like from the summery sultriness and from the storms, are easy transportable and they can be mounted in less than two hours. In the vicinities of the camp, a ten small newborn colts are ties to a fixed rope on the land, they attends impatiens the mothers that return from the pasture. Several times a day, men go to look for the herd to bring it back to the encampment. Then the women untie every colt and they accompany it to breast-feeding; they profit of the occasion to milk the mare. Inside the ger, under the circular cupola of sticks covered by a large layer of felt, the pavement is constituted of the bare earth. Close to the iron stews that dominates the center of the circle, Tolghor mother fine cuts a piece of dry sheep's meat and she boils them; she pastes the flour and she prepares the noodles that she adds to the soup. All the family is reunited for the lunch, they have healthy and white teeth, red cheeks and bandy legs, since from infancy they pass great part of their time horsing; grandfather Ocrbatr does not succeed any more to walk straight, swinging like a penguin; he smokes strong tobacco with a iron pipette while grandson Choksom plays with its bare skull. In order to trick the spirits who would want to kidnap him (children's mortality is still much elevating between nomads), Choksom is dressed like a female, but his powerful and massive physique reveals his true nature of male. A deaf noise of hooves pre-announces the arrival of a visit. From the decorated door of red varnish some neighbors appears and they are invited to seat. After the traditional exchange of onyx snuffbox, one of the few valuables that can be found in a ger, Tolghor offers to the hosts dry cheese, tea with lightly salt milk and aïrak, the fermented mare milk. All speak about horses. Around this topic speeches are interlaced, are written poetries, are made up songs; horse is the basic element of their culture. Pantzrakch kills one sheep: the animal is laid on its back and a small slit is made under the rib cage. Pantzrakch then reaches through the slit and with his hand breaks the cardiac artery. Death is quick and very clean. No blood is spilled at all as it drains directly into the chest cavity. It begins the naadam, the great summer festival that includes races with horses, fight and archery contests. The adults drink arkhi, manufactured milk distillate, and sonorously sing in alcoholic chorus. Meanwhile a powder's cloud falls from a hill by the horizon; it is a horde of shouting child, male and female from 6 to 10, that approach riding without saddle-back, clinging themselves to the manes of the exhausted animals covered of foam. A lot of compliments, photo and medal for the winner, the steed and the jockey. The naadam continues with the fight, the more popular sport in Mongolia. Massive bodies seize each other in an immovable kind of dance in which every contender tries to make fall the other, who touches earth first has lost, the other then completes a small circle hopping and mimes with the arms the flight of the eagle under the pleased applause of the careful public. There is not more gasoline for truck and tractors to work, the only choice is to return to the most traditional horses and camels, to the nomadism as kind of society and economy that better resists in crisis time, because "the spirit of the mongols is in the breeding, their life is the one of their herds and their future is in the steppe".
To Nomads
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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033502

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Into the river Tuul.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033507

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. A family into the ger. The Mongols herd five different animals: horses, cattle (which includes yak), camel, sheep and goats.

Aimak Central, Mongolia, Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033509

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. The uurga is a long, flexible pole with a rope loop on one end. The loop is dropped over the head of the horse that the herdsman wants to separate from the rest of the herd - a technique requiring great dexterity and horsemanship.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033515

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. The flimsy-looking skeleton of the ger belies its strength. The ger is able to stand against the ferocious storms and winds of the steppes and is remarkably snug and dry even in the wettest of weather. It takes about twenty minutes to assemble a ger and about twice that to take down and pack it.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033530

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. The horse is central to Mongol culture and horse nomads are the cream of Mongol society.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033513

A child eating the evening soup. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033512

Horses have been herded on the Central Asian steppe for millennia and gave the Mongols the mobility that enabled them to conquer the largest land empire in the history of the word. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033517

The uurga is a long, flexible pole with a rope loop on one end. The loop is dropped over the head of the horse that the herdsman wants to separate from the rest of the herd - a technique requiring great dexterity and horsemanship. Mongolia, Aïmak Centra

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033495

The horse is kept as a mount and for milk. It is not eaten and is not used as a draught animal. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033496

The horse is kept as a mount and for milk. It is not eaten and is not used as a draught animal. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033522

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Women are responsible for all domestic activities - for cooking, milking and making milk products. In addition, women husk millet, make domestic objects (such as cushions, rugs and drapes), collected dung and fashion it into fuelkakes, herd sheep and goat

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0254488

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Horses have been herded on the Central Asian steppe for millennia and gave the Mongols the mobility that enabled them to conquer the largest land empire in the history of the word.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033498

Scattered across one of the world's most sparsely populated countries, nomadic herders account for about two-fifths of Mongolia's 3 million people. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033514

The design of ger (yurt) has remained unchanged for centuries. It comprises a collapsible lattice of birch willows, which forms the walls, and a conical roof. The framework is covered with layers of felt for warmth. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0034423

A family usually travels with more than one ger. The common campsite arrangement is to have two or three gers laid out in a line. Each ger is oriented so that its door faces the south-east (both as a protection from the prevailing winds and as a holdover

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033510

A mother looking at her children under the bed. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033492

A young woman working with sheep. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033493

Sheep are the primary source of meat in the Mongols' diet. They are also important source of wool, which is used both domestically by the herding families themselves and as their most important "cash crop". Sheep are shorn once - and sometimes twice - a year.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033494

Mongols slaughter their sheep with a peculiar method. The animal is laid on its back and a small slit is made under the rib cage. The slaughterer then reaches through the slit and with his hand breaks the cardiac artery. Death is quick and very clean. No blood is spilled at all as it drains directly into the chest cavity.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033525

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Children's chores begin at an early age. They learn to ride almost as soon as they can walk and, while still young, assume responsibility for the herding of the sheep and goats. They also help in collection of animal dung that will be dried for use as fuel to cook their food and warm their ger. Traditionally children lived with their parents until they where adults.

Aimak Central, Mongolia, Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033526

Drinking arkhi , alcohol made from the milk. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033504

A girl sleeping in the ger. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033527

Man watering horses at well. The two things the Mongols look for on their migrations are grass and water for their herds. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033529

Goats have been herded in Mongolia for centuries, although Mongols prefer not to eat goat meat and their wool is no more profitable than that of sheep. Increasingly, however, Kashmiri goats - whose very fine wool is of great value - are herded in Mongolia

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033499

The indigenous variety of sheep - the local "fat-tail" sheep - is well adapted to the rigours of the Mongolian climate (And the fat of the tail was traditionally an important part of the Mongol diet). Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033523

Goats have been herded in Mongolia for centuries, although Mongols prefer not to eat goat meat and their wool is no more profitable than that of sheep. Increasingly, however, Kashmiri goats - whose very fine wool is of great value - are herded in Mongolia

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033521

Mongolian camels are the Bactrian (two-umped) variety. The camel is primarily used as a beast of burden either carrying household goods and supplies. The camel is not eaten, and while its wool is used, it is only milked in extreme circumstances.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033520

Mongolian camels are the Bactrian (two-umped) variety. The camel is primarily used as a beast of burden either carrying household goods and supplies. The camel is not eaten, and while its wool is used, it is only milked in extreme circumstances.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033524

Women are responsible for all domestic activities - for cooking, milking and making milk products. In addition, women husk millet, make domestic objects (such as cushions, rugs and drapes), collected dung and fashion it into fuelkakes, herd sheep and goats, and take care of young animals.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033519

Into a ger. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033501

The uurga is a long, flexible pole with a rope loop on one end. The loop is dropped over the head of the horse that the herdsman wants to separate from the rest of the herd - a technique requiring great dexterity and horsemanship.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033497

The uurga is a long, flexible pole with a rope loop on one end. The loop is dropped over the head of the horse that the herdsman wants to separate from the rest of the herd - a technique requiring great dexterity and horsemanship.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033528

A mother with her children. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033516

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Grandfather and grandchild.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033500

The central characteristic of the steppe is that it is a vast, featureless plain. Almost the only vegetation is grass, which is what makes the steppe so valuable as grazing land. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033508

Men are responsible for the herding of large animals, for hunting, for military and administrative activities. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033503

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. Milk is one most important items in the Mongol diet. The women have the responsibility of milking the animals and making any milk-based foods such as cheese. Mare's milk is used to make a fermented - and highly potent - drink known as aïrak.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033505

Listening to traditional songs. A man is playing the morin-khuur , or horse-head fiddle - a reminder of the importance still attached to the horse in Mongol society. Poems and songs are still written about the horse. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0033511

A couple laying in the bed. Mongolia, Aïmak Central

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 01/08/1994

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0254503

Mongolia, Aïmak Central, 1994. The ger foundation.

Aïmak Central, Mongolia - 00/00/0000



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