The Eagle Huntress of Mongolia is a Kazakh – one of Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority group representing 3-4% of Mongolia’s population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3 million people). The Kazakhs are known for their tradition of hunting with eagles – known as ‘berkutchi’ and in 2011, UNESCO added Kazakh eagle hunting to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as an example of living human heritage.
One of the ways we work in western Mongolia is supporting the younger aspiring eagle hunters – both male and female. This helps to create a space where traditional knowledge can be passed from older to younger generations, as it always has been. This helps keep it alive, in a real, breathing way for the future. However, a major part of our philosophy is to break down the stereotypes and cliches that are used in tourism in Mongolia and as part of this we A major part of our philosophy is to break down the stereotypes and cliches that are used in tourism in Mongolia work with a broad spectrum of Mongolian society so that our support is spread further. If you were to meet these younger Kazakhs in the street then you would probably dismiss them as young modern Kazakhs. However, each owns and trains their own eagle. Their way of life is entirely different to that of most of the other older eagle hunters that we work with and that’s one reason we work with them – as it gives you a contrasting insight into the diversity of the way of life for the Kazakh eagle hunters.
We now work with three Kazakh female huntresses. You’ve probably heard of Aisholpan (the focus of the documentary The Eagle Huntress). However, you may not have heard of Aigerim or Ahkelik. They are also young eagle huntresses and have been training and hunting with their eagles as long as Aisholpan. We are proud that we work with all three and their families in long-term local community partnership.
Why do we work with them?
At EL, all of our trip assistants (guides) are Mongolian women and we believe that seeing women in independent positions is surely one of the best ways to inspire younger girls within the rural communities of Mongolia – including the eagle huntresses – and to let them understand that they can do the same.
Yes, they are eagle hunters and the subject of many media images. But they are also young women who enjoy going to school and meeting with their friends. They are very sociable young women and like to meet people from other cultures and countries. What I love is that eagle hunting has allowed both these young women to become courageous whilst at the same time teaching them the strength of perseverance as they continue to overcome obstacles such as centuries of tradition.
As mentioned, our trip assistants are female and Mongolian. What I have enjoyed the most is seeing how our trip assistants and Aisholpan have formed a firm friendship. For example, one of the past discussions included dreams and ambitions (Aisholpan – physician, Oyuha – a member of parliament). Aisholpan has received offers from both Harvard and Oxford and has said many times to us that although the film was fun, her dream is still to be a physician. All I can say is watch this space.
If you’re interested in experiencing the way of life of the eagle huntress (es) then take a look at our Mongolia tours page of our website. Please understand that there is no guarantee you will meet the eagle huntresses as all three are at school and schooling is important to their future and we like to support her rather than impose. This applies to both homestays and any festivals – also, they don’t always compete at the festivals. However, festivals usually take place on the weekend and we always invite them to lunch during the festivals even if they’re not competing. They often bring their mum or dad. Please be prepared to be flexible. Do get in touch for details.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes