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Macalester College

Publication Date

Spring 2011

Program Name

Mongolia: Nomadic Culture & Globalization


It is extremely important to probe and preserve the knowledge of nomadic herders of Mongolia. There is no formal piece of literature that dictates how these clever humans survive. Their lifestyle requires a vast skill set spanning from construction knowledge, to navigational skills, to a deep understanding of their animals. One attains this knowledge through years of observation, listening, and attempting to mimic their parents. In this way, knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next. Investigating herder’s knowledge of the yak provides a window into the animal husbandry practices of Mongolian nomads. The herders in the central Khangai Mountains of Mongolia rely heavily on the yak for milk, meat, rope, and labor. Herders select and breed these animals based on an informal set of criteria. Bulls used to breed these animals are not selected for one specific trait; for example to produce the most milk possible. Instead the bulls are selected based on a multitude of traits, because herders’ use of the yak is based less on profit, and more on subsistence. Through examination of the yak and the oral history surrounding it, underlying connections between herders and their animals can be realized.


Animal Sciences | Asian Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Place and Environment | Rural Sociology


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