Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mongolian herders in China: rights, progress and social identity

Like many pastoral peoples around the world, herders in Mongolia struggle to maintain their ethnic identity and lifestyle while the world around both changes and encroaches on their traditional lands. This article in the New York Times, Ethnic Protests in China have Lengthy Roots, updates their economic and political situation. Will their survival depend on being 'less Mongolian' and 'more 'Han Chinese'? Such disparate peoples as the Tinkers of Ireland, the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and the Bedouin in Israel, Jordan and Egypt have struggled to maintain economic solvency and social, familial and religious traditions as minority peoples in the nations in which they reside. The Mongolians also find their livelihood threatened by a recent rise in average temperatures (see video above). While policies enacted by the Chinese to settle the traditionally nomadic Mongolians have led to educational opportunities, this move had also contributed to increased levels of poverty, environmental degradation and a loss of social traditions, including their language.

For a look at the link between language and culture, try Pidgin and culture in Nigeria.
To read about other indigenous peoples and the environmental, social and economic impact of 'progress,' try:

The Irish Tinkers: the urbanization of an itinerant people by George Gmelch
Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: studies of the !Kung San and their neighbors by Richard Lee
Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin stories by Lila Abu-Lughod

Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times
“We feel lost without our herds and the grassland,” said Uyung, left, with her husband, Suyaltu, at the small canteen they run in a town in Damao Banner, China.

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