Kazakh Eagle Hunters…and Huntress

Ashol Pan, eagle huntress. Credit: Asher Svidensky.

Ashol Pan, eagle huntress. Credit: Asher Svidensky.

Keen at Rotwork drew my attention to the Kazakhs of Western Mongolia, who hunt with golden eagles. Upon following a link to the website of photographer Asher Svidensky (follow the link to see some amazing pictures), I discovered that at least one young woman has taken up this tradition, which historically was restricted to men:

I’ve learned that Mongolia’s rough surface and difficult climate were the reason that the eagle hunting art was meant for men alone. I thought to myself that in a country where seventy percent of its educated population are women, and most of its education institutes are run by females – is it possible to think that the future of the art of eagle hunting tradition could also lean on feminine shoulders? I had gone looking for my eagle huntress.

I found her in the form of Ashol Pan, the daughter of an experienced eagle hunter around Han Gohadok, which is south of Ulgii. She was perfect. I was amazed by her comfort and ease as she began handling the grand eagle for the first time in her life. She was fearlessly carrying it on her hand and caressing it somewhat joyfully.

At the end of the photographing session, I sat down with her father and the translator to say my goodbyes, and I asked him this:

“How did it feel watching your daughter dressed in Kazakh uniform, on a mountain top, sending the eagle off and calling it back again?”

“Very good.”

“And honestly… would you have considered truly training her? Would she become Mongolia’s first ever female eagle huntress?”

I expected a straightforward “No” or a joking “Maybe”, but after a short pause he replied:

“Up until two years ago my eldest son was the successor of the eagle hunting tradition in our family. Alas, two years ago he was drafted to the army, and he’s now an officer, so he probably won’t be back with the tradition. It’s been a while since I started thinking about training her instead of him, but I wouldn’t dare do it unless she asks me to do it, and if she will? Next year you will come to the eagle festival and see her riding with the eagle in my place.”

From the father’s answer I realized that the idea of women’s participation in keeping the tradition is a possible future, but just like many other aspect of Mongolian life, it’s an option which women will need to take on by themselves.

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