Living with Herds: a vocalisation dictionary

This short observational film (9 min.) by Natasha Fijn, research fellow at the Australian National University, will appeal to anyone interested in animal behaviour, interspecies communication, or biology or anthropology generally.

Fijn describes it as “a visual dictionary showing how Mongolian herders vocalise to their herd animals, followed by the response of the herd animal(s)”:

The video is an appendix to Fijn’s book Living with Herds: human-animal co-existence in Mongolia. This was the subject of her academic thesis, which focused on animal domestication, in particular the human–ungulate relationship.

During fieldwork she lived with two extended herding families and herds of different animals in the Mongolian mountains, where:

In a land of extreme conditions, both herder and herd animal depend upon one another as a means of survival. Within broad river valleys, beneath steep slopes with patches of forest, herd animals are free to roam, existing within their own complex social structure and hierarchy. Herders successfully integrate themselves within this herd social structure by taking the role of lead animal within the herd, socially engaging and communicating daily in constant cross-species, cross-cultural, human-other animal dialogue.

The vocalisation dictionary is part of Fijn’s independent ethnographic film Khangai Herds (90 min.), whose other sections may be viewed here (also the source of the quoted paragraph).

Living with Herds - Vocalisation Dictionary - Natasha Fijn 1

Living with Herds - Vocalisation Dictionary - Natasha Fijn 2

Tip of the all-weather hat to Bree Blakeman.

8 Responses to Living with Herds: a vocalisation dictionary

  1. Joy says:

    Thanks for posting this. I spent a bit of time in Mongolia a few years ago, and an even shorter bit of time out in countryside that looks like this. I saw herds and herders and yurts but I had no real idea beyond the visuals of what their lives were like. The film Khangai Herds is really interesting as a window into a completely different world.

    • Stan says:

      You’re welcome, Joy, and thanks for recommending the rest of Khangai Herds, which I hope to watch soon. I’m sure it does, as you say, offer a very interesting insight into rural Mongolian life. The film Urga (US title: Close to Eden) covers similar terrain.

  2. fijnna says:

    Hi Stan, thanks for posting about my book Living with Herds and the accompanying observational film segments on your blog. It’s interesting that you mention the film Urga because I realised only recently that in seeing that film, at a formative time in my life, was probably one of the reasons that I chose to go and live in Mongolia. It is still one of my favourite films and has had a profound influence on my direction in life.

    • Stan says:

      Hi Natasha, and thank you for your visit! I saw Urga sometime in my 20s: not a formative period, but I liked the film a lot and it stayed with me in a way most films don’t, with its strong sense of place and (seemingly authentic) depiction of a romantic but unromanticised style of rural life on the other side of the planet. I wish you all the best with your future work and travels.

    • catteau says:

      HI Fijnna, I’m so glad to have come across your films! I’m sure the research for my dissertation never gave anyone a quarter of the pleasure that yours has. ;-)

  3. […] Living With Herds: A Visualization Dictionary is a short film by a research fellow at an Australian university that shows how Mongolian herders communicate with their animals. […]

    • Roger says:

      “Story of the Weeping Camel”, 2004, is a documentary set and presumably filmed in Mongolia. it’s about a mother camel who balks at feeding her calf but is brought around to doing the right thing when the camel-tender or camel-herder hires a musician. The musician lullabies the camel back to normalcy. This musical remedy appears to be costly but cost-effective, after all other efforts fail; and in any case, the herder and his family look well-to-do. The musical instrument looks very traditional, or rather very bare, just two strings. The film is German-made, by film students. It is thoroughly filmic, and language no barrier.

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