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Sangadzhi-Garya Dzhekiev, About Nomadic Life in the Past

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Terbish, Baasanjav 


Sangadzhi-Garya talks about the traditional life of the Kalmyks. In the past, there were no doctors, and people could not correctly diagnose diseases. The average lifespan was between 40 and 50. The dead were wrapped in a blanket and buried in a shallow hole. In the spring, graves were sometimes washed away by the rain, revealing corpses: The floor of the traditional tent was covered with a blanket. In the summer, people slept outside, usually on top of carts. Since there were no napkins, after meal people cleaned their hands on their pants. The accumulated dirt on the pants was later scrubbed off with a knife. People ate meat only. It was only around 1937 when sweets and cookies began to arrive from Astrakhan. In the past, there were no wells in the steppe. Nomads settled around ditches filled with water. As soon as the water was gone, the nomads moved in search of water. Sometimes they had to move twice a month. Sangadzhi-Garya also reminisces that babies were given fat from a sheep’s tail to suck. Life in general was hard and dark. Weddings were celebrated in simple ways. People who lived in the same nomadic encampment all participated in cooking meat, making biscuits, and distilling vodka for the celebrations. People ate food and drank tea in wooden cups which they licked afterwards to clean. People used their hands to eat meat. In the past, in Sangadzhi-Garya’s memories, meat was more delicious and the grass thicker and taller. It snowed little in the winter. Livestock was not kept in barns, but left outside at night. In the morning the animals grazed by themselves. In the past the number of wolves was very high. The shepherds banded together and went wolf hunting. Shepherd dogs were large too. These dogs had their ears cut so that they could hear better. The dogs also lived outside in the cold and rain. Kalmyk sheep were very strong and big. Rams could weigh up to 70 kg. Ewes gave birth on the snow. Kalmyk families had many horses. Sangadzhi-Garya learnt to ride a horse when he was 8. He looked after his family’s livestock.



Nomadic life

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin