Tribe – Darhad

Tribe – Darhad


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

“Bruce! Bruce! The horse is trying to kill you!”

Originally shown as part of a BBC series, this film features the legendary Bruce Parry as he joins the nomadic Darhad herders of Outer Mongolia on their winter migration across the high mountains to reach safer pastures. Mongolia was part of the USSR until 1991 and was closed to outsiders. The Darhad Valley is in the north, near Siberia. Bruce has arranged to live with a family and help them in their work, hoping to learn more about their culture. We first see him travelling to meet them by ferryboat and across endless grassy plains. There are no roads and most journeys are made on horseback. Bruce, who allegedly has never ridden before, has to master this essential skill. At one point he lets go of Fred’s rope and Fred, the horse, just wanders off. The expressions on the faces of his guides say it all.

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He soon attends a Naddam, a traditional gathering of nomads, where he is entertained by some very shrill singing and by the twin Mongolian obsessions, wrestling and horse racing. The wrestlers wear strange frontless shirts, apparently to prevent the recurrence of a long-ago incident when a woman tried to enter the contest.

When Bruce eventually meets his host family they are wonderfully warm and welcoming. The home consists of two large felt-lined tents, a storage shed and a satellite dish. Bruce’s gifts of vodka and Laphroaig go down well. There is beautiful footage of life in the tent, capturing the relaxed intimacy of everyday life, the four-year old son who is into everything, the whole family gathering round to peer into the camera lens, with much laughter.

Then the hard work begins, with Bruce learning to halter the oxen, herd and corall the sheep, goats and horses, all of which have to be protected at night from wolves. On a wolf hunt several families join together, the men spending a whole day trying to flush out the wolves, though in the end only one wolf is shot. No matter, out comes the vodka again. The spirit of co-operation is the thing. This and a delightful sense of humour seem to be characteristic of these nomad people, leading such harsh lives. Traditions are still kept up, like visiting the shaman before setting out on a journey, but the young men only half believe in it – “It reassures us” they say laughingly.

The migration, when it is time, takes on an epic quality. The children are put in crates, an old woman too frail to ride is pulled on a drey. People, camels, horses, oxen, sheep, goats all move in one great mass through the mountainous landscape. There is no obvious hierarchy, but a complete interdependence of individuals. Bruce asks the father of the family what makes him happy. He answers “work, family and peace in my mind.” There seems to be no translation for the word “stress”.

Things I learned from this film: Never approach a wild horse from the front. It may kill you. If you should ever find yourself falling towards the earth, try to land in Mongolia.

A wonderful film.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2008
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A Mongolian tribe migrates across high mountains.

Director: Graham Johnston

Starring: Bruce Parry

Year: 2007

Runtime: 60 minutes


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