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The eagle hunters at the
Golden Eagle Festival.

A hunter calls in his bird.
Martha Ketterer

The Festival competitors line up.
Martha Ketterer

Showing their horsemanship
at the Golden Eagle Festival.
Martha Ketterer

The Back Story on Mongolia's Eagle Huntress

The recent film "The Eagle Huntress" champions a young Mongolian girl who dares to take on her Kazakh male elders in a tough competition pitching her hand-raised and trained eagle and horse-womanship against theirs. The elders object to her participation in the all-male Golden Eagle Festival, but with her father's support, she persists and earns the best hunting time in the event's history.

Hats off to Aisholpan, who plays herself in the film and wins our hearts with her confident 13 year old smile. With all due respect, however, according to Stanford Research Scholar Adrienne Mayor, she is not the first modern Kazakh eagle huntress nor even the first to enter the eagle hunting contest.

Mayor's research points to another Kazakh woman named Makpal Abdrazakova who competed in the eagle festival in 2009. As a girl, she went on hunting trips with her father and won other eagle falconry competitions. She says that “most Kazakh elders gave their blessing (to her being a bürkitshi) because ‘they remembered that women used to hunt with horses, dogs and eagles.'”

Indeed, Mayor has uncovered archaeological and photo-documentary evidence “that eagle huntresses were probably more common in ancient times. Recent and spectacular archaeological discoveries of graves (ca700 BC to AD 300) across ancient Scythia, from Ukraine to China, reveals that steppe nomad females engaged in the same riding and hunting activities as the men, and about one third of the women were active warriors in battle. Boys and girls, men and women, young and old, all shared the vigorous outdoor life and everyone could ride fast horses, shoot arrows with deadly accuracy, hunt for fur and game, and defend the tribe.

"The combination of horse riding and archery was an equalizer, leveling out physical differences: a woman on horseback is as fast and agile as a man. This ancient way of life —embracing gender equality—was essential for tribes continuously migrating across oceans of grass, and egalitarian traditions persist in their descendants today, even though men and women in semi-nomadic herding communities now have more differentiated tasks.” Mayor, A. 2016. Ancient Traditions and New Generations, Stanford University.

For more information about the film and its back story, please see “Teenage Eagle Hunter is Mongolia’s New Movie Star,”
by Andrew Lapin, National Geographic. And yet another interview with film maker Otto Bell telling how the film almost didn't happen.

You can attend the amazing Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia on our Life with the Nomads and Golden Eagle Festival trip.

Or watch the film "The Eagle Huntress" on the internet.

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