Mongolia, nestled between twin superpowers China and Russia, is home to the world’s last truly nomadic population of herders, living seasonally across the vast Gobi Desert. I’m a passionate scholar of all things Mongolian, having lived there for nearly a year some years back, and this gave birth to my fascination with Indigenous peoples and desert-dwellers – hence my work with Bedouin here in the Negev, and research upon the impact of humans on the environment.
If you are also interested in foreign-language films that explore culture and environmental issues, ‘Khadak’, a 1996 Belgian-made feature film, offers valuable insight, and reveals not only how Mongol nomads live, but also how it can destroy them once they are uprooted from their natural habitat.
This fascinating, beautifully shot film also explores the potential of shamanism: Bagil, a young nomad, starts having epileptic fits, which often signify he has shamanic power (noted scholar, Mircea Eliade, defines a shaman as one who is a “manipulator of the sacred,” or a “great master of ecstasy”). Bagil denies this, and initially refuses to accept training from a local elder shamaness. He and his grandparents are soon forced from their grazing land on the Government pretext of an animal virus sweeping across the country.
They are moved to a depressing town of concrete tower blocks, and Bagil is employed at the local mine. Then his luck changes again…
‘Khadak’, which means blessing scarf (an oft proferred ritual, deriving from shamanic & Tibetan Buddhist sources), is presented in a sequences of slow frames in vivid colour, highlighting powerful landscapes populated by people whose whole sense of life comes from their connection to the land. In contrast to this deep reverence, an extraordinary slow pan shot of an open-cast mine, halfway through the film, spells out human despoilation of land, and humans being out of sync with nature (sadly now a common feature of modern Mongolia).
‘Khadak’ is a significant film dealing with crucial environmental and socio-spiritual themes of today, and I recomend it highly to Green prophet readers. The film’s website is www.khadak.com
This, and many other great movies and eco-themed documentaries are available to rent in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv from branches of The Third Ear.
Other movie reviews here: ‘Into the Wild’,
Oh, and Happy Earth Day!