On the southern margins of their territory both horses and reindeer are reared. Tungus reindeer herding is well developed in northern Trans-Baikalia, on the northern
Vitim plateau and on the flanks of the Yablonoi mountain and northern Khingan ranges north of about latitude 55°N. On the southern margins of their territory both horses and reindeer are reared while in many areas Tungus groups may, as a result of epidemics, lose their herds and become a purely hunting and fishing people with no livestock.
Some groups, like the Kalars of the north-east of Lake Baikal, have large herds which provide a great part of the food supply while among others there are but a few herds of reindeer to a family.
In the areas, the Tungus often referred to as ‘Orochon’ (Tame Reindeer Men), occupy the forest country for the greater part of the year.
In the Trans-Baikalia winters are long and severe. The temperature in winters falls as low as -70°C. At the lower levels there is a short, mild and damp summer from mid-June until the end of August. On the highlands snow lies late in June and freezing begins again in the end of July. Light drizzling rain occurs in the months of July and August.
During the short summer the northern Tungus frequently move north with their herds on the tundra, where the pastures are more abundant.
The domestic reindeer in this region surprisingly eat fish and reindeer meat during the winter season. It is of great importance that the animals should fatten during the short summer that they may be able to resist the hard winter conditions.
Large herds must move forward every few hours, and after a few days of grazing, a pasture is generally useless until the next year. It has been estimated that more than 10 sq. kms (4 square miles) are necessary for a reindeer.
In summer the herds must be prevented from stampeding under the attacks of swarms of mosquitoes on the forest border, so if the season is bad they are rapidly moved northward or to the higher altitudes.
Smoky fires are also built to keep off the midges, and the herds will muddle round there all day, grazing only at night. When the does (female reindeer) are released to graze, the fawns are kept back in the compound, so that the does will return to suckle them.
Although northern Tungus live entirely on reindeer for their food, many of them supplement their food supply extensively by hunting and fishing. The number of reindeer possessed by a household varies from a few dozen to several hundred. Milk is the most valued product of herding.
The female usually yields about a pint of milk a day in addition to suckling her fawn. The milk is sweet and thick like cream, but is poorer in butter fat than that of cow or buffalo and no dairy products are made of it. The women have charge of all the milking.
Reindeer is also used to carry packs as well as to dray sledges. The Tungus also use reindeer for riding. A grown buck or gelding (reindeer) can carry a load of about 75 kg. A Northern Tungus Reindeer A reindeer can travel about one Rider hundred kilometres a day.
The Tungus also devote part of their time to hunting and fishing. The hunting and snaring of fur-bearing animals, especially sable and squirrel are done mainly for barter to Russian traders. Most of the Tungus obtain flint lock guns, iron knives and utensils as well as tea and tobacco in return of their skins.
The moral-deer is killed for trade to Chinese who use it in the preparation of medicine. The reindeer, driven on by beaters and terrified by the feathered posts, stamped down the lane until they become enmeshed in the net or plunge into the water and can be attacked by waiting hunters.
Since the pastures in winters are scarce, the Tungus migrate and shift their camps frequently. They construct conical huts, covered with reindeer skins for their shelter.
The Tungus have different clans. Each clan occupies a well-defined territory. The clan is an endogamous unit and individuals rarely marry outside it. The clans alone have names. These are generally derived from natural objects or utensils, such as Woodpecker’s Nose, Poplar wood Cradle, but sometimes from real or legendary ancestors.
The marriages are arranged with members of only a few other clans, and quite often with one alone. These marriages are accompanied by exchanges of property, and are often first arranged between the families concerned when the future mates are still children. A considerable gift of reindeer is made by the man’s family to the parents of the girl.
This gift, known as true, is actually the bride-price. The amount of turn varies with the beauty, skill and social prestige of the girl. It is, however, nominally high. The tent and its belongings, together with the reindeer herds, are usually regarded as the woman’s property among the Tungus.
The men are on hunting; the wife herds the reindeer and cares for the camp. Polygamy is rare among the Tungus, and is only approved when the first wife bears no children.
Although the territories of the Tungus are well-defined, a hunter should not invade the regular hunting grounds of other families, but the wounded games may be followed.
At the death of the head of a household, the eldest or more responsible takes over the rights and duties of the head. The Tungus families scattered over the forest and tundra is coordinated and afford mutual cooperation to each other.
This mutual cooperation and reciprocal aid system are the strength of the Tungus which helps in the maintenance of larger tribal units.
It is easy to domesticate a reindeer. The reindeer can easily be attracted by salt. The Tungus, Yukaghir, Samoyed, Chuckchi, Yakuts and other herders regularly salt a patch of ground for their herd and the reindeer hunters often look out for natural salt licks or make artificial ones to aid them in finding and approaching the wild herds.
Even more common salt, they are attracted by human urine, and wild reindeer often come right up to a quite camp to paw up and lick on the ground used by men.
Interestingly enough, some of the Tungus and the Chuckchi herdsmen always carry a bag of urine to assist in attracting his stock. The reindeer is almost defenseless against the wolf, which takes heavy toll of both wild and domestic herds.
The transport system is inadequate. The roads and paths remain buried under the ice and snow for over nine months in a year. The Russian government has done substantial efforts to sedentarize them.
The medical and educational facilities are being provided to them and modern tools are given to Tungus to accelerate the process of sedentarization. Slowly but surely the Tungus are moving from the hunting and nomadic herding stage to the large-scale commercial herding and rudimentary cultivation stage.