“This is where I was born, as were my parents. My ancestors have been coming to this jailoo for 200 years”, says Akim Aliev Datka, a pensioner who has returned to these ancestral pasture lands to tend horses and sheep. But he is one of the very few to return. This millennia-old tradition is dying a quiet death.
From snowmelt in the springtime until snowfall in the autumn herders bring their animals to the jailoo (the high pasture lands) to graze. Life on the jailoo is not easy, but herding has been a mainstay of the economy and culture of Central Asia for millennia.
Herders traditionally follow the seasons, moving their herds up to high pasture lands for the warmer months and down to the lowlands for winter. This lifestyle is now being left in history’s wake as the lure of city life and its conveniences - heated apartments, hot running water, shopping choices, television, and schooling for the children– draw rural families away from traditional work and lifestyles.
Herder’s Calling focuses on one jailoo: where Akim Aliev Datka’s family has come for generations. The video follows the lives of the families living there, from requisite duties such as tending the herd, to more socially-oriented aspects such as entertaining neighbours and engaging in traditions of song and sport. And at times, the film simply captures the quiet existence of life in this expansive and isolated part of the world.
Two principal characters provide points of view to life on the jailoo: Akim Aliev Dakta, the elder of the family who has returned to his ancestral home from decades in the city, and Nazgul, his young city-born, educated daughter-in-law, who came to the jailoo only because of her marriage, but who wants to return to the city with her husband and baby. While presenting a situation very representative of the urbanization trend in Kyrgyz society, the video also provides a personal look into the lives of those making the choices, and the challenges that come with them.l