We Eat Whom We Love

Hippophagy among Tyvan Herders

in Inner Asia
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This paper examines hippophagy among Tyvan pastoralists. Horse-meat eating practice is defined by herder-horse relationships, the horse’s not-quite-livestock position and its instrumental and symbolic values. Complexity of influencing factors engenders a ritual which regulates slaughtering and eating meat of the most appreciated horses. As a result of this, ritual transformation of animals into meat does not turn them into the absent referent; rather, as I show in this article, the reference is always present.

We Eat Whom We Love

Hippophagy among Tyvan Herders

in Inner Asia



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Oyun Melestei Baraaevich b. 1968Tyva: Interview 2 Fieldwork 2015.


Aldyn-Kherel Roman Soyanovich b. 1959Tyva: Interview 13a Fieldwork 2015.


Chimed Dondog b. 1948Mongolia: Interview 46a Fieldwork 2016.


Chimed Dondog b. 1948Mongolia: Interview 46a Fieldwork 2016.


Soyan Nogaan-ool Suvakovich b. 1966Tyva: Interview 3a Fieldwork 2015.


Zhamankhara Tönkeris b. 1938Mongolia: Interview 45a Fieldwork 2016.


Chimed Dondog b. 1948Mongolia: Interview 46a Fieldwork 2016.


Ynaalai Sergei Bady-Khooevich b. 1955Mongolia: Interview 20 Fieldwork 2015.


Dorlig Byambasüren b. 1984Mongolia: Interview 18a Fieldwork 2016.


Soyan Ailangmaa Dadarovna b. 1960Tyva: Interview 3b Fieldwork 2015.


Ynaalai Sergei Bady-Khooevich b. 1955Tyva: Interview 20 Fieldwork 2015.


Tsevegdorzh Yadamsüren b. 1978Mongolia: Interview 11 Fieldwork 2016.


Dorlig Byambasüren b. 1984Mongolia: Interview 18a Fieldwork 2016.


Baasai Byambazhav b. 1971Mongolia: Interview 33 Fieldwork 2016.


In 2012I visited ‘The happy horse’ natural horsemanship study centre in the Montseny mountains of Spain. The centre was opened and is operated by Una McLister. Conversations with Una and observations about her connection to horses have led me to refrain from eating horse meat in Tyva for two years. Every time I saw meat on the plate it was not anonymous. Although I did not know the individual horse that transformed into meat the reference was present—remembrance of Una’s horses. I am a Tyvan person but not a herder therefore my relationships with horses are beyond the regulations mandatory for herders; nevertheless they demonstrate that customs can be interpreted individually and may change over time.


  • View in gallery
    Tyvan and Kazakh families conduct a ritual dedicated to the first milking of mares in summer in Western Mongolia.

    © victoria peemot.

  • View in gallery
    Horse slaughtering in South Tyva.

    © victoria peemot.

  • View in gallery
    A month-old Tyvan baby with a raw sheep-tail fat dummy.

    © victoria peemot.

  • View in gallery
    Horse skull on the mountain Ulug Saigyn in South Tyva.

    © victoria peemot.


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