Kazak people regard the camel as a “totem”- when they need to move from one place to another because of long-term grazing, the camel becomes the main transportation vehicle. Camels play a very important role in the life of the Kazak people, right from ancient times; Kazak have worshiped the camel as a “suder” and do not kill the camel at random- as the camel is considered a holy animal. A person cannot kill 3 camels at a time; otherwise he or she will be punished. If anyone did kill a camel, then the camel’s head was tied a white cloth and put on a cliff, nowadays a camels head is put on a roof or high branch.
The Kazak people have an ancient song named “white female camel”, the song has been passed on from generation to generation and is the story of a mother camel losing her infant in a fast flowing river. When a Kazak person died they were often carried by camels, so many people pay homage to the camels and called them “Aruana”. There was an understanding between the camels and the herdsmen; the herdsmen wouldn’t close up on a camel while the camel drank, also the camels couldn’t close up on the herdsmen while they drank. Many herdsmen abstain from killing camels, as they think that will bring tragedy into their lives.
Kazak people said that the body of the camel has the parts just like any of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac, for example, the camel has ears like a mouse, a nose like a rabbit, hair like a monkey, hooves like the ox, neck like a dragon, comb of the rooster, a tail like a lion’s, eyes like a snake and hindbrain like a horse.
It is often asked why a wild camel can’t become one of the12 animals and why the mouse is the first. There is a story that one day mice climbed up the camel’s leg and into the ear of the camel- Therefore the mice toped the 12 animals-(later people say that the camel’s ears are like mice).
Click here to find out more about the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve where Yuan Lei is currently working.