SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.18 (2022)

Livestock Theft and Exchange to Achieve Quotas
in the Mongolian People’s Republic Livestock
as Manipulable Resources in the Later Years
of the Socialist State:

A Case Study in Kharkhorin Soum, Övörkhangai Province
(Anthropology Fieldwork)


Department of Regional Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Mongolian People’s Republic, exchange concept, anthropology, manipulable resources, “Sain er” (man who steals from enormously wealthy people to give to pauper herders), livestock theft/reciprocity, socialist state

This article discuss about livestock theft from a viewpoint of the exchange concept in social and cultural anthropology. Research work was conducted based on materials obtained from fieldwork in Kharkhorin Soum, Övörkhangai Province in central Mongolia. One of the purpose of this research is to explore whether livestock theft in the name of the exchange concept existed in Mongolian nomadic pastoral culture for an extended period as a cultural practice or it has taken place as a social phenomenon. Livestock theft is now considered to be a social issue that is usually dealt with through law enforcement. However, in this study, I would like to describe it as a normal social occurrence based on traditional nomadic culture.

Now a problem for herders, livestock theft was previously an exchange phenomenon in nature. It has been proved by the facts and fieldwork analysis of the livestock theft process and the theory of exchange.

Caroline Humphrey and David Sneath mentioned that “The surplus that is not recovered for reproduction in the mandatory delivery plan (quota) was called “manipulable resources”. By the time there is no “market” in socialist society, such a system of exchanging surplus goods was expressed as the number of inventories, not money. The surplus was a good that could be used as a tool for political negotiations. Humphrey argues that these “manipulable resources” were the source of informal social relations under the socialist regime”. It is undeniable that such transactions may have existed in the pastoral cooperative (Negdel), which corresponds to the Kolkhoz in Mongolia, and the state-owned farm (Sangiin Aj Akhui), which corresponds to the Sovkhoz. On the other hand, what kind of measures were taken when the pastoralists who made up the general Negdel who were not executives could not achieve the quota? Perhaps it was the existence of a thief called “Sain er” who responded to that.

From the information obtained in this study, it can be said that in the Mongolian People’s Republic, livestock theft and exchange (of horses) were sources of informal social relations built through manipulable resources. Judging from the fact that those who stole livestock in the context, from a community at the request of another community, were positively evaluated by local people as “Sain er,” that is, a “good man,” in the Mongolian rural pastoral communities, it can be said that theft with “reciprocity” shows that the local people were saved, informally though, from the pressure of achieving quotas.

Livestock theft involves many kinds of social and cultural contexts, and therefore, it was allowed as a necessary factor in nomadic pastoralism in the daily process of nomadic people, but under modern laws, it is recognized as “theft” by people today.