Pastoralists in the Modern World

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Nomads who migrate from one place to another on a consistent basis in search of water and food for their animals are called pastoralists. Pastoralism is a way of animal rearing, the livestock owners keep migrating from one place to another in search of water and pasture for their cattle.

History of Pastoralism

The history of pastoralism can be traced back to the Neolithic age. They were superior to the hunters, but inferior to the farmers. As years passed by, people increasingly started adopting new modes of civil society including farming and livestock rearing. Pastoralists moved across places spreading civilization to the foreign lands.

Examples of Modern Pastoral Societies

  • Pastoral nomadism exists in several parts of the world.
  • Several Indian tribes are pastoral nomads. They are found mostly in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and North-eastern states.
  • Gujjars of Bugyal, Maldhari herders of Gujarat, and the Maru Raikas of Rajasthan are few examples.
  • Pastoralists in the modern world have transformed into ‘settlers’.
  • Over the years they have gained voting rights and recognition in the society.

Effects of Colonial Rule

Colonial rule made life difficult for the pastoral community. Their movements were regulated. The British had imposed heavy taxes on forest products – their basic source of income.

Wasteland Rules and Forest Acts

As per the Wasteland Rules Act, the uncultivated lands were taken over by the government, and distributed among people for agricultural purposes.They were given concessions and enjoyed the right to settle in these lands as well. As a result, native pastoral populations were displaced from the lands where they conducted all their pastoral activities. The introduction of the Forests Act made things worse. They had to take permission for entering restricted forests, which they were often denied.

Criminal Tribes Act

The Criminal Tribes Act was passed by the British government in 1871. Several pastoral and nomadic communities who were considered suspicious were given the title of ‘Criminal Tribes’. The Britishers were always wary of a population that cannot be easily traced and identified.

Grazing Tax

The imposition of grazing tax threatened the livelihood of pastoral communities. The tax which was imposed on per head of cattle, was collected by local contractors who tried to earn profits by collecting as much as they could from the poor people. 

Coping with the Changes

Pastoralists in the modern world adopted new ways. 

  • The taxation policy made it hard to maintain a big herd. In order to ensure availability of food, the number of cattle in a herd was reduced considerably.
  • Their movements were restricted post the partition of India and Pakistan. Several pastoral communities moved to regions like Haryana.
  • By giving up their nomadic life, rich pastoralists bought lands and settled there. While few took to agriculture, others adopted ‘trading’ as new sources of livelihood.
  • On the other hand, poor pastoralists had to borrow money from money lenders.

Importance of Pastoral Nomadism in Modern World

Pastoralism gives the chance for Mother Nature to heal itself. A land can turn sterile due to continuous grazing. Pastoralism helps us to build a sustainable environment. India, Kenya, Iran and Afghanistan are few of the countries where pastoralism is still quite popular.

Pastoralism in Africa

Africa is home to several pastoral communities including Bedouins, Berbers, and Turkana.

Living in semi-arid grasslands where agriculture is not possible, they earn a living through their livestock (cattles, camels, goats etc). They sell their milk, meat, animal skin/wool. 

‘Colonialism’ affected the lives of African pastoralists. The Maasai tribe living in eastern Africa lost their pastoral lands.

  • The Maasai land stretched from north Kenya to northern Tanzania in the pre-colonial period. 
  • It was cut into half in 1885 by ‘drawing’ an international boundary between British Kenya and German Tanganyika. 
  • 60 percent of the Maasai land was taken over by white people. 
  • The tribe was pushed to an arid zone with uncertain rainfall/poor pastures.

The pasturelands of the Maasai shrinked as the British government encouraged local peasants to expand cultivation. Grazing lands were converted into game reserves (Example: Samburu National Park in Kenya). The Massai’s lost half of their livestock in the droughts of 1933 and 1943. The Britishers interfered in their traditional customs, placed restrictions on warfare and raiding.

The chiefs appointed by the British became rich by trading and lending money to the poor. In the long run, this created a huge social divide among the tribe. 

Problems faced by modern world pastoralists

The marginalized people who earn their livelihood by selling livestock products, face several problems including:

  • Low income.
  • Changing financial relationships (regional contexts).
  • Interference/dominance of state agencies in their lives.
  • Identity crisis, problems of technological advancements and innovation.

Hence, pastoralists are an important part of our modern society. By living around forests and green zones for over centuries, they have helped us in conserving our forests and in preventing global warming!

Check Your Knowledge

Nomads who migrate from one place to another on a consistent basis in search of water and food for their animals are called pastoralists.

Gujjars, Maldhari herders, and the Maru Raikas.

 Bedouins, Berbers, and Turkana.     

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