Chapter: 5

What are Pastoralist in the Modern World ?

Nomads are people who do not live in one place but move from one area to another to earn their living. In many parts of India, we can see nomadic pastoralists on the move with their herds of goats and sheep, or camels and cattle.

Pastoral Nomads And Their Movements

In the Mountains

  • The Gujjar Bakarwals of Jammu and Kashmir are great herders of goat and sheep.
  • In winter, when the high mountains were covered with snow, they lived with their herds in the low hills of the Siwalik range. The dry scrub forests here provided pasture for their herds.

• Several households came together for this journey, forming what is known as a kafila.

• By end September the Bakarwals were on the move again, this time on their downward journey, back to their winter base.

• In a different area of the mountains, the Gaddi shepherds of Himachal Pradesh had a similar cycle of seasonal movement.

• They too spent their winter in the low hills of Siwalik range.

• By April they moved north and spent the summer in Lahul and Spiti.

On the Plateaus, Plains and Desert

  • The Dhangar shepherds stayed in the central plateau of Maharashtra during the monsoon.

• By October the Dhangars harvested their bajra and started on their move west.

• After a march of about a month they reached the Konkan. This was a flourishing agricultural tract with high rainfall and rich soil. Here the shepherds were welcomed by Konkani peasants.

• Dhangar flocks manured the fields and fed on the stubble.

• The Konkani peasants also gave supplies of rice which the shepherds took back to the plateau where grain was scarce.

• In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, again, the dry central plateau was covered with stone and grass, inhabited by cattle, goat and sheep herders.

  • The Gollas herded cattle.

The Kurumas and Kurubas reared sheep and goats and sold woven blankets.

• They lived near the woods, cultivated small patches of land, engaged in a variety of petty trades and took care of their herds.

  • Banjaras were yet another well-known group of graziers. They were to be found in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

• In search of good pastureland for their cattle, they moved over long distances, selling plough cattle and other goods to villagers in exchange for grain and fodder.

• In the deserts of Rajasthan lived the Raikas.

• The Raikas combined cultivation with pastoralism. During the monsoons, the Raikas of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner stayed in their home villages, where pasture was available.

• By October, when these grazing grounds were dry and exhausted, they moved out in search of other pasture and water, and returned again during the next monsoon.

Colonial Rule And Pastoral Life

  • • Under colonial rule, the life of pastoralists changed dramatically. Their grazing grounds shrank, their movements were regulated, and the revenue they had to pay increased.
  • • The colonial state wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms.
  • • By the mid-nineteenth century, some forests which produced commercially valuable timber like deodar or Sal were declared ‘Reserved’. No pastoralist was allowed access to these forests.
  • • Some customary grazing rights of pastoralists were granted but their movements were severely restricted.
  • • British officials were suspicious of nomadic people. Those who were nomadic were considered to be criminal.
  • • In 1871, the colonial government in India passed the Criminal Tribes Act.
  • • The colonial government imposed tax on every possible source of taxation. Pastoralists had to pay tax on every animal they grazed on the pastures.

How Did these Changes Affect the Lives of Pastoralists?

• When restrictions were imposed on pastoral movements, grazing lands came to be continuously used and the quality of pastures declined.

• Underfed cattle died in large numbers during scarcities and famines.

How Did the Pastoralists Cope with these Changes?

• Some reduced the number of cattle in their herds.

• Others discovered new pastures when movement to old grazing grounds became difficult.

• Over the years, some richer pastoralists began buying land and settling down, giving up their nomadic life.

Pastoralism In Africa

• Over half the world’s pastoral population lives. Even today, over 22 million Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity for their livelihood.

• They include communities like Bedouins, Berbers, Maasai, Somali, Boran and Turkana.

• They raise cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys; and they sell milk, meat, animal skin and wool.

• The Maasai cattle herders live primarily in east Africa: 300, 000 in southern Kenya and another 150,000 in Tanzania.

Where have the Grazing Lands Gone?

• In 1885, Maasailand was cut into half with an international boundary between British Kenya and German Tanganyika.

• Subsequently, the best grazing lands were gradually taken over for white settlement and the Maasai were pushed into a small area in South Kenya and north Tanzania.

• As cultivation expanded, pasturelands were turned into cultivated fields.

• Large areas of grazing land were also turned into game reserves like the Maasai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya and Serengeti Park in Tanzania.

The Borders are Closed

• From the late nineteenth century, the colonial government began imposing various restrictions on their mobility.

• Pastoralists were also not allowed to enter the markets in white areas.

• The new territorial boundaries and restrictions imposed on them suddenly changed the lives of pastoralists.

When Pastures Dry

• Since they could not shift their cattle to places where pastures were available, large numbers of Maasai cattle died of starvation and disease in these years of drought.

Not All were Equally Affected

• In pre-colonial times Maasai society was divided into two social categories – elders and warriors.

• The elders formed the ruling group and met in periodic councils to decide on the affairs of the community and settle disputes. The warriors consisted of younger people, mainly responsible for the protection of the tribe.

• To administer the affairs of the Maasai, the British appointed chiefs of different sub-groups of Maasai, who were made responsible for the affairs of the tribe.

• The chiefs appointed by the colonial government often accumulated wealth over time.

• But the poor pastoralists did not have the resources to tide over bad times. In times of war and famine, they lost nearly everything.