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Pastoralists in the World (Africa)

Africa has half of the world’s pastoral population. The Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity for their livelihood. Their pastoral communities include Bedouins, Berbers, Maasai, Somali, Boran and Turkana. Most of them lived in the semi-arid grasslands or arid deserts where rain fed agriculture is difficult. They raised cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys; and they sold milk, meat, animal skin and wool. They also earned through trade and transport.

The Maasai lived in the areas stretched over north Kenya to the steppes of northern Tanzania. The Maaasailand was cut into half in 1885 between British Kenya and German Tanganyika. The Maasai were pushed into a small area of south Kenya and north Tanzania.

The British encouraged cultivation, pasture lands were turned into cultivated fields. Large areas of grazing land were also turned into game reserves such as Maasai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya and Serengeti Park in Tanzania.Pastoralist’s movements were restricted.
The loss of the finest grazing lands and water resources created pressure on the small area of land that the Maasai were confined within. Continuous overgrazing of the land deteriorated the quality of pasture. It led to the shortage of fodder and feeding the cattle became a problem for the Maasai.

The Maasai were not allowed to move out with their stock without special permits. It was also difficult to get permits without trouble and harassment. Those found guilty of disobeying the rules were severely punished.

Pastoralists were not allowed to enter the markets in the white areas. The white settlers and European colonists saw pastoralists as dangerous and savage people. They subjected to various restrictions by the whites. The Maasai were further used by the whites for black labour to bore mines and build roads and towns.

The Maasai were forced to stay in semi-arid areas, frequent droughts killed cattle due to starvation and disease. The British appointed chiefs of different sub-groups of Maasai, who were made responsible for the affairs of the tribe. The British imposed various restrictions on raiding and warfare.

The traditional nomadic life allowed them to survive bad times and avoid crises. But the restrictions on their movement greatly affected the Maasai. During drought, they were not allowed to move to places where pasture was available. The Maasai cattle died in large numbers due to starvation and disease.

To administer the affairs of the Maasai, the British introduced series of measures that had important implications. They appointed Chiefs of different groups of Maasai, the chiefs were responsible for the affairs of the tribe. The British imposed restrictions on raiding and warfare, this led to affect the traditional authority of elders and warriors.

The chiefs appointed by the colonial government often accumulated wealth over time. They had a regular income with which they could buy animals, goods and land. These chiefs managed to survive the devastations of war and drought.

The life of the poor pastoralists who depended only on their livestock became miserable. In times of war and famine, they lost nearly everything compelling them to look for works in the towns. Some eked out a living as charcoal burners, others did odd jobs. The one who got a job in road or building construction were lucky enough to survive.

The social changes in Maasai society occurred in two levels. The traditional difference based on age, between the elders and warriors, was disturbed and a new distinction between the wealthy and poor pastoralists developed.

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