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Pastoralism in Africa

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Pastoralism in Africa - Lesson Summary

Africa, the second largest continent in the world with a history of colonialism is home to many pastoral communities like Bedouins, Berbers, Maasai, Somali, Boran and Turkana.

They live in semi-arid grasslands where agriculture is not possible and earn a living through their livestock like cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys by selling their milk, meat, animal skin and wool.

The harsh effects of Colonialism changed the lives of African pastoralists drastically. The Maasai tribe was victims of the colonial rule living on the eastern Africa. One of the major changes was the loss of pastoral lands.

In the pre-colonial period the Maasai land stretched from north Kenya to northern Tanzania but in 1885 was cut into half with an international boundary between British Kenya and German Tanganyika. 60% of Maasai land was taken over for white settlements pushing the Massai’s to an arid zone with uncertain rainfall and poor pastures.

The British colonial government encouraged local peasant communities to expand cultivation consuming the pasturelands of the Maasai. Large areas of grazing land were converted into game reserves like the Maasai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya and Serengeti Park in Tanzania.

Though an income source for the colonizers, it was a blow to the pastoralists as they were not allowed to enter these reserves; nor hunt animals or graze their herds in turn affecting their livelihood. The droughts of 1933 and 1934 caused immense damage to the Massai’s losing half of their livestock.

The British colonists interfered in the traditional customs of the Maasai trying controlling their society. The British appointed various chiefs from other sub groups and placed restrictions on warfare and raiding.

The appointed chiefs became rich by trading in the towns and lending money to the poor pastoralists at high interest rates. They worked in towns, building roads and in construction, as charcoal burner or doing odd jobs. This also caused a huge distinction between the rich and the poor pastoralists.


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