Pastoralists of the modern world
Who are pastoralists ….
These are people who make a living by rearing animals like sheep, cows, buffalo, camel etc. They need vast stretches of land to graze these animals. They milk the animals and earn their income by selling the milk, ghee and cheese.Since they need to make available abundant grass and other such leafy products for their animals, they must move from place to place to find suitable grazing grounds. This makes them nomadic. Seldom do they take to farming as they do not like to be tied down to a fixed location.
Why we need to study such ‘insignificant’ groups…
Pastoralists have been there since centuries in many parts of the world. We can find them in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, U.P, Madhya Pradesh and Maharastra in India. They are also there vast numbers in different parts of Africa.
Their life style is simple and is in sync with Nature. They rarely come into conflict with their environment and other communities. So, they do not provide absorbing stories for historians and social scientists.
Looking a little dipper, we will find that these nomadic groups provide invaluable lessons in conserving Nature. They do not overgraze the meadows and forests. Nor do they indulge in intensive agriculture and industrial activities. So, their carbon foot-print is negligible. In these times when humans joust to industrialize, and so pollute the environment, the nomadic pastoralists can be described as environment-warriors. In parts of Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh and U.P, the locals welcome the nomadic pastoralists eagerly. The animals manure the lands and eat up the stubs left from the earlier harvest. This twin benefit makes the herds and the herdsman a welcome guest i9n the fields.
As the pressure on land increases, the nomadic pastoralists come under more and more pressure to get grazing grounds. Their number is shrinking. Time will come when these benign communities will become extinct. The human race will lose an important component.
This is the reason why we must study the nomadic pastoralists with greater interest.
Large nomadic pastoralist groups of India …
They are in the Jammu and Kashmir, and in Himacxhal Pradesh. Both groups have many things in common such as …
a. Both groups live off the vegetation in the lower and higher reaches of the Shivalik range of mountains.
b. In winter, when the higher altitudes become very cold and lose vegetation, they descend down the slopes with their herds. It happens in September every year.
c. In summer, in the month of April, they climb up the mountains as high as 10,000 feet where their animals get fresh vegetation in abundance.
There are important differences between the nomadic pastoralists of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Differences between the nomadic pastoralists of the Jammu and Kashmir region and the Himachal Pradesh region..
a. Name .. Those in Jammu and Kashmir region are known as Gujjar Bakarwals, where as those in the Himachal Pradesh area are known as Gaddis’.
b. Way of living .. The Gujjar Bakarwals are completely nomadic people. They do not do any agriculture. The Gadds, on the other hand, are semi-nomadic. They do farming, although in a very limited way and using simple techniques.
c. Religion .. The Gujjar Bakarwals are Muslims, where as the Gaddis are Hindus (Brahmins and Rajputs) who mostly worship of Lord Siva.
d. Origin .. The exact place of origin of the Gujjar Bakarwals is unknown although it is believed that they came from Central Asian regions. The Gaddis are Hindus of the plains of Rajastan, Gujarat and western Punjab, who fled to the safety of the western Himalayan mountain ranges to escape persecution by Moghul rulers and other Muslim Kings.
e. Composition of the herds .. Both the Gujjar Bakarwals and the Daddis keep sheep and goats. But the Gujjar Bakawals keep buffalos which the Daddis don’t keep. The buffalos are of a special breed who can climb up to 10, 000 feet.
f. Annual migration route and pastoral practices ..
From September to April (the winter months), you will find the Gujjar Bakarwals living in the foot hills of the Himalayas along with their herd of sheep, goat and buffalos. It is relatively warmer there compared to the upper reaches of the mountains. The animals eat the dry scrubs of the forests.
From April to September (summer months), it begins to get warmer, and the snow melts in the higher reaches of the mountains. Simultaneously, the terrain becomes lush green with tender grass and other such green vegetation. The Guljjar Bakarwals start their upward ascent in groups of several households to form kafilas. Within days, they cross the Pir Panjar pass to enter the Kashmir valley. The animals feast on the abundant sprouts and green forage available there. Such good times continue till September when winter returns bringing with it cold and snow. The Gujjars start their downward descent to reach the lower foot Hills (known as the Shivalik Hills) where the animals revert to eating the forest shrubs.
In short … September to April .. You will find the Gujjar Bakarwalsin the lower altitude areas in the foothills with their herds. April to September … You will find the Gujjar Bakarwalsin in the higher altitude area in the upper reaches with their herds.
The Gaddis adopt a slightly different path, although they too follow the same April-September-April cycle. As winter sets in (End of September – early October), the Gaddis leave their winter abodes in Bharmour and Lahaul. These are typical Gaddi villages. With their herds, they descend down to Kangra valley and Pathankot in the lower foothills, where the sheep and goat feed on forest shrubs. In early April, when the climate gets warmer with summer setting in, the Daddis return with their herds to their respective villages to manure their fields. This is the early farming season. After this, they begin the second stage of their upward trek. They move further north to reach higher altitudes. The animals get plenty of fresh green grass and vegetation to feed on. The herdsmen along witheir animals stay in this high altitude terrain till September end –till the onset of winter. By the end of September and early October, the herds return from the higher altitude areas. They stay in their lands in the villages where the animals manure the fields to aid farming.
In short ..
1. Daddis do some farming during April to September. When the herds are away grazing in the higher altitudes under the care of a few Daddis, some members of their family stay back to do farming in their villages. They own these lands.
2. The Daddi migration is a two-stage process, with their village coming in between the summer grazing ground in high altitudes and the winter grazing ground in the low altitudes.
3. The Gujjar Bakarwals don’t take to cultivation as they have no lands. They have no villages of their own. They are nomads in the true sense of the term.
4. The Gaddis do both – keeping herds and doing farming. So, they are financially better off as they have two sources of income.
5. In the Garhwal and Kumaon lying to the east, the Gujjars descend to the dry forests in winter known as bhabar. In summer they climb up to reach the lush green meadows known as bugyals.
Apart from the Gujjar Bakarwals and the Gaddis, the Himalayan region has many other nomadic groups of pastoralists. Some of them are the Bhutiyas, Sherpas and Kinnauris. All the nomadic groups have the same trait –move to those terrains where food is available for the herds, stay there till the fodder lasts, and then move back to the original place where the vegetation has re-grown in the mean time.
Such cyclical migration helps the vegetation to regenerate. The environment does not come under undue pressure. Thus, the risks of over-exploitation of the forests and the meadows are avoided. It is an unique way of living in sync with nature.
One must bear in mind the fact that migrant pastoralists are by no means restricted to mountains only. The plains of India also have many such groups.
In Maharastra …
We can talk about the Dhangars of Maharastra. These communities were mostly shepherds and buffalo herders, although some of them took to weaving blankets. They inhabited the central part of Maharastra where rainfall is less and the soil is not very fertile. Thorny shrubs abound in such terrains. Only crops like Bajra can be grown here. The Dhangars grow Bajra. Water-intensive crops like paddy, sugarcane and wheat can not be grown here. In the monsoon, the place becomes green with forage offering vast tracts of grazing ground for the herds kept by the Dhangars.
By October, the Dhangars harvest the Bajra from their fields, and begin their westward trek. In about a month, they reach the K onkan area. This area gets adequate rainfall and is good for agriculture. The local Konkani peasants welcome the incoming Dhangar herds. There are two reasons for such welcome. These are
1. The animals of the Dhangars manure the fields owned by the Konkan farmers.
2. The animals feed on the stubble left from the earlier harvest, thus clearing up the fields of unwanted left-overs that could catch fire.
The Kharif crop (autumn crop) gets harvested by September and October. As the monsoon returns, the Dhangars return to their settlements in the dry plateaus. This helps the sheep in the herds who find the humidity of the monsoon unbearable.
In Karnataka and Andhra …
The central regions of these two states are dry, rocky and covered with patches of grass. Cattle, sheep and sheep herders inhabit these areas.
The Gollas, one such community, have cattle herds. The Kurumas and Kurubus reared sheep and goats. The wool obtained from these animals are woven to rough blankets and sold giving the Kurumas and the Kurubus an additional source of income.
Difference between the pastoralists of the mountains and the plains ………..
In the plains, the onset of the monsoon and its receding determines the time of migration of the pastoral groups from and to the coastal regions. In dry season, they are in the coastal areas — in the wet months, they are back to their original places. In this regard, these pastoral groups are different from the Gujjar Bakawaals and the Gaddis who travel back and forth with the summer –winter cycle.
In UP, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharastra ..
a. The Banjaras are the predominant pastoral groups of these places. They traverse long distances in search of pastures. Along the way, they sell plough cattle, ghee, milk, cheese and other products to villagers. From the villagers, they procure grain and fodder in barter basis.
b. The Raikas inhabit the deserts of Rajasthan. These places receive scanty rainfall in a very erratic manner. One can not depend upon cultivation for a living in such areas. This is the reason why, the Raikas keep herds. This dual source of income helps the Raikas to survive the bad years when the monsoon fails altogether. Also, in normal years, when they manage to a get some meager harvest, the animals offer them an additional income source.
c. During the monsoon times, the Raikas of Jaiselmer, Barmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner stay in their villages of origin. Rainfall ensures some minimal vegetation, which is good for the animals to graze on. By October, it gets dry and the terrain becomes barren. To look for food and water for their animals, the tribes are forced to venture out to other regions. When monsoon returns next, they trek back to their villages.
The Maru group among the Raaikas herds camels. Another group rears sheep and goat. We can understand that the Raikas have to plan their survival strategy carefully. The factors weighing in the minds are …
a. How long the green vegetation and water around their villages would last.
b. When they should start moving and where they should go to get water and forage.
c. By which route they should go
d. The task of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with the host farmers who would offer their fields for grazing in return for manuring by the visiting animals.
Thus, the struggle for existence of these pastoral groups had three components.
How did the lifestyle of these pastoral groups change during and after the colonial rule?
Effect of Colonial rule ..
Till now, we have seen how pastoralists in different parts of India led their nomadic / semi-nomadic lives in areas such as Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Maharastra, Andhra P radish and Karnataka.
Under the colonial rule, things changed for the worse in the following ways.
1. Their grazing areas shrank in size.
2. Their un-fettered movement from place to place was regulated.
3. The revenue they paid to the government increased considerably as the colonial rulers wanted to mop up higher revenue from all across India.
4. The herd size got reduced as the herdsmen found it difficult to maintain bigger number of animals.
5. Their trades and craft slowly started to lose markets.
Why did all these happen….
a. The colonial rulers felt that the grazing lands can be put to more productive use by converting them to agricultural land, instead of allowing them to remain fallow where only wild grass and bushes grew. The benefits were ..
1. By doing this, the colonial government, who had their eyes constantly on the government coffers, could collect more revenue from the farmers who used these lands for farming. Un-used barren land brought little revenue for the government.
2. Additionally, more land under agriculture meant more jute, cotton, wheat, paddy etc. Most of these were needed to feed the factories in England.
How did the colonial government accomplish their shred objectives …
a. Waste Land Rules … By mid-nineteenth century, the colonial government enacted the Waste Land Rules. It was made applicable in those parts of India that had vast swathes of grazing land, cleverly described by the then government as ‘waste land’. The new rules empowered the government to take over all lands lying barren, and distribute the same among favored farmers and prominent individuals. Through various concessions, the new owners were encouraged to reclaim the newly-acquired lands. Some of these beneficiaries were made ‘headmen’ in the new areas. Thus, the government initiative resulted in expansion of agricultural land at the expense of grazing land.
b. Forest Act … Around the same time, the government enacted the Forest Act in different provinces. The forests that had important plantations like Sal or Deodar were declared as ‘Reserved’. These forests became off-limits for the pastoralist groups. Other forests were declared as ‘Protected’. Some customary grazing was allowed in these areas, but for the name-shake. For all practical purposes, these forests also became off-limits for the herders. The argument advanced by the colonial administrators who crafted such legislation was quite interesting. They said that the animals trampled over the sprouts, ate away the saplings devastating the forests. It was conveniently forgotten that the forests had thrived since time immemorial despite the annual visit of the animals. The Forest Act came as a big curse for the pastoralists. The mainstay of their livelihood –the grazing fields—was now gone, for ever. In some areas, they were allowed nominal access, which was too less to sustain herds for long durations. With curtailed grazing time and duration, the pastoralists felt strangulated. The draconian rules made it impossible to let the herds graze in places where the green vegetation was aplenty. The restrictive Forest Department permits became the bane in their lives. Any offender was slapped with fines.
c. Suspicion of the nomadic tribes .. Somehow, the colonialists could not bring themselves to trust these groups who moved from place to place. Perhaps, their mobility and lack of a fixed address made them unworthy of the government’s trust. The colonialists found it easier to control and dominate a fixed population. His fixed address made it easier for the administration to coerce him. The nomads were, clearly, out of such gambit. The people on the move always were perceived as bandits and not law-abiding. To rein in these groups, the government enacted the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871. It was a punitive act that described the pastoralists, some craftsmen and traders as Communal Tribes. They were stated to be inherently criminal in nature and lineage. They had to live in demarcated areas, not move around freely and seek a permit if at all they need to go anywhere. The village police eyed their movements.
d. To enrich their coffers, the colonial government cast its net far and wide. New items were brought under taxable items list. Water, land, salt, some merchandise and even animals were made taxable commodities. Tax on animals soared fast. Tax collection became the government’s top priority. It left no room for delinquency. Every body had to comply.
Between 1850 and 1880, the colonial government passed on the job of tax collection to contractors. A process of bidding for specific areas was introduced. Whoever bid the highest, got the tax collection right. These contractors turned out to be ruthless collectors as they had to collect enough amount to pay the government dues and make a good enough profit for themselves.
By 1880, the government started to collect the revenue from the pastoralists directly. It was a tight revenue collection procedure, too cumbersome and penalizing for the poor, illiterate herdsmen. They had to get a pass. It had to be shown at the point of entry into the forest. The number of cattle, the time of entry and the tax paid had to be entered in the pass. It was a stifling procedure indeed.
All these measures led to fast shrinking of the grazing grounds. The cattle had to graze in restricted land. Consequently, the pastures were over-grazed. The earlier regeneration of green grasses in the lands did not happen. The pastures lost their green cover. This aggravated the shortage of forage. No wonder, with less fodder available, the herds became sick and lean. Scarcity and famines ravaged the livestock.
How did the pastoralists adjust to such adverse conditions …
The colonial administration tightened the noose around the pastoralists’ neck through fair and foul means. These nomadic groups were powerless before the might of the administration. They had no education, no financial clout, no voting power, no association, no lawyer and no leader. With so many negatives, they had no way but to obey the oppressive regulations of the British.
Some groups reduced the number of animals in their herds to reduce the grazing land requirement. A few others walked to different grazing sites where the restrictive rules did not apply and adequate forage was available.
But, the partition of the country resulted in further disruption of their migration and foraging habits. The Sindh province went to Pakistan, so the banks of the Indus river became out of reach for the camel and sheep herds of the Rashikas of Rajasthan.
With Sindh gone, the pastoralists found some areas of Haryana as alternate forage. After the harvest is cut, the sheep could feed on the stubs and some little green growths in the fields. The harmers also want their fields manured. It, therefore, provided some grazing ground for the harassed pastoralists. This has been the trend in recent years.
Pastoralists attempts to innovate and survive …..
To overcome the constant strain of haunting for new grazing grounds, the pastoralists had to adopt some non-conventional means.
a. Some moneyed pastoralists bought land to start agriculture. For these people, it was a big break from the past nomadic life. They were pinned down to their lands and fields.
b. Some other pastoralists focused on full time trading which was a side business earlier.
c. Some unfortunate members were too poor to buy land or take to trading. They fell to the clutches of the moneylenders to meet their needs. At times, they could not repay the loans and had to lose their entire herds to the moneylenders. In distress, these proud sons of the soil became daily wage earners to earn their living.
Pastoralists survived and flourished too. …
But some pastoralists were too gritty to give up. They successfully weathered the adverse conditions with tenacity and perseverance. In recent times, they have not only thrived, but also expanded their herds. Their survival strategy is commendable. When the access to the meadows and the grazing fields was denied, they moved away to other pastures, reduced their herd sizes, and started some other ancillary activities to augment their incomes. Such ability to adapt stood them in good stead.
Some ecologists believe that arid lands that lack rains and therefore, abundant vegetation need the pastoralists to survive. The wandering animals provide unique way to add to the fertility of the soil, and eat away the disposable green growths. Pastoralists sustain plant, animal and human lives in an eco-friendly way.
It is not that pastoralists had to bear the brunt of arbitrary legislation and population pressure only in India. Worldwide, these pastoral groups have been at the receiving end of population growth, political turmoil and industrialization.
Pastoralists in Africa …
Africa is a vast swathe of semi-arid grasslands and arid deserts. These sun-exploited lands lend themselves easily to the demand of wandering herds of domestic animals. Half of the world’s total pastoral population, numbering about 22 million, is in Africa.
The prominent African pastoralist groups are the Beduins, Berbers, Massai, Somali, Borai and Turkana. They rear cattle, sheep, goat, camel and donkeys. They sell the milk, meat, skin and wool obtained from their animals. Trade and transport jobs also form part of their effort to earn their livelihood.
Some groups, like the Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh, combine agriculture with their pastoral profession. Some others do a variety of odd jobs to supplement their low incomes.
Like in India, colonization by the Europeans disturbed their nomadic animal rearing life styles. How the pastoralists adapted to the changes during the colonial and post-colonial period makes very interesting reading.
The East African Massai tribes present a very interesting case for study. Massai people rear cattle. In Kenya, their number is 30, 000, and in Tanzania, they number 1, 50, 000. Laws changed from time to time impacting the life style of these groups.
The vanishing grazing grounds ….
With the advent of the colonial rule, the Massais saw progressive shrinking of their pastures. Once this tribe of herdsmen held sway over a vast expanse of land from North Kenya to the steppes of northern Tanzania.
In the nineteenth century, the European colonizers were indulged in a frenzied effort to expand their control of land. They divided the land among themselves drawing new boundaries.
The vast Massailand was spilt into two equal regions between the British and the Germans as British Kenya and German Tanganyika. The white masters usurped the best grazing lands for themselves pushing the Massai tribes to south Kenya and north Tanzania.
The colonizers were quick to realize the value of the fecund soil for agriculture, which, till then, was the grazing ground. Through a combination of enticement and coercion, the British colonial masters encouraged the local Massai communities to take to farming.
Gradually, the contours of the landscape changed. Agricultural fields expanded and pastures receded. So did the fortunes of the pastoralists. The Massai herdsmen were once quite affluent compared to those in agriculture. With the expansion of farming, the clout and wealth of the farming community gradually increased at the expense of the pastoralists. By the time curtains came down on colonial rule, the farmers were far well-off than the nomadic herdsmen.
The British converted vast pieces of grazing land to game reserves. Large parks like the Massai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya, and the Serengati Park in Tanzania came into existence. These parks were off-limits for the pastoralists. They were debarred from grazing their animals and hunting in these parks. These grazing grounds were mostly carved out of lands that had historically been grazing grounds enjoyed by the Massai herds. The Serengeti National Park ate up some 14, 760 sq km of Massailand.
Quite similar to the situation in India, such diversion of grazing land squeezed the Massai herdsmen to smaller stretches of pastures. With lesser fodder, the animals’ quality and productivity deteriorated.
Borders closed ….
As we have seen earlier, the nomadic pastoralists had a virtual free run over large swathes of grazing land of Africa. They moved to a different place when the forage in one place was depleted. This was the position in the nineteenth century.
From the late nineteenth century, with the coming of the European colonizers, this unfettered freedom was gone. Grazing grounds were demarcated. Tribes other than the Massai also did not escape the restrictions imposed by the white masters. When the herds had to move to a different location, their owners had to procure permits from the administration. Availing permits was too cumbersome for the illiterate tribesmen. Those, who broke the restrictions, had to face the heavy hand of the law.
In a system akin to that of the apartheid of South Africa, the white settlers’ living and market areas were off-limits for the herdsmen. Like this, they were debarred from trading in quite a few areas. The white settlers dreaded the pastoralist perceiving to be hostile and dangerous. The Europeans wanted to keep the nomadic pastoralists at arm’s length.
Nevertheless complete segregation was not possible as the colonizers needed farmhands, mine workers and labourers for doing odd jobs. Only the black population could provide the people who could toil to build roads, build ownships etc. The restrictions on movements hit the pastoralist hard. It disrupted their way of living. Their trade and animal rearing were hampered.
Drying of pastures ..
Droughts ravaged the pastoralists. When rains were scanty or did not come at all, the green vegetation dried up. Forage vanished necessitating the movement of cattle to areas where grass and other green growths were available.
Nomadic life style was the best vanguard against nature’s swings, but restrictions hit nomadic life style at its very roots. Pinning them down in specific areas through administrative orders made the animals and their owners to the onslaught of draught. When the situation worsened, cattle died in large numbers due to starvation and disease.
The Masais in Kenya lost half their herds in the two consecutive droughts of 1933 and 1934. Droughts came regularly, depleting the herds steadily. All did not suffer the same way …
In Massailand and in other pastoral lands in Africa, the society was divided into two sections. The elders and the warriors. The elders looked after administration. They met in periodic intervals to deliberate upon matters of social and economic life. They settled disputes too.
The warriors were the younger generation who shouldered the defense responsibilities of the tribe. They protected their flock and launched hostile forays to other communities to forcibly grab their cattle. Such invasions were the normal practice of nomadic tribe life then.
Success in the conquests enhanced the dominance of a tribe. So, taking part in raids elevated the status of a young member from boyhood to manhood. It was a phase everyone went through. The warriors, however, operated under the control of the elders.
When the British came to the Massailand, they cleverly manipulated the tribal chiefs and brought them to their side. Thus, they avoided the direct contact with the tribes. Savage practices like raids, internecine wars were discouraged and finally stopped. Inadvertently, both the elders and the warriors came to obey the British as their masters. The chief appointed by the British gradually assumed a lot of power and amassed wealth. With their steady income, they bought animals, goods and land. They became moneylenders too helping out those in need of cash. Some of these chiefs to live in nearby towns, leaving behind their wives and children back in the villages to care for the herds.
Because of their wealth, these affluent chiefs could fight off drought and the occasional wars. Their dual income from pastoral profession and trade enabled them to buy new herds to replenish their herds. But the poor pastoralists languished as they had no additional source of income. With slender resources, they became easy targets to the vagaries of nature. The occasional wars and droughts used to rob them of everything. Some did odd jobs like charcoal burners. Others went to nearby towns to look for work. Some managed to get regular work in infrastructural projects.
The Massai community was first divided into two parts –the warriors and the elders. Later, it was dived into haves and have-nots. In other words it meant the wealthy and the poor.
In summary we can say that the pastoral communities were adversely impacted by colonization. The limitation on their mobility hit them hard. But, they adapted to the adversity rather well. In the past few decades, they have become more assertive, asking the government for relief and various other types of assistance. Their roles as benign guards of the environment is now being understood and appreciated.