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Pastoralists in the Modern World | Class 9 History

The chapter notes include information about nomadic pastoralists and their way of life. Additionally, we will learn about the influence of pastoralism on societies such as India and Africa, the impact of colonialism on their life, and how they have dealt with the pressures of contemporary society.


What do we understand by the term 'Nomad'?

A nomad is a member of a community without fixed habitation which regularly moves to and from the same areas. Such groups include hunter-gatherers, pastoral nomads, and tinkers or trader nomads.

Nomadic Pastoralists can be seen in different parts of India, with their herds of goats and sheep or camels and cattle.

Pastoralism has been an important branch of history. We often talk about agriculture and industry, sometimes artisans; but rarely about pastoralists.

India and Africa are the important centres for pastoral society.

In The Mountains

Gujjar Bakarwals

They are the great herders of goat and sheep in the region of Jammu & Kashmir. In the 19th century they migrated to the mountains in the search of pastures and animals. They established themselves in the area and shuffled between the summer and winter grazing grounds.

In winter, they moved to the low hills of the ‘Siwalik Range’, where they facilitated themselves with pasture for their herds.

They started their northern march by the end of April, towards their summer grazing grounds. Several households came together for this journey, forming what is known as a kafila.

Again by the end of September, they started to move towards their winter base.

Gaddi Shepherds

The Gaddi shepherds are the nomadic tribe of Himachal Pradesh. They move during summer and winter seasons. The Gaddis lived in the low hills of Siwaliks during the winter season as high mountains were covered with snow. Their cattle grazed in the scrub forests.

They had a similar cycle of seasonal movement.

The Gujjar cattle herds from the further east came down to the dry forests of the bhabar in the winter and went up to the high meadows – the bugyals – in summer.

They followed the pattern of cyclical movement between summer and winter pastures, it was typical to many pastoral communities of the Himalayas, including the Bhotiyas, Sherpas and Kinnauris.

On the Plateaus, Plains & Deserts

The pastoralists not only operate in the mountains. They can be found in the regions of Plateaus, plains and Desert in India.


An important pastoral community of Maharashtra, they used to stay in the region during monsoon. In the monsoon this tract became a vast grazing ground for the Dhangar flocks. By October the Dhangars harvested their bajra and started on their move west.

By completing a march for about a month they reached Konkan, where they were welcomed by the Konkani peasants. After the kharif harvest was cut at this time, the fields had to be fertilised and made ready for the rabi harvest. They also got the supplies of rice from the Konkani peasants and took to the plateau where the grain was sacred.

In the state of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the dry central plateau was covered with stone and grass, inhabited by cattle, goats and sheepherders called Gollas herded cattle. The Kurumas and Kurubas reared sheep and goats and sold woven blankets. During the dry season, they moved to the coastal tracts and left when the rains came.

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

Raikas of Rajasthan

Raikas lived in the deserts of Rajasthan. During the monsoons, the Raikas of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner stayed in their villages, where pasture was available. By October, they moved out in search of other pasture and water and returned again during the next monsoon.

How did the Pastoral groups sustain?

The following factors are responsible:

● They had to judge how long the herds could stay in one area, and where they could find water and pasture.

● They needed to calculate the timing of their movements and ensure that they could move through different territories.

● They had to set up a relationship with farmers on the way so that the herds could graze in harvested fields and manure the soil.

Colonial Rule & Pastoral Life

How did Pastoral life change under colonial rule?

The Pastoral life changed dramatically in the following ways:

● Grazing grounds shrank

● Regulated movements

● Increased revenue with a decline in the trade

What were the steps taken by the colonial government in order to take over the land?

The colonial government took various steps:

● Waste land rules were enacted to convert all the grazing land into the cultivable lands.

● Forest Acts were also enacted in some areas with valuable timber and got them reserved. Pastoralists were barred from these forests.

Pastoralists were barred from entering these areas and the government granted them some customary grazing rights. It was believed that grazing destroyed the saplings and young shoots of trees that germinated on the forest floor.

● The Criminal Tribes Act was passed in 1871. This restricted many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists who were classified as Criminal Tribes.

Once this Act came into force, these communities were expected to live only in notified village settlements. They were not allowed to move out without a permit. The village police kept a continuous watch on them.

● Tax was imposed on land, on canal water, on salt, on trade goods, and even on animals. Pastoralists had to pay tax on every animal they grazed on the pastures.

The tax per head of cattle went up rapidly and the system of collection was made increasingly efficient. To enter a grazing tract, a cattle herder had to show the pass and pay the tax. The number of cattle heads he had and the amount of tax he paid was entered on the pass.

How the Forest Act changed the lives of the Pastoralists?

Through the forest act they were prevented from entering many forests that had earlier provided valuable forage for their cattle. Their movements were regulated, with the specific time allotted for them to enter and depart from a particular area.

Pastoralists could no longer remain in an area even if forage was available, the grass was succulent and the undergrowth in the forest was ample. They had to move because the Forest Department permits that had been issued to them now ruled their lives.

The permit specified the period of a stay, if overstayed they were liable to fines.

How Did the Pastoralists Cope with these Changes?

Pastoralists reacted to these changes in various ways:

● They reduced the number of cattle and some discovered new pastures. After 1947, the new political boundaries between India and Pakistan stopped the camel and sheep herding Raikas, to graze their camels on the banks of the Indus.

● Over the years, some richer pastoralists bought land and settled down, giving up their nomadic life. Some became peasants by cultivating land, others indulged in trading.

● On the other hand, poor pastoralists borrowed money from moneylenders to survive. They still continued to survive and in many regions, their numbers have expanded.

● In many other parts of the world, new laws and settlement patterns forced pastoral communities to alter their lives.

Pastoralism in Africa

Pastoralism is a livelihood pursued by more than 20 million Africans across about 50 percent of the continent's total area.

In drier parts of the continent pastoralists concentrate mainly on camels and goats, but, in higher rainfall lands, they focus on cattle, sheep, and goats.

In Africa, even today, over 22 million Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity for their livelihood. Like pastoralists in India, the lives of African pastoralists have changed dramatically over the colonial and post-colonial periods.

Where have the Grazing Lands Gone? - The Story of Maasailand, Kenya

Before colonial times, Maasailand stretched over a vast area from north Kenya to the steppes of northern Tanzania. In 1885, it was cut into half with an international boundary between British Kenya and German Tanganyika.

After the cut, 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. From the late nineteenth century, the British colonial government in east Africa encouraged local peasant communities to expand cultivation.

In pre-colonial times, the Maasai pastoralists had dominated their agricultural neighbours both economically and politically. The loss of the finest grazing lands and water resources created pressure on the small area of land that the Maasai were confined within.

The Borders are Closed - Restrictions of Movement

In the nineteenth century, African pastoralists could move over vast areas in search of pastures. But, from the late nineteenth century, the colonial government began imposing various restrictions on their mobility White settlers and European colonists saw pastoralists as dangerous and savage.

The new territorial boundaries and restrictions imposed on them suddenly changed the lives of pastoralists, which adversely affected both their pastoral and trading activities.

No movement when pastures dried.

Pastoralists’ lives were affected by drought everywhere. That is why, traditionally, pastoralists move from place to place to survive bad times and avoid crises. But from the colonial period, the Maasai were bound down to a fixed area, confined within a reserve, and prohibited from moving in search of pastures.

As the area of grazing lands shrank, the adverse effect of the droughts increased in intensity.

Not All were Equally Affected

In Maasailand, not all pastoralists were equally affected by the changes in the colonial period. In pre-colonial times Maasai society was divided into two social categories – elders and warriors.

ELDERS : The elders formed the ruling group and met in periodic councils to decide on the affairs of the community and settle disputes.

WARRIORS : The warriors consisted of younger people, mainly responsible for the protection of the tribe and defended the community and organised cattle raids.

The British introduced a series of measures that had important implications, to administer the affairs of the Maasai. They appointed chiefs of different sub-groups of Maasai, who were made responsible for the affairs of the tribe. Restrictions were also imposed on raiding and warfare. These chiefs managed to survive the devastations of war and drought. But the life history of the poor pastoralists was different. In times of war and famine, they lost nearly everything.

They had to go looking for work in the towns. Some used to work as charcoal burners, and some did odd jobs to earn their living.

The social changes in Maasai society occurred at two levels:

● The traditional difference based on age, between the elders and warriors, was disturbed, though it did not break down entirely.

● A new distinction between the wealthy and poor pastoralists developed.


Pastoral communities in different parts of the world are affected in different ways by changes in the modern world. Their pattern of movement was affected by new laws and new borders. Pastoralists find it difficult to move in search of pastures and grazing becomes difficult.

During the time of drought, cattle die in large numbers. Yet, pastoralists do adapt to new times. They change the paths of their annual movement, reduce their cattle numbers, press for rights to enter new areas, exert political pressure on the government for relief, subsidy and other forms of support and demand a right in the management of forests and water resources.


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