Cattle people in East Africa
Tribal societies can generally be called equalitarian societies. The main goal of tribal societies is humanization; ‘the production and maintenance of human beings and human societies and cultures’ (Bodley 2005:19). Social power within these tribal societies is based on a domestic level, which results in less centralized power. When specifically examining the tribal herders in East Africa, it can be said that they were able to create cultures that maximize personal freedom. These cultures still manage to meet the needs of society and maintain a relatively equal civilization (Bodley 2005). Moreover, tribal people have been able to successfully live in East Africa for over 5000 years by adapting to a changing environment. Meanwhile, they were able to achieve this cultural stability with larger societies compared to Amazonians and Australian Aborigines. Therefore, it is interesting to examine how the East African cultures were able to create and maintain an equal society. This essay will explore how social and economic equality is maintained in the tribal societies in East Africa (also referred to as cattle people) by examining the different factors which contribute to this equality. The main focus will be on the Nuer culture, while Maasai culture is also used in explaining the age-set system. I will begin by looking into the environmental factors that influence the East African cultures, followed by studying the distribution and importance of cattle and their political system. After this, the age-set system will be described and it consequences for society. Finally, I will provide a conclusive summary of the body of work. Environmental factors
The environment in which the East African people live is part of a tropical savanna ecosystem, which is mainly a grassland zone. According to Evans-Pritchard (1940), Europeans perspective on Nuerland was that it did not possess any favorable qualities, this is in contrary to the point of view of Nuer people, who believe their country is the finest of all. Even though savannas are dominated by very few species, it has some favorable features for herdsman. The savannas have a pronounced wet and dry season, which means that there are extreme seasonal variations in rainfall. As a result their country is more suitable for pastoralism than for agriculture. Another consequence of these environmental conditions is the nomadic lifestyle of East African people. During floods they have to seek for higher ground, while the dry seasons drive them to move to other places in their search for water for themselves and their cattle, this phenomenon is called transhumant (Evans-Pritchard 1940:57). Therefore, the year consists of a period in camps near lakes (dry season) and a period in villages (wet season). This nomadic life also results in less conflict, whenever there is inequality or conflict; there is always the possibility for parts of the group to move away. The nomadic lifestyle also leads to less accumulation which is another reason why it’s easier to move away. During the dry season there is more chance on famine, resulting in a higher degree of interdependence among members of especially the smaller groups. According to Evans-Pritchard (1940) there are unwritten rules about hospitality and the sharing of food; people assist each other when there is a shortage in milk, grain, fish or any other products. An explanation for this is that almost everyone suffers from the scarcity of food at some points, therefore people are more likely to share because the next time it could be them in need for food supplies.
Cattle distribution and Nuer’s political system
One of the main characteristic of Nuer people is that they consider themselves herdsman above all. They put an enormous emphasis on the (cultural) importance of cattle. Moreover, their environment is better suited for pastoralism than for anything else. Therefore, their principle economic...
References: Bodley, J.H. 2005. Cultural Anthroplogy, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1940. The Nuer: a description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a nilotic people, Oxford: Clarendon press
Tignor, L.E. 1972. The Maasai Warriors: Pattern Maintenance and Violence in Colonial Kenya, Cambridge: Cambridge University press
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