Gujjar Bakarwals live in the mountains of Jammu & Kashmir. They herd goat and sheep. They migrated to this region in the nineteenth century and established in this area. They move between their winter and summer grazing grounds every year. During winter the high mountains are covered with snow. During this season, they move to the low hills of the Shiwalik. By the end of April, they begin their march towards higher mountains.
Gaddi: The Gaddi shepherds live in Himachal Pradesh. They also spend winter in the low hills of the Shiwalik. By April, they move towards north to spend summers in Lahul and Spiti.
Gujjar: The Gujjar cattle herders live in Garhwal and Kumaon. During winter, they come down to the dry forests of the bhabar. During summer, they go up to the high meadows, the bugyals. Many of them migrated from Jammu to the hills of UP in the nineteenth century.
Bhotiyas, Sherpas and Kinnauris are some other pastoral communities of the Himalayas which also follow the cyclical movement between and summer and winter pastures.
Dhangars: Dhangars were important pastoral community of Maharashtra. Their population was estimated to be 467,000 during the early twentieth century. Most of them were shepherds, but some were blanket weavers and some others were buffalo herders. During monsoon, the Dhangars used to stay in the central plateau of Maharashtra. Apart from herding their animals, they also used to grow bajra. By October, they used to harvest their bajra and started their march to west to reach Konkan.
They were welcomed by the Konkani peasants. Dhangar flocks fed on the stubble and manured the fields with their dung. They also took rice from the Konkani farmers and took the rice to the plateau where grain was scarce.
Gollas: The Gollas lived in the plateaus of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They were cattle herders.
Kurumas and Kurubas: The Kurumas and Kurubas also lived in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They reared sheep and goats and sold blankets. They used to live near the forest and cultivated on small patches of land. They were also engaged in petty trades.
For the pastoralists of the central plateau, it was the alteration of monsoon and dry season which governed their seasonal migration. They used to move to the coastal areas during dry seasons, and go back to the central plateaus during monsoon.
Banjaras: The Banjaras lived in villages of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. They used to move long distances in search of good pastureland. They sold plough cattle and other items in exchange for grain and fodder.
Raikas: The Raikas lived in the deserts of Rajasthan. During the monsoons, the Raikas of Barmer, Jaisalemer, Jodhpur and Bikaner used to stay in their home villages because pasture was available. By October, they used to move in search of other pasture and water. They returned again in the next monsoon. The Maru (a group of Raikas) herded camels and another group reared sheep and goat.
The life of these pastoral groups was affected by various factors. The length of their stay in a particular area depended on the availability of pasture and water. They needed to have good knowledge of geography and meteorology to plan their movement. They also had to establish relationship with farmers on the way for mutual benefit.
Colonial Rule and Pastoral Life
The life of pastoralists changed dramatically under the colonial rule.
The colonial rulers wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms. This was necessary to increase land revenue. Additionally, increasing the cultivated land was necessary for increasing the production of jute, cotton and wheat which were required in England.
Waste Land Rules: Waste Land Rules were enacted in different parts of the country from the mid-nineteenth century. Under these rules, uncultivated lands were taken over and given to select individuals. These individuals were encouraged to settle on these lands and were granted various concessions. Some of them were made headmen of villages in the newly cleared areas.
The expansion of cultivated land resulted in significant reduction in grazing grounds. This created huge problem for the pastoralists.
Forest Acts: New Forest Acts were enacted by the mid-nineteenth century. Under these Acts, many forests were declared ‘Reserved’. Pastoralists were not allowed in the reserved forests. Some other forests were classified as ‘Protected’. The pastoralists got some grazing rights in the protected forests but their movements were highly restricted.
These Forest Acts changed the lives of pastoralists. They could not enter many areas and entry to some other areas was restricted. So instead of following the seasonal cycle, they were forced to follow the new Forest Acts; which disturbed their traditional ways of life.
Criminal Tribes Act: The nomadic people were viewed with suspicion by the colonial rulers. The Criminal Tribes Act was passed in 1871. Many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists were classified as Criminal Tribes under this Act. They were forced to live in notified villages only and the police officials kept a watch on them.
The colonial government looked for every possible source of taxation; in order to increase its revenue income. Tax was imposed on land, on canal water, on salt, on trade goods, and even on animals.
Grazing Tax: Grazing tax was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, in most of the pastoral tracts of India. Tax was calculated on the basis of per head of cattle. The tax rate went up rapidly and the tax collection system was made more efficient.
The right to collect the tax was auctioned to contractors between 1850s and 1880s. These contractors tried to extract as high a tax as possible to recover their investment. By 1880s, the government began to directly collect taxes from the pastoralists.
Changes in the Lives of Pastoralists
The availability of pastureland decreased drastically. This resulted in continuous intensive grazing of the remaining pasture. Unlike in the past, the lack of seasonal movement of pastoralists did not allow time for the natural restoration of vegetation growth. This created shortage of forage for animals and the animal stock deteriorated. Most of the cattle died due to shortage of fodder.
How Did the Pastoralists Cope with these Changes?
Some of the pastoralists reduced the number of cattle in their herds. Some others discovered new pastures. For example; when the Raikas could no longer move into Sindh after the partition of 1947; they began to migrate to Haryana in search of new pastures.
Some rich pastoralists began to buy land to settle down and gave up their nomadic life. While some of them became peasants, some others took to more extensive trading.
But the poor pastoralists had to borrow from moneylenders in order to survive. Most of them finally lost their cattle and sheep and became labourers. They began to work in fields or in small towns.
PASTORALISM IN AFRICA
Over half of the world’s pastoral population lives in Africa. Even today, more than 22 million Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity. Bedouins, Berbers, Maasai, Somali, Boran and Turkana are some of the pastoral communities of Africa. Most of them live in the semi-arid grasslands or arid deserts. They raise cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys; and they sell milk, meat, animal skin and wool. Some also earn through trade and transport. Some others combine pastoral activity with agriculture. Many others do a variety of odd jobs to supplement their earnings.
Maasai: The Maasai are cattle herders and they mainly live in east Africa. 300,000 Maasai live in Kenya and about 150,000 live in Tanzania.
Where have the Grazing Lands Gone?
Before the colonial rule, the Maasailand stretched over a vast area from north Kenya to the steppes of northern Tanzania. The European colonial powers began the slicing up of Africa in order to get control of the African continent during the late nineteenth century. The Maasailand was cut into half in 1885. An international boundary separated the British Kenya and German Tanganyika. During the First World War, the British took the control of Tanganyika.
Due to these developments, the Maasai lost more than 60% of their pastureland from the pre-colonial period. They were now confined to an arid zone with poor pastures and uncertain rainfall.
From the late nineteenth century, the local peasant communities were encouraged by the British government to expand cultivation. While the Maasai used to dominate their agricultural neighbours before the colonial rule, the situation had changed now.
Large areas of grazing land were also turned into game reserves, e.g. the Maasai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya and Serengeti Park in Tanzania. The Maasai could no longer hunt nor graze their animals in these areas.
Kokoland Herders: The Kokoland herders traditionally moved between Kokoland and Ovamboland in Namibia. They sold skin, meat and other items in neighbouring markets. The new system of territorial boundaries restricted their movements and stopped their activities.
The Borders are Closed
With the redrawing of borders, the movement of all the pastoralist communities was severely restricted. They were required to get special permits in order to move. Getting a permit was often difficult. People were severely punished for violating the rules. They were also not allowed to enter the markets in white areas. They were viewed as savage and dangerous by the Europeans and hence every effort was taken to minimize the contact with them.
When Pastures Dry
Before the colonial rule, seasonal movement was a time-tested way to tide over the periods of drought in a particular area. Since the movement was restricted, so a large number of Maasai cattle died because of starvation and disease in the years of drought. In 1930, the Maasai in Kenya possessed 720,000 cattle, 820,000 sheep and 171,000 donkeys. Within just two years of severe drought (1933 and 1934) more than half of the cattle in Maasai Reserve died.
Not All were Equally Affected
During pre-colonial period; the Maasai society was divided into two social groups, viz. elders and warriors. The elders formed the ruling group. They met in periodic councils to decide on the affairs of the community and settle disputes. The warriors consisted of younger people who were mainly responsible for the protection of the tribe. They also organized cattle raids. Since cattle were the wealth hence raiding was an important aspect of their life.
The British introduced a series of measures to administer the affairs of the Maasai. Chiefs were appointed for different sub-groups of Maasai. The chiefs were made responsible for the affairs of the tribe. Several restrictions were imposed on raiding and warfare. This led to erosion of authority for both elders and warriors.
A chief appointed by the colonial government often accumulated wealth over time. They could now buy animals, goods and land. They also lent money to the needy. Many of them began living in towns and involved themselves in trade. Thus the chiefs became more powerful.
The poor pastoralists did not have resource to tide over the bad times. Many of them had to migrate to towns in search of livelihood. Most of them continued to do odd jobs. Some lucky ones could get regular work in road or building construction.
Thus, a new distinction between the wealthy and the poor developed in the Maasai community.