Short notes on Pastoral Society

Pastoral society is a kind of society comprising of pastoralists where their main source of livelihood comes from herding and domesticating animals into herds. The flocks of domestic animals not only provide them with subsistence.

The term ‘pastoral’ is derived from the Latin word ‘pastor’ which means shepherd. With herding being the major occupation, they also involved in hunting and gathering and some other forms of agricultural practices. These societies generally emerge in places with unsuitable atmospheric and environmental conditions. Places where other agricultural practices are not possible like desert regions, or places with heavy rainfall, or even places covered with snow for the maximum period of the year. Hence, the people started taming animals like goats, camels, yaks, and sheep which could serve them as a major source of food.

The pastoral societies are usually larger in size as compared to societies that practice hunting and gathering alone. Although the practice of herding proved to be a better means of livelihood that not only provided subsistence but also let to the accumulation of a surplus, it is never the sole occupation. It is always combined with a little bit of hunting and gathering or some other occupations. Due to the generation of surplus, these societies are also characterized by some form of inequality. So, the ones who could generate more surpluses became more powerful as compared to the ones who could not. As these societies needed new grazing areas seasonally, they are also included in the category of nomadic people. They at times move across borders in search of new lands for grazing. This often brings tension, chaos, and conflict both for them and the national governments.  They are mostly grouped in tribes, with the extended family comprising the households.

There are two types of pastoral societies, nomads and transhumance. The nomads move from one region to another to meet the needs of their domesticated animals, and the places they migrate to depend on the seasons they are traveling in. They generally live in tents and there are no permanent homes for them even though they might sometime return back to an area they have visited earlier. On the other hand, the transhumances are pastoralists with permanent homes. Although they also migrate from one place to another, they return back to their permanent homes. In winter, they move to warmer places, while in summer, they move to cooler places. Pastoral societies are not strictly divided as either nomadic or transhumance. They adapt depending on the situations they are in. So, the nomads can turn transhumance if required and vice versa.

Some examples of such societies are Berbers of North America, Karimojong of Uganda, Maasai of East Africa, Kuchis of Afghanistan, Ahir of North India, Bhutia of India and Nepal, Komi of Northern Russia, Fula people of Sahelian West Africa, Tigre of the Horn of Africa, Bedouin of West Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and so on.


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