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Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies

Turkana Ecology, Politics, and Raiding in a Disequilibrium System

J. Terrence McCabe

Publication Year: 2004

An in-depth look at the ecology, history, and politics of land use among the Turkana pastoral people in Northern Kenya Based on sixteen years of fieldwork among the pastoral Turkana people, McCabe examines how individuals use the land and make decisions about mobility, livestock, and the use of natural resources in an environment characterized by aridity, unpredictability, insecurity, and violence. The Turkana are one of the world's most mobile peoples, but understanding why and how they move is a complex task influenced by politics, violence, historical relations among ethnic groups, and the government, as well as by the arid land they call home. As one of the original members of the South Turkana Ecosystem Project, McCabe draws on a wealth of ecological data in his analysis. His long-standing relationship with four Turkana families personalize his insights and conclusions, inviting readers into the lives of these individuals, their families, and the way they cope with their environment and political events in daily life. J. Terrence McCabe is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Human-Environment Interactions


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xi

List of Maps

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pp. xii-xii

List of Tables

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvii

I begin this book by recalling a memory that will be forever etched in my mind. It is March 1980, and I am making my first journey into Turkana District in northwest Kenya. I had read all of Philip Gulliver’s work on the Turkana and was struck by how much difficulty he had in working with this group of pastoral people. In addition,...

Part 1

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-19

It seems to be taken for granted these days that a pastoral way of life is disappearing throughout the world. From the steppes of China to the savannas of Africa, the popular press portrays pastoral peoples as the last vestiges of a bygone age that will not survive the next one or two generations. Certainly pastoralists and pastoral livelihoods are...

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2. Review of the Literature and Theoretical Framework

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pp. 20-38

This chapter presents an overview of the ecological and African pastoral literature that partially frames the case study and theoretical arguments considered later in the book. Almost all of my research among the Turkana people was conducted as part of the South Turkana Ecosystem Project, therefore a review of the literature relating...

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3. Turkana: Environmental, Historical, and Social Overviews

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pp. 39-60

According to the most recent Kenya census (1999), there are approximately 350,000 people living in Turkana District. This includes those living in the refugee camp in Kakuma, approximately 90,000 people, and people living in towns. Small groups of Turkana are also found in eastern Uganda, southern Sudan, and southern Ethiopia. Based on these figures I would estimate that there are approximately 300,000...

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4. Ngisonyoka Ecology: Land and Livestock

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pp. 61-80

The Ngisonyoka are one of eighteen sections of the Turkana and occupy approximately 9,600 square kilometers1 in the southwestern part of Turkana district. The ecologists of the South Turkana Ecosystem Project decided on the territory of the Ngisonyoka to define the ecosystem boundaries of their study. Thus from the very beginning of...

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5. Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies

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pp. 81-105

My focus has been on the importance of ecology, especially arid land ecosystems as nonequilibrium systems, in understanding how the Turkana people use the land. Now I want to turn to the second force that shapes decision making and use of natural resources: raiding, violence, and the threat of raiding. Raiding among East African pastoral...

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6. Introduction to the Four Families

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pp. 109-126

This chapter introduces the four families with whom I worked for most of the time that I was in Turkana District. Much of the analysis concerning decision making is based on discussions and interviews that I had with the four herd owners who were the heads of their individual families. Men, therefore, have influenced my interpretation of...

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7. Migration and Decision Making: The Four Families

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pp. 127-156

This chapter describes the migration patterns and the decisions concerning mobility and herd management made by Angorot, Lorimet, Lopericho, and Atot. I will also include information concerning the climate, the social and political events that affected people’s lives, and how these events influenced the decisions that were made. My goal is to provide a nuanced view of what the four herd owners were confronting...

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8. Data Analysis

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pp. 159-182

Having given a narrative description of mobility and decision making, I next shift to an examination of what the data can tell us. One goal is to explore the extent to which Turkana mobility conforms to what is expected by viewing arid lands as nonequilibrium ecosystems. Ultimately, this analysis will allow us to examine the paradigm’s usefulness in explaining the behavior of Turkana pastoralists...

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9. Livestock Dynamics and the Formation and Growth of Families

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pp. 183-199

Mobility among pastoral people is a strategy whereby individual herd owners attempt to maintain and improve the productivity and fertility of their herds as environmental and political conditions change. One goal is clearly to increase herd size—but to what end? Or is this the end in itself? This question has engaged specialists in African pastoralism for most of the twentieth century. The question of why...

Part 4

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pp. 200-202

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10. Aggregate and Group Movement

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pp. 203-234

What can be learned by examining how people use the land and its resources as a group, rather than as individuals? Do groups of Turkana pastoralists merely follow the rain, as suggested in the quote by Capot-Rey? Does the conceptualization of the Turkana environment as a nonequilibrial ecosystem help us understand group behavior and decision making? In this chapter I try to answer these questions...

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11. Conclusions and Discussion

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pp. 235-247

In this final chapter, I return to some of the key issues and questions raised earlier. First, do Turkana mobility and the system of livestock management correspond to what would be expected if the environment in which they live is understood as a persistent but nonequilibrial ecosystem? The second set of questions relate to the possible limitations of this approach. If the Turkana do move and manage their...

Appendix: South Turkana Ecosystem Project (STEP) Publications

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pp. 249-264


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pp. 265-268


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pp. 269-290


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pp. 291-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026210
E-ISBN-10: 0472026216
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068784
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068784

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 25 tables, 12 maps
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Human-Environment Interactions
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 648035490
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Turkana (African people) -- Social conditions.
  • Turkana District (Kenya) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Cattle herding -- Kenya -- Turkana District.
  • Cattle stealing -- Kenya -- Turkana District.
  • Turkana District (Kenya) -- Social life and customs.
  • Turkana (African people) -- Domestic animals.
  • Turkana (African people) -- Land tenure.
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