The Pastoral Continuum: The Marginalization of Tradition in East Africa

Synopsis

Paul Spencer presents the definitive study of the ways of life of the cattle-herding peoples of East Africa, drawing on many years of research. This region has offered a prime example of a traditional culture resisting the inevitability of change; it provides the best-known and most extensive instance both of cattle-pastoralist society and of social organization based primarily on age. Pastoral peoples were once dominant in the East African interior, but development of the market economy has progressively polarized the region and forced them into the most marginal, drought-ridden areas; in this ecological trap they have become a peripheral underclass. The Pastoral Continuum examines the richness and resilience of their cultures and illuminates the role of indigenous practices and institutions in adaptation and survival. The pastoralists' systems of age organization in particular are notable for their resilience: it is demonstrated that these are bound up with problems of growth and succession in family enterprises, and that marriage is a critical link in the web of alliance that governs the problematic relations between old and young. Spencer's exploration of the development of the pastoralist phenomenon yields a unique view of its place in the modern world and its prospects for the future. This landmark work by a leading authority will be of lasting value to any reader interested in traditional social systems of this kind.