Risk Management in a Hazardous Environment: A Comparative Study of Two Pastoral Societies

Article excerpt

Michael Bollig. Risk Management in a Hazardous Environment: A Comparative Study of Two Pastoral Societies. New York: Springer, 2006. Photographs. Maps. Tables. Bibliography. Index. $125.00. Cloth.

Michael Bollig takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Pokot of northern Kenya and the Himba of northern Namibia in this accessible textbook, part of a new series called "Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation." The detailed case studies are the result of nearly six years of archival and field research in Kenya and Namibia from 1987 to the present. The author learned Otjiherero, the Himba language, and Pokot and lived in wealthy, well-established households.

Pastoral studies have been strong on ethnography but weaker when it comes to generalization. The comparative approach enables Bollig to understand how hazards are generated, what impacts they have on individuals, households, and institutional structures, how these impacts vary for people of different socioeconomic status and gender, and the extent to which risk minimization is affected by cultural change. He looks at two societies engaged in mobile livestock husbandry typical of arid lands in eastern and southern Africa which were not integrated into states, as in western and northern Africa or southwest and central Asia, and for which no overarching religious system was of major importance. The Pokot and Himba have marked differences in terms of precolonial history, household size, household cycle, and herd and power structures. The Pokot have had a relatively rapidly growing human population, their environment has suffered greater degradation than that of the slow-growing Himba population, and they have had decades of interethnic violence and raiding, whereas the Himba have experienced more stable environments and social relations. Pokot herds are more susceptible to disease than those of the Himba. The Himba have better veterinary services, and the arid climate in northern Namibia keeps down populations of flies and ticks which spread disease. By comparing the major hazards in two rather different pastoral societies, the author seeks to generate hypotheses on hazards and risk management in pastoral societies more generally. …