Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Relevance of Owen Lattimore's Writings for Nomadic Pastoralism Research and Development in Inner Asia

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Relevance of Owen Lattimore's Writings for Nomadic Pastoralism Research and Development in Inner Asia

Article excerpt


Nomadic pastoral systems in Inner Asia are facing sweeping changes. Designing new development models for the sustainable utilization of rangelands requires a better understanding of nomadic pastoral systems. Owen Lattimore's writings, based on his experiences in Inner Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, are a valuable resource for those interested in nomads and pastoral development in Inner Asia. The paper introduces some of Lattimore's work to illustrate their relevance to today's pastoral development challenges. Despite being written 70 years ago, Lattimore's texts are still useful for understanding traditional livestock management practices and provide valuable insight for the sustainable development of the pastoral areas of Inner Asia.

Keywords: development, Inner Asia, Lattimore, nomads, Mongols, rangelands


Nomads continue to fascinate us. Moving across the grasslands with their animals, their home a tent, nomads evoke freedom. Their world cherishes mobility and the liberty to roam in search of grass and water. Nomads are constantly exposed to the elements of nature--rain, snowstorms and drought; they take these events for granted and face them with remarkable equanimity. Values that humankind admires--courage, integrity, generosity--are principles instinctive to nomads. Nomads also have an intimate knowledge of their environment and an amazing ability to handle animals--a skill rare among most people today.

Nomads offer a rare perspective on life. Their world operates on a rhythm completely different from the one to which we are accustomed. Nomads' lives are finely tuned to the growth of grass, the births of animals and the seasonal movement of their herds. Like many people living close to nature, nomads have developed a close connection to the land and the livestock that nurture them. For thousands of years they survived by raising animals. However, nomads did not merely eke out a living; they created a unique culture and were part of remarkable civilizations. Despite these admirable traits and skills, nomads are facing serious threats throughout the world (Miller 2008).

In Inner Asia, nomadic pastoral systems are undergoing sweeping changes (Humphrey and Sneath 1999, Sheehy et al. 2006b, Zhang 2006). From the steppes of Mongolia to the alpine meadows and cold deserts of the Tibetan Plateau in Western China, pastoralists are facing unprecedented transformations to traditional livestock and grazing management practices. A better understanding of nomadic pastoral systems in Inner Asia is necessary in order to assist nomads to develop new models for the sustainable utilization of rangeland resources (Zhang et al. 2007).

Owen Lattimore's observations of nomads from the 1920s and 1930s provide valuable information for those interested in nomadic pastoral societies and pastoral development, not only in Mongolia, but throughout Inner Asia. In this paper we introduce some of Lattimore's writings to show how they are still relevant today to those seeking to understand nomadic pastoral systems better. We also point out how Lattimore's texts can be used to help develop new models for livestock management in pastoral areas that build on nomads' indigenous knowledge and traditional practices.

Rangeland ecosystems in Inner Asia are complex, not only in the ways that physical forces shape the landscape, but also in the ways that socio-economic, political and institutional forces interact and impact the people who use the rangeland resources. Sustainable pastoral development requires an examination of all the forces affecting the rangelands. Despite the extent and importance of rangelands in Inner Asia, rangeland ecosystem dynamics are still poorly understood. Many questions concerning how rangeland vegetation functions, and the effect of both domestic and wild herbivores on vegetation remain unanswered (Sheehy et al. 2006a).

Within the world of the steppe there are many types of migration cycle, governed partly by geography and partly by social specialization in the use of different animals. …

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