As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District, Kenya

By Coffman, Jennifer | African Studies Review, April 2006 | Go to article overview

As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District, Kenya


Coffman, Jennifer, African Studies Review


Elliot Fratkin and Eric Abella Roth, eds. As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District, Kenya. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2005. x + 280 pp. Photographs. Maps. Figures. Tables. Bibliography. Index. $89.95. Cloth.

As Pastoralists Settle launches a new series by Kluwer dedicated to studies of human-environmental dynamics and modeled after the journal Human Ecology. Elliot Fratkin, a cultural anthropologist, and Eric Abella Roth, a demographic anthropologist, lead this collaborative effort as the book's editors and chief contributors. Together with Martha A. Nathan, they have conducted longitudinal research on "bio-social concomitants of sedentism" (3) among Rendille and Ariaal pastoralists in Marsabit District, Kenya. Thirteen chapters describe this research, along with that conducted by other contributors with expertise in northern Kenyan pastoral studies: Bettina Shell-Duncan and Masako Fujita (biological anthropology); John Galaty, Peter Little, and Kevin Smith (social anthropology); H. Jürgen Schwartz (veterinary biology); John McPeak (economics); Wario Adano and Karen Witsenburg (geography); Leunita Auko Muruli, Elizabeth Ngugi, and Walter Obungu Obiero (public health); David Wiseman (medicine); and Joan Harris (nursing). Although the book focuses on five Rendille and Ariaal communities, some chapters include other pastoral and/or neighboring groups.

The opening three chapters provide a general context for the historical fact that pastoralists throughout East Africa and elsewhere have become increasingly sedentary. They include summaries of the expected: population growth, drought and famine (as well as external aid responses to such conditions), loss of common property resources, commoditization, urban migration, "ethnic clashes," political turmoil, civil war, and state intervention. McPeak and Little note that processes of sedentarization have been ongoing for the past two millennia in semi-arid and arid regions (87), while Galaty paraphrases Ibn Khaldun's six-hundred-year-old lamentation about the decline of nomadic life and the "morality, fortitude, and social cohesiveness undermined by the inexorable change... to sedentary life" (53). In sum, sedentarization of pastoralists is by no means a new phenomenon or necessarily a desired moral evolution. But, as the authors rightfully claim, moving into town is not necessarily a lasting commitment or an antipastoral one, either.

This latter point complements the book's major theme: people living in households engaged to some degree in nomadic livestock herding realize greater nutritional and health benefits, on average, than those in the study's settled communities. It should be noted, however, that many of the study's town dwellers ended up settled near mission and NGO-founded centers because of livestock loss due to drought, disease, and/or raiding. Thus, many of the informants were poor when they settled and were, in effect, partially subsidized by those missions and NGOs. Still, the authors demonstrate, living in towns can lead to increased opportunities in schoolbased education, wage employment, crop-based food security, and possibly gender equity. …

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