Learning From the Pastoralists of Our Time



“Pastoralists have a rich understanding of the environments that they manage and have developed sophisticated systems of resource management that conserve biodiversity. “

Where does this “rich understanding” derive from?

From what I have perceived it is rooted in the life-systems of these people. Their entire existence is reliant on the earth around them and synchronically the earth is reliant on them—the steward not only takes but also gives.

It wasn’t all that long ago, when humanity knew that their survival was earth dependent and somehow in the mix of modernization we have lost in a big way our daily connection with the earths provisions which we cannot live without…we have forgotten to reconcile our taking of resources with a bountiful giving back in exchange. 

The cultural shifts throughout time have started as bands, to tribes, to chiefdoms and then to states.

The most interesting thing is that with each phase within the cultural shifts inequalities began to take shape, as well as, a disregard for the question of cause and effect on our environment. As humanity has progressed into the whale of technological advances we have pulled ourselves further and further away from the organic relationship between humanity and earth. Bands began as truly egalitarian from the start, then as humans transgressed into tribes the inequalities between age and gender began to slowly take shape, then as we moved to chiefdoms great class divisions formed causing a greater gap between poor and rich because of centralized and hereditary leadership… lastly states (I am not referring to the states in the U.S. this in reference to states as a category of human advancements) exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, inequalities were pronounced in many forms and farming began to slowly burst into irrigational settings alongside the industrial revolutions which brought forth the use of grand scale machinery, which phenomenally changed our world.

Yes, there are pros and cons and my goodness would my day ever be different without our technology but I believe it is now time to reflect on what we have and how we can use our technology, our understanding of the past and foreseeable inferences of our future and ask ourselves, “what can I do to bring myself back to a purist perspective next to natures side as a steward within the context of my modern day life?”

This is why the pastoralist communities that are still actively living in sync with nature can be an active and current example of preservation.

So… what exactly is a pastoralist? You might ask?

Pastoralists are tribes that still practice their form of sustainability in our world today as active communities that live off of and tend to the land in their local regions. They generally focus their resources on tending to livestock, animal husbandry, and do not usually live fully sedentary lifestyles unless they are forced by governmental restrictions on the land.

Some current examples of active pastoral tribes that still practice pastoralism today are that of the Mursi, Nuer, Ariaal, Yanomami and Ngandu tribes from the continent of Africa. They are known for their pastoralism and as expert horticulturists.

Pastoralists use wild plants such as fruits, seeds, tubers, barks, gums and leaves for consumption and also for medicinal purposes.  An example of this is in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where there are approximately 1,280 plant species that are recognized and used for holistic medicinal means.

In dominating western societies there has been a growing popularity of herbal remedies. This trend is usually for good reason, as more and more people are growing disillusioned with the modern health system. Unfortunately, this has simultaneously resulted in growth of a demand from the global market for ancient herbs from around the world. There is a commercialization that is taking place in regards to holistic remedies and once sacred pastoralist practices are now being exploited and recognized by others outside of the pastoral community which leads to increased gathering of certain plants and have led to a near point of extinction for some. The pastoralists stoutly practice moderation and fully recognize the flow of healthy give and take, recognizing that our resources are not for the raping and consumption of humans in order to gain and use, it is for the taking for pure life-line reasons of nutrition and for the giving for pure reasons of maintaining that nutritional source.  They are not in it for the money, for the business, for the capital gains… our worlds are starkly contrasted and WE have MUCH TO LEARN. Our dry bones need to wake up!

We have much to learn from the practice of pastoralism. The exasperation of certain plant resources is only one small example of how our earth is being exploited in order to gain power and money and to feed the material trends of societies… there are many other examples of how our un-attachment with nature leads us to use up our natural resources without truly taking into account the repercussions of our present and most importantly our future generations. I want to create a heritage for my offsprings. I want to provide for them now and also for their future…don’t you?

Let us learn from the mentality of these people…

When the pastoralists find new areas for their livestock to graze or when using current areas they take into consideration how their livestock will affect the environment, this is an essential common understanding in regards to their future livelihood; something that our modern day farmers should pay attention to. Not only do the pastoralists find resources for the “now” but they also keep in mind all of the “tomorrows” that are ahead. When the plant biota being grazed are in the phase of seed production they take this into consideration and mobilize or strategize their grazing patterns in order to not harm the reproduction life cycles of the plants.

They are very sensitive about over-grazing, they believe in the practice of “just enough” Depletion of the land is not even a consideration… alternating their territories in order to graze effectively but without repressing the environment.

This practice equates to bountiful plant life, healthier livestock, and nutrient rich milk; “grass fed” has never been so real as it is within the pastoral livestock! 😉 

Trees are sacred to the pastoralists.  The local trees which the pastoral tribes are familiar with in the drylands that they live provide them with much needed shade, fruit, material for constructive use and for fire fuel.  Pastoralists rarely cut down these trees and rarely plant, however, they create sustainability by taking and making use of the fallen branches, or they practice the act of pollarding trees in which they prune the tops of trees to maintain a trees height, which makes the trees fuller and healthier – making use of the needed resources and at the same time sustaining the life of the tree.

What I want to bring to the table is that pastoralists have keen ecosystems knowledge of their environment and are very capable representatives to tend to sustainability and land management in their region.  When you have a people that rely with the whole being of their lives on the natural resources that surround them, you have a people that are phenomenally connected with nature. When government systems encroach on the land and create boundaries in which they must limit their area to practice pastoralism, not only do these people suffer from such stipulations but the land also suffers from the lack of eco-systems management that the pastoralists know full well how to manage…nothing compares to that of the heart of a people who work with the land, for the land and survive from the land. 

We are so far removed from what it feels like to rely fully on the land in order to live!

There is nothing more intelligent, more wise, more sophisticated, more intellectually bright than recognizing our natural resources and the exploitation of those sacred gifts.  The earth does not have a voice without it’s people.  As a creationist I believe in a true give and take cycle that is meant to exist between humanity and our world.

I have to admit my heart aches when hearing other people of faith that scoff at environmental efforts from their couches and simply digress to saying things like, “We are all just heaven bound anyways, these people are wasting their time…I have my eyes on heaven…and not of earthly things…”

I disagree with this because I believe in living life on earth as it is in heaven, I believe in progressing in that direction, I believe that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free for we are all one”.  It is everyone’s responsibility to give our earth a moment of thought and a lifetime of action.  The earth and all that is within it only knows how to give and give and give.  We humans are the ones bestowed to take, we take and take, yet may we also in return give and give. Balance is key.

Nature is not just here for us, it is not simply a gift to look pretty for our pleasure. I am certainly in awe of the beauty of the earth and my spirit is filled with peace when I am immersed in it. Yet, something to remember is that the earth was not created simply for us to look at and to take from…it goes both ways, I believe that the plan was to work together. It is common sense to realize that our patterns effect everything.

what I want to do right now is hear from you because realistically this is a very long blog post and if you made it this far, my hope is that you will engage with me.  Please share your thoughts on this post topic. Please let me know ways (little or big) in your own life that you can or have incorporated thoughtful give and take stewardship values within your personal or regional eco-system? The trick is how to artfully incorporate this frame of mind and value for our resources into our modern life-styles.  What might we need to personally change, what might we need to add, what simple ways can we simply alter practices within an already formed habit such as composting rather than putting food into a garbage disposal. Simple eco-system valued practices that would not weigh down on our time constrained lives… that right there is a start, right? That is where I am beginning. I could calculate my footprint on the earth and there is much that I should change, let’s begin with steps, sometimes baby steps…to form life-changing, earth revolutionizing habits!

Lastly, it should not simply be the labeled “radicals” that strive to make a difference… if you feel called to take care of people, then remember that caring for our planet is part of that equation.  If you feel it is important to provide a happy and healthy life for your family, then remember that nurturing your planet is part of that equation. If you enjoy eating food, remember that tending to nature is part of that equation!! It IS our livelihood… If you love hiking or camping, or outdoor adventures; if you love wildlife and rivers, and scenic explorations, if you love clean air…then remember taking an active role to be the voice for a voiceless earth is part of that equation… If you value quality of life then acting as a steward for our earth is most definetely part of that equation…

For me personally, from my faith stance as a creationist, from that perspective the great artist and creator who formed this beautiful gift of life is part of that equation and to me I am losing myself in whom I was made to be as a beloved human if I do not pay attention to our connection with this planet, because for me that connection calls out to a God who created such magnificence and how could I ever forget that.  I find that key point my most motivating influence within my personal life choices.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is mankind that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?…You make him to rule over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet…All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” Psalm 8:3-9  …May I honor the works of our creators hands.

Let’s hear from you! …and thank you and love and peace be with you.

(Resources:  Information on pastoralists resourced and reiterated from WISP Policy Bried No. 5
knowledge as the basis for land management ” Barrow, E., Davies, J., Berhe, S., Matiru, V., Mohamed, N., Olenasha, W., Rugadya, M. {Su, Eth, Som}(2007): Pastoralist’s species and ecosystems knowledge
as the basis for land management. IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office. Policy Brief No. 3 (of 5). Nairobi, 4 p.
For further information, including details of how to join the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, please visit the website at: http://www.iucn.org/wisp)


6 thoughts on “Learning From the Pastoralists of Our Time

  1. >>>Going hand and hand with faith, not a side note<<>>NOT A SIDE NOTE<<<!!!!! I love this, and it is so true. This is true living. Thank you for your beautiful writing, I feel the same way about you, it is always great hearing from you and your mind. The exchange of ideas, inspirations and heart felt revelations is meat for the soul. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For far too long, there has been a misunderstanding about some Bible scriptures with references to the Earth, which were, in their original contexts, talking of materialism and living a life not fit for the Spirit to live. The long confusion between the Earth and the Sustenance that feeds us, has hurt the Earth, which God indeed did create. I’ve always thought what a horrible way to treat God’s world, for God knew what was being done when Earth was created, a manger for us, for life. Without that proper due and respect towards God, we are turning away part of the gift given to us, that makes it possible for us to live and learn. Materialism, on the other hand, is an extraction philosophy, that certainly is not meant benefit God nor the small creatures or ourselves. We work for Heaven on Earth, not hell on Earth. Nuf of that philosophy! It is but a lie not to work for Heaven on Earth, it is what is given to us. Children suffer because of unlimited materialism, and that is not Biblical in the least. Love is a way of being, that Jesus taught. He never cursed the Earth, but what came out of the heart of man, is what we are constantly challenged to look at.

    Great writing, once again, Jenny! I so agree with this viewpoint, these words. Respect, love and life are mutually, and we work on all spheres to live this way, not part time, but full time in the radiance that comes from God. God’s world, not ours! And so we come into a relationship of remembrance with the Earth, and true understanding which is the Pearl of Great Price! Beautiful writing and depth, very lovely Jenny. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I loved reading your detailed response. Great points that you brought up there! I like how you described the earth as never being cursed, but it is what comes out of the hearts of mankind that we have to face… so so so so true. and faith aside, regardless, when humanity lives in such a way where the means of survival are based on what ones actual actions within life are, such as gardening, animal husbandry, foraging, etc…when life used to be based on those basic needs for every day survival, no matter what someone’s faith base was, whether it was bible based or not, the spirit of the human being found a much deeper connection with the earth in which all vital provisions came from because the gap was not large, the majority of humanity was holding the earth in their own hands from where their bread and butter derive, which made everyone responsible. Then from our own faith stance, as a creationist it makes the role as steward even more vital and important, going hand in hand with faith, not a side. note. Anyways, it is always great hearing from you and your mind! I love your words. Thank you so much for sharing! ❤


      1. Thanks Y, you’re very kind : ) Fortunately there are some very good therapists out there. Dr. Burgo who writes this blog seems very cotasasionpme! I’m a student and look for sliding-scale fees so that limits me quite a bit. But I no longer live in an abusive home so that cured my suicidal impulses pretty quick.


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