Human Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 1-25

First online:

Livestock Acquisitions Dynamics in Nomadic Pastoralist Herd Demography: A Case Study Among Ngisonyoka Herders of South Turkana, Kenya

  • Danny de VriesAffiliated withCarolina Population Center and Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina
  • , Paul W. LeslieAffiliated withCarolina Population Center and Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina
  • , J. Terrence McCabeAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, The Environment and Behavior Program Institute for Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Email author 

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Despite the attention given to social relations in the pastoral literature, the role of livestock acquisitions—additions of livestock to herds through bridewealth, exchanges, gifts, payments, and begging (requests)—in herd build up has usually been assumed to be relatively minor compared to births and relevant mostly when the need for rebuilding arises after major losses. This study is based on an unusual set of data—the reproductive histories of the female cattle, camels, and goats and sheep of 13 Ngisonyoka Turkana nomadic herders in northwestern Kenya, collected in 1987. The article reports on the means by which mothers were added to the herd and how these changed through time. The results suggest that for this population in the late 1970s and 1980s, acquisitions were not merely relevant when disaster struck, but instead were a continuously important component of herd management. The results demonstrate the crucial role of social networks in the survival of Ngisonyoka pastoralists in their non-equilibrial ecosystem. Social exchanges, such as bridewealth, provide a resource security well suited to the challenges of coping with such unpredictable environments. Researchers and policymakers are urged to make efforts to support such indigenous networks if they want nomadic pastoralists to continue their effective use of arid, marginal lands.


nomadic pastoralism herd demography herding strategies social networks Ngisonyoka Turkana