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An Outline of Pokot and Himba Societies: Environment, Political Economy and Cultural Beliefs

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Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE,volume 2)

Abstract

The nilotic speaking Pokot of northern Kenya (Rift Valley Province, Baringo District) and the Bantu speaking Himba of northern Namibia (Kaokoland, nowadays Kunene Region) are both pastoral nomadic peoples living on the fringe of young African states. To the traveller, the Himba and Pokot may look similar at first sight: both are exotic looking tribal people who adorn themselves with complex coiffures and wear colourful beads, they dwell in picturesque semi-arid environments, wear leather garments and live in traditional huts. However, despite the traditional appearance of both people colonialism has had a grave and lasting impact in both instances. In both regions herders mainly live off their livestock. While milk and meat is produced by the herds, maize is purchased through market sales of livestock or barter exchange. Decisions on production, distribution and consumption are taken at the household level while the management of communal resources (pastures, water) takes place on a neighbourhood level. The social organisation is shaped — although to very different degrees — by patrilineal and matrilineal descent groups and age-based groups. While chieftaincy among the Pokot is something alien and chiefs and their councillors are government personnel, Himba chiefs exert more authority and gain legitimacy both from local traditions and official acknowledgement. The religious system of the Himba is characterised by an ancestral cult whereas among the Pokot neither beliefs in ancestors nor in a divine being feature importantly.

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Endnotes

  1. East Africanist historians usually have to rely on clan histories, in order to piece together tribal or regional histories. Histories of the Kikuyu (Muriuki, 1974) or the Giriama (Spear, 1978) and ethnographic descriptions of Rendille, Somali, Boran interactions (Schlee, 1989) rely on the comparative analysis of numerous descent-group related histories. Osogo (1970) describes the “clan history approach” as a basic principle for historical research in East Africa’s stateless societies.

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  2. Vansina (1985:180) discusses the relevance of age-set lists for the reconstruction of chronologies on a general level. Jacobs (1968) uses age-set lists for dating events and processes in Maasai history and Spencer uses similar lists for the writing of Samburu and Njemps history (Spencer, 1965, 1973, 1998).

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  3. This information is confirmed by Peristiany's (1954) report on the clan based social organisation of the Cheptulel Pokot.

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  4. Neighbouring groups such as the Karimojong, Turkana, Mursi and Dassanetch have the same custom of honorary scarifications (e.g. Almagor, 1979; Turton, 1979; Fukui 1979).

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  5. Kenya National Archives (KNA) DC BAR 1/3 Annual Report 1939 “Native Attitude towards Rehabilitation”.

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  6. KNA DC BAR 1/5: Annual Report for 1959.

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  7. The “cattle complex” stereotype has frequently been criticised. While Herskovitts (1926) was only saying that East African herders belonged to a complex of societies which stood out for the overall importance which they attributed to cattle in social transactions and rituals, later epigones used the concept as if the people themselves had a complex, i.e. a somewhat abnormal close relation to livestock. This “complex” was thought to be the cause of herders’ reluctance to sell cattle or to slaughter them for non-ritual reasons.

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  8. In this respect other Kalenjin groups are different. Among the Hill Pokot and Marakwet, circumcision-based initiations into the generation-set system take place approximately every seven years (see Peristiany, 1951; Kipkorir & Welbourn, 1973).

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  9. Van der Jagt’s (1989) study of Turkana religion is one of the few detailed accounts on the religion of East African pastoralists. In his detailed account he stresses ambiguity and vagueness in terms and concepts. Concepts like akuj (God) and ekipe (spirit) have many different layers of meaning. Van der Jagt sees the essence of Turkana beliefs embodied in communal rituals.

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  10. Edgerton (1971:117) emphasises the high status Pokot attribute to physical beauty. However, if physical beauty was the only thing a man had to offer he would be scorned and ridiculed. His personal pride should be accompanied by a dignified, generous and respectful behaviour (anisa nyo pö ötop).

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  11. Estermann (1981, see also Malan, 1974) lists several Otjiherero speaking groups living in the area: the Himba, the Ndimba, the Tjavikwa, the Hakaona, the Zemba, the Thwa and the Kuvale.

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  12. For Opuwo the following figures are given: Hot season/December: Mean Max. 34.1 Mean min. 14.9 Mean 24.5; Cold Season/June: 26.6, Mean Min 6.1 Mean 16.4, Mean Annual 21.5, Absolute max. 40.4, Absolute min. −4.0 (Malan & Owen-Smith, 1974).

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  13. For a critical summary of accounts on Herero origins see Bollig & Gewald 2000:8ff.

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  14. Anderson (1863:271) reported that the Herero of the Kaokoland had been wiped out by Oorlam raiders in 1863, as does another early traveller (anonymous 1878:309) who described Kaokoland as deserted.

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  15. After the elephant populations of central Namibia and the Kalahari had been erased by the 1860s and the Herero — Nama war had made regular trade impossible, major trading companies decided to resettle from Walfish Bay to Mossamedes (Siiskonen, 1990:136ff).

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  16. A spate of new research is currently being conducted in Kaokoland. An overview on tendencies in recent research is offered in the contributions of Warnlof, Wolputte, Crandall, Ohta and Miescher in Bollig & Gewald (2000).

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  17. Malan (1973:84) distinguishes seven major matriclans and for some of them distinguishes sublines: (1) Omukweyuva: (i) Omukweyuva Woyamuzi or Woktenda (ii) Omukweyuva Woyahawari (iii) Omukweyuva Woyapera (iv) Omukweyuva Woyamutati; (2) Omukwendjandje, (3) Omukwendata (i) Omukwendata wondjuwo onene, or Omukwendata wozongombe or Omukwaruvara (ii) Omukwendata wondjuwo okatiti, or Omukwatjitupa (4) Omukwenambura, (5) Omukwandongo or Omukwauti, (6) Omukwatjivi, (7) Omukwenatja.

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  18. The following example (cf. Malan 1973:94) lists the major taboos and symbols of one patri-clan, Ombongora: Nowadays people of the Ombongora clan live mainly in the area west and south of Etanga. Their favourite colour in cattle is ombongora. They do not keep black dogs. Horses of ekondo colour are forbidden. Their main families of ancestral cattle are Mbamba, Tjivandeka and Handura. They may eat all types of meat but do not eat the tissue covering the heart (oruamba). Furthermore, members of this lineage do not eat blood.

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  19. Estermann (1981:59) refers to a case where about 70 oxen were slaughtered for their skulls at a burial.

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  20. In ethnographic literature on the Herero several translations are given. Vedder (1928:165) and Estermann (1981:144ff) hold that only Ndjambi Karunga is the right term for the divine being and that Mukuru denotes a venerated ancestor. Amongst the Himba I found little differentiation between both terms. While the Himba from Angola used the term Njambi Karunga or Karunga, Kaokolanders preferred the term Mukuru.

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  21. In the volumes of Fukui & Turton (1979) and Fukui & Markakis (1994) several case studies are presented that describe the role of violent conflict on the emergence of distinct ethnic groups. The most intriguing examples are the Mursi and the Bodi described by David Turton and Katsuyoshi Fukui in both volumes. For both groups one could claim that war against their neighbours caused them to arise as distinct ethnic units.

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Bollig, M. (2006). An Outline of Pokot and Himba Societies: Environment, Political Economy and Cultural Beliefs. In: Risk Management in a Hazardous Environment. Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation, vol 2. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-27582-6_2

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