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The Barabaig of Tanzania

Franco Zecchin

The Barabaig are semi-nomadic Nilotic pastoralists who are a section of a wider ethnic grouping called Tatoga. They number between 30,000 and 50,000 in Hanang district, Arusha region, northern Tanzania. They practice a complex and highly developed system of resource management suitable for the semi-arid conditions of the Hanang plains. The area has an average of around 600mm rainfall per year with a variation of 450mm to 900mm. Rainfall is bi-modal falling mainly in April/May, and November/December, with an overall climate is characterised by periodic droughts occurring every five or so years. The plains are undulating and punctuated with depressions. Permanent water sources are scarce and confined to a few perennial streams on the slopes of mount Hanang, some volcanic lakes mainly on the Basotu plains, which have mostly dried up or are surrounded by cultivation. Through intimate knowledge of their environment, and through intricate mechanism governing the use of grazing lands, which are held as common property by the community, the Barabaig have historically maintained the productivity of their lands. In response to the diversity of grazing resources and the variability of climatic factors, particularly rainfall, the Barabaig practice transhumance - moving with their livestock around the range at different times depending on forage conditions and water availability. In spite of the fact that traditional livestock keepers in Tanzania make a substantial contribution to the national diet and economy, and produce meat at a lower cost than state ranches, many officials regard the pastoral sector as inefficient. As a consequence state policies have tended to favour cultivation agriculture and the preservation of wildlife to the detriment of pastoralists. Privatisation of land is promoted as a panacea for increasing productivity, conservation of natural resources, encouragement for investment, and as the only viable collateral to obtain credit. In the early 1970s, as part of an effort to increase wheat production in Tanzania, a large-scale wheat scheme was introduced in the area. The wheat farms, which involve mono-cropping with hybrid varieties and capital-intensive farming techniques, have meant the loss to the Barabaig of the majority of a particular type of grazing land which had played a key role in the traditional seasonal grazing rotation. Because the Barabaig, in order to preserve the fertility of this land, did not utilize it year-round, it was considered "idle" by the project developers, who believed that wheat farming would put the land to more efficient use. The Barabaig are currently enduring the negative impacts that result from having their pastures taken from them for a government wheat scheme. This is denying them the means for production, causing land degradation, and impoverishing them. It has long been thought by administrators and livestock specialists that pastoralism is a primitive form of production that requires transformation to be modern. Nomadism is also regarded as evidence of disorganization and an obstruction to development. Settlement of pastoralists is therefore regarded as a prerequisite to efficient production and the integration of pastoral populations into mainstream society. In pastoral areas where fertile lands are being withdrawn from pastoral production and customary land use controls are undermined to the point where 'free for all' access ends up causing destruction of natural resources reducing people's capacity to contribute to the national economy to the detriment of their welfare. Pastoralists who are displaced in this process have few options but to migrate elsewhere. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as they are not often made welcome at new destinations, and villages now have the means to exclude them as intruders. Otherwise they drift to the towns and fill the peri-urban shanties to eke out a living as best they can in the informal economy or become burdens on the state as there is no industrial or commercial sector capacity that can offer employment for a more secure and productive way of life. So it would be better for them to remain where they are and enjoy security of tenure without the pressure of land alienation and the imposi¬tion of external legal and administrative frameworks that take no account of the needs of livestock rearing economics based on mobile resource use patterns. The way the Barabaig manage natural rangeland resources is a rational and sustainable form of land use. Their common land tenure arrangements are both sophisticated and effective for production and conservation of land. However, an inappropriate and costly development project has undermined this system, causing the Barabaig to suffer and destroying rangeland. By failing to accommodate Barabaig land use arrangements and support Barabaig pastoral production, this project is ignoring the means by which natural rangeland resources could have otherwise been conserved. All Barabaig herders strive to be self-sufficient from production of their cattle. Each household head manage his herd to maximize production of milk, meat and occasionally blood. However, they do not exist on a purely pastoral diet. Only those with large herds receive half or more of their food needs from cattle products. Maize makes an important contribution to the nutrition of all the Barabaig, but most especially poorer households with fewer cattle. Grain is obtained through exchange or sale of livestock, and from shifting cultivation by households with the help of communal labour provided by relatives and neighbours. The Barabaig have existed on the same pasture resources held in common for hundred of years without destroying them. One of the reasons for their success arises from the way they regard the land. They accept that they are an integral part of a wider whole that includes soils, water, vegetation and animals. Being members of a larger entity, they treat land with the utmost respect. They are able to enjoy its bounty, but not regard it as a commodity and exploit it without considering its future preservation. The Barabaig regard land as more than a physical resource. For them it can also have great spiritual significance. The Barabaig bury certain of their esteemed elders with a bung'ed , which is both the name of the burial mound and the funeral ceremony associated with it. They hold celebrations at the grave site over a period of nine months that involves thousand of people. The presence of a bung'ed provides an attachment to land that cannot be broken in Barabaig culture. Consistent with the pastoral ideal, the Barabaig make every effort to serve the needs of their livestock. Location of habitation and movement of Barabaig households, therefore, is primarily determined by considerations of animal husbandry. They recognize specific forage régimes that are associated with eight geographical features. So as to utilize pasture when it is most productive, and rest areas and allow them to recover, the Barabaig have devised a seasonal grazing rotation that exploits the forage régimes at different times of the years. For the Barabaig, availability of water acts as the most limiting factor in pasture use. They recognize that, to make efficient use of resources, access to grazing needs to be controlled to prevent exploitation beyond the capacity to recover. Although surface water is universally accessible to everyone, its use is controlled by rules. Routes to and from water are not to be restricted by the construction of homesteads and water sources must not be diverted or contaminated. A well becomes a property of the clan of the man who digs it. Although anyone may draw water for domestic purposes from any well, only clan members may water their stock there. Practice of the seasonal grazing rotation means that at times in the year, and sometimes for long periods, land is free of human habitation and grazing livestock. This has led some people into thinking that some pasture land is unoccupied. It is because of this that Barabaig pastures are taken over by others and put to non-pastoral use as they are deemed to be vacant by those who want to acquire them. The most productive forage regime is called muhajega by the Barabaig. Because of the inherent fertility of these soils and their good water holding capacity the muhajega regime offers the greatest vegetation biomass and nutritional value to livestock and constitutes the most productive element in a grazing rotation. Inevitably, farmers take the best agricultural land, and just as this land has attracted Iraqw farmers, so its agricultural potential has also been noticed by developers. This has led to government appropriation of large tracts of land, including most of the muhajega on the Basotu plains, for an extensive wheat scheme. Today, the Barabaig are recoiling from the effects of the alienation of over 100,000 acres of prime muhajega grazing land. The land in question was acquired by a government parastatal, National Agriculture and Food Corporation (NAFCO), for the Canadian aid (CIDA) funded Tanzania Canada Wheat Program (TCWP) with scant regard for Barabaig customary rights to land. By denying access to this land the whole grazing system and local ecology has been disrupted causing adverse social, economical and environmental impact. The land is not only important for its productive capacity, but also valued for its cultural and spiritual significance. A matter of gravest concern to the Barabaig is the destruction of their ancestor graves, bung'eding. This mechanized mono-cropping of wheat is eroding the land. The characteristics of the Basotu soils and the prevalence of high-intensity rainfall make the land susceptible to erosion by the removal of the natural vegetation for agricultural development which exposes the surface soil to accelerate erosion processes. In socio-economic terms, the Barabaig can show that the reduction in the resource base by the withdrawal of the muhajega is being reflected in a decline in cattle numbers and a worsening in the quality of their lives. Ignorance of the nature of pastoral production systems and the value of traditional pastoral common land tenure arrangements, together with acceptance of flawed theories, have led to policies that work to undermine traditional pastoralism and support for privatization of common land. When the Barabaig realised that the TCWP was going to be larger than anything that they had been led to believe or could imagine they began to take action. At first they brought their complaints to local administrators, after they took the matter to the highest authorities at national level and began to seek international support for they cause and make use of the courts to challenge what was happening to them. The Barabaig claim that they would never have agreed to relinquish so many vital resources, and if required in the nation's interest to do so, then they should be adequately compensated, and provision made for them to find land elsewhere. Inadequate compensation has been paid to some of those dispossessed, but too little was paid to too few for it to be deemed fair. Conflict has been exacerbated by harassment of herders as they cross the farms. The Barabaig claim they have every right to use traditional rights of way across the farms. They know that without continued access to important water and grazing encircled by farmland their herds will die and their whole way of life will be threatened. The Barabaig have adopted a confrontational approach to the problem of land alienation; the case was conducted with the agreement and involvement of the whole community in Hanang district. This experience has galvanised the community and they have formed themselves into a formally registered community-based organisation, Bulgalda . Not surprisingly, challenging government in the courts has been perceived as a threat by the authorities and some extraordinary measures have been taken against them. Whilst confrontation has had some beneficial impact, not all of it has been good. The Barabaig community has developed greater confidence from challenging the government. The long term benefits of this cannot easily be measured. However, it is clear that the Barabaig have learnt they have rights that are enforceable, they are free to make use of existing national structures to address their concerns, they have allies at home and abroad who are interested to support them, and there are advantages in participating more fully in national society. What is needed is for government not only to recognise people's right to participate in the management of their lands, but also to realize that they bring skills and considerable institutional capacity to manage natural resources to a far higher level of sophistication than could ever be the case through formal centrally controlled land tenure arrangements. Government should be learning more about the ways local people manage their resources, and take the opportunity to built-on that capacity for greater production and equitable distribution of benefits from pastoralists' efficient land use systems. Once land security is attained, a new direction for development needs to be found which will support pastoralism more effectively. This will require revision of policies not only to express the potential of livestock production, but also to cater specifically for pastoralists' needs. The condemnation of common land tenure should be replaced by measures that acknowledge the value and importance of these systems. Development projects should be designed to make better use of pastoralists' indigenous knowledge and skills in resources use. One way of doing this is to build up pastoral communities' capacity to manage local assets and resources. More infrastructure is needed to improve stock health and livestock and crop productivity to levels that will better enable the Barabaig to exploit the market for the benefit of both themselves and the wider national economy. If these measures are taken, much of the human suffering and damage to the environment can be repaired. The Barabaig still offer an opportunity to support a coherent traditional and sustainable land use system that could show the way for development in other pastoral areas of Tanzania and replace the old orthodoxy that has to date blighted pastoral develop¬ment throughout much of Africa.
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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029907

Mureru, Tanzanie, 1996. Les décisions concernant l'utilisation des pâturages sont l'objet de discussions collectives. La terre n'est en aucun cas une marchandise ou un bien dont on peut abuser. Aux yeux des éleveurs est-africains, l'herbe est une substance première, avec l'eau, la roche, le feu, qui s'inscrit dans un ordre cosmique où s'insèrent de même les hommes et leur bétail.

Mureru, Hanang district, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029908

Mureru. Jeunes filles participant au rituel lochmadjega qui accompagne les funérailles.

Mureru, Hanang district, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251252

Katesh, Tanzanie, 1996. Le bétail est une valeur centrale dans les sociétés est-africaines. Les mythes se réfèrent à son origine surnaturelle; il est au centre des rituels; il permet aux hommes de se marier, de renforcer leurs relations sociales, d'acquérir prestige et autorité.

Katesh, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 00/00/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251247

Gehandu. La principale destination du bétail était autrefois d’être sacrifié à l’occasion des rituels où l’on consommait de la viande. Aujourd’hui, les Barabaig vendent leur bétail sur les marchés pour la consommation urbaine.

Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251266

Mureru, Tanzanie, 1996. Les femmes ont la responsabilité de la traite des animaux laitiers qui leur sont confiés pour leur alimentation et celle de leurs enfants. Chaque animal est nommé et distingué avec soin selon ses caractéristiques physiques.

Mureru, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 00/00/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251851

Mureru. Hommes consommant l'hydromel, gesuda, absorbé en grande quantité en certaines circonstances cérémonielles.

Mureru, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 00/00/0000


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251853

Katesh. Les plus renommés des aînés sont enterrés selon un rite particulier, le bung’ed, terme qui désigne à la fois la fête, qui peut durer des mois et regrouper des milliers de personnes, et leurs tombeaux considérés comme des lieux sacrés.

Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251850

Mureru, Tanzanie, 1996. Les jeunes guerriers jouent un rôle central pour la défense de la société et des troupeaux. Des jeunes hommes participent ici à la cérémonie lochmadjega en honneur d'un ancien décédé.

Mureru, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 00/00/0000


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251852

Mureru. Jeunes gens et jeunes filles vivent normalement séparés et ne peuvent se rencontrer et se courtiser qu’à l’occasion des grandes cérémonies.

Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029909

Gehandu, Tanzanie, 1996. Jeune garçon au coq. La pression démographique et la réduction des pâturages se traduisent par une diminution du nombre de bovins par individu - autrefois de 5 à 10 - qui entraîne la dégradation du mode de vie et menace la structure sociale fondée sur la circulation du bétail.

Gehandu, Hanang district, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251257

Balangda Lelu. Une fille va chercher de l'eau au puits. Bien que l'eau de surface soit universellement accessible à tous, son utilisation est contrôlée par des règles. Les routes vers l'eau ne doivent pas être restreintes par la construction de propriétés et les sources d'eau ne doivent pas être détournées ou contaminées.

Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029906

Katesh, Tanzanie, 1996. Une femme Barabaig avec son enfant.

Katesh, Hanang district, Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0251241

Katesh. Les Barabaig se considèrent mieux économiquement lorsqu'ils ont des animaux. Il fait partie intégrante de la tradition Barabaig d'avoir un élevage à la maison.

Tanzanie, république-unie de - 06/07/1996