This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
Pastoralists depend for their livelihood on raising livestock on natural pasture. Livestock may be selected for meat, milk, wool, traction, carriage, or riding, or a combination of these. Pastoralists rarely rely solely on their livestock; they may also engage in hunting, fishing, cultivation, commerce, predatory raiding, or extortion. Some pastoral peoples are nomadic and others are sedentary, while yet others are partially mobile. Economically, some pastoralists are subsistence oriented, while others are market oriented, with others combining the two. Politically, some pastoralists are independent or quasi-independent tribes, while others, largely under the control of states, are peasants, and yet others are citizens engaged in commercial production in modern states.
All pastoralists have to address a common set of issues. The first issue is gaining and taking possession of livestock, including good breeding stock. Ownership of livestock may involve individual, group, or distributed rights. The second concern is managing the livestock through husbandry and herding. Husbandry refers to the selection of animals for breeding and maintenance, while herding involves ensuring that the livestock gains access to adequate pasture and water. Pasture access can be gained through territorial ownership and control, purchase, rent, or patronage. Security must be provided for the livestock through active human oversight or restriction by means of fences or other barriers. Manpower is provided by kin relations, exchange of labor, barter, monetary payment, or some combination.
Prominent pastoral peoples are sheep, goat, and camel herders in the arid band running from North Africa through the Middle East and northwest India; the cattle and small stock herders of Africa south of the Sahara; reindeer herders of the sub-Arctic northern Eurasia; the camelid herders of the Andes; and the ranchers of North and South America.