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The descriptive knowledge, technologies and organizations used by pastoralists to manage their natural resources, have evolved and been passed down the generations. This chapter focusses on the means by which the knowledge has been taught to the young and remembered by the old. It then takes a brief look at formal, modern education, and the problems it has encountered in reaching out to pastoralists, and analyzes the role that traditional education can play in solving these problems.

Very little has been done on how LKMS is passed on down generations1. In general, young children start to learn about their physical environment as soon as they learn to play games with clay or wooden animals, twigs, grasses, etc. The games usually reflect real-life experiences, such as being chased by lions, or guarding imaginary cows against raiders. As soon as they are old enough, and the age varies between pastoral groups, they start a long process of apprenticeship and learn-by-doing, either under the guidance of their father or elder brother, or under griots, blacksmiths, and other specialized craftsmen (see BOX 3.1).

BOX 3.1

Children's plays reflect the adult world. For example, Fulani children play a game of hyena, sheep and shepherd², or play with clay or wooden toys representing animals and plants3. In West Africa, traditional education is based on informal apprenticeship with kin and early participation in the work force. Special skills, such as medicine, music, crafts, etc. are acquired through more formal apprenticeship with specialized persons. Other special skills, such as tree felling, hunting, and metallurgy are taught by religious leaders during initiation ceremonies4. Among the Fulani of northern Senegal, children start pastoral duties at a very young age (5-6), progressing naturally from their plays to actually guarding calves in the compound5. In almost all groups, the father teaches his sons by going out with them first, then giving hands-on responsibility, and the knowledge is already firmly established by ages 9 or 10, for example among the Samburu of Kenya6, and the Tallensi of southwestern Burkina Faso/northeastern Ghana7.

The knowledge of range and livestock husbandry among the Somali is passed on as young boys (7-8 years) are taken to camel camps and learn from first hand experience which grasses are good, noxious, etc.8 (unfortunately no mention was made of how Somali girls learn to guard shoats and latter cattle).

At 8-10 years old, Wodaabe children start to learn about herding by being assigned to watch over calves near the camp. Between 10-12 years they start to herd shoats alone in the bush, and at 15 they herd cattle on their own. Wodaabe girls start at 9-10 years to make butter, at 11-12 years to pound millet, and at 14-15 years to milk cows9. Among the Lozi of Zimbabwe, young boys and girls would go to the cattle posts in the wet season to herd cattle and to be “hardened and taught morals and tribal law.”10 The Fulani of Mauritania say that the initiation of the pastoralist begins at the entrance to the livestock kraal, and ends at its exit, ie at age 63. They consider pastoral education to encompass three phases: “initiation” which takes the first 21 years, “practice” which takes the next 21 years, and “teaching” which takes the last 21 years11.

Traditional education has four characteristics: 1) it is completely effective, i.e. the child learns all he/she needs to know to become a functioning adult; 2) although the education involves harsh trials and ordeals, every child who survives them is allowed to “graduate”; 3) the cost of education (e.g. paying masters and religious leaders) is not prohibitive; and 4) children are not totally withdrawn from the work force12.

In the absence of written records, the LKMS is preserved in the memory of the older generation with the help of tales, proverbs, ceremonies, songs, dances, games, etc. (i.e. “folk media”). These mechanisms show how skills are acquired, practiced, and preserved, and how information, whether new or old, is passed on to the young as well as the old (see BOX 3.2).

BOX 3.2

Among the !Kung Bushmen, story telling, based on every day experiences, are used to pass on information and knowledge. The !Kung use a considerable array of non-verbal arts when telling stories, which helps attract people's interest13. Songs, dance, drama, poetry, oral literature, music and tales (“folk media”), are important for nourishing the educational, spiritual, and entertainment needs of the people14, but they also reflect the peoples' interest in and priorities for different parts of their environment15. Folk media are also a means of communication on current events, for example, among those Shukriyya involved with the Rahad and Khashm el-girba projects in Sudan, who sang songs about their grievances with the project, including the fact that people wanted livestock to be integrated with the schemes16. The Twareg of Niger have many proverbs, poems and riddles dealing with the dynamics of natural resources. For example, “it has so many children riding on one camel, that no one, not even God, can count them - what is it?” Answer: an Acacia raddiana and its many thorns17. Games people play show how skills are acquired and practiced18. For example, a game of pebbles and holes in the ground played by the Twareg of Niger includes names of livestock for pieces and positions, and livestock related activities (watering, grazing, etc.) for movements and strategies19.

Rayfield (1983) has written a concise review of the problems of applying modern, formal education to the African, and pastoral, context. The main problem of modern schools, starting with missionary schools during the colonial time, is that they withdraw children from society and inculcate them with values and knowledge that make it difficult for them to return to their society. “The very existence of classrooms conveyed the strong message that 'it is more honourable to sit in an office than to earn a living by manual labour'”20. Colonial governments, such as the French Administration in Senegal, wanted to create a class of Senegalese that could “second the administration and extend the French influence”, and they taught that “the only valid culture was the French, African culture was inferior, and that failure to acquire a French education was the fault of the student.”21. With independence, the education systems of those countries still tied very much to colonial powers, such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal, did not change much, except in teaching more local languages, more funds for higher education, and substituting African for Colonial history, geography and sometimes literature. Countries that adopted socialist policies, such as Guinea and Benin, tried to create new revolutionary schools where the teachers and students would be self-sufficient by planting their own food. Other countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger tried to create rural schools that taught both French and agricultural skills, but their main problem reportedly was that the students didn't know French and the teachers didn't know agriculture22.

In Nigeria, the Fulani children “were faced [with] a foreign set of values embodied in the curriculum and teaching methods meant for sedentary children. As a result of these disadvantages, the nomadic children failed to achieve high academic standards, their attendance to school was irregular and many became maladjusted.”23 Recently, President Babangida of Nigeria has acknowledged that the pastoral Fulani have not benefited from the Universal Primary Education programme because the conventional school system and instruction are not suited to their roles, needs and circumstances24. Recommendations are being made to revise the Nigerian system to include animal rearing and marketing practices, health, etc. in the curriculum, and not western style education that prepares them for white-collar jobs. Although the nomadic boys will be kept in school all-year round, their family are to be compensated for loss of labour with “grazing lands, animal feeds, and veterinary services”25. However, it is not clear how these recommendations can replace the highly effective traditional system of on-the-job-learning and apprenticeship.

Paulo Friere (1978)26 has suggested that African countries need to completely abolish these formal school systems and instead adopt several measures, including teaching literacy in small, brief courses while teaching other skills in spontaneously organized groups formed to meet the local needs. Although substantial amount of resources have already been invested in the formal schools, they still have not been able to adequately cover pastoral areas. Simpler versions of formal schools can be developed to include basic literacy as well as a combination of viable local LKMS and modern technologies. They should plan for a substantial amount of time being spent “on-the-farm” doing practical home-work, and take into account the traditional educational mechanisms discussed above. The folk media can also be used with adult education techniques, such as talks in markets and other gathering places, and radio broadcasts27.


1. Howes 1980, p.345.

2. Mottin 1977, p.72.

3. Jaxate, Soo & Soo 1979, p.77.

4. Rayfield 1983, p.1.

5. Jaxate, Soo & Soo 1979, p.77.

6. Spencer 1965, p.10.

7. Fortes 1945, p.159.

8. Lewis 1961, p.75.

9. Maliki et al 1984, p.305.

10. Gluckman 1951, p.84.

11. Ba 1982, p.35.

12. Rayfield 1983, p.2.

13. Blurton Jones & Konner 1987, p.10.

14. Compton 1980, p.308.

15. Itani n.d., p.54.

16. Abu Sin 1983, p.48.

17. Bernus 1967, pp. 40-46.

18. Warren & Meehan 1980, p.327.

19. Bernus 1975, p.174.

20. Rayfield, 1983, p.4.

21. Rayfield 1983, pp. 5-6.

22. Rayfield 1983, pp. 12-14.

23. Ezeomah 1985, p.12.

24. Ahmed & Atala 1988, p.4.

25. Ahmed & Atala 1988, p.10.

26. Friere 1978.

27. Monod 1975, p.77.

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