Friday, 21 December 2012

A people whose culture prioritizes protection of nature and the environment

For the Abahima: cows, pastureland and water sources come first, other things  only subsequent!

The aba-Hima* are an ethnic pastoralist society, especially concentrated in the western part of Uganda’s cattle corridor. The “Abahima” (also commonly referred to as “Bahima”) are renowned breeders, keepers and preservers of the Ankole longhorned cattle for thousands of years. They (Bahima) are an ancient society that inherited from its progenitors, immense indigenous knowledge (IK) about cattle-keeping that enabled them to live symbiotically with the longhorned Ankole cows and the environment whose life cycles they keenly protected without violating its integrity, for millennia.

To-date, the Bahima have spent thousands of years in the cattle corridor. In Uganda their core centre was in southwest Uganda’s Nkore Kingdom, now Ankole sub-region. It’s from here that the Bahima traversed the rest of the cattle corridor in search of better pasture, water, and comfort for their longhorned cow herds. They moved in search of pasture, water, et cetera, hence their nomadic culture. If the cows were not healthy and happy, nothing else would be given priority, not even the people of one’s household. Other important priorities for the Bahima were water-wells, grasslands and the general environment. A greener environment was directly linked to the wellbeing of the cows, thus, Bahima maintained the quality of the environment or at least did not interfered with biodiversity, if for anything, the wellbeing of their cows.

Anthropologists have described the Abahima-cow relationship as ‘cattle complex’ (see Melville J. Herskovits’The Cattle Complex in East Africa” (Also see the Dictionary of Anthropology). The term cattle complex is defined as an ‘extensive ritualistic usage of cattle’ ‘emotional attachment to cattle’ and/ or close ‘identification with cattle.’ The strong Abahima-cattle complex, is reflected in the components of their social, ‘economic’, and spiritual (or ritualistic) lifestyle. “. . . cattle not only form the economic foundation of Bahima life, but enter into every aspect of their social lives.” (W. L. S. Mackintosh, Some Notes on the Abahima and the Cattle Industry of Ankole, 1938).

It has long been argued that the Bahima ‘cattle culture’ is conservative and impregnable and that, that in the end would spell doom to the “cattle industry,” but apparently facts show that it’s ‘modernisation’ that’s gradually and surely broken down the Ankoles, the local environment, the integrity and stability of the ecosystems in the so-called cattle corridor in East Africa in general.

The components of the culture of a people who directly live-off the cow and land at its natural’s best is reflected among the Bahima in elements of conservancy, self-sufficiency, and a 360-degree social congruity with themselves, cows and nature. From nutrition and aesthetics, “banking” and building, homesteading, feasts and recreation, to self-esteem and social security, to detergents, medicines and sterilizers, to bedding and clothing, to the settling of disputes and the giving of gifts, and dowry, to rituals and religion, and the general preservation of the ecosystem . . . all the above and more were possible among the Abahima—by Ankole cows for the continued survival of the culture and the people.

“The Bahima can be described as having a strong cattle complex.” (Helen N. Nakimbugwe et al., in The Role of livestock and breeding: Community Presentation, 2007) We can say also, that Bahima have environmental protection complex!

According to President Museveni, “. . . (cows) are like members of our families and we treat them  intimately.” (Yoweri K. Museveni, Sowing the Mustard Seed, 1997). In the Book, Lost Mothers: The Cattle Trail” Nasasira Livingstone demonstrates that that, the Bahima neither did fishing nor ate fish because it was taboo to tampered with cows’ water (amaizi g’ente). Fishing would definitely make water stagnant. The Ankole cows are very sensitive in as far as what they eat or drink is handled. They cannot drink stagnant water. Actually, the watering trough is worked with scented soils so the cows would not refuse to drink.”

Furthermore, to every mu-Hima, the Ankole cow is mother, the milk cow; and a father, the herd’s bull. The word “Ishe zo” means “father,” the rest ‘our cousins’ (Museveni, 1997), brothers and sisters.

But the longhorned Ankole cow is now in danger of extinction! The Ankoles are believed to have been extinct by 2027 (20 years from 2007), according to FAO’s The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources, published in 2007. Passing through most of the southern (Uganda’s part) of the cattle corridor, you’ll find especially, plump and hornless creatures with dappled black-and-white coats lolling beneath, now declining, flat-topped acacia trees. They look like the kind of cattle you might encounter in most of North American ranches (Andrew Rice, The New York Times, January 27, 2008). Thus, the end of the Ankole cow is at hand and certain; but it’s a critical turning point to the cattle corridor’s natural biodiversity, the ecosystem, and the survival of a people whose life depends on these cows and the integrity of the environment. Also, the Ankoles end with them valuable Bahima indigenous knowledge (IK), but worse still, the simple self-sufficient lifestyle whose basis is the cow at the center, and attention to the integrity of the environment. The three, the people, the cow, and the environment are exposed to critical dangers whose impact is predictably severe.

Breeding standards that made the Ankole survive for thousands of years have been significantly interfered with especially in the last half of the 20th century. Thus, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) warned in September of 2007 at Interlaken, Switzerland that, ‘the Ankole cattle could become extinct from Uganda within 20 years.’

Therefore, we have to ACT NOW to CONSERVE “what’s left.” Dr. Carlos Sere, Director General of ILRI (2007) because “in many cases we will not even know the true value of an existing breed until it’s already gone. This is why we need to act now to conserve what’s left” (FAO, The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources, 2007)


Nasasira Livingstone was the Co-founder of the Iziina Rirungi Rigumaho Association (RIGUMAHO),with his brothers Enoch, Israel, Paul and moses; and he was the Author of the Cow Protection Conservancy Uganda (Project), Enoch is the predecessor and current Executive Director of the organization. A dynamic Community Based Organisation (CBO) operating in Kiruhura district, establishing conservancies on empty patches of land to serve as demonstration centers for holistic nature conservation. Details of what the Rigumaho does can be found on the website 

*Aba Hima (Abahima or Bahima), literary mean, “of Hima” -- the place known as Hima is at the foothill of the great Mount Rwenzori, which they should be associated with, or a great ancestor who was known by that name, but who is not clearly known to us through history.

The management of this blog is not liable for anything that could result from the way the reader interprets and uses this information or for errors and omissions in it.

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