Why does the nomad wander

Info sheet nomadism

Definition, forms, dissemination and current problems


Nomadism is one of the world's oldest economic forms, which is characterized by the regular migration of entire social groups.
It describes a migratory economy, which is characterized by constant, mostly seasonal cyclical migration of tribes - mainly in closed family groups - including livestock and belongings for the purpose of pasture use.
In the case of fully developed nomadism, any settlement is temporary with a residence time of a few days up to 20 years; Fixed and permanent settlements are rather rare.
A distinctive economic form of nomadism is cattle breeding (e.g. camel animals, reindeer riding nomads, sheep or goats). The animals serve almost exclusively as food and clothing suppliers (milk, fur) and almost never as direct meat suppliers. Nomads therefore live primarily from the products of their livestock and not from the livestock themselves, since the livestock of a family or clan can also be seen as a social yardstick within the community.
Nomadism is considered to be the optimal adaptation of humans to ecologically usable border areas.

Forms of nomadism

Full nomadism
Full nomadism describes the most pronounced form of nomadism, which is characterized by the migration of the entire family with their herd.
Summer and winter dwellings are only temporary (e.g. tents), arable farming is generally accepted. d. Usually not operated.
Full nomadism can be accompanied by periodically seasonal, horizontal or episodically undirected migrations. What all movements have in common is the permanent mobility of the entire social group.

Semi-nomadism (seminomadism)
With this type of economy, only part of the clan migrates with the herds, while women, children and older tribal or family members often stay in permanent settlements and mostly farm there or maintain other additional income.
Semi-nomadism is the most common form of migratory economy worldwide.

Lowland nomadism (horizontal nomadism)
The lowland nomadism is due to purely horizontal migratory movements over z. T. marked considerable distances. Pastures are mostly changed in an episodic rhythm; Wells have a not inconsiderable influence on migration.
Farm animals such as the dromedaries and camels, which are perfectly adapted to hot and dry conditions, some of which are also used to transport commercial goods, as well as sheep and goats are characteristic.

Mountain nomadism (vertical nomadism)
Mountain nomadism is characterized by vertical migration from winter pastures in the valleys to summer high pastures in the mountains.
This form is mainly widespread in steppe areas, as it can avoid summer droughts in the lowlands.
The migratory movements covered are usually significantly less than in the case of lowland nomadism; goats and sheep function almost exclusively as farm animals.

Further forms are desert nomadism, in which particularly long distances have to be covered, and steppe nomadism, in which inter alia. horses and (less often) cattle are also farmed.

The distance of the hike (long-distance and near-wandering nomadism) and the type of housing (e.g. tents, yurts, permanent buildings, etc.) are further distinguishing criteria.

Differentiation between transhumance and nomadism

Although transhumance is also characterized by migratory movements, it differs from nomadism essentially in that the owners of the herds do not migrate with them themselves, but rather give foreign shepherds this task (e.g. classic shepherding in the Mediterranean region).


The main areas of distribution of the nomads are the steppe areas, semi-deserts and savannahs of North Africa and the Middle East and Central Asia.
However, nomadic peoples and ethnic groups can be found around the entire globe, as the following list of nomadic peoples by region illustrates:

  • Africa
    Bedouins (desert areas of the Sahara and Arabia up to Sinai), Herero (mostly Namibia), Hema (Congo), Himba (mostly Namibia), Maasai (southern Kenya, northern Tanzania), Pygmies (Central African Republic, Rwanda, Gabon, Congo), Samburu (Kenya), San (entire southern Africa), Tuareg (Sahara, Sahel zone)
  • America
    Innu (Quebec and Labrador), Kawesqar (Patagonia), Yamana (Tierra del Fuego, practically exterminated)
  • Asia
    Alans (Ossetians as successor people, northern Caucasus), Buryats (Siberia), Changpa (northern India), Gashghai (Iran), Lulen, Mlabri (Thailand), Mongols (Mongolia, China, Russia), Nenets (Russia, Siberia), nomads ( e.g. the Janjawid in Sudan), sea nomads (Southeast Asian islands), Tibetans, Turkic peoples (Eurasia)
  • Europe
    Sami (Scandinavia), Sinti, Roma, Pavee (Ireland, Great Britain), Quinqui (Spain)
  • Others
    Aboriginal (Australia), Inuit (Greenland, Canada)

Current situation, problems

Nomadism is subject to extensive change in many places: sedentarism, loss of pastureland due to extensive cultivation and socio-economic changes have a lasting impact on the nomadic way of life.
The once classic migration movements are nowadays often made more difficult by political borders.
Last but not least, the problem of desertification in the areas that are particularly heavily characterized by nomadism favored a trend towards more pronounced additional income: livestock farming and traditional trade are increasingly marginalized; Agriculture, handicrafts and wage labor play a bigger role than they did a few decades ago. The majority of the world's nomadic peoples now live in rather poor conditions.

Source: Geography Information Center
Author: Nils Wiemann
Published by Klett
Location: Leipzig
Source date: 2007
Page: www.klett.de
Processing date: 05/28/2012

Pasture farming, nomadism

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