The flipside of pastoral living

The life of a pastoral boy
The life of a pastoral boy

It was one of those normal days for a pastoralist family. The sun was setting on the horizon, partly blocked by a cloud of dust. From the direction of the setting sun, a large herd of sheep and goats was heading home, and in a hurry. They were trotting in a hurry because some were missing their young ones who must be left at home if they are not of the age to accompany the adults for the long journey to the grazing lands. Some had to be relieved of their busting udders full of milk, and some were simply tired and wanted to reach home in a hurry and take the well-deserved rest.

The one who was not in any hurry was the herder. This was just a routine he was born to follow, and has done so for the last two decades. He wakes up in the morning, takes whatever there is for breakfast, gathers the family wealth in terms of goats, sheep and cows, and heads off to search for food for the animals. Evening comes, and the animals know how to get home. So they leave him behind and head for home while he tugs at the rear to make sure none of his animals gets lost. He is also a hungry man and he will not waste any more energy to run home with the animals. His day is done and he can walk home at leisure, savouring the golden rays of the setting sun in the plains.

Back at home, the matriarch of the family came out of the small mud-thatched house with her left hand shielding her face from the sun. Her eyes were running, from the stinging smoke from the cow dung she was using to start the fire in readiness for cooking dinner for the family. She had heard the bells from the herds, and she could tell that it was her flock coming home. She knew the herder was not going to be there with the flock at the same time. It was her duty to know that all the animals have arrived home.

She threw a cursory look at the whole flock and went back inside the little hut. She was satisfied that all her sheep and goats were home. Most of the more than 200 animals had been born while she was already married in the homestead. She knew all of them by the way they had their ears sliced as a mark of clan or family. Just a glance would tell if some were missing. And if by any chance one was missing, then the herder would not come home until the missing member is found. Such was the responsibility of the herder.

The mother was at hand to receive the herd and gather them inside the protected pen and close the entrance with a thorn bush. She went back inside the house and came out with a small metallic mug, which she was going to use to milk the goats. When the young man finally arrived home, tea was ready and the animals were sleeping peacefully, with some, noisily chewing away the cuds. The holding pen is conveniently placed right in the middle of the circle of the many little huts that makes the clan village. Having to live in the same area with wild animals for centuries had taught the pastoralist families to keep watch over their domestic animals even at night.

When the time came for the family to retire for the night, it was the responsibility of the man of the home to make a final check of his wealth and how secure they were. He came out of the house holding a spear in one hand and a machete in the other. He went round the whole circular enclosure, making sure every exit is well closed and the thorn bushes could hold out any intruder for as long as it would take him and others from the village, to arm themselves and come out to respond to the danger. Satisfied that all was well, the head of the family went back inside, bade his family good night, and retired to his special hut at the main entrance. It had been just a day like any other. But the night was not going to be like any other night. Right in the middle of the night, danger came calling, for the first time for this family.

To be continued.