Scatterlings of east Africa: revisions of Parakuyo identity and history, c.1830-1926



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Parakuyo pastoralists today are a small ethnic group scattered across Tanzania and intermingled with larger agricultural societies. Their identity and history have been debated for more than a century, especially regarding their precise relation to the betterknown and more populous Maasai pastoralists of East Africa. This study reveals changing conceptions of Parakuyo identity and history found in Parakuyo and Maasai oral traditions, records left by European missionaries, colonial accounts, and recent scholarly writing. The approach taken here reveals that Parakuyo and Maasai once were part of a larger pastoralist society, known as Loikop, that dominated the Rift Valley savannas of East Africa in the early nineteenth century. Loikop society was demolished from within by an aggressive, expanding Maasai faction during the nineteenth century. Most of the territorial sections of Loikop either were disintegrated or absorbed by the expanding Maasai system. Parakuyo managed to survive the conflict by scattering into small groups and then adapting their pastoralist subsistence strategies to ecological niches not ideally suited to pastoralism. During the late nineteenth century, these scattered Parakuyo communities forged links with more than a dozen different, predominately agricultural ethnic groups in areas across northern Tanzania. This new network of communities was threatened during the 1920s, when British colonial administrators attempted to force Parakuyo into a reserve for Maasai pastoralists. Parakuyo successfully resisted this policy, demonstrating a remarkable ability to move their settlements and herds between districts when and where they saw fit.