Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

August 26, 2018

A plague of pastoralists

Filed under: Empires,Pastoralism — Razib Khan @ 10:43 pm

There are many reasons to read Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. One of them is to know, understand, and express wonderment, at what the Tutsis of Central Africa achieved in the five years before and after the year 2000. What they did was awesome, and horrific.

The Congo is the size of Western Europe, and for a period 3 million Tutsi controlled the whole region. These were no two-bit warriors. They hijacked a plane from eastern Congo and landed it far to the west to launch a second front in the war.

It may seem strange, but I thought of this while reading Imperial China. The Jurchen, who became the Jin Dynasty, conquered northern China in a decade, in a furious frenzy, about 900 years ago. These people are ethnically related to the Manchus and emerged out of a coalition of hunting, fishing, and farming tribes only in the decades before 1000 AD. Taking up nomadism, they quick overwhelmed first the Khitan people, and then swept over the Yellow River plain, toppling the Northern Song Dynasty.

And yet this is not an isolated occurrence. Consider the rapid expansion of Arabs in the 7th century. Within 20 years Persia had fallen, and much of the Roman East was under their rule. The Mongols of the 13th century are an even more striking example, swallowing state after state.

Contrast with these instances the expansion of Rome or Russia. These polities grew in a piecemeal fashion, step by step. There was no explosion, just a long fuse.

My thoughts are inchoate. But it is a very strange reality that the Tutsis are traditionally pastoralists, and have been characterized by a great deal of mobility. Perhaps there is something on a psycho-cultural level which makes them more comfortable with the high-risk daring operations that they attempted and often completed during the years of the Great War of Africa. Farmers, that is peasants, are famously and justifiably characterized as extremely conservative (do some reading about how long it took potatoes to be adopted as a crop in Eastern Europe!). But nomads? I don’t think there is a similar stereotype.

And, to be entirely frank, the peculiar explosiveness of mobile pastoralist peoples that emerge out of obscurity may shed some light on the process whereby prehistoric pastoralists in Eurasia seem to have left such a strong cultural and genetic legacy….

September 8, 2011

The gift of the gopi

Krishna with milk-maids Unlike in some Asian societies dairy products are relatively well known in South Asia. Apparently at some point my paternal grandmother’s family operated a milk production business. This is notable because Bengal is not quite the land of pastoralists. In much of North India milk and milk-products loom larger, in particular ghee. [...]

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