People and Parks: Pastoralism and Conservation in East Africa

Elephants in Africa

This course examines the tension between the national parks movement and pastoralist societies through the lens of the Maasai people in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Of particular interest is how wildlife conservation efforts and ecotourism have impacted the relationship of Maasai to their environment, in turn causing rapid cultural change such as shifts from herding to agropastoralism and wage labor; modification of coming-of-age rituals; and increasing adoption of formal modes of education and Christianity in place of or alongside traditional modes and beliefs. From bases near the city of Arusha and the small town of Monduli, the course will study “traditional” Maasai culture and examine the ways in which the Maasai of northern Tanzania are adapting to changing social, political, economic, and environmental conditions. Students will interact with Maasai people in urban and rural marketplaces; in schools, medical facilities, and places of worship; and at Maasai bomas (multi-family compounds) in the bush. The class will also visit the African Wildlife Foundation, the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, the Manyara Ranch Conservancy, Gibbs Farm (a luxury resort for western tourists that highlights Maasai culture), and the pilgrimage route at the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano in order to explore points of intersection between wildlife conservation programs, ecotourism, and pastoralist societies.