Cattle raiding, cultural survival, and adaptability of East African pastoralists

Sandra Gray, Mary Sundal, Brandi Wiebusch, Michael A. Little, Paul W. Leslie, Ivy L. Pike

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Since the late 1970s, cattle raiding with automatic weapons has escalated among nomadic herding societies in northern East Africa. We examine the impact of AK-47 raiding on the adaptability of Karimojong agropastoralists in northern Uganda. Most notably, raiding is linked to a loss of population resilience in Karamoja, measured in increased mortality of young children and of adult males in their prime reproductive years and decreased female fertility. AK-47 raiding has acted both directly and indirectly as a Darwinian stressor in this population, compromising long-standing adaptive strategies and intensifying selection pressure. We briefly discuss similar effects of recently altered patterns of raiding among related Turkana pastoralists in Kenya. We then consider the process by which this traditional cultural institution was modified in the interests of preserving cultural identity. We conclude nonetheless that cattle raiding with automatic weapons constitutes singularly maladaptive cultural behavior in contemporary pastoralist societies. Indeed, it represents the single greatest threat to their biobehavioral resilience and ultimately may have profound evolutionary costs in terms of pastoralists' survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S3-S30
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number5 SUPPL.
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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