Page109.gif (204279 bytes) HERDING HAS TO BE DONE 365 DAYS OF THE YEAR. With no store of fodder to distribute to their livestock, the nomads must take their animals out to graze every single day Because of the complex way they divide up their livestock into separate grazing herds, one of the constant problems facing families is a shortage of herders. For example, since dri are always herded separately, as are lactating sheep and goats, and a regional category of adult males, nonlactating females, and nursing infants, each family frequently operates three sub-herds and needs three herders virtually every day of the year. Most households don't have enough people, so make a variety of other arrangements including cooperating with neighbors

and hiring shepherds.

Nowadays it is common for several households in an encampment to pool their animals and share the Page110.gif (171902 bytes) work involved in taking them out to graze. If three grazing herds are needed for a while and there are three households, a typical cooperative agreement would have each household supplying one herder and for each of the three herds to include all three households' livestock. Each nomad family cuts one ear of its sheep and goats in a distinctive way to guarantee unambiguous identification when herds are mixed. This is done when the animals are a few months old and, like butchering, is considered a polluting activity. Animals are also marked with an orange dye to indicate ownership.

Because cooperation requires reaching mutual agreement on many issues such as which herd goes where, many rich households prefer to avoid potential conflict by controlling their herding. They supplement their own labor by hiring one or two herders for a season, or even for a year, paying nowadays one sheep per month of work plus food and sometimes a set of clothing.

Page111.gif (121097 bytes) Within a family, herding is done by both sexes and by adults and children beginning as young as eight or nine years of age. It is a low prestige job for adults, however, and is typically done by teenagers and low-status adults such as unmarried siblings and daughters-in-law without children. The household head selects the herders and instructs them where to take their flock each day Herders generally work for four to five days in a row and then have a day off, someone else in the family filling in for them. But a variety of arrangements accommodates the different n-dxe5 of people (and personalities) in households. For example, in one household we knew well, a brother and sister aged 10 and 23, respectively, alternated every two days. In another, cousins from two cooperating families alternated days.

Work as a herder is at the same time trivial and crucial to the nomads. It is trivial in the sense that Page112a.gif (184994 bytes) little to no skill is required to herd adequately, and children 8 to 10 do an acceptable job because the complex decision -where to go on any given day with the herd-is made in advance by adults.

Page112b.gif (216127 bytes) The shepherd is responsible for directing the feeding of the flock, moving it so that it grazes evenly over an area, and more important, preventing the flock from scattering, since stray sheep and goats are easy prey for wolves and other carnivores. Although this requires no special skill-really just staying awake and watchful-when it is not done properly, disaster can occur. For example, during the summer of 1987 a 34-year-old sheepherder fell asleep and awoke to find her herd nowhere in sight. When she finally tracked down the animals, she found that four had been killed by wolves. One of her brothers was so furious with her that he punched her, knocking her down.

Although herding is low prestige for adults, young children often see their first selection as a herder as Page112c.gif (92319 bytes) a sign of maturation. One 11-year-old boy who began to herd dri during the summer of 1987 used to beam when his father put his enormous cowboy-style hat on the boy's head and sent him off. But herding, on the whole, is uncomfortable and boring.

Herders work a long day, usually leaving about mid-morning and returning only in the evening. The herder is usually alone all day, has no hot food or drink, and no protection against the elements, which in summer include rain, sleet, and hail, and in winter include bitterly cold temperatures and ferocious winds. Some herders relate that on the coldest winter days when the sky is overcast, they can't speak when they return in the evening because their faces are too stiff from the cold, and can't open the tent door because their hands are too numb to work the wooden toggle that fastens the tent-flap.

The most critical work for the herder occurs at lambing. Lambs and kids are bom in early spring when temperatures are extremely low and the tiny, wet newborn lamb or kid is at high risk of freezing. The herders' responsibility is to see that this does not happen. They are expected to keep track of all females about due to give birth so that they can intervene immediately and dry off the newborn baby by rubbing it with dirt. Mistakes at this time can cause high neonatal mortality and prevent increases in herd size. Not surprisingly, young children are considered unreliable and too easily distracted to be useful, so adults, even the head of the household (or his wife), will herd during these months.

We went out with a goatherd on a bitterly cold and windy early April day to see how this operated. Before we set out, the 17-year-old herder identified a goat that was about to give birth. She would not stay with the herd, wandering off 100-200 yards by herself, and, as the time for birth approached, searching for a convenient depression in the ground in which to lie down. She often vanished while we were distracted by something in the rest of the herd, and several times we had to search around to find where she was hiding. When she finally gave birth, the herder was right there. He let her lick her kid for about 20 seconds, and then gently took the kid from the mother and dried it off. Since infant kids can not keep up with the herd, he put it into a wool sack on his back and carried it around for the rest of the day.

Page113.gif (117004 bytes) During birthing, the herder's role is equally important at night. The pregnant females are kept in open corrals and the herder has to sleep with them in order to be there to dry off the newborns immediately.

After birth, the nomads continue to protect their capital by keeping the babies at night in specially constructed bins of clay or rocks or sod. We measured one bin which was roughly five feet long by two feet deep by four feet high and contained 10-15 newborn lambs. The bins are covered at night with woolen blankets or pieces of sod and functioning to cut out the wind and conserve the animals' own body heat and keep them warm.



Wolves are found in Pala and pose a continuing threat to the nomads' livestock. Every year they attack and kill sheep and goats, yak, and horses. Lynx and snow leopards also occasionally kill livestock, but it is the wolves who cause the most harm. The nomads talk about this danger frequently but can do little to control them. They keep guard dogs that roam loose at night in an attempt to scare predators off, but they do not have the modern rifles they would need to hunt them; putting out poison or baited traps is as likely to kill their own dogs and livestock as the predators.


After wolves killed several female yak during the spring of 1988, the local Pala officials set a small bounty on killing wolves, and persuaded a group of nomads to track the wolves from their most recent kill. After several days of searching the nomads finally located the wolves' den on a craggy face high in the mountains. Leaving their dogs on the plains, they climbed up the precarious slope and killed the four wolf pups they found. However, while they were doing this, the adult wolves circled down onto the plains and killed two of their hunting dogs. The hunters later discovered a second den and killed those pups too, but their success was tempered by the loss of the dogs.


THE PALA NOMADS REAP LIVESTOCK PRODUCTS to provide the food they need to survive. But their diet is highly unusual in that they consume vastly different diets during winter and summer, eat no fruits and virtually no vegetables. Nor do they utilize all the potential foods around them. For example, they do not eat fish or fowl, even though many live beside lakes teeming with fish and migratory ducks and geese. They do not eat carnivores or rabbits or the abundant wild ass, which they classify as a horse because of its non-cloven hoof. They explain this simply as due to their cultural heritage-that drokba do not eat those foods.

Nomads eat two or three meals a day Some families have tea, either alone, or with tsamba or leftovers, before starting the morning's milking; others have nothing until after milking when all families have a mid-day meal of tea with tsamba and sometimes yogurt or leftovers. This meal may be substantial in winter when it is likely to include meat. Herders eat before leaving camp around midmorning, some taking food to eat during the day, but most do not eat until they return. All families eat their main meal in late evening after the milking is done and the animals are settled in for the night. In summer, supper is often tsamba plus a thin stew consisting of a little tsamba and animal fat, and perhaps some dried radish. In winter, the evening meal is usually a substantial stew with lots of meat and tsamba or boiled flour dumplings. The nomads explain that the heavy stew helps keep them warm during the bitterly cold winter nights, and there is some scientific evidence from the Andes that such stews are actually effective. They drink Tibetan-style tea, flavored with salt and butter, throughout the day, often with a little tsamba if they are hungry.


In order to find out how much and what people eat, we weighed an entire day's intake for each person in a household on about 20 occasions over the year. This meant one of us sat in a tent from the time the first person awoke until they went to sleep and weighed everything they ate and drank. The nomads got into the spirit of the work and helped out. For example, if we were distracted momentarily, the diner would put his bowl on the scale to catch our attention before taking a mouthful.


Just 15 foods plus tea comprise virtually the entire nomad diet. These are dairy products (yogurt, milk, cream, cheese, buttermilk and whey), meat products (animal fat, blood and meat including organ meat), barley (tsamba), wheat flour, rice, cooking oil and very rarely dried radish and dried cabbage.


Men eat twice as many calories as women during the summer and fall and about 40% more during winter. Similarly, boys eat more than girls. These sex differences are found in most societies and are explained by males' larger body size, higher basal metabolic rate and greater muscle mass. There is also a striking seasonal difference: caloric intakes were two to four times higher in winter than summer. This is primarily attributable to a huge increase in the consumption of animal fat and meat after the late fall slaughter. Women aged 15-59 showed the largest seasonal difference, eating almost four times as many calories in the winter as in the summer and fall.

Page115.gif (579112 bytes) Tsamba, obtained by trading animal products for barley, is the dietary staple, contributing roughly half to three-fourths of the calories in summer/fall and one-fourth to one-half in winter. Adults consume an estimated 175 pounds of tsamba per year and children (aged 5-14) 160 pounds. Some flour and rice are also consumed. Dairy products contributed a higher proportion of total calories in summer when milk production is high and absolute caloric intake is lower (15-25% in summer vs. 5% in winter). In winter, milk production is low and they are obtaining many calories from meat.

Tibetan-style tea flavored with butter and salt contributes a few percent of total caloric intake while contributing most of the added salt, although the winter stews contribute salt too. Adult men consume a median of 7.3 to 10.7 grams of salt a day in addition to that occurring naturally in the foods themselves. Women consume less additional salt because they eat less food and children consume very little salt indeed, mainly because they drink little tea.

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