Cultures on the Edge

Vanishing People, Vanishing Livelihoods

Rabari Shepherd, Rajasthan, India, 2009
Rabari Shepherd, Rajasthan, India, 2009

Since the beginning of time, nomads have roamed the world and have been an essential part of economic and cultural activity around the globe.

Ladakh, India, 2008
Ladakh, India, 2008
Nomad boy Tibet, 1999
Nomad boy Tibet, 1999

South Asia has the world’s largest nomadic population.

Tibet, 2008
Tibet, 2008
Tibet, 2001
Tibet, 2001
Nomad Girl, Rajasthan, India, 2009
Nomad Girl, Rajasthan, India, 2009

In India, there are more than 500 nomadic groups, roughly 80 million people, but every day their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

Lhasa, Tibet, 1999
Lhasa, Tibet, 1999
Tibet, 2001
Nomad Children, Tibet, 2001

The diversity of the livelihoods of each of these nomadic communities is staggering.  Each one fills a particular socio-economic niche, fulfilling a specific need of village or sedentary communities.

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1995
Kuchi Shepard, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1995
Lhasa, Tibet, 2000
Lhasa, Tibet, 2000
Rabari woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
Rabari Woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010

The Kuchis of Afghanistan have to travel long distances to avoid drought, dust storms, and wars. They are about 10% of Afghanistan’s population and are an important part of the foundation of Afghanistan’s exports of wool, carpet, and animal hides.  Because they travel to remote regions, the Kuchis have been instrumental in taking manufactured goods to remote areas, and rather than being a relic from the past, they are relevant, but drought and social pressures are impacting their way of life that has survived for centuries.

Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992
Kuchi Nomads, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992
Rabari woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
Rabari Woman, Rajasthan, India, 2010
00365_12, Gao, Mali, 1986, MALI-10006. Tuareg woman. The Tuareg are a semi-nomadic tribe who live within the Sahara desert. For much of the year they move with their herd, but they often inhabit regions for fixed periods when they grow crops. Traditionally, the tribe is very insular, and one can detect wariness in the way this woman returns McCurry's gaze. Magnum Photos, MCS1987002 K500 final print_Milan book_The Unguarded Moment book_Iconic Photograhs book_PORTRAITS final print_Genoa final print_Perugia retouched_Sonny Fabbri 03/14/13
Tuareg Woman, Mali, 1986

Each of these groups is threatened by a variety of factors:  urban sprawl, cheaper factory goods, modern technology,  stringent wildlife laws and governmental pressure.

Young pilgrim child, Lhasa, Tibet, 2001
Young Pilgrim Child, Lhasa, Tibet, 2001
Nomads, Lhasa, Amdo, Tibet, 1999
Nomads, Lhasa, Amdo, Tibet, 1999

The fate of all nomadic peoples is precarious, but it is vital to recognize that their way of life has served them and their regions well for centuries, and that perhaps it is worth a Herculean effort to help them survive.