Cultures on the Edge
Vanishing Peoples, Vanishing Livelihoods
Since the beginning of time, nomads have roamed the world and have been an essential part of economic and cultural activity around the globe.
South Asia has the world’s largest nomadic population. In India, there are more than 500 nomadic groups, roughly 80 million people, but every day their traditional ways of life are disappearing.
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.
Each of these groups is threatened by a variety of factors: urban sprawl, cheaper factory goods, modern technology, stringent wildlife laws and governmental pressure.
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.
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.
My pictures of India’s nomads were published in the February issue of National Geographic Magazine: