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A serious confrontation between farmers and pastoralists in the Rukwa District of Tanzania has left one man seriously wounded from a gunshot wound in his stomach.

According to a news report this past weekend in the Daily News of Tanzania, six sons in the family of Kilomela Shigela pastured about 2,000 cows on the lands of area farmers. The cattle trampled the fields, destroying acres of cash crops and foods such as groundnuts and legumes. The Rukwa Regional police commander, Isuto Mantage, told reporters that the farmers gathered to protest the destruction.

When they confronted the six pastoralists, the latter threatened to shoot them. Someone sought help from a nearby traditional militia man, who rushed to the scene. At that point, one of the young men shot the militia man in the stomach. Identified as Johana James, he was rushed to the Rukwa Regional hospital. Police were summoned, but by the time they arrived a couple hours later, the six youths had disappeared.

The police searched the compound of the elder Shigela and found, in one of his houses, a gun that appeared to be the one used in the shooting. The news story indicates that Mr. Shigela has seven wives and 72 children. Shigela admitted he illegally owned the weapon. As the reporter filed his story, the police were interviewing Shigela further at the Mpanda police station, and they were continuing their hunt for the six young men directly involved in the incident.

Roy Willis, in his fine book A State in the Making, offers some clarifications on the pastoral situation among the Fipa people. Historically, owning cattle in northern Ufipa, their traditional territory, was a privilege of royalty and highly favored, wealthy commoners. They were seen as symbols of wealth and status.

At the present time—at least as of the 1960s—cattle are primarily owned by the wealthier households, and they are normally not consumed for food unless they are dying anyway. Normally, people do not drink cow’s milk either, though in the past the cattle owners consumed a bit every day as part of a milk-drinking ceremony. The work of herding the cattle is done by boys, according to Willis; older men and women do not bother.

People in the rich Fipa households will slaughter their sheep and goats when social occasions call for the consumption of meat, but the poorer farmers do not own even those smaller livestock. Chickens are the only animals that are commonly owned by everyone. Willis emphasizes that, as of the mid-1960s when he was studying Fipa society, owning cattle was a way for the richer people to store their wealth.

Although Willis published his book in 1981, his research was done nearly 20 years earlier, so the situation in Ufipa may have changed considerably over the intervening decades. One might reasonably suspect, from clues in the news story last weekend, that an unfortunate arrogance has crept into at least that one wealthy family, so that they felt they had the right to trample on the crops of the poorer farmers.

Violence such as the news story relates did not seem to happen when Willis was there, but it is not really clear from the report if the people involved were Fipa or not. The incident occurred at the northern edge of the traditional Fipa territory, so the cattle herders may be from a different ethnic background.