A CASE OF THE LONG HORNED ANKOLE COW
The importance of the LHAC to the people of Uganda, the values associated with it, cultural practices, the specific features, and practical issues regarding the co-existence of the LHAC and wild animals in their natural habitat and now exotics.
By Nasasira Livingstone
The long horned Ankole cow (LHAC) was predicted in 2007 to be extinct in 20 years (FAO, 2007). Certainly the LHAC is waning as predicted. In Uganda, the campaign to interbreed the LHAC with the high-yielding Holstein Friesian (HF) or to harvest the LHAC outright in favor of the HF has made so much economic sense that there is not a single ranch without an exotic herd. And the choice is also rather simple were it not absurdly simplistic. Breed money or conserve biological diversity. We now discuss the importance of the LHAC to the people of Ankole (Uganda in general) and what is being lost with it and the impact it creates.
In today’s world it is easy for local cultures to forget that despite all modern advancement we largely depend on indigenous resources and knowledge for our continued existence. History informs that traditional societies have centered on particular animals for development and survival. How a society goes about feeding itself, and the level of enlightenment in the process of food production, is an infallible guide to the nature of that society’s future. What was once a relationship of mutual respect between the LHAC keepers, their cows and nature is now being perverted to a regime of exploitation built on the meanness of pseudo-corporate farming, the Manichean view of modern US farming: large, soulless corporate enterprises on one side and on the other side human-scale artisanal operations.
Key words: long-horned, Ankole, cattle, conservancy, culture, indigenous knowledge
Many people are unaware of the fundamental principles of cattle keeping practices carried out by the people of Ankole for centuries because the people of Ankole did not write. When they started to write it was about the politics of kingships and nothing more. Therefore, some people think that the protection of the long horned Ankole cattle (LHAC) we promote is no more than fancying with customary beliefs, of which they claim have no relevance in the present time. In my book Enkoora y’Ente and elsewhere, I endeavor to explain the meaning behind many anecdotes (requiring quantitative and qualitative confirmation) of our traditional practices centered on what is called kutunga ente (cow keeping) literary, caring for cow (cattle). People who find practices such as kutunga ente relevant in the 21st-Century have founded movements such as environmental conservation and cultural movements, etc. For the protection of our local resources such as the LHAC, we make our argument clear that no ecological question can be solved without mass consciousness about the importance of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the traditional cow keepers in Ankole, their LHAC, and the rest of nature (flora and fauna).
Every time we drink milk or take tea made of milk or eat other dairy products, we enter an intimate relationship with the natural world. Traditional keepers of the LHAC know this very well. Indeed, they appreciate this relationship. From the last quarter of the 20th-Century, however, some of our people goaded on by the hype of doing agriculture as business, have adopted the type of farming which is large, soulless corporate enterprises on one side and on the other, human-scale artisanal operations. With this system of “corporate farming” bulls automatically become beef, milk becomes money, apparently the most important source of monetary income for the average cattle corridor family. All this happens without regard and consideration on what makes the milk in the cow’s udder! What has become important in time is the milk quantity not the quality. As farmers we are thus led to exploit our future selves this way by not paying attention to the way we use our most valued resources. It is catastrophic to ignore the story which lies behind the LHAC. It is the cow which has the ability to turn otherwise unproductive grass into milk. The grass or pasture must be available. To every cattle keeper therefore, the story behind the milk is the cow. The story behind the cow is the grass which cow turns into milk. And finally the story behind the grass or pasture is the ecological systems.
Even if you are lactose intolerant and so don’t depend on cows directly; there is this inconvenient truth that modern farming methods which routinely involve a form of thoughtless exploitation of the local resources is against the natural world, therefore unsustainable. This is what Uganda’s cattle corridor pastoralists and others in the sub-Saharan region are now embracing. Through the adoption of the artificial methods of farming, which involves the use of synthetic fertilizers for soils, antibiotics to treat animal infections, acaricides to kill tiny parasitic insects, and other biocides; the bees, butterflies, termites, and millions of other life forms, wild flowers, soil biota, human health and ultimately the health of the entire ecosystem is threatened or endangered. There is need, therefore, for particular research studies aimed at confirming the size and extent of the damage we only sense and theorize about.
With the truly sustainable cattle keeping practice, time-honored in the cattle corridor, all members of the ecosystem safely co-existed for centuries. It is only fair to recognize, therefore, that okutunga gye ente zaitu n’oburungi bw’ensi yaitu (stewarding our cows and our natural world), as committed as our predecessors did, is very important. We argue, hence that, there are many best-practices which can be synthesized from the indigenous knowledge (IK) of the traditional cattle keeping people of Ankole, which can be reusable in our times, but only requiring basic perfection and integration into modern scientific proven best-practices.
Anecdotal evidence in cattle keeping and its links with caring for mother earth
The cattle keepers here enjoy a large vocabulary that is based on their close relationship with the LHAC and nature. It includes phrases they commonly use, but which are unfortunately losing meaning and impact because they haven’t been enforced by any scholarly efforts whatsoever. They nevertheless carry great meaning, defining the intimate relationship existing between herdsmen, the cows and land (the entire environmental resources). Following are few of numerous examples.
This is the name for any male cow. If an ox has been identified for a sire, the name enimi automatically changes to enimi y’okubiikira or embiikire literary, breeding bull. When it has started to sire, enimi is then called engundu. The rest of the male calves or oxen maintain the name, enimi or nimi. The root word for enimi or nimi is “rima” from which we have the verb kurima, to dig (ku.rima). This enlightens us that at a certain point in time, the oxen were here used, by the grand ancestors of the Bahima people for plowing the land probably. Plowing is still a practice in many traditional societies elsewhere in the world. When the cattle-keeping people of Ankole stopped to carry out this practice is a subject to be investigated. We suggest that there is ample evidence that the Bahima took a deliberate action to stop the tilling of land by the bull as a way of preventing land degradation. We reason so because of the way they regarded cultivation and solid food as they do any taboos. We know from the Banyankore that anything they regard as taboo has fateful history behind it such as my clan’s taboo which requires me to avoid a burning house called ekihiirira. It is taboo because, as it is said, someone in our distant lineage tried to save his property from a burning house and got burnt in it as result. It thus, became omuziro (taboo) to us.
The word musiri means garden. Its plural is misiri. Misiri is a historical name for Egypt. There’s ample evidence that Egypt turned into a desert because of over cultivation or commercial farming to try and serve an exploding population. Therefore, the people of this place use the name Misiri to curse. You hear an expression: otangarira misiri meaning, don’t you dare take me back to Misiri.
2. Amaizi g’ente, obunyatsi bw’ente, ekyanya ky’enyana.
The cow was treated as bona fide owner of the most important natural resources for the survival of it and people, and sustainable use of the water, pastures, and the homestead, eka y’ente. The water in the well from which the people get their own water for home use is to-date known as amaizi g’ente, cows’ water, among this cattle-keeping people. Similarly the pastures are obunyatsi bw’ente, cows’ grasses. You will commonly hear someone warn you that otaita amaizi g’ente! “Do not play with the cows’ water! That is to say, if you only just stepped into the well without the purpose of watering cows or drawing water for domestic consumption. You will also hear someone say for example that, “hariho oyokize obunyatsi bw’ente zangye!” meaning, “someone scotched my cows’ grasses!” Bush burning is a practice that happens more often in the cattle corridor during the dry season.
The recognition of cow as bona fide owner of these two important resources dictated to our ancestors that both the grass and water had to be conserved. Now whether that was done knowingly or unknowingly is another subject all together.
Furthermore, the calves too are declared bona fide owners of the pasture area near the farmstead or kraal; a place named after them and called ekyanya ky’enyana, literary, place for the calves. Another example is the protection of such organisms as the termites. The soil from active anthills, itaka ry’ekikungu, is still used to mend earthen watering troughs called obwato (amaato, plural). Called itaka ry’okukora obwato, soil for working the obwato, it is used to maintain the trough but also to add scent to cows’ water in a daily practice called okweshera ente, watering cattle. This accords automatic protection to the termites which could never be interfered with or destroyed for any reason. Research is yet to prove that anthill soil is filled with particular minerals that the termites mine from deep in the soil, being the reason as to why this particular soil is used in the watering of cows. Besides using it in the watering process, the anthills are commonly constructed in such a way as to contain the salt that is served to the cows, and called ebigugiro (plural), ekigugiro (singular). The alternative ebinimba or ekinimba which is the wooden version of ekigugiro, are made of a selected type of trees, a particularly careful culture of selective harvesting and usage of plant life for sustainability for the long lasting future use.
The ebyanzi are wooden milk containers exclusively used by the Bahima and a few other neighboring cattle keeping peoples of the cattle corridor such as the Banyarwanda. The Bahima have their milk containers made from a very limited number of trees. Omus’sa, omurama, and omurema-mpango, three types of trees: another practical way of conservational exploitation of natural resources among this cattle corridor people. Interestingly, they don’t make these wooden milk containers. It is their cultivator counterparts, the Bairu, who do. They limit the selection and use by attributing metaphysical properties to their special selection, thus: omus’sa, suggests that which “makes one attain healthful looks (okush’sha); omurama, that which infers long life (okuramaara); and omurema-mpango, that which makes people overcome hardships even when those hardships are as tough as an axe. This means that one can never cut any other tree to use for making ekyanzi outside the authorized types. For what would such a tree infer metaphysically? It would thus, require another generation of “naturalists” to suggest other types. Furthermore, the sticks they hold, the slender branches of shrubbery they use to construct their mitomansi (spherical or bulbous huts) and the bihongore by’enyana (huts for the calves) they build, etc are of a limited selection from a whole lot of plant variety, implying avoidance of extensive harvests of vegetal life. This is reliable science for everlasting sustainability.
Milking is done on a daily basis, evenings and mornings. The calf is allowed to suckle its mother until it is mature enough, six to eight months. During the daily milking practice, the calf is allowed to suckle its mother first before the milker (omukami) draws out some in ekikamiso (milking container). Milking is done under very scrutinizing supervision and observation by the herd’s owner, who must see to it that enough milk is left for the calf. Thereafter, the calf is allowed to suckle again, under close observation to make sure it only takes enough. This process is thus regulated on a daily basis. The milking process is taken very seriously to the extent the women are not allowed to access the ikamiro (milking place). This ensures that a possible conflict of interest is avoided since the women, as mothers, have their own children to feed with the cows’ milk. It should be recalled that milk is the only food available to feed both the young and the old. The women are entrusted with all the milk, which they garnish in different forms and serve it according to energy requirements of different age groups of their family members.
Every kraal has an adjoining open ground called ishaazi (cow’s morning resting place). The cows are encouraged to rest in the ishaazi every morning between 6:30 and 8:00 am. The cows are driven from their ekibuga (enclosed ground for night rest) to the ishaazi. This is the place where to observe the cows, how they spent the night (each one of them), treating the sick, and carrying out general managerial and administrative requirements of both the animal and the human members of the family. Ishaazi is the common room for every male member of the eka (cowstead or homestead). It is a school and class for the young herdsmen but also of every cow. Furthermore, ishaazi is a boardroom of every cattle keeping family, an outpatient department for every sick cow, and at times the persons, and a common grounds for every neighbor, visitor and the community person; also, a courtroom where conflicts are resolved. Ishaazi is the parliament of every Muhima family.
6. Some other anecdotes
Emizaano (games). The games they play are a form of physical exercises. These games are calculated physical drills or exercises meant to equip one with the best skills there could be for the protection, management and the physical handling of the cows. For example, kuchumita enzinga (spearing through a running wheel) is meant to equip one with accuracy of the shooting skill so that one will be able to hit at a target if a wild carnivore attacks him or a cow. Okufukaana (wrestling) is meant to equip one with the skills of outmaneuvering either other herdsmen, in case of a physical fight, or to tame a strong cow, for example, in case of administering medication (kugaburira ente) or relocation (kufunya ente). Okwikiriza ente (talking to cows) formally, “replying to a cow” is done when a herdsman replies a cow when it moos. This lovingly emotional conversation makes a milking cow (or a cow with a young calf) happy. “Okwikiriza ente nikugigabisa.” Talking to or replying a cow as she moos stimulates her to giving more milk, happy-milk for that matter. If you didn’t kwikiriza ente before you milked it my late father called it okugiiba amate gayo (obtaining its milk thievishly). He is in agreement with his contemporaries on this point.
Ebizaano (the arts). Singing and recitations about the cows in particular are composed to sing the glories and good looks of the cows, the loveliness of ensi nungi (a good countryside) and the courage and goodness of the best cattle caretaker. Okutakinga enju keeping the huts open day and night. A cattle keeper does not close his mitomansi (globular) hut, so that one could easily dart outside as fast as possible to defend cows from an attacker. Okubajwara. The dress code also suggests preparedness: okubaasa kubakuka aho-na-ho, hagira eky’abaho, to respond as fast as possible in case of any emergency. Okuhembera ente, smoking the kraal to chase away the flies; mosquitoes and other insects so that they don’t sting or disturb the cows. The cattle keepers, even with such great love for cows, do not seek to use any methods such as insecticides to utterly kill the insects. This cannot be unintentional. Chasing the insects away with smoke is good enough, based probably on their knowledge of the usefulness of these insects to the rest of nature and us. Even for the ticks, the Bahima reared enkoko (chicken) to pick them, while during a grazing day allowed enyangi (cattle egret) to keep with the cows to feed on flies and ticks. Okubiikira is acquiring, keeping and or grooming a bull for breeding needs for the future. Ente igana igira engundu emwe, every herd of one hundred cows has only one sire (engundu) who is not allowed to mate with the daughters to avoid obutembane (in-breeding). Engundu (the herd bull) is allowed to mate with enyemebwa (selected cows for breeding). A second sire (engundu) is found from other herds for the heifers, which promotes good co-operation and care for one another’s herds because you never know who you approach next for your next sire. Other anecdotes are okwevuga (saying affirmation in form of recitations), okutera omubanda (sounding a flute for cows while grazing or resting them), okuzagiza empimba (selecting and playing with beautifully coloured bean seeds as toy cows by young children) and okutezya ente z’ebiti (shaping tender twigs of trees as white horn-toys of cows by young children).
It should also be made clear here that the cattle keeping community of Ankole did not hunt (kuhiiga) the wild animals, not even for their meat. Sport hunting is a strange idea, unimaginable. The only wild animal they ever could kill was killed in the event it attacked a cow or a person. Many of the farms and ranches surrounding national parks still have wild animals on them with no one hunting to kill them.
A way forward
The best way to avoid the impending extinction of the LHAC is to practice conservation conscious farming known in other words as permaculture among other descriptions. Bahima practices enumerated above are ancient wisdom for modern times. The traditional cattle keepers of this region are good at observing natural cycles and maintaining them or at least avoid interfering with them. They thus practice a system of agriculture that uses a mix of trees, bushes, other perennial plants, and a keeping of domestic animals to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that yields crops and other products. Their ancestors probably planted all the different trees and shrubs that we see, or at best they did not work to destroy them in the guise of clearing the areas to cultivate pasture or other crops. We suggest that because our people very well know all plants particularly because they have been named in accordance to their use or structure, and use them as such in daily practice.
Thousands of people wish to take responsibility for mitigating or even reversing the mistakes associated with the imminent extinction of the LHAC. We suggest a rediscovery and application of elements of this culture, the best practices, now only known as indigenous knowledge (IK). This IK that developed around the LHAC is good since it sustained it through hundreds of centuries. You may want to recall for example that, synthetic drugs for the treatment of animal disease are less than a century in use here, yet the LHAC is perhaps above 4000 years old. We do not promote the IK by discouraging any modern livestock production systems if they are being practiced in a non-injurious way to the animals themselves and to the natural ecological balance. We support any systems which in their practice are not wasteful of the local resources of any kind. This is the knowledge that we inherited from our forebears and wish to pass on to our descendants and the rest of the world before it is totally lost.
We want to assert that the LHAC is so important to the peoples of East Africa and the world at large. Its long white horns function as thermostats and help it to regulate extremes of temperatures which should make it the most favoured of breeds all over the world. The LHAC is important to all the people inhabiting oburabo bw’ente (the cattle corridor) in many ways, a few of which are explained above.
A tripartite of pleasant friendship
The culture that was forged around the LHAC which is called oburiisa (pastoralism) or okuriisa (pasturing, cow keeping or cow caring), or obunyante (cattle husbandry) or okukunda-ente (cow loving) . . . is the best representation of an agricultural practice Ranchor Prime mentions in his book Cows And The Land (2009), “welfare friendly farming.” It is not exaggerated for us to say therefore that, the culture that sustained the LHAC is the highest welfare friendly farming ever known to be practiced anywhere. It is with this farming system that one discovers total commitment to make top priority the welfare of the animals and the environment we all inhabits. At the peak of practice of this system Ankole as a country was named kaaro-karungi (good village), which depicts the attitude people had toward their general surroundings. The cows lived out their full lives dyeing only of natural causes. Their keepers lovingly cared for them for all their lives.
The terms “cattle keeper,” omutungi w’ente or “cattle keeping,” okutunga ente has now taken up different meaning among modern farmers. It is now regarded as archaic to say the least . . . but also as, the “sentimental” way of regarding cows. Correct. There many cattle keepers have sentimental values they associate with the LHAC. This balanced consideration of all lives we live with for our own benefit and for a sustainable future is held in contempt by modernizing farmers. They prefer to call their own farming practices beef farming (kugira enyama) or dairy farming (kugira amate) collectively known as kutungira akatare (commercial farming). The first subcategory, beef farming is traditionally described by a rather derogatory term obubaagi, meaning wasteful profligacy. Traditional values are under serious attack thus. Today obubaagi is not regarded as unsafe practice. But the core meaning of it is inconsideration of our continued existence. Conclusively considered, we have two different systems of farming based on cattle: the traditional cattle keeping, the welfare-to-all-nature friendly farming, which is also foundational, and on the other hand, the modern intensive farming which is subdivided into the beef and the dairy subcategories. With cow-keeping animal husbandry, the animals are happy and contented and so are the people who depend on them for their daily dietary needs. Aided by the rich pastures the LHAC produces safe and very rich high fat content happy milk, which satisfies the energy need requirements of the herdsmen, the extended community, visitors such as you, and all the none cattle communities neighboring the cattle corridor. On the other hand, the two modern intensive farming systems based on cattle also are injurious to nature particularly by their dependence on non-natural inputs and the violent method they embody.
Focusing beyond the concept to preserve a threatened LHAC breed and its culture
We promote modern farming which is tempered with “cattle keeping” because it is the type of farming that is progressive. We know this because it demonstrates a self-maintained agricultural system perfected for the preservation all the natural ecosystems for all time. To demonstrate this point, some examples of the friendly relationship between cattle keeper, the cows and the earth, which manifested in daily practices over a long time among the traditional cattle keepers, have been enumerated above. History informs us that the relations different cultures developed with the animal they kept influenced the values of those societies. Talk of the role of buffalo in shaping the lives and values of the Native Americans of the Plains, the Laplanders and their reindeer, the New England whaling villagers and the whales, and the ancient Egyptians with their cow and the Apis bull cults, the Maasai with their cows and the extinct red sheep, and in this case the LHAC breeders and keepers with their long-horned African cow. We indicated earlier that how a society goes about feeding itself, and how enlightened the process of food production, is an infallible guide to the nature of that society’s continued survival. So how can we preserve the LHAC beyond the disaster it faces? How can we draw the interest of the wider farming world to understand and pursue the uniqueness of the LHAC and the best animal husbandry practices and culture of “loving the cow and the natural world it inhabits” (okukunda ente n’ensi yaazo or obuhima) a farming philosophy that sustained this breed throughout the centuries?
One very powerful initial step would be for all practicing cattle keepers to be encouraged to conserve “what is left” (Dr. Carlos Sere. 2007). This is possible in many ways but first by creating effectual awareness. This is the approach the association Iziina Rirungi Rigumaho has undertaken and implements. We are creating information and making it accessible. We have published a book called Enkoora y’Ente (literary “cattle trail”). In this case the cow in the trail is the long-horned Ankole cattle (LHAC). This book is a long concept note that seeks to establish a program it will roll out to members and promote among natural resource conservers. The book has so far given the conservation effort we promote effective promotion by disseminating information. All the lovers of the LHAC such as Ankole Cow Conservation Association (ACCA), Iziina Rirungi Rigumaho Association (IRRA), the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC&DB), and members of RELINE and volunteers within our community have come up in different capacities to promote this concept and cause. We hope Cross Cultural Foundation Uganda (CCFU) and anyone else can do more. The key text of the “Enkoora y’Ente” has been thus created and is due for mass publishing. It is now only in the Runyankore language. Translation of its English version is underway for a wide readership.
The second step is protect the LHAC in a conservation area such as Lake Mburo National Park (LMNP), what ACCA is already rooting for, to ensure that if things continue the way they are, the LHAC is preserved by institutional arrangement.
The third step for ably conserving this breed is to offer incentives to conserving farmers by positioning the milk/products of the LHAC with a strong brand identity to achieve conservation by commercialization.
The fourth step is proposed by the Enkoora y’Ente/Iziina Rirungi Rigumaho Association (IRRA): to operate a demo centre in form of a natural conservancy from which extensive research is to be carried out on the LHAC and the culture/IK that preserved it through many years so as to rediscover and highlight its uniqueness and chart out its proper place in the world.
Our view is that the IK of the Bahima with the LHAC, which was accumulated over centuries of experience, can significantly enlighten private or national policies validating “beef” and “dairy” farming, since it signifies a self-maintained agricultural system modeled after friendliness of the nomadic cattle keepers to the natural ecosystems. It is that which we endorse so as to guarantee the safe world we want for progeny.
It is an honor that I could contribute in this way to all efforts geared towards conserving the heritage if the people of Uganda, particularly the cattle keepers’ culture and their fortunate LHAC breed. I believe that the other relevant stakeholders, the civil society and the community at large can be key partners to take these ideas out to the wider world and cause a re-evaluation to effect the change we so desire.
A PRESENTATION MADE DURING A 1.5 DAYS “LEARNING JOURNEY” OF THE 15TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR NATIONAL TRUSTS ORGANIZATION VISITING LAKE MBURO NATIONAL PARK (LMNP) AND ANKOLE COW CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION’S ENYEMEBWA CENTRE.
By Nasasira Livingstone 2-Oct-2013
Do Corporations Really Dominate Farming?
FAO, 2007. The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources and Agriculture, edited by Barbara Rischkowsky & Dafydd Pilling, Rome.
Livingstone, Nasasira. 2012. Enkoora y’Ente, Roma Services Limited, Mbarara, Uganda.