January 9, 2013

Nomadic Goat Herders

This blog is turning into a Hampi blog, isn't it? These are things we wrote about weeks ago, but haven't posted yet and are trying to catch up...so, sorry about the Hampi inundation.

In Hampi, we loved that the town's main road was lined with shops on one side, and with rice fields on the other side. To us, this meant that Hampi had the conveniences we want (restaurants, activities and shopping), but was also full of local charm. (You might remember that we love Hampi. That's still true.)

Because we walked and motorbiked around a lot, we saw most parts of the town and we always noticed the family of farmers in a field with their goats and cows. They lived in tents made of straw and scrap material and plastic and were always working. The animals slept around the family's tents and we would often see the women cooking with propane inside the tents. They wore simple clothes, hauled their water to their tents each day, never wore shoes, and, generally, lived a very basic life. By American standards, they were quite poor. Still, they seemed happy with their simple life and were always kind to us. Their two young kids were usually helping with the work and always looked at us with curiosity, obviously intrigued by our foreignness. Their curiosity surprised me, as Hampi is a pretty popular backpacker destination, so it wouldn't have been strange for a Hampi resident to see foreigners. One day, I asked their father's permission (with rudimentary miming/sign language) if I could take a photo of the kids and he gave me the affirmative head wiggle. The children were fascinated when I showed them their photos on our camera.

One day, when talking to our friends, Tom and Jerry, the farmers came up in our conversation and I asked Tom and Jerry how long they've known this family. "Oh, we don't know them! They've only been here 2 weeks!" they said.

I assumed this meant they were just new to town and were relocating to Hampi for work. Instead, Tom and Jerry told us that this family are herding nomads. They walk all over the country with their nearly 100 goats, 20 cows, and 3 horses (used as pack animals). They never ride their animals for transport. They are always walking. After crop farmers harvest the rice (or other crops), their fields need cleared out. The herding nomads need to feed their animals, which is very expensive. So the nomads walk. They walk from state to state following the harvest and set up camp for a few weeks on the farmland with their animals. Goats eat nonstop all day long, so the crop farmer's fields are soon cleared. It's a relationship that works for all the parties involved, but the lifestyle of these nomads was shocking to my Western eyes. I couldn't (and still can't) imagine a life of constant roaming on foot - never having a home and following the harvest. Fascinating. These nomads were well-liked in Hampi. Jerry had been visiting them since they arrived in Hampi to buy fresh goat milk for his puppy, Lucky, and he said he really liked these nomads because they had the freshest milk and never lied to him and tried to water it down.  

One of my favorite impressions of these nomads came late one evening as we rode our motorbike home from dinner on the dirt path that ran next to the nomads' camp. There was no moon that night, so it was very dark when we passed by their tents. They were already camped out for the evening, and no sound came from their homes. As we passed by, a bright light caught my eye and I glanced over to notice 3 or 4 bright cell phone screens shining in the night. The simple nomads played games with brightly colored high-def images on their new cell phones. It was such an amazing thing to see. These people could have been living 1000 years ago, yet their cell phones have the latest technology. An interesting sign of the times.

I couldn't get a pic of the cell phone lights, but here is part of the family's herd, at night

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