The power of women in dairying communities of eastern and southern Africa

Isabelle Parsons, Marlize Lombard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Today, African pastoralist communities are often viewed as male-dominated or ‘patriarchal’. This is/was, however, not always the case. This paper explores the role of women in non-Bantu-speaking herding groups of eastern Africa, such as the Maasai, Samburu and Nuer, whose socio-economic lifeways are/were largely centred on dairying activities. It touches on the archaeology of milk and briefly compares what is known about women’s roles in eastern Africa with that of women in southern African Khoe communities, who are traditionally associated with herding and dairying in the region. It demonstrates that women are/were respected milk managers in several pastoralist communities, controlling access and consumption, and that among the Nama Khoe of southern Africa they were powerful, well-respected members of a household unit and of the community. This is in contrast with notions of male-dominated pastoralism in eastern Africa and with the behaviours of Bantu-speaking stock keepers and farmers in southern Africa. In conclusion, the paper contemplates the potential time depth of strong women’s roles in dairying societies in Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-48
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017


  • Khoe women
  • dairying societies
  • eastern Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • Archeology


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