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What Is a Pastoral Society?

A pastoral society is a nomadic group of people who travel with a herd of domesticated animals, which they rely on for food. The word 'pastoral' comes from the Latin root word pastor, which means 'shepherd.' Someone living in a pastoral society is called a pastoralist.

Desert areas or northern climates where it's difficult to grow crops are where pastoral societies have been in existence for hundreds of years, and they were formed as a means of supporting life. Since they couldn't grow crops to help them survive, they relied on the meat and dairy from their herds. The types of livestock used in pastoral societies are all herding herbivores, such as sheep, buffalo, camels, reindeer, goats, or cattle.


There are two types of pastoral societies: nomadism and transhumance. The nomads migrate according to the changing seasons from one area to another to meet the needs of their animals. The locations vary from season to season. Or, they might return to a previously visited area, but generally do not form permanent homes in any one place. The tribes live in tents and are usually self-sufficient.

The transhumance pastoralists also migrate according to seasons, but they return to the same locations. They move to cooler areas in the summer and warmer areas in winter. Each location has either an established village or house which they return to when the seasons change. Pastoral societies are not strictly nomadic or transhumance, however. They will adapt to conditions as they're presented.


The first Bedouins were pastoralists who roamed regions of the Saudi Arabian desert. Today, Bedouin tribes still exist, some in permanent communities and others in pastoral societies, living from the meat and milk of camels, sheep, and goats. Bedouins also eat dried fruits and other types of meat on occasion, such as chicken and fish.

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