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Pastoral Genocide: An Evaluation of Adhikari’s Arguments

Mohamed Adhikari makes the case that settlers practicing pastoral farming had a unique predisposition to commit genocide on indigenous populations – specifically, indigenous hunter-gatherer populations. For the purpose of this essay, the settlers in question will be referring only to European colonial settlers. Adhikari’s definition of genocide will be used to assess his case: “The intentional physical destruction of a social group in its entirety or the intentional annihilation of such a significant part of the group that it is no longer able to reproduce itself biologically or culturally.”[1]

In critically evaluating Adhikari’s claim, this essay will be dividing the factors of genocide put forth into three categories: what happened that constituted genocide, why it happened, and how it got so far. The main case studied, as used by Adhikari, will be the genocide of the Cape San, where San society was almost completely destroyed from the 18th to 19th centuries by Dutch-speaking semi-nomadic pastoralists.[2][3] It will be contrasted with the similar genocide of the Yuki Indians of California, where a population of an estimated 12 000 – 20 000 Indians was dropped to around 300 from the mid-1850s to mid-1860s.[4]

Ultimately, this essay will find that commercial pastoralism and hunter-gathering are necessarily incompatible modes of life, resulting in resistance by either side which escalates to a cycle of violence that pastoralists are much more adept at pursuing than the comparatively less advanced and militarily powerful hunter-gatherers. In this manner, Adhikari’s argument is compelling.[5]

What Happened?

Adhikari identified a variety of common cases across the colonial frontier, where pastoralists had a peculiar predisposition to enact genocide on indigenous populations, especially hunter-gatherers.[6] Genocide is seldom the popular view of systematic death camps, as seen during the Holocaust, however, and these frontier eradication efforts took a form unique to many other types of genocides. The manner of genocide is very much connected to the nature of the pastoral farmer, and their victim, the hunter-gatherer. Pastoral settlers, especially the Dutch-speaking Trekboers of the 17th century onwards, were semi-nomadic, inhabiting land on the frontier rented to them by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).[7] In 1714 and onwards, the VOC promoted the dispersal of settler pastoralists into the interior by issuing grazing rights to swathes of territory (around 6000 acres apiece) in exchange for rent, giving birth to the Cape loan system and encouraging an accelerated movement to the interior.[8] This resulted in pastoralists pouring into the interior. By 1670, the native pastoralists of the Khoikhoi had been subjugated and dispossessed of their land and livestock by the superior military power of the European settlers.[9]

Pastoralists pouring into the interior began to seize large tracts of land for grazing. While richer pastoralists had home bases, they still had to venture out like their poorer semi-nomadic brethren to find the necessary resources to feed their herds.[10] This rapid entry of stock farmers led to unsustainable consumption of resources, damaging the local ecosystem, and eliminating much of what hunter-gatherers relied on to survive.[11] Most crucial of this was the pastoral dominance of water sources, which was used to control the land.[12]

This domination of resources that hunter-gatherers relied on to survive resulted in resistance. The Yuki, when denied access to resources now dominated by pastoralists, had to raid livestock to survive. This wasn’t purely a malicious seizure of resources by pastoralists, but rather an inherent nature of cattle grazing – resource intensive and invasive. Stripped of necessary resources to live, the Yuki were driven to raid to survive, resulting in retaliation by the pastoralists.[13] The San and Yuki are similar in that they both used guerrilla tactics to fight pastoralists.[14] The reaction by pastoralists was the same across the cases, with the formation of roving paramilitary bodies in the Cape, North America and Australia.14

Commandos were the Cape equivalent of these bodies, being formed initially in 1676 as an instrument against the Khoikhoi.[15] Commandos were ruthless, killing many San and only sparing some women and children (who were put into servitude and stripped of their cultural identity).16 There was a blurring of non-combatants among the San and the Yuki, resulting in the killing of everyone who was not imprisoned.[16] At a conservative estimate, around 300-400 San were killed per year from 1770 to 1798, when British intervention finally made a concerted effort to stop the killings. These estimates are low, as commandos were known to not fully disclose their kill counts.[17] Those who were not killed were stripped of their cultural heritage, and called Hottentots, actively destroying the identity.19 This claim has been contested by people claiming they are Khoisan, however, but these contestations are not strong enough to damage the point that settlers intentionally destroyed San cultural identity.[18]

San were not helpless, however. For the last three decades of the 18th century, San resistance was sufficient to halt colonial advances.[19] Trekboer retaliation was so starkly violent because they must have felt properly threatened by the San. And despite severe disadvantages, the San managed to resist for a long time.[20] San weren’t hopeless and passive victims. They were active combatants, pitted against an overwhelming opposition with access to advanced armaments.

Why did it happen?

Conflict between pastoralists and hunter-gatherers is inevitable because they desire the same resources – land, water, game.23 The nature of commercial level pastoralism necessarily disables hunter-gatherer access to these resources, turning it into a zero-sum game. As a result, hunter-gatherers resist. To raid for survival, like the Yuki in particular, or to simply resist encroachment. As a result of this retaliation, pastoralists are angered and retaliate even more harshly, bringing to bear superior military might. A spiral of hatred and violence continued to intensify as one killed the other.[21] This spiral and cycle of hatred escalated, breeding intentions to eradicate indigenous populations. Richard Collins reported in the early 19th century that, “the total extinction of the Bosjemen race is actually stated to have been at one time confidently hoped for”.[22] In 1777, the Council of Policy of the Cape government explicitly sanctioned the eradication of San, giving a state mandate to something that was already prevalent.26

Racialised thinking, Adhikari argues, was also a contributing factor that dehumanised indigenes.[23] The settlers often held a racist ideology that saw the San as subhuman and economically unproductive.[24] This was not a unique view to just pastoralists, however, and did not lead to genocide among other forms of settlers. The aforementioned reasoning of an irreconcilable conflict over resources is a more compelling argument, but the racist ideology would have been a contributing factor that would have made it easier for many pastoralists to commit slaughter.

Was the conflict truly irreconcilable? Negotiation seemed impossible to the pastoralist, as the San and other hunter-gatherer societies lacked central leadership.[25] In a conventional war, the enemy can be broken by taking a fortress or a town. If the enemy can be corralled, they can be defeated. The San were resilient in that their lack of a central leadership and settlement prevented them from being so easily defeated by a conventional force, but it also led to increased violence. As a result of constant raiding, racist ideology and this resilience, it is safe to assume that pastoralists saw hunter-gatherers as vermin. Vermin can’t be negotiated with. One can destroy their temporary nests, but they will keep reforming. The only way to eliminate vermin is to wipe out the entire population and control the survivors in cages. As abhorrent as it sounds (because it is), the pastoralist motivation was pest control.

Adhikari raises another motivation: the capitalist world market. He argues that capitalism served as a motivator for unsustainable exploitation of resources and ruthless removal of obstacles.30 This is contradicted, however, by his own observation in his 2010 paper, where he argues that despite having a connection to the world market, trekboers were actually more subsistence farmers.[26] The overexploitation of resources in this regard doesn’t seem to be for profit, but rather because cattle (especially non-indigenous cattle) are invasive by nature. The capitalist world market factor actually seems to be more appropriate for how the genocides occurred, more than why, and will be explored in the next section.

Ultimately, it is clear that the fundamental reason for mounting genocide was due to two irreconcilable ways of life. Hunter-gathers and pastoralists had two very different ways of life, leading to clashes and seizures of land.[27] Hunter-gatherers were stripped of their land by a foreign legal doctrine, but the primary factor was the overwhelming encroachment of pastoralists. This difference in societal principles and contestation over resources made conflict inevitable. A frustration on the part of the pastoralists, combined with a racist ideology, led to the violence mounting to genocidal levels. What is interesting is that this may not be unique to just European settlers. The Griqua also participated in genocide, but only after turning to commercial pastoralism.[28] This supports the notion that it is this mode of production and something unique about cattle keeping that contributes to this level of violence.

How did it happen?

Genocide needs more than a reason. It requires a capacity for slaughter. This essay has already discussed the unique characteristics of cattle that allows it to destroy ecosystems, so this section will be focusing on the intentional mode of genocide rather than the almost accidental destruction of resources.

Rather than a reason for genocide, the capitalist world market seems more to be an enabling factor. Access to the market gave a method to dispense surplus and attain capital, which was used to purchase firearms and ammunition.[29] The San and other hunter-gatherers did not have access to this market. San were able to capture quite a few firearms over the years, from raids and servants, but without a sustainable source of ammunition and the skill to keep the weapons maintained, they were not as useful.35 This superior technology and access to horses put the pastoralists at a huge advantage. The pastoralists also enjoyed superior manpower. Settlers outnumbered the San, and also used Khoikhoi servants and auxiliaries as trackers and soldiers.[30] The San numbers were not helped by diseases brought by settlers that decimated local populations.[31]

Compared to the pastoralists, the San lacked a surplus of resource, and were unable to maintain a genuine army.38 Rather, the San had to rely on guerrilla tactics, that further enraged pastoralists. But without a surplus to fall back on, every military operation by the San was at the expense of food production. So, even without superior military technology, pastoralist production simply outclassed hunter-gathering in giving its producers the ability to wage a protracted war. This was exacerbated by the pastoralist domination of key resources, like watering holes, that denied hunter-gatherers access to the resources they needed to survive – much less wage war. The seizure of key resources by pastoralists, who were more adept at exerting military might to dominate land, served as a motivator for both sides, but also one of the key reasons why genocide was able to be waged.

Another enabling factor was the relative autonomy of the pastoralists. A weak colonial state gave increased discretion to the pastoralists to attack indigenes.[32] This is in contrast to Bechuanaland, that had less violence due to a more active protection of indigene rights.[33] The case of government culpability in genocide was explored by the California legislature in 1860:

“Accounts are daily coming in from the counties on the Coast Range, of sickening atrocities and wholesale slaughters of great numbers of defenseless Indians . . . For an evil of this magnitude, someone is responsible. Either our government, or our citizens, or both, are to blame.”[34]

Through explicit sanction, like the Council of Policy decision in 1777 in the Cape to allow mass violence, to mere neglect, the role of government cannot be ignored. In the Cape, it was state sanction that allowed rapid seizure of land, its neglect that allowed mass slaughter and then its sanction that legitimised the slaughter. The inboekstelsel system institutionalised existing child slavery practices which contributed to the cultural destruction of the San.[35] Mass slaughter only slowed down under British rule after 1798.43 Even so, the benign neglect of British rule still allowed killings to happen on the frontier, where the arms of the colonial government couldn’t reach, and its eyes couldn’t see.[36] This brings to light an additional factor for enabling genocide, one that Adhikari does not discuss (at least not in detail). The pastoralist is by its nature a frontier dweller and the frontier by its own nature is one of blurred political authority, or lack of it. Pastoralists on the frontier are not held directly accountable to the government and can get away with things frowned upon by the metropole and the colonial authority. Commandos were a paramilitary group, and while running under state sanction, acted independently and did as they pleased. Succinctly, the neglect and sanction of violence by colonial governments, spurred on by the fog of war that surrounds the frontier, allowed pastoralists to get away with genocide.

Conclusion

The separation of what, why and how is useful in classifying particular factors, but there is, of course, intermingling. For example, the domination of resources is both a how and a what, as well as a why. Qualitative data is often hard to categorise, but this essay has attempted to do so to provide clarity.

In conclusion, it is prudent to reiterate the basic phases that led to genocide in the cases studied. First, pastoralists rapidly encroach on land used and inhabited by indigenous huntergatherers. This strips hunter-gatherer societies of resources they need to survive. Second, to survive and resist encroachment, hunter-gatherers react violently and raid pastoralists in a series of guerrilla attacks. Thirdly, this enrages the pastoralists, who use superior resources, manpower and technology to attack the hunter-gatherers. A tit-for-tat ensues, exacerbated by racism, a zero-sum perception of the world, and neglect or sanction by the colonial government. This cycle of violence eventually culminates in victory, if it can be called that, for the pastoralists.

This essay has explored the nuances of Adhikari’s argument and finds it highly convincing and compelling. Further, this paper has criticised the motivating factor of capitalism as unconvincing and added the role of colonial government culpability as a factor. The argument applied both to the San case and the Yuki case. Further study could be made to check the factors against other cases, but that may be unnecessary. The virtue of the argument is that its factors are necessary parts of commercial pastoralism and hunter-gathering, and it is safe to assume that it is the rule that when these two irreconcilable ways of life collide, that there will be conflict. Ultimately, this essay found that irreconcilable difference in lifestyle and belief to be the main compelling point of Adhikari’s argument. One necessarily encroaches on the other, and with that encroachment comes a cycle of violence that will result in destruction of the weaker.

References

Adhikari, Mohamed. “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories.” In Genocide on Settler Frontiers: When Hunter-Gatherers and Commercial Stock Farmers Clash, edited by Mohamed Adhikari, 1-31. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014.

Adhikari, Mohamed. “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795.” Journal of Genocide Research 12 (2010): 19-44.

Guelka, Leonard and Robert Shell. “Landscape of conquest: frontier water alienation and

Khoikhoi strategies of survival 1652-1780.” Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 4 (1992): 803 – 824.

Madley, Benjamin. “California’s Yuki Indians: Defining Genocide in Native American History.” Western Historical Quarterly 39, no. 3 (2008): 303 – 332.

Robins, Steven. “Land struggles and the politics and ethics of representing bushman’ history and identity.”  Kronos, no 26 (2000): 56-75.

Weaver, John C. “Beyond the Fatal Shore: Pastoral Squatting and the Occupation of Australia, 1826 to 1852.”  The American Historical Review 10, no. 4 (1996): 981 – 1007.

 

[1] Mohamed Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” in Genocide on Settler Frontiers: When

Hunter-Gatherers and Commercial Stock Farmers Clash, ed. Mohamed Adhikari (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014),

[2] .

[3] Mohamed Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” Journal of Genocide Research 12 (2010): 19-20.

[4] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 1.

[5] Pastoralists in this essay, unless otherwise stated, will refer to commercial European settler livestock holders.

[6] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 2.

[7] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 23.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Ibid., 24.

[11] Ibid., 20.

[12] Leonard Guelka and Robert Shell. “Landscape of conquest: frontier water alienation and Khoikhoi strategies of survival 1652-1780.” Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 4 (1992): 803.

[13] Benjamin Madley, “California’s Yuki Indians: Defining Genocide in Native American History,” Western Historical Quarterly 39, no. 3 (2008): 310-315.

[14] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 18. 14 Ibid., 18.

[15] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 28. 16 Ibid., 29-31.

[16] Madley, “California’s Yuki Indians: Defining Genocide in Native American History,” 317.

[17] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 37. 19 Ibid., 37.

[18] Steven Robins, “Land struggles and the politics and ethics of representing bushman’ history and identity,”  Kronos, no 26 (2000): 56.

[19] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 26.

[20] Ibid., 31. 23 Ibid., 27.

[21] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 7.

[22] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 36. 26 Ibid., 37.

[23] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 11.

[24] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 21.

[25] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 18. 30 Ibid., 8.

[26] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 25.

[27] John C. Weaver, “Beyond the Fatal Shore: Pastoral Squatting and the Occupation of Australia, 1826 to 1852,” The American Historical Review 10, no. 4 (1996): 1005.

[28] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 13.

[29] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 25. 35 Ibid., 30.

[30] Ibid., 32.

[31] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 16. 38 Ibid., 19.

[32] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 20.

[33] Adhikari, “‘We are Determined to Exterminate Them’: The Genocidal Impetus Behind Commercial Stock Farmer Invasions of Hunter-Gatherer Territories,” 9.

[34] Madley, “California’s Yuki Indians: Defining Genocide in Native American History,” 303.

[35] Adhikari, “A total extinction confidently hoped for: The destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700-1795,” 34. 43 Ibid., 37.

[36] Ibid., 19.

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