DESPITE the substantial and significant body of scholarly work on changing gender relations among African peoples who are (or were) primarily cultivators, the gender relations of predominantly pastoralist peoples have been, with a few notable exceptions, curiously excluded from historical examination. Instead, despite work which has shown the complexities of trying to determine the ‘status’ of East African pastoralist women, pastoralist gender relations seem to exist outside of history and be immune to change. Earlier anthropological studies that addressed pastoral gender relations applied a synchronic model, analyzing them in terms of either the pastoral mode of production or pastoralist ideology. Harold Schneider, for example, contended that among East African pastoralists, men's control of livestock gave them control of women, who were ‘usually thoroughly subordinated to men and thus unable to establish independent identity as a production force’. In his rich ethnography of Matapato Maasai, Paul Spencer claimed that both male and female Maasai believe in ‘the undisputed right of men to own women as “possessions” ’. Marriage, in his view, was therefore ‘the transfer of a woman as a possession from her father who reared her to her husband who rules her’. Melissa Llewelyn-Davies' study of Loita Maasai women in Kenya corroborated Spencer's findings. Loita Maasai women perceived themselves, and were perceived, as ‘property’, to be bought and sold by men with bridewealth. Llewelyn-Davis argued that ‘elder patriarchs’ used their control of property rights in women, children and livestock to control the production and reproduction of both livestock and human beings. Similarly, in his symbolic analysis of pastoral Maasai ideology, John Galaty contended that Maasai men were the ‘real’ pastoralists, while Maasai women were negatively equated with lower status hunters, providing an ideological explanation for their lower status. Thus, whether they attributed their findings to material or ideological sources (or some combination of the two), few anthropologists questioned the ‘undisputed right’ of contemporary male pastoralists ‘to own women as possessions’.
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