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Tuareg , classic shepherd nomads from the Sahara
Himba women, semi-nomads in the northwest of Namibia
Nenets , reindeer nomads in the Siberian tundra
Yurt of the equestrian nomads in the Tuvinian steppe
Hadza from Tanzania, one of the last hunter and gatherer peoples in Africa

As nomads ( . Give a wiki νομάς nomás , "grazing", "around wandering") are referred to people in the narrow sense, that lead for economic reasons a non-sedentary lifestyle: Mostly form with the work related migrations consistent processes, among other things, due to extreme climatic Conditions or the consequences of animal migrations become necessary, with which the livelihood can be secured throughout the year. The transfer of the term to entire societies is problematic: Often “nomadic societies” are not homogeneous . B. also permanent villages or temporary settlements in cities. Moreover, the self-conceptuality of these ethnic groups is ignored.

Traditional nomads are the members unspecialized hunter-gatherers and semi- or vollnomadisch living shepherds - or Reitervölker cold and dry deserts , steppes and tundra and the prairie , where durable flooring construction has no perspective. The (original) nomadic way of life is referred to in the German-speaking area with the term "nomadism". In many other European languages ​​(English: Nomadism , French: Nomadisme , Spanish: Nomadismo , Swedish: nomadisk livsstil ), however, there is no differentiation, so that the correct German translation would have to be "Nomadentum". For a clearer distinction, the terms " pastoral nomadism " or "pastoral nomadism " are sometimes used in German .

Moving field farmers are also rarely referred to as nomads, as they change their place of residence every three to five years for economic reasons.

The "vagabonds" called " traveling people ", however, are not counted among the nomads, as they roam around randomly. They are often not settled (only) for economic, but for cultural or ideological reasons.

Position of the nomads in settled societies

Nomads were very often suspicious of the rulers of settled peoples of all times and were not infrequently regarded as barbarians. Due to their mobile way of life, they were difficult to control, they kept moving across national borders and eluding any influence; even though they often maintained friendly contacts with settled farmers with whom they exchanged goods. Regardless, they have been persecuted and fought in every possible way, exposing them to numerous forms of discrimination and persecution.

The campaigns against the nomadic Indians of North America are well known in this context . The bison hunters of the Plains were systematically deprived of their livelihood in the 1870s by the decimation of the buffalo herds. Such "ethnic cleansing" among nomadic tribes is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, the hunted San of South and Southwest Africa were destroyed, enslaved or driven out from the middle of the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The nomads of Northern Europe - the Sami - were not spared from such reprisals. With the spread of Social Darwinism , a racial separation of the supposedly “primitive” nomads from the other Swedes arose in Sweden. From the end of the 19th century until the 1920s, the government took the view that the "seed race" had to be patronized because it was unable to take on a higher cultural level. They were "protected" in such a way that, among other things, so-called "nomad schools" were set up, in which the Sami children were taught at the lowest level or the Sami were forbidden to live in "real" (rectangular) houses.

Even today nomads are subject to defamation, discrimination and social, economic, political and ethnic marginalization and in many countries they are a minority that the majority of the population does not want. There the term nomad is therefore often used derogatory.

Ethnic groups with a significant proportion of a nomadic way of life

Below are examples of ethnic groups, some of which also had a former nomadic way of life.


Herero woman in the northwest of Namibia
  • The Afar - are a nomadic people who live in eastern Eritrea, northeastern Ethiopia and Djibouti.
  • Bedouins - are nomadic desert inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, Sinai, parts of the Sahara and Israel's Negev.
  • Berbers - are an ethnic group of the North African countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.
  • Hema - are nomadic cattle herders who live in the Great Lakes area of ​​Africa and Tanzania.
  • Himba - are a shepherd people living in Namibia and Angola.
  • Maasai - are an East African ethnic group with a nomadic way of life.
  • Misseriye - are cattle nomads ( Baggara ) in Sudan and Chad.
  • Samburu - are a Nilotic people in northern Kenya with a formerly nomadic way of life.
  • The San - lived a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle in southern Africa.
  • Of the Somali - a large part of them live semi-nomadically on mobile animal husbandry in the Horn of Africa.
  • Tibbu - are pastoral nomads in the central Sahara.
  • Tuareg - belong to the Berbers and live with a nomadic pastoral way of life in the Sahara and the Sahel.
Bakhtiar nomad in Iran

Turkana - are a Nilotic ethnic group in Kenya with a traditionally nomadic way of life.



  • Bajau - are sea ​​nomads in the Malay Archipelago , whereby many Bajau have become settled.
  • Buryats - are a Mongolian ethnic group in Siberia who gave up the nomadic pastoral way of life.
  • Bakhtiars - the traditional settlement area of ​​the pastoral nomads is in the Zagros Mountains and Khuzestan .
  • Changpa - are pastoral nomads in over 4000 m high regions of Ladakh (India) and Tibet.
  • Dukha - reindeer nomadic group of Tuwins in Mongolia
  • Kashgai - are a Turkic-speaking people in the south of Iran and still live partially nomadic to this day.
  • Kuchi - are nomads who live in northeast and southern Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Lurs - lived mostly nomadic until the 20th century, in Iran and Iraq.
  • The Merkites - were a Mongolian tribe who played a major role in the era of Genghis Khan.
  • Mlabri - as former nomads in Thailand are now forced to lead a sedentary life.
  • Moken - are Southeast Asian sea ​​nomads who live semi-nomadically in the Strait of Malacca area.
  • Mongols - denotes various Central Asian groups, several of which are nomadic.
  • Nenets and other small peoples of Siberia - are traditionally nomadic reindeer herders in Siberia. Some were settled in Soviet times; Since the end of the Soviet Union, a number of peoples have returned to the nomadic way of life.
  • Shahsavan - can still be found today on the slopes of Sabalan (Iran). The winter pastures used to be in the Mugansteppe .
  • Tibetans - some of them lived nomadically before the occupation by China.
  • Yörük - some of them live nomadically in southern Anatolia.


  • Crimean Tatars - formerly had a nomadic lifestyle.
  • Sami - (out of date Lappen) live partly as semi-nomadic reindeer nomads in the north of Fennos Scandinavia .
  • Hutsuls - traditionally lived nomadically in the Carpathian Mountains.


  • Aborigines - some of them used to live as nomadic hunters and gatherers.

Historical nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples

  • Alans - were originally a horsemen who lived nomadic, less often semi-nomadic, in the southern Russian steppes.
  • Avars - belonged to the Xianbei nomad confederation .
  • Khazars - were originally a nomadic and later semi-nomadic Turkic people [1] in Central Asia.
  • Huns - is a collective term for some Central Asian equestrian peoples with a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life.
  • Moors - are called Berber tribes, some of them nomadic, who supported the Arabs in conquering the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Scythians - are called some of the equestrian nomad peoples who settled in the Eurasian steppes north of the Black Sea.
  • Turkic peoples - lived nomadically in Central and West Asia, Siberia and Eastern Europe and belong to the Turkic language family.
  • Wu Hu - is a collective name for various non-Chinese steppe peoples.
  • Xiongnu - is the Chinese name for a tribal union of equestrian nomads in eastern Central Asia.


The LIFE network ( Local Livestock for Empowerment of Rural People ) is a group of non-governmental organizations that mainly works with animal-keeping communities in Asia and Africa and is involved in international processes at the World Food Authority ( FAO ) and the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD ) uses for animal owner rights.

Other meanings

The word nomad has recently also been used for so-called " rental nomads ", "shop nomads" or " job nomads" ; the latter understood as people who do not seek permanent professional employment of their own accord, but who frequently change their position and, in connection with it, their place of residence. With the advent of Internet communication, the scene of “ digital nomads ” has emerged who, for various reasons, are often on the move and work from anywhere.

Web links

Wiktionary: Nomade  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Winfried Gebhardt, Ronald Hitzler (Ed.): Nomaden, Flaneure, Vagabunden: Forms of Knowledge and Thought Styles of the Present. 1st edition, VS-Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2006. pp. 11-13.
  2. Annegret Nippa et al. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (ed.): Small abc of nomadism. Publication for the exhibition “Explosive Encounters. Nomads in a sedentary world. ”Hamburg 2011. S. 138, 139.
  3. a b Annegret Nippa u. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (ed.): Small abc of nomadism. Publication for the exhibition “Explosive Encounters. Nomads in a sedentary world. ”Hamburg 2011. p. 30.
  4. a b Annegret Nippa u. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (ed.): Small abc of nomadism. Publication for the exhibition “Explosive Encounters. Nomads in a sedentary world. ”Hamburg 2011. pp. 82–83.
  5. Annegret Nippa et al. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (ed.): Small abc of nomadism. Publication for the exhibition “Explosive Encounters. Nomads in a sedentary world. ”Hamburg 2011. pp. 242–245.
  6. Fred Krüger, Georgia A. Rakelmann, Petra Schierholz (eds.): Botswana - everyday worlds in upheaval: facettes of a changing society. Edition, LIT-Verlag, Hamburg 2000. pp. 160-161.
  7. Kjellström, Rolf: Samernas liv (Swedish). Carlsson Bokförlag, Kristianstad 2003, ISBN 91-7203-562-5
  9. Annegret Nippa et al. Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (ed.): Small abc of nomadism. Publication for the exhibition “Explosive Encounters. Nomads in a sedentary world. ”Hamburg 2011. pp. 140–141.
  10. Stefan Leder: Nomads and Settled People in Steppes and States. Universities of Halle-Wittenberg and Leipzig, 2005.
  11. PROVIEH Magazin 02/2012, Mensch und Tier , p. 41: , August 12, 2012
  12. Real estate law: Notary pays for nomads . ( [accessed April 9, 2018]).