"Once upon a time, my tribe built kingdoms around our cattle, the ankole longhorn."
For centuries, the nomadic Bahima and Tutsi people relied on their revered Ankole cattle for sustenance and social status. Most importantly, they established a culture and identity in the world as cattle keepers. Today, many of my people have embraced a drive for economic gain, which views the Ankole cow exclusively as a potential source of income, and not as the center piece of our identity, which is what it used to be. The Ankole is not the most economic breed because it produces little milk. Its value lies in its sturdiness and its rare beauty. And so it has been continually cross-bred with exotic breeds that produce more milk, shrinking its population drastically in the last ten years.
As a little girl, I was taught to treat our cows like members of my family. On the ranch with them, I developed a sense of connection to the earth and to my people. The cows were everything to us - we sang to them, massaged their backs and mimicked their horns in dance. Through a love of Ankole cows, I learned to value the spirit in every living thing.
I learned to respect the earth as my father explained that the reason he didn't cut down trees or hunt the wild animals on our ranch or even fish in the many ponds, was because "the cows didn't like it". The cows knew that they were our sustenance and we were their protectors and admirers. Our past, our present and our future were thus inextricably bound.
In the dry season, we shared our abundant water sources with grateful nomads who slept outdoors around a fire and sang sad songs of droughts past. Seeing how they came together in times of need to protect each other and their beloved cows, I understood that I would always have a place to come home to.
This sense of identity is missing for the next generation. I’ve watched my nieces and nephews grow up without knowing our ancient language, riddles and dances, and I wonder, are they also growing up without an understanding of who they are? And how will I teach my children the values that have shaped me?
My vision for Africa is that our children would be raised without lack: without lack of resources, but also without lack of cultural awareness. My dream is that we all learn to interact as global citizens, while preserving the ancient importance of who we are in a world that’s constantly changing. How can we preserve who we are, while leaving room for us to grow into who we will become?
At Olivia Knox, we are in pursuit of this answer.