Southern African Journal of Environmental Education

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Living currency: The multiple roles of livestock in livelihood sustenance and exchange in the context of rural indigenous communities in southern Africa

Soul Shava, Sibongile Masuku


Modern national and international monetary currencies continue to be the accepted universal media of exchange globally and, to a large extent, have expanded and displaced indigenous currencies and their roles within some community settings. There are, however, areas where indigenous currencies such as livestock (see Schneider, 1964), are considered as the most significant aspect of traditional economies. This paper explores the past and present roles of livestock as indigenous living currency amongst the Nguni and Shona people of southern Africa, mainly drawn from collaborative autoethnography. It further highlights how livestock currencies used alongside monetary ones have sustained and created multifaceted livelihood strategies of such rural area dwellers through intergenerational learning processes. This is against the background of the global economic instability ushered forth by modern economic practices (Karmin, 2008). The paper suggests that traditional 'living' currencies provide a more sustainable economy that enhances the socio-ecological resilience of indigenous rural communities in southern Africa. It also emphasises the need to recognise the coexistence of plural economies beyond the current monopoly of modern capitalist monetary economies.

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