Risk-Pooling and Herd Survival: An Agent-Based Model of a Maasai Gift-Giving System

C Athena Aktipis, Lee Cronk, Rolando de Aguiar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


We use agent-based modeling to study osotua, a gift giving system used by the Maasai of East Africa. Osotua's literal meaning is "umbilical cord," but it is used metaphorically to refer to a specific type of gift-giving relationship. Osotua relationships are characterized by respect, responsibility and restraint. Osotua partners ask each other for help only if they are in need and provide help only when asked and only if they are able. We hypothesize that under the ecologically volatile conditions in which Maasai pastoralists have traditionally lived, such a system is particularly suited to risk pooling. Here we explore whether osotua increases the viability of herds by comparing herd survivorship and stability under osotua rules to a) no exchange and b) probabilistic rules for requesting and giving livestock. Results from this model suggest that this gift-giving system can dramatically increase herd longevity through a limited pooling of risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-140
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Cooperation
  • Maasai
  • Norms
  • Pastoralism
  • Reciprocity
  • Risk-pooling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Anthropology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Risk-Pooling and Herd Survival: An Agent-Based Model of a Maasai Gift-Giving System'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this