Peripatetics of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen

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Peripatetics of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen

ETHNONYMS: Iraq: Duman, Guʿaidiyah, Janganah, Karaj, Kauli(a), Zutt. Syria: Ghurbat (Karbat, Kurbat), Guʿaidiyah, Juki (Aspasheshti), Kauli(a), Nawar, Suleyb, Zutt. Lebanon: Juki. Jordan: Nawar. Israel: Nawar. Egypt: Aʾwwadat, Badʾdʾaaʾh, Bahlawan, Banu Sasan, Barmaki, Batatiyeh, Chingana, Fehemi, Ghajar, Ghawazi, Ghurbat (Kurbat), Ghurradin, Hajala, Halabi (Mahlebash), Hawee, Hemmeli, el Heweidat, Masalib, Mashaʾiliyyah, Meddahin, Muaʾmeratijjeh, Nawar (Nuri), Qarrad, Ramadiya, Rifaʿiyya, Romani, Saʿideh, Samaʿina, Saniʿa, Shahʿaini, Shoeiha, Surutiyeh, Tahwağiya, Tʾatʾar, Tawayifa, Waled Abu Tenna. Sudan: Bahalawan, Besuni, Fehemi, Gewhassi, Ghajar, Ghuraba (Ghurabi), Halab, Shahaini. Yemen: Ahl al-Muzaiyad, Ahl al-Nawwah, Dawashin, Maʿn (Shahath).


Identification. All these ethnonyms are probably not in use today, and even formerly, each of them did not necessarily correspond to one community; there is a certain degree of duplication or overlapping, according to self-designation, locality, gender, and profession. Further, it could well be that some of these communities have been and still are confused with other nonperipatetic but nomadic communities, or else with sedentary communities having similar low-status subsistence activities. Some of these ethnonyms may be encountered elsewhere in the Middle East. Each existing community is primarily endogamous and subsists traditionally on a variety of commercial and/or service activities. All or a majority of their members were formerly itinerant, and, in the late twentieth century, some still are. They have often been termed "Gypsies", or "Gypsylike"; this comparison is relevant only in so far as the traditional subsistence activities, migration patterns, and generally low status of these communities were similar to those of some of the Roma/Sinti groups in Europe or North America. A few, but by no means all, of these communities had linguistic affinities with the Roma/Sinti.

Linguistic Affiliation. Each of these groups speaks a different language. In Egypt, the language of the Ghajar is a dialect of Romani; that of the Halab (Halabi) is a mixture of Romani, Arabic as spoken in Yemen, and some other languages; Nuri is also a mixed language in which Arabic predominates. The language of the Halab in Sudan is also a mixture of Arabic and other elements. It has been suggested that some of these languages originated in part as protective secret languages.

Demography. In Iraq in 1976, the total estimated peripatetic population was 8,138 individuals. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the entire population of the Kauli of Iraq and Syria was estimated at 1,500 tent-households. The same source gives the following estimates: Zutt in Basra, about 70 households; Karbat in Aleppo, about 150 households. The Sama 'ina, one of the Egyptian communities, was estimated at 300 individuals in the late 1970s. For another communitythe sedentary Ghajar of Sett Guiran chaan estimate of just under 900 individuals has been advanced. For the Sudan as a whole, an estimate of 100,000 to 200,000 is available.


It is thought that many of these groups originally came from the east, probably from some part of the Indian subcontinent, and entered Persia between the fifth and seventh centuries a.d. Further migration probably took place from Persia toward Turkey on the one hand and Syria on the other, after the Arabian conquest of Persia in the seventh century. The Juki are supposed to have migrated into the Latakia region of Syria and thence into Lebanon from the area of the Nur Mountains of Turkish Anatolia. The earliest Arabic reference to "peripatetic" is probably to be found in a thirteenth-century shadow play written by the ophthalmologist Idn Daniyal (1248-1310) in Cairo, in which a woman named Sani' a appears. It is likely that similar figures were known to the public much earlier. The various communities have their own legends of origin, some of which are connected with well-known regional epic heroes, such as Zir Salem.


Most of these groups are now sedentary or semisedentary, and only a few are still nomadic.


Men and women of the different groups have different occupations. In Syria and Lebanon, the Juki used to work as fruit pickers. In Syria, the Suleyb worked as metalcrafters and as traders. In Iraq, the Karaj make sieves and baskets; the men work as bricklayers, smiths, grocers, and dentists. Many Nawar in Jordan work as professional musicians. In Egypt today, tinkering, the manufacture of rough iron implements for household or agricultural use, dealing in hides, the capture of snakes and scorpions, and music are male activities; women work as peddlers, selling cloth, shoes, and kitchen utensils. Both men and women work seasonally as sheep shearers, and women and older men also spin wool. Formerly, fortune-telling, acrobatics, tattooing, circumcising, and medicating were important sources of subsistence, but these are no longer practiced. Also on the wane is female dancing. In Sudan, the various communities engage in the following activities: men work as smiths, tinkers, grooms, farriers, and contractors for horse and donkey carts; they shear sheep and trade in horses, donkeys, and other farm animals. Both men and women peddle, tell fortunes, and circumcise and tattoo men and women, respectively; they also wash the dead and arrange for funerals. Women and children go begging, and women are also called in to pierce ears and noses. The communities mentioned in Yemen are minstrels and professionals musicians.

Kinship, Marriage, Family, and Residence

Among the Ghajar of Egypt, marriages are overwhelming endogamous. They take place at an early ageif possible before pubertyand are preferentially between parallel and/or cross cousins. Among the Ghajar community of Sett Guiran 'ha, polygynous marriages are not unknown. Dowry payment is compulsory and may consist of cash or household furniture. This expenditure is, however, balanced by the payment of the dower or bride-wealth (mahr ) by the groom; this dower, which is compulsory in Islam, is not paid to the bride, but to her father. In addition, the groom's father meets the entire expense of the wedding day. After marriage, residence is virilocal. Extended families are the rule and can be very large. Divorce is common and its initiation a male prerogative.

Sociopolitical Organization

There is no overall system of political organization within any of these communities, but cohesion within each community is strong. In Egypt, members of the communities are treated as citizens and are expected to comply with all the laws of the land. In Iraq, however, they are not considered nationals and have few political or economic rights.

To prevent inequitable accumulation of wealth, the Ghajar of Sett Guiran 'ha have a system of mutual financial help and gift: giving (nuqut/nokoot ). Gifts are given at various festive and ceremonial occasions, such as weddings and circumcisions; gift giving also takes place at specially organized parties hosted by men who have financial problems. This is an obligatory form of financial support, even among families hostile to each other, but the amounts offered must be repaid on an appropriate occasion. Grave disputes were formerly settled by contests, at which either money or slaughtered animals were pledged. Nowadays conflicts are resolved with the help of group elders and, to some extent, even with the help of people outside the group.

Religion and Expressive Culture

All the above-mentioned communities largely share the beliefs and practices of the local Muslim populations. Some of the music played by these groups has been recorded.


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