Ghorbat - Orientation

Identification. The term "Ghorbat" is applied to several non-food-producing, itinerant populations of fairly low status throughout the Middle East and even beyond, in parts of formerly Soviet Central Asia and the Balkans. These peripatetic populations have usually been dubbed "Gypsies." In prerevolutionary Afghanistan (i.e., prior to 1978) "Ghorbat" was the self-applied ethnonym of a predominantly itinerant and endogamous community of artisans and petty traders; nongroup members were, however, often unaware of this ethnonym and classified this population as "Jat" or, in Pashto-speaking areas of the country, as "Jat." In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, all those who were neither Pashtun, nor Baluch were contemptuously termed "Jat" by members of these two communities. Even in the 1970s in Afghanistan, "Jat" and "Jat" were pejorative terms and subsumed six distinct endogamous, itinerant communities, whose members offered goods and services for sale; the Ghorbat were one such community. The etymology of the term "Ghorbat" is uncertain, but it could derive from the Arabic/Persian words for "stranger," "exile," "the west," or even "poverty."

Location. In the 1970s the Ghorbat lived scattered throughout the major part of Afghanistan; 51 percent of the families were entirely nomadic, and 32 percent were entirely sedentary; 17 percent were partly sedentary—in the summer months, while the men migrated, women and children stayed home. For migration, pack animals had been very largely replaced by state bus transport. The migration pattern of the itinerant Ghorbat was seasonal: in winter, movement was from colder to warmer regions; it followed the agricultural cycles—in particular, the wheat-harvesting cycles of various regions. After the harvest of wheat, millet, and rice, the sieves manufactured by the Ghorbat were required by farming households. Following the harvests, marriages and other life-cycle festivities were performed in rural areas, which increased the demand for cloth, tambourines, and other products sold by the Ghorbat. In former times, before the Afghan government prohibited it, the Ghorbat also practiced bloodletting in autumn; they still offered traditional cures for petty ailments, especially those commonly contracted in winter. There was a shortage of ready cash in the Afghan countryside, and, after the harvests, villagers were in an easier position to pay the Ghorbat for their goods and services with agricultural produce. Some of these products, such as wheat, rice, and raisins, were partly consumed by the Ghorbat over the rest of the year; the excess, as well as products that they could not process themselves—such as cotton—or products that could not be conserved for long—such as cherries—were resold at a profit in urban centers. In the 1980s the location of the Ghorbat within Afghanistan was not known, but some families were reported to have been seen in Pakistan.

Demography. In 1976-1977 the Ghorbat community in Afghanistan consisted of roughly a thousand nuclear families, of which some six hundred were nomadic or seminomadic; average family size was 5.0 individuals. They thus formed the largest nonpastoral, itinerant community in the country.

Linguistic Affiliation. All Ghorbat spoke Qazulagi (also called Ghorbati), their mother tongue, in addition to the two most commonly spoken languages of Afghanistan—local variants of Persian—and sometimes Pashto. Qazulagi shares its basic structure with Persian; its vocabulary and syntax also contain numerous elements of rural Persian as spoken in various parts of Afghanistan. The vocabulary also includes a large number of Persian words incomprehensible to the normal Afghan, owing to a manipulation of phonemes, as well as words of Indic, Arabic, and Turkish origin. Some 60 percent of the vocabulary is of an as yet unknown origin. About one-third of it also has also been recorded by various scholars among other peripatetic communities elsewhere in the Middle East and in Soviet Central Asia.

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