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



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 community—the sedentary Ghajar of Sett Guiran cha—an 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.


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