Kanjar - History and Cultural Relations



Ancient historical accounts indicate that nomadic groups like the Kanjar were firmly embedded throughout the fabric of sedentary social systems in South Asia by the late Vedic period (circa 1000-700 B . C .). Ongoing ethnoarchaeological research suggests that groups similar to or identical with contemporary Kanjar may have been responsible for the manufacture and distribution of terra-cotta figurines found throughout the ruins of the Harappan Civilization in the Indus Valley (circa 3000-1500 B . C .). Kanjar figure in local traditions and folklore and practically all villages and urban centers are visited by them at least twice each year. The nature of their peripatetic subsistence activities and ethnic pride govern Kanjar relations with client Communities. Females peregrinate through narrow village lanes and urban streets calling out Gugu ghoray lay lao, "Come and take the toys." Responding to this beckoning refrain, children rush to parents for a few annas (coins), measures of rice or wheat, and/or items of cast-off clothing to exchange for some of the terra-cotta toys being offered for sale. Some will hold back cash or barter items knowing the Kanjar may also have carnival-type rides or jhula (small merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels) in their tent camps pitched in nearby fields or vacant lots. Adults anticipate a late afternoon or evening of music and dancing. Kanjar men surreptitiously smile while wives look scornfully at their husbands, knowing that Kanjar women also have sexual favors for sale. Senior females from client households with daughters about to marry will seek out older Kanjar women to come and quietly sing and joke before the bride-to-be about the wedding night, sexual intercourse, and relations with males, as part of the girl's enculturation into adulthood. Beyond these formalized roles and transactions, Kanjar relations with the membership of host communities are those of professional strangers. They have no bonds of kinship, they have not belonged to the community from the beginning, and they desire no contracts that might bind them in the future. They simply import goods and services that do not, and cannot, stem from the client community itself. Because relations with clients are confined to formalized transactions in structured settings, clients know very little about Kanjar life and cultural habits. Conversely, Kanjar constantly learn and understand a great deal about the roles and patterns of social structure and organization governing everyday activities in the communities and regions of their peregrinations. This knowledge is used and constantly updated in order to maintain timely and sensitive entertainment routines and to determine economic or political conditions affecting their travel routes and tenure in an area. Also by restricting their interactions with clients to public settings, Kanjar protect the sanctity of the private domains of their family and group activities. This strategy inhibits collection of accurate information about themselves that government, police, social service agencies, and others might be able to use in order to curtail their economic activities, group flexibility, and/or freedom of movement. In the larger sedentary world, Kanjar are often classified under the culturally nebulous term "Khānābādōsh." An ancient Persian term adopted into Hindi/Urdu, Khānābādōsh literally means "house-onshoulder." It carries a negative semantic connotation and is similar in use to the English construct "Gypsy" or nomad. They are also inappropriately labeled as a caste ( zat ) of terra-cotta toy makers (Guguwālā).

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