Kanjar - Orientation

Identification. Kanjar are an ancient, widely dispersed, and endogamous population of nomadic artisans and entertainers spread throughout Southwest Asia. They are widely known as singers, dancers, musicians, operators of carnival-type rides, and prostitutes; they are best known for the small terra-cotta toys they manufacture and hawk door-to-door through sedentary rural and urban communities.

Location. Small nomadic groups of Kanjar are found throughout Pakistan and north India; they are most concentrated in the fertile and more densely populated areas of the Indus River valley and the Punjab. In 1947 the international boundary separating Pakistan from India divided the Punjab region between the two nations. Disputes between the two nations about irrigation resources and religious conflicts among Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs keep tensions high on the frontier and prohibit free movement of nomadic peoples along traditional travel routes. Traditionally, Kanjar used to travel a circuit from Rawalpindi and Lahore in Pakistan to Amritsar and Delhi in India. This region lies in a warm temperate zone, generally arid, with hot summers and cool to cold winters. On the whole, rainfall is low. The five rivers feeding the Punjab and extensive systems of irrigation canals have sustained the development of relatively dense networks of agriculture-based villages and the growth of small towns and metropolitan centers. The human population of these Communities forms the economic niche exploited by Kanjar.

Demography. There are about 5,000 Kanjar in Pakistan and considerably more in north India. Unfortunately there is no accurate demographic or other census information on Kanjar in either nation. Small groups of one to three families travel extensively through rural areas following the wheat and rice harvests. Weddings and other festive occasions follow harvest activities in village areas and Kanjar capitalize on these patterns of seasonal wealth. During fallow and growing seasons they move into urban areas. By combining entertainment and handicraft skills with much spatial mobility the Kanjar exploit a peripatetics' niche—a constant demand for goods and/or services that local communities cannot internally generate or support on a full-time basis.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kanjar are fluent in several Languages and many regional dialects of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Sindhi. Their own language, Kanjari, has affinities with Indo-Aryan Prakrits and Romani. Linguistically, and in their cultural habits, contemporary Kanjar may share a common ancestry with Rōm (Gypsies) and other populations of Romani speakers throughout the world.

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