Peripatetics - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Peripatetics employ a variety of economic strategies. They generally have one or more occupations for which they are well known and may use a few additional skills to supplement their income. For example, hunting, trapping, and fishing peripatetic groups may also indulge in petty trade, craft making, and begging. The artisan category includes groups such as: makers of baskets, broomsticks, palm mats, iron tools, and needles; stone-workers; and repairers of household utensils and farm tools. The mendicant category includes a variety of groups, such as those who sing devotional songs, chant incantations, beg in the name of a specific deity, wear special makeup and stand at public places in the posture of penance or as sadhus, or display a deity. Several of these groups beg only from the members of specific castes. According to Hindu belief a sadhu does not have to work for his livelihood. He can live by biksha (religious begging). Seeing a mendicant at one's doorstep in the morning is considered auspicious. Giving alms is a charitable act but receiving alms is equally meritorious. Acrobats, magicians, musicians, snake charmers, displayers of tricks by animals like monkeys, bears, etc., puppeteers, storytellers, mimes, and those who wear different makeup all also have several other subsidiary occupations. Some of them may trade in animals, fix shoes on bullock and horse hoofs, or polish cattle horns. Some women may indulge in prostitution, serving members of specific castes. There are several other groups who have developed a variety of skills including tattooers, genealogists, fortune-tellers, buffalo-hair shavers, etc. Peddlers and traders also form a large group. However, if their exploitation of a particular resource niche becomes less profitable due to new technology or competition, they switch to a new activity or settle down. In short, for peripatetics, the human resource base is ubiquitous and exploitable with an infinite variety of strategies. Joseph C. Berland has called it "the most predictable and reliable of all the niches in the world today" (1983).

Peripatetics are able to avoid competition from the sedentary population or completely eliminate it through their choice of work, low overhead, variety of strategies, flexible work groups, family-based enterprises, potential for change of location, and ability to live on little income. The sedentary provider is further restricted by the caste-based restrictions. Although the peripatetic niche apparently is inexhaustible and reliable, peripatetics are generally poor. They are continuously under pressure as their occupations are taken over by modern industry and the number of places where they can camp diminishes. If fewer people were being forced out of villages, the number of peripatetics would be much less than it is.

Trade. Some peripatetic groups trade in cattle. Such groups intensify their activities at the beginning of the agricultural season, when the demand for cattle is high. They trade at weekly markets and fairs, where they can also socialize with relatives and friends. Some peripatetic groups have been able to find new avenues of trade. For instance, a group of Gadulia Lohar have started trading in scrap iron. Some other peripatetic groups have started producing decorative items such as chandeliers, papier-mâché, etc., and now peddle them in cities.

Division of Labor. Peripatetic enterprises are family-based. If females do not participate in the main occupation of the group they do some additional work to enhance the income of the household. However, domestic tasks such as cooking, fetching water, looking after infants, etc. are female jobs.

Land Tenure. Only a few peripatetic groups own land. Such people move out of their villages only when the land is fallow or they have been able to lease it. The government has made an attempt to settle some peripatetic groups by giving them houses and land.


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