Peripatetics - Orientation



Identification. The term "peripatetic" refers to spatially mobile groups who are largely nonprimary producers or extractors and whose principal economic resource is other people. They differ from pastoral nomads who mainly depend on biophysiotic resources. Peripatetics are referred to as nonpastoral nomads, other nomads, service nomads, commercial nomads, non-food-producing nomads, symbiotic nomads, wanderers, and travelers. Peripatetic groups have several common characteristics, the most important being flexible skills and knowledge of the residual resources and sensitivity to the social, cultural, linguistic, economic, and political environments of the larger social system from which they derive their subsistence. All complex societies have gaps in their service-delivery system, leaving some needs either unmet or only partially met. The peripatetic strategy is to identify such needs and adapt to them. Specific groups are identified with particular occupations. The number of peripatetic groups in India is quite large. A brief survey of two south Indian states in 1967 reported 88 different peripatetic groups as compared to 14 groups discovered over a six-month period in certain parts of Pakistan. Other studies have reported 172 groups in northern Karnataka, 40 groups in one north Indian village, and 23 in a south Indian village.

The existence of such a large number of peripatetic groups and the variety of roles they play can only be understood in the context of Indian society. In traditional India, goods and services were obtained via the jajmani relationship, weekly markets, periodical fairs, pilgrimages, and peripatetics. Thus, peripatetics were one part of the wider economic network.

Location. In India, peripatetics are found in almost all parts of the country.

Demography. According to a rough estimate made by the Nomadic Association of India, the number of peripatetics in India was 6 million in 1967, though the category of "nomad" was not specifically defined. This estimate as well as others may be wildly inaccurate, as no systematic count of peripatetics has ever been attempted. However, it can be safely assumed that the peripatetics constitute a large group in India.

Linguistic Affiliation. The native language of peripatetics is usually the language spoken in their "home village" or "camp," though most speak a number of languages and dialects. For instance, a peripatetic group with Andhra Pradesh as its "home village" will speak a dialect of Telugu as its native tongue but may also be conversant in Kannada, Marathi, and Hindi. The Gadulia Lohar, a peripatetic group of blacksmiths, in addition to speaking different dialects of Rajasthani and Hindi, speak a secret language of their own. This is typical of many peripatetics.


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