Qalandar - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. About 15 percent of Qalandar families own bears, the most common being the Kashmiri black bear with its distinctive white V on the chest. A few own the larger and more difficult to handle Asian brown bear. Both species adapt poorly to the hot, arid climate and the growing number of hard-surfaced roads connecting villages and urban centers. Easily irritable and prone to attack, a disturbed animal may kill its handler with a single blow. It is the danger and novelty of bear routines that appeal most to an audience, and this is therefore the most lucrative form of entertainment strategy. Because bears are dangerous and costly, especially since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the proliferation of refugees in mountain areas where bears are found, most Qalandar keep and train performing rhesus monkeys (macaques). Like young bears, baby macaques are purchased from hill tribes and are trained to perform routines that mimic human situations—imitating police or soldiers, marital disputes, and relations among inlaws, as well as performing traditional feats of dancing and riding bicycles. Monkeys are less expensive to maintain and breed in captivity than bears. Qalandar also use trained dogs and goats to perform balancing acts. In addition to their animal-handling activities, Qalandar are also skilled jugglers, acrobats, magicians, impersonators, and beggars. They announce their presence in a community or neighborhood through small, highly resonant drums and/or goatskin bagpipes. These instruments are also used to provide rhythm and background music for their routines. Intensity of spatial mobility and entertaining schedules correspond with postharvest activities in rural areas: villagers are more affluent following the rice and wheat harvests and these periods mark marriage and other festive events on the rural scene. During these annual cycles Qalandar may travel and perform in as many as three villages daily. Payment is in kind and transported until they reach a market where it is sold for cash, silver, or gold. As postharvest resources diminish, Qalandar move toward urban settings where their activities are rewarded with cash, though many entertainers will strike bargains for sugar, fresh meat, cast-off clothing, and the like as recompense. Although prostitution is more common in an urban milieu, in rural areas females may exchange sexual favors for camping privileges and grazing rights. Along with young children, females also earn cash and considerable food working as professional beggars. The staple diet throughout the year consists of rice, chappatis (flat breads), cooked lentils and cereals, vegetables, goat's milk, and tea. If harvests have been plentiful Qalandar families often have sufficient resources to sustain them throughout the year. Following harvests, families that have been dispersed will gather to conduct intra-Qalandar business such as arrangement of marriages, repayment of loans, settlement of outstanding disputes, reaffirmations of relations among kin, and the forging of new alliances, before dispersing again.

Industrial Arts. Qalandar invest their energies in entertainment skills and interpersonal relations. They manufacture no craft items for sale.

Trade. Excess earnings of wheat and rice are sold for cash, which in turn is used to purchase silver and gold. The nail clippings and hair from bears may be sold as charms that villagers believe protect them from a host of diseases and evil spirits.

Division of Labor. All members are expected to contribute labor and earnings toward the daily welfare of the tent family. Their division of labor is essentially one of situational pragmatism—that is, whoever is present when a task needs doing simply does it, depending on their level of experience and skill. Qalandar stress lifelong flexibility of individual skills and task performance rather than exclusive domains of influence or activities based on sex or age. While females may train animals within the confines of camps, they seldom perform in public as animal handlers, because bears and monkeys are more difficult to handle in public settings and Qalandar believe that men are better animal handlers overall. More importantly, Qalandar believe that females are more perceptive and aggressive and better suited for dealing with strangers and so will have greater success as beggars and gatherers. During periods of high mobility in the rural areas, females will guard tents and camps and accept the responsibility for meal preparation and child care. In urban settings, males perform these tasks, freeing females to beg and gather.


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