Peripatetics of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey

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Peripatetics of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey

ETHNONYMS: Afghanistan: Badyanesin, Balatumani, Baluch, Chalu, Changar, Chighalbf, Ghalbelbaf, Ghorbat (Qurbat), Herati, Jalali, Jat (Jaṭṭ), Jat-Baluch, Jogi, Jola, Kouli, Kuṭaṭa, Lawani, Luli Mogat, Maskurahi, Musalli, Nausar, Pikraj, Qawal, Sabzaki, Sadu, Shadibaz (Shadiwan), Sheikh Mohammadi, Siyahpayak, Vangawala (Bangṛiwal/Churifrosh). Iran: Asheq, Challi, Changi, Chareshmal (Krishmal), Dumi, Feuj, Ghajar, Ghorbati (Ghorbat, Gurbat, Qurbati), Gurani, Haddad (Ahangar, Hasanpur), Howihar, Juki, Karachi, Kenchli, Kowli (Kuli), Luli, Luti, Mehtar, Ojuli, Qarbalband, Sazandeh, Suzmani, Tat, Toshmal. Turkey: Abdal, Arabci, Bosha, Çingene, Gäwändi, Ghorbati, Qeraçi, Susmani, Tahtacı, Tsigan.


Identification. The data concerning Afghanistan and Iran refer to the period prior to the Saur and Islamic revolutions, respectively. It is not known whether such communities still exist in these two countries.

Each of these ethnonyms does not probably correspond to one community; many are locally or regionally used (sometimes as occupational names), others are used only by group members, and still others are used pejoratively only by outsiders. Thus, in Afghanistan, "Jat" is a pejorative term used generically by nonperipatetics to designate peripatetics belonging to at least six different communities. In Iran and Turkey, the terms "Ghorbati" and "Çingene" appear to be used in a similar fashion. Some of these ethnonyms are also encountered in other neighboring areas of the Middle East, the Balkans, or South Asia. Each existing community is primarily endogamous, and subsists traditionally on a variety of commercial and/or service activities. Formerly, all or a majority of their members were itinerant, and this largely holds true today. Migration generally takes place within the political boundaries of each state. These communities have often been termed "Gypsies" or "Gypsylike"; this comparison is relevant only in so far as their traditional subsistence activities, migration patterns, and generally low status are similar to those of some of the Roma/Sinti groups in Europe or North America.

Linguistic Affiliation. Each of the peripatetic communities is multilingual; it speaks one or more of the languages spoken by the local sedentary populations, and, additionally, within each group, a separate dialect or language is spoken. The latter are either of Indic or Iranian origin, and many are structured somewhat like an argot or secret language, with vocabularies drawn from various languages. The languages recorded in Afghanistan do not contain elements of Romani, but somesuch as Adurgari (spoken by the Sheikh Mohammadi), Mogatibey (spoken by the Jogi), or Qazulagi, spoken by the Ghorbathave affinities with languages spoken by similar communities in parts of Iran and also in parts of Central Asia. Their vocabularies also contain Arabic words, but a large percentage of words are of an as yet unknown origin. There are indications that in northern Iran at least one community does speak Romani, and some groups in Turkey certainly do speak Romani.

Demography. In 1975 the Nausar of northern Afghanistan claimed to count roughly 700 households. In 1976-1977 the Ghorbat of Afghanistan consisted of roughly 1,000 nuclear families, each with an average of 5.0 individuals. During the same period in Afghanistan, the Baluch (also known as Chalu, Herati, or Jat-Baluch) estimated their own population at some 2,500 individuals; estimates for the Jalali, the Pikraj, the Shadibaz and the Vangawala are 500, 2,000, 1,500, and 3,000 persons, respectively. In 1939 the Gurbat of the Fārs region of Iran were reported as numbering 1,000 families, and in 1965 the Haddad estimated themselves at roughly 1,500 families. In the 1970s the entire peripatetic population in Iran was estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals, between 2,000 and 3,000 of whom were Luti and Toshmal.


Little is known for certain about the past of these communities; the history of each is almost entirely contained in their oral traditions. Although some groupssuch as the Vangawalaare of Indian origin, somelike the Sheikh Mohammadiare most probably of local origin; still others probably migrated from adjoining areas. The Ghorbat and the Shadibaz claim to have originally come from Iran and Multan, respectively, and Tahtacı traditional accounts mention either Baghdad or Khorāsān as their original home. The Baluch say they were attached as a service community to the Jamshedi, after they fled Baluchistan because of feuds. The earliest author mentioning peripatetic communities in this broad region is the Persian Ḥamzah al-Isfahani (d. a.d. 972). He refers to the fifth-century a.d. Sāssānian king Bahrām-i-Gor as having requested of the king of India that he send him 12,000 Kowli as musicians. These, wrote Ḥamzah, were the forefathers of the Zott, who were still to be found in Persia in his day. Ottoman documents mention one such community, the Tahtacı, from the sixteenth century onward; the Tahtacı consider themselves to be Turkmen.


In Afghanistan in the mid-1970s, all these communities were more or less nomadic; they migrated twice a year between summer and winter camps. Their migration patterns were at least partly linked to harvest cycles of various types of agricultural produce. Whereas Ghorbat families could be found in various parts of the country, the Jalali, the Jogi, the Nausar and the Pikraj lived and migrated predominantly in northern Afghanistan. The Kuaa and Sheikh Mohammadi restricted themselves to the eastern parts of the country; the Shadibaz and the Vangawala were predominantly in the east, the southeast, and parts of central Afghanistan. The Baluch had villages and migrated mainly in northern and western Afghanistan. In Iran, as in eastern Anatolia, there have always been some families of peripatetics who have lived and worked attached to each of the region's nomadic pastoral populations. Around 1960, among the Basseri pastoralists, the Ghorbat thus constituted a guest population of some fifty to sixty elementary families. They spent part of the year with their patrons, but also partly migrated independently in search of additional subsistence. In the Ottoman period, many of the communities in Turkey had a wide-ranging pattern of migration that extended over large parts of the empire. Today some of these communities have become more sedentary and have their own villages, or part-villages, or even urban localities. Many, however, still continue to migrate along traditionally fixed itineraries.


In Afghanistan, the Nausar worked as tinkers and animal dealers. Ghorbat men mainly made sieves, drums, and bird cages, and the women peddled these as well as other items of household and personal use; they also worked as moneylenders to rural women. Peddling and the sale of various goods was also practiced by men and women of various groups, such as the Jalali, the Pikraj, the Shadibaz, the Sheikh Mohammadi, and the Vangawala. The latter and the Pikraj also worked as animal dealers. Some men among the Shadibaz and the Vangawala entertained as monkey or bear handlers and snake charmers; men and women among the Baluch were musicians and dancers, and Baluch women also practiced prostitution. Jogi men and women had diverse subsistence activities, such as dealing in horses, harvesting, fortune-telling, bloodletting, and begging.

In Iran, the following groups worked as professional musicians in the 1970s: the Asheq of Azerbaijan; the Challi of Baluchistan; the Luti of Kurdistan, Kermānshāh, Īlām, and Lorestān; the Mehtar in the Mamasani district; the Sazandeh of Band-i Amir and Marv-dasht; and the Toshmal among the Bakhtyari pastoral groups. The men among the Kowli worked as tinkers, smiths, musicians, and monkey and bear handlers; they also made baskets, sieves, and brooms and dealt in donkeys. Their women made a living from peddling, begging, and fortune-telling. The Ghorbat among the Basseri were smiths and tinkers, traded in pack animals, and made sieves, reed mats, and small wooden implements. In the Fārs region, the Qarbalband, the Kuli, and Luli were reported to work as smiths and to make baskets and sieves; they also dealt in pack animals, and their women peddled various goods among pastoral nomads. In the same region, the Changi and Luti were musicians and balladeers, and their children learned these professions from the age of 7 or 8 years.

The nomadic groups in Turkey make and sell cradles, deal in animals, and play music. The men of the sedentary groups work in towns as scavengers and hangmen; elsewhere they are fishermen, smiths, basket makers, and singers; their women dance at feasts and tell fortunes. Abdal men played music and made sieves, brooms, and wooden spoons for a living. The Tahtacı traditionally worked as lumberers; with increased sedentarization, however, they have taken to agriculture and horticulture.

Marriage and Family

In Afghanistan, among all these communities, patrilateral-parallel-cousin marriages as well as exchange marriages among siblings were preferred. In such marriages, bride-price was lower than usual. Among the Ghorbat, polygyny was very rare, but among the Baluch, polygyny was common, and additionally many of the wealthier men had concubines. In Iran, Kowli women were reportedly married from the age of 10 upward, whereas the men married around age 16. Polygyny was not infrequent. In Turkey, the basic domestic unit of the Tahtacı is the nuclear family, and the youngest son is considered responsible for the welfare of the elderly parents.

Sociopolitical Organization

Sociopolitical organization varied greatly among communities. Thus, for example, among the Ghorbat of Afghanistan, there was no superordinate political structure, nor were there any permanent positions of leadership; the community was, in principle, egalitarian. Among the Baluch, on the other hand, each of the eight segmentary lineages had a chief (arbab ), whose power was absolute. Each lineage had a strict hierarchical structure and the organization of economic resources was entirely in the hands of the lineage chief. The Vangawala were split into five descent groups, which considered one another equal. Within each descent group, there was an institutionalized form of chiefship, which was hereditary in the fraternal and filial line. The Pikraj, however, were divided into three regional subdivisions, each of which had a fluid structure, and a person or family could change his subdivisional affiliation. The Luti of Iran were also divided into lineages, the structure of which appears fairly fluid. Among the Kowli of Iran, authority was in the hands of men with a fairly large clientele; these men directed migration and settled disputes. Given the marginal political and social position of each of these communities within their respective greater societies, continuous attempts had to be made to avoid conflicts with nongroup members. This was achieved by most communities in Afghanistan and Iran by acquiring locally influential sedentary or nomadic pastoral patrons; on the economic level, these patrons were, in fact, their clients.

Religion and Expressive Culture

All the concerned communities are Muslim. Although none of the groups in Afghanistan or Iran were considered good Muslims, and somesuch as the Luti of Iranwere considered polluting, their beliefs and practices did not diverge basically from local Islamic patterns in the perspective areas. In Afghanistan, the majority are Sunni, but most Ghorbat are imami Shia. In Turkey, the Tahtacı are also imami Shia, but they call themselves "Alevis" and are attached to the Anatolian mystical order of the Bektashi. They still practiced certain pre-Islamic traditions well into the twentieth century.


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