THE GYPSY IN ASIA
§ 1. The Panjabi Jats
WE find the Jats well and copiously described as early as 1835 by Lieutenant‑Colonel W. H. Sleeman.1 He called them “Jâts,” with a long vowel, and treats them everywhere as low caste, or rather no‑caste, Hindus. Their original habitat was upon the Indus about Multán, one of the headquarters of Hindu fable, and thence they spread to the Jumna and the Chumbul Valleys. They were alternately robbers and peaceful peasants until about A.D. 1658, when they plundered the ill‑fated Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jehan, the Moghol. Enriched by this feat, they became the nobles and rajahs of the land; and they expended vast sums in building forts like Bharatpúr, Matras, and Gohud, and on public works like the quadrangular garden at Díg. Incited by a love of conquest and plunder, and united by a feeling of nationality, which may be called patriotism, they would have become, but for the Maráttás and for the
1 Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Officer, etc. (London: Hatchard.)
English, the dominant race in India. Fate, however, was against them, and those dwelling between the Indus and the Jumna merged into the Nánah‑Shákis or Sikhs. As regards the origin of his “Jâts,” Colonel Sleeman reminds us that Sultan Mahmoud carried back with him to Hindustan in A.D. 1011 some two hundred thousand captives, the spoils of his expedition.
The way of the new faith presently converted powerful subjects and industrious peasantry into a fighting caste, and every Jat became a soldier. On the other hand, those lying along the Jumna and the Chumbul, never having been inspired with the martial spirit or united under any conqueror, continued to drive the plough. Thus external influence combined to make the Jats restless, and gradually they turned their steps westward.1
Again, Ghenghis Khan, in A.D. 1206, and his descendant Turmachurn, who in A.D. 1303 invaded India and carried off hosts of prisoners, may have given impulse to the current westward. Lastly, about two centuries after, the great Conqueror whom Europe has apparently determined by sectarian nickname, “Tamerlane,” swept over Northern India in A.D. 1398—1400, and his horde must have caused a wide scattering of the weaker tribes.
The Jats, I may here notice, inhabited the Indine
1 Colonel Sleeman, however, fails to identify his “Jâts” with the Gypsies.
Valley, whence emigration westward is easy; the other tribes, like the Nats, fancifully connected with the Gypsies, were by no means so favourably situated for an exodus. Originally the Gypsies must have been outcasts, not Hindu Pariahs, as some have supposed them to be; although they may have borrowed from those Aryans the horse‑sacrifice and the burning of the dead—the latter custom has become obsolete in Europe, and now only a few of the deceased person’s clothes are thrown into the fire. They had words for God (Deob) and the Devil (Bad God—Benga), “Já li benga” (Go to the Devil) being a popular curse. They were unalphabetic: so clever a race would certainly not have lost a written character, and they became nominal Christians and Muslims in imitation of those among whom they settled.
The Jats are still half nomads, and perhaps of old they were wholly nomadic. They are breeders of cattle and rude veterinary surgeons. They are fond of music, as are all these races; and their dances are exactly represented by those of the Egyptian Gypsies, a similarity which has yet to be insisted upon. Their iron‑smelting, like that of the Mahabaleshwar tribes, is exactly like that of the Romá. Their sword play is that of the Hindu, whereas the Gypsies in Scotland use a direct thrust straight to the front,*
[* “As I have frequently mentioned, all the Gypsies were regularly trained to a peculiar method of their own in handling the cudgel in
certainly not learned in India. The village Jats are said to mould the babies’ heads; perhaps the idea arose by the shampooing of the younger children by the mothers. Divination seems to be the growth of the soil, and palmistry palpably derives from India. Snake‑charming is also common amongst them. As their history in the Panjab proves, they are disposed to robbing and to violence. Lastly, though the history of the country universally derives them from the Land of the Five Rivers, the modern date of Muslim annals would not be proof against their being a race of remote antiquity.
Believing that the Jats may fairly have sent forth the last wave of Aryan emigration, the Gypsies, a western flood which was probably preceded by many others, I attempted during my last trip through Sindh in the spring of 1856 to enlist fellow‑workmen in the task of illustrating their ethnology and philology. Able linguists like Lieutenant‑Colonel Dunsterville, Collector of Hydrabad, and others, were willing to assist me. But I was much disappointed by the incuriousness of a certain professor who met me at Milan before my visit to Western India and Sindh. He had never seen my Grammar and Vocabulary, of which he desired the republication;
their battles. I am inclined to think that part of the Hungarian sword exercise at present practised in our cavalry is founded upon the Gypsy manner of attack and defence, including even the direct thrust to the front, which the Gypsies perform with the cudgel.”—Simson, A History of the Gypsies.]
but he accepted with enthusiasm my offer to enlist collaborators in the Valley of the Indus for the purpose of proving or disproving his favourite theory that the Gypsies are Sindhis who have long dwelt in Afghanistan.1 This professor had of course no personal experience; anything he had written on the subject was derived from theory only. Object lessons are not yet popular in Italy; it is easier to visit the camel of the Jardin des Plantes than the camel of the desert, and we can hardly expect a littérateur to take interest in gathering together raw new facts.
§ 2. The Jats of Belochistan.
The following interesting extract is borrowed from The Country of Balochistan,* by A. W. Hughes (London, 1877):
“In returning to a consideration of the Jat race of Kachh Gandāva, it may be mentioned that wherever they are found—and they may it seems, from what Masson states, be seen not alone in the Panjab and Sindh and in those countries lying between the Satlej and Ganges Rivers, but even at Kābul, Kandahār, and Herat—they preserve their vernacular tongue, the Jatki. Of this language many dialects are believed to exist, and it may well be suggested
1 Inadmissible, because there are Afghan Jats.
[* Balochistan, Balochis, etc., sic Hughes.]
by Masson that the labour of reviewing would not be found altogether unprofitable. It appears to be a fact that the Jats in some places preserve the calling of itinerant Gypsies, and this more particularly in Afghanistan; and it is not unlikely that some affinity in their language and habits might very possibly be traced between them and the vagabond races of Zingāris which are spread over so large a portion of Europe. The Jats of Eastern Kachhi, the supposed descendants of the ancient Getæ, form the cultivating and camel‑breeding classes, and are of industrious and peaceable habits, but are dreadfully harried and plundered by the marauding Balochis of the neighbouring hills. They are, so to speak, the original inhabitants of this district, the Rinds,1 Balochis, and Brahuis having settled in the country at an apparently recent period. The Jats are numerously subdivided among themselves, some tribes amounting, it is said, to nearly forty in number. Some of these are known under the names of Aba, Haura, Kalhora, Khokar, Machni, Manju, Palal, Pasarar, Tunia, and Waddera. In general they are all Muhammadans of the Suni persuasion.”
As El Islam was established in these countries before our tenth century, and the Hinduism of the Lower Valley of the Indus and of Multán dates from the days of Alexander the Great, the original
1 A celebrated Beloch tribe which considers itself the flower of the nation.
emigration of Gypsies, who hardly preserve a trace of Hinduism, must either have been outlying pagans or a race of extreme antiquity.
§ 3. The Gypsies of Persia.
Captain Newbold, after visiting the Gypsies in Sindh, Belochistan, and Multán, found them in the “great plain of Persepolis; in the blossoming Valley of Shiráz in the Butchligar Mountains; on the scorched plains of Dashtistan and Chaldea.” He thinks that they may be traced to, and probably far beyond, the Caspian, and easterly to the deserts of Herman and Mekran. They affect but little the scanty fare and the uninteresting life of the desert. Perfectly distinct from the pastoral “Iliyát,” the Bedawin of nearer Asia, the Turkomans, Kurds, and other nomads who camped far from the abodes of settled men, these tribes wander from town to town and village to village, always pitching tents near the more industrious, on whose credulity they partly subsist, here and elsewhere.
The ostensible trades of the Persian Gypsies are those of the blacksmith and tinker, the tinner of iron, makers of winnowing sieves, cattle doctors, and fortune‑tellers; they are also workers in gold, and forge the current coins of Persia and Turkey. Others are Zíngar (saddle‑makers); and Newbold adds, evidently without sufficient basis: “Hence the
Zinganeh, a Kurdish tribe who are supposed to be of Gypsy origin, the Italian, Spanish, and German word for Gypsy, Zingari, etc.” Finally, they are vendors of charms and philters, conjurers, dancers, mountebanks, and carvers of wooden bowls.
The professors of these arts wander about in separate bands; but they must not be confounded with independent tribes of vagabond’s and outcasts of various tribes who lead a roving, thieving Gypsy life, but are not Gypsy. Their Persian neighbours hold them to have a separate origin; but identity of feature and language prove them to be one and the same stock. They divide themselves into two classes, the Kaoli or Ghurabti, the Kurbat of Syria and the Gavbar. Both names are of disputed origin, and even the Persians and the Gypsies are at variance. Kaoli is generally supposed to be a corruption of Kabuli (a man from Kabul). From this old and venerable city, Sir John Malcolm states, the Dakrám‑i‑Gúr imported into Persia twelve thousand singers and musicians; and the dancing girls of Persia are to this day called Kaoli. Khurbat, of which Kurbat is a corruption, involves, it is said, the idea of wandering. Gavbar is equally obscure; the meaning would be “one who takes pleasure in cattle”; but the Persians call a herdsman “Gan‑ban,” never “Gav‑bar.” The true Kaoli and Gavbar, who, like their brethren in Sindh, Syria, and Egypt, outwardly profess El Islam, rarely, if ever, intermarry
with Persians, Turks, or Arabs. And whilst the latter regard them as distinct in origin from themselves, in fact as Hindus, would their wretched Pariahs, the Gáo‑bár, claim the honour of being
Sayfids, or descendants of the Apostle?
§ 4. The Gypsies of Syria.
According to Newbold, the Gypsies of Palestine and South Syria* are called Náwer; while in Asia Minor and North Syria they style themselves Kurbat, Rumeh, and Jinganeh (Chinganeh). The signification of Kurbat is doubtful, but is only supposed to mean a wanderer from his own land, a stranger, derived from the Arab root Gharaba, “he went far away.” The two last terms he holds related to the Spanish Romani (?) and Zincali, and the German Zigeuner. They are true to the character of their race; they disdain to be shepherds or tillers of the soil; and they feed like vultures and carrion upon the credulity and superstitions of mankind. Bedawin of the intellectual world, they juggle the simpler sons and daughters of cities by pretended skill in
[* “Bishop Pococke, prior to 1745, mentions having met with Gypsies in the northern part of Syria, where he found them in great numbers, passing for Mahommedans, living in tents or caravans, dealing in milch cows when near towns, manufacturing coarse carpets, and having a much better character than their relations in Hungary or England” (Simson).]
the occult, more especially chiromancy. Some are dancers and minstrels, while others vend charms, philters, and poisons. Like their English brethren, the men are profound adepts in horseflesh, in donkey-dealing, and in game‑snaring; but instead of tinkering pots and kettles, they spin cotton and woollen yarns for their clothes and tents, and they make and mend osier‑baskets. This and making wooden boxes were the favourite handicrafts of the Gypsies when they first entered Europe.
In winter they camp on the outskirts of large towns, in a sort of half tent, half hut, which is readily removed. During the fine months they go forth into the plains or mountains, where they affect tents or ruins, but never far from the haunts of their prey, mankind. Their migrations, if regular, are not of a great extent; and they never wholly forsake a country unless driven away by absolute persecution.
Shaykh Rasscho, the head of the Aleppine Gypsies, and responsible for their poll tax, informed Newbold that his tribe was divided into thirty houses, of whose names he could only remember twenty‑eight. It is not material to give these names, but they are evidently Muslim names of men who probably belonged to “heads of houses.” The old Gypsy declared that Kurbat, Nawar, Rumeli, and Chinganeh were all of the same family, and had lived in Syria and Asia Minor since the creation.
These people in no way differ physically from the
European tinkers. They have the same slender, well‑knit figures, rather below middle size, tawny skins, rather prominent cheekbones, and straight black hair. The facial angle is rather Hindu and Tatar than Turkoman, and they have the Hindu’s long horse‑tail hair. Dark eyes are not invariable; in the mountains of Antioch the colour is sometimes grey or blue, and the same occurs occasionally among the Arabs of Petra and Palmyra, among the Syrians, the Zebeks, and other races of Asia Minor. A great mixture of blood is the cause. The Zebeks of Smyrna have now been deputed to represent the bandit regular troops of Turkey as opposed to the bandit police. The Asiatic Gypsy has also that peculiar indescribable appearance and expression of eye which is so strongly developed in the Romá of Morocco and Moorish Spain, “a feature which, like the brand on the forehead of the first murderer, stamps this marked race over the whole globe, and when once observed is never forgotten. The ‘Evil Eye’ is not the least of the powers with which this people is superstitiously invested; and if there be any truth in the overstrained (?) doctrines of animal magnetism, one could not possibly frame to the imagination an eye so well calculated, so intense a magnetic force.”1
1 The Spaniards describe this peculiarity of the race, the remarkably brilliant eye, as opposed to the small fat‑lidded organ of the Jew and the pig’s eye of the Chinaman.
These Gypsies have never been seen to pray or perform any religious rite; some of their elders, like the Druzes and other Syrian tribes, circumcise their children, and conform to the exterior observances of El Islam.
Shaykh Rasscho could repeat with sundry mistakes the Arabic Faith Formula, omitting the second half, “Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.” He said that he and his tribe acknowledged one supreme, everlasting, omnipotent Being, and believed in an existence after death, a state of reward and punishment connected with metempsychosis. He denied the charges made against the Kurbat by Syrians, Muslims, and Christians that they worshipped the stars or the creative principle under a symbol. He also denied that they abhorred the eel and the celebrated black fish of the Antioch Lake, like the Jews, to whom the Mosaic Law—which, by-the‑bye, is equally binding upon Muslims—makes it unclean, because it lacks fins and scales.1 Newbold, however, was assured that the Kurbat, who, like the India Pariahs, are the flayers of animals dying a natural death, devour the carcases of all animals except the man and the hog.
According to the Turks and Syrians, the Kurbat girls are not so chaste as their European sisters;
1 “And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you” (Deut. xiv. 10).
yet they wear till marriage the “lacto diklo,” a certain cloth, in token and in pledge of spotless virginity, which the bridegroom alone is permitted to take off. The women dress like the lower orders in Syria; but they affect more ornaments of silver and brass, ear‑ and nose‑rings, armlets and bracelets, anklets and bangles. They spin, take care of the poultry, ducks, cats, and children, and cook exactly like the English Gypsy women. Especially they tell fortunes, which practice, confined to a certain caste but forbidden to others, seems to be a kind of sacerdotalism.
The Kurbat, like their brethren all the world over, have no written characters or symbols for letters or words. Their Shaykh told Newbold that, although they themselves could not write, two men in the tribe could write. As, however, neither the men nor specimens of their writing were produced, the inference drawn from this, and other similar inquiries, was that “the written characters, or symbols, of their language, or rather jargon, have either been lost, or are known to only a few, who superstitiously keep them secret.”1 In the bazars of Syria they speak Arabic or Turkish; at home they use their own tongue.
The following scanty list of Kurbat words was obtained viva voce from the Aleppo tribes, and
1 The same is the case with the Bedawin tribal marks.
were subsequently checked by comparison with the tribe near Antioch:
English. Kurbat. Duman.
Father bábúr bábúr.
Mother aida aida and ana.
Brother bhairú berávau.
Sister bhanu kochi.
Sun gáham gáham.
Moon heiúf heiúf.
Star astara astara.
Air vál and vái kannad hává.
Heavens khúai ghennader.
The earth bar, ard (Arab.) or bar.
Fire ag ár.
Water páni hou (Pers. áb, áo).
Rain bursenden bárán.
Snow khíf súrg.
Cloud barúdi bullút.
Light tshek ar and aidinlik.
Sea dúnguz (Turk.) daíreh and dúnguz.
Mountain thull (Ar. tall) ghiella.
A spring kháni kháni.
Stone vúth káwer.
Salt lóu khoi.
Milk kír (Sansk. Pers.) and shir (pure Persian).
Barley jou (jau) jou.
Wheat gheysúf ghiannam.
Iron náhl khallik.
Night arát shou (Pers. shub,
Day bedis ghiundez.
Onion lussun, piyaz piyáz.
English. Kurbat. Duman.
Dhurra (Holcus, Sor‑ ak ar.
Rice brinj silki.
A hare kunder kunder.
Dog súrunter kúchek.
Cat psík kadizor.
Horse ghora or aghora asp.
Mare míno míno.
Ass kharr kharri.
Sheep bakrá khaidú.
Cow góru kaikuz.
Bull grouf, or maia, góru meshjúk.
Fowl jeysh‑chumári mirrishk.
Pig dónguz (Turk.) dónguz.
Camel aubba, asht ashtur.
Crow kíl, hashzeik and tánuk sereh.
Snake sánb, sámp marr (Pers.)
Fish machchi machchi.
Parts of the Human Body.
Finger anglú, ángul pechi.
Hand kustúm, kustúr dast.
Eye akki and ánkhi jow.
Hair vál or bál khalluf.
Ear kán and kannir príúk.
Neck gúrgúr kántlagu.
Knee lúlúk, chokyúm koppaku.
Teeth dándeir ghiólu.
Head sir, chir murrás.
Flesh mársi gósht.
A well astal, chál chál.
An egg ánó heili.
A ring angúshteri dastúri.
God Khánarje Allah.
A ship ghemmi, durongaye ghemmi.
Boat shátúr shátúr.
English. Kurbat. Duman.
War lagísh, káwye káwye.
A Christian kuttúr (dog?) nosaru (Nazarene).
Door Kápi (Turk.) kapi.
Boy chágú láwak.
Girl lafti kechikeh.
Thief kuft khaiúk.
Tent cháder (Pers.) cháder.
Knife chírí khair.
Rope kundóri kundóri and sijúm.
Book kitál kitáh, mushulleh.
City viár viár.
Village deh, diyár deh, diyár.
Bridge kienpri (Turk.) kienpri.
Castle killa kalla.
Paper kághaz kághaz.
Bread manna nán.
House kuri or kiri málá.
King padshah beghirtmish.
Love mankamri and kamri kamri.
Month muh, mas viha, mas.
Colour táwúl táwul.
Year das di mas, varras or deh di mar or dah di
Personal and Possessive Pronouns.
I man man.
Thou tó to.
He húi húi.
Mine maki or man ki maki or man ki.
Thine to ki or toi ki to ki or toi ki.
His hui ki hui ki.
One ek. The Duman is the
Two di. same, except sih for
Three turrun. “three,” and deh for
Four char or shtar. “ten.”
English. Kurbat. Duman.
Nine na or nu.
Eleven das ek.
Twelve das di.
Thirteen das turrun.
Fourteen das char.
Fifteen das penj.
Sixteen das shesh.
Seventeen das heft.
Eighteen das hesht.
Nineteen das na.
Twenty víst or bíst.
Twenty‑one víst ek.
Twenty‑two, etc. víst di, etc.
Sixty turrun víst.
Seventy turrun víst das.
Eighty chár víst.
Ninety chár víst das.
One hundred sad.
Two hundred di sad.
A thousand hazar.
Sick numshti bímár, ruár.
Bad kumnarrey kíóná.
Good gahay arunder.
Great durónkay, burro mázin.
Small túróntay, thoranki chúchúk (Pers.
Black kálá, kálo káni, shippia.
White pannarey suffeid.
Red lorey, loley kunnu.
Yellow zard zara, kulp.
Green kark sukkul.
Blue niley níla.
Cold siá súki.
Hot tottey khunney.
English. Kurbat. Duman.
Much bhúyih phurga.
A little thoráki ennika.
Enough basey nar.
Here veshli, itan, idhur búndeh.
To come pá pa.
To go ó jo.
To eat khm khám.
To drink piún imperative piúm.
To bring nán winni.
To tell fortune fál wunnakerim.
[The above list is printed exactly as written by Burton; but it has been found impossible to verify it from other sources.]
§ 5. The Gypsies of the Haurán, South‑Eastern
In January, 1871, I accompanied the Damascus Pilgrim Caravan some marches; and at Mazáríb in the Haurán, the well‑known station near which Ali Beg el Abbasi, the Spaniard, was poisoned, I found three Gypsy tents. The inmates called themselves Nawar, a popular term throughout the country. In the same way as the Romá of Spain affected to be devout Christians “living in a peaceable Catholic manner,” so the head of the little party I discovered insisted upon all his people being born Muslims, evidently disliking the suspicion that they belonged
to the “obsolete faith,” Christianity, with which the ignorant faithful confused all later creeds. (These people thus saved themselves from exile when Sultan “Báyezíd” expelled all Gypsies from the Ottoman Empire.) In proof of his assertion he recited a verse of the Koran with peculiar twang. The headquarters of the tribe and the abode of the chief Shaykh were at Ghazzeh, and Muhammad and his “lamentable retinue” had wandered northwards, intending to stay four or five days at Mazáríb—in fact, whilst the caravan was passing. Their peculiar industries were metal‑work and making sieves, so they stated; but to these their neighbours added plundering and petty larceny, together with trading in asses and horses. According to my informant, many of his people attend the Haj, doubtless to throw dust into Muslim eyes.
My Syrian companions compared the general look of the dark‑skinned, tanned dwellers with the Ashdán, whilst they found a certain resemblance between the Roumís and the women of a certain Arab tribe who camped about near Damascus; but the long, coarse, lank hair, with the duck‑tail under curl, the brown white eyes, whose peculiar glance is never to be mistaken, the prominent Tatar‑like cheekbones, and the irregular‑shaped mouths, suggested Hindu origin and physiognomy. The beard was long and somewhat wavy, possibly the result of inhabiting for generations a hot dry land. Some have gashed
faces like the “Bohemians” when they first entered Paris. Their women, adorned with ear‑rings and necklaces, bracelets and anklets of brass land tinsel, were Macbethian witches; and both sexes, like the outcasts of India generally, seem to abhor cold water. I tried them with a few words of Sindhi, introduced into Hindustani, when their faces assumed the normal puzzled expression, and their eyes appeared to close and film over. Of magic and divination they would not speak to a stranger; but they readily gave me the following words: Ag, fire (pure Hindi); Ake, eye (Aukh); Chirí, knife (Churi); Goray, horse (Ghora); Kálá, oracle (pure Hindi); Munám, bread (an Arabic corruption?); Pánay, water (Pani); Zari, mouth (?). Conversing with one another they spoke fluently, and introduced few Arabic words.
The Nawar make their appearance with the Eastern Bedawin, Wuld Ali, and others about the beginning of summer, and occupy huts built of cane, sticks, and mud. The roofs are hides weighted with sticks. They work at getting in the harvests, and they are said to work much harder than the average husbandman. Of course they are charged with plundering poultry. They speak bad Arabic, and talk together in their own tongue; wherefore the peasants affect to despise them. In fact, here, as elsewhere, they constitute a strange sort of commonwealth amongst themselves—wanderers, impostors, and jugglers.
§ 6. The Gypsies of Damascus.
Consul E. T. Rogers, my predecessor at Damascus, made the following brief notes, and obliged me with permission to publish them. His long period of residence led him to study subjects which escaped the passing traveller.
“I remember quite distinctly that the Gypsies of Syria, or people resembling them, were divided into three distinct families, not supposed to intermarry, and, as I was told, supplying two distinct languages:
“(1) The Nawar1 follow the ordinary Gypsy vocations, stealing, fortune‑telling, tinkering, attending fêtes and marriages as itinerant musicians, jugglers, etc.;
“(2) The Zutt were generally seen with trained animals, goats, donkeys, etc., performing in the streets; and
“(3) The Barámaki, who give more attention to horse‑dealing. They are farriers and blacksmiths, and are generally found on the outskirts of isolated villages, or near the camps of small Arab tribes,
1 The tribal name in Syria is Nawar. During two years’ residence and long travelling I never heard the terms “Dumi” and “Zutt.” The latter also escaped a most careful observer, Captain Newbold. As regards that officer’s distinction between Jat and Jât, he heard the former term from me at Karachi in 1848 when he looked over my Grammar and Vocabulary, while he borrowed Jât from Captain Sleeman and others who have written on the Panjab with perceiving that the two tribes are one and the same.
where they let out stallions for breeding purposes. They buy broken‑down horses and mares of good breed, and are very clever at doctoring them up and rendering them fit for sale.”
Mr. Consul Rogers also showed me a sketch he had made of a Zutti boy with a performing goat borne upon sections of bamboo—a common sight in India.