NOMADS – THE FACTS
There are three main groups of nomads:
Pastoralists – The word ‘nomad’ is derived from the Greek word for pasture – nomos. Pastoral nomads move with their households in search of pasture for their animals. There are an estimated 30-40 million of them in the world. Livestock is central to their livelihood and the basis of their culture. Their movement is seasonal, linked to rainfall and the availability of good forage for their animals.
Goat herders in the Peruvian Andes graze their animals on richer grasses at lower altitudes during the wet season, then move to higher altitudes during the dry season.
Of the 60,000 Sami in Scandinavia only 6,000 are still nomadic. They may migrate with their reindeer up to 300 kilometres from sheltered forests in the winter to coastal grasslands in the summer.3
Hunter-gatherers Groups like the San of the Kalahari Desert, the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, native people of the Amazonian rainforest and various hill tribes of Southeast Asia are nomadic in that they move in search of particular animals to hunt or foodstuffs to gather. These hunting cultures are now disappearing or changing under the influence of modern consumer society and the cash economy.
Traders and Craftworkers Other groups may have nomadic lifestyles although they are neither pastoralists nor hunter-gatherers. In the West the best known of these are the Rom or Gypsies, sometimes known as Travellers.
Originally from northern India, the Rom moved north-west about 1,000 years ago and scattered across Europe, working as petty traders, musicians, farm workers and day-labourers.
THREAT TO MOVEMENT
Nomadic peoples face many threats today, but the most serious is the attempt to stop them moving around.
Over the last 40 years the Raika camel nomads in Rajasthan, India, have lost access to half of the common lands previously used as pasture.
In Kenya, Government attempts to bring traditional Maasai lands under private title have ended up removing large areas of land from grazing. In some cases nearly half the land is now in the hands of non-Maasai.
In Inner Mongolia much of the best grazing land has been turned over to irrigated farming. With privatization nomads have to contract for the right to graze traditional lands. More and more are becoming semi-nomadic and even sedentary ranchers.
Traditional Bedouin Cultures
Bedouin are traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ʿašāʾir (عَشَائِر). A widely quoted Bedouin saying is “I against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers“. This saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on closeness of kinship that runs from the nuclear family through the lineage, the tribe, and even, in principle at least, to an entire ethnic or linguistic group (which is perceived to have a kinship basis). Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this organizational framework, according to an ethic of self-help and collective responsibility (Andersen 14). The individual family unit (known as a tent or bayt) typically consisted of three or four adults (a married couple plus siblings or parents) and any number of children.
When resources were plentiful, several tents would travel together as a goum. These groups were sometimes linked by patriarchal lineage, but were just as likely linked by marriage (new wives were especially likely to have male relatives join them), acquaintance or even no clearly defined relation but a simple shared membership in the tribe.
The next scale of interactions inside tribal groups was the ibn ʿamm (cousin, or literally “son of an uncle”) or descent group, commonly of three to five generations. These were often linked to goums, but where a goum would generally consist of people all with the same herd type, descent groups were frequently split up over several economic activities, thus allowing a degree of ‘risk management’; should one group of members of a descent group suffer economically, the other members of the descent group would be able to support them. Whilst the phrase “descent group” suggests purely a lineage-based arrangement, in reality these groups were fluid and adapted their genealogies to take in new members.
The largest scale of tribal interactions is of course the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh (Arabic:شيخ šayḫ, literally, “elder”). The tribe often claims descent from one common ancestor—as mentioned above. This appears patrimonial but in reality new groups could have genealogies invented to tie them in to this ancestor. The tribal level is the level that mediated between the Bedouin and the outside governments and organizations.
Bedouin traditionally had strong honor codes, and traditional systems of justice dispensation in Bedouin society typically revolved around such codes. The bisha’a, or ordeal by fire, is a well-known Bedouin practice of lie detection.
Funfair or travelling showmen are a community of travelers officially called occupational Travelers, that can be categorized broadly defined as a business community of travelling show, circus communities and fairground families. Occupational travellers travel for work across Scotland, the rest of the UK and into Europe. The Show/Fairground community is close knit, with ties often existing between the older Romanichal families, although showmen families are a distinct group and have a vibrant social scene centered both around the summer fairs and the various sites and yards used as winter quarters. Many Scottish show and fairground families live in winter communities based mainly in the east end of Glasgow. Housing an estimated 80% of all showfamilies Glasgow is believed to have the largest concentration of Showmen fun fair quarters in Europe, centered mostly in Shettleston, Whiteinch and Carntyne.
Showmen families have a strong cultural identity as ‘Scottish Showmen’, as well as long histories within these communities. Scottish Showmen are members of an organisation called Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Ireland, and are known within the UK as the “Scottish Section” of a wider British showman community. As with other showmen communities they call non-travelers including members of the public, and other non related travelling groups including Romanichal, Roma, Scottish Lowland traveller/Gypsy groups, and Highland traveller, Irish Travelers as “Flatties” or non-`showmen’ travelers in their own Polari language. The label of “Flattie-Traveller” can include showmen who have left the traditional way of life to settle down and lead a sedentary lifestyle.
New Age Travellers
These are groups of people who often espouse New Age or hippie beliefs and travel between music festivals and fairs (mainly in the United Kingdom) in order to live in a community with others who hold similar beliefs. Their transport and homes consist of vans, lorries, buses, narrowboats and caravans converted into mobile homes. They also make use of improvised bender tents, tipis and yurts. New Age travellers largely originated in 1980s and early 1990s Britain. As of 2010, a small number continue to travel in the country, and cultural groupings with similar composition have also manifested themselves in other countries, such as New Zealand.
The movement originated in the free festivals of the 1970s such as the Windsor Free Festival, the early Glastonbury Festivals, Elephant Fayres, and the huge Stonehenge Free Festivals in Great Britain. Later events included the Castlemorton Common Festival, a huge free and illegal event which attracted widespread media coverage and prompted government action. Some legal festivals, such as WOMAD, continue to take place in a variety of countries, including the UK.
In the UK during the 1980s the Travellers’ mobile homes – generally old vans, trucks and buses (including double-deckers) – moved in convoys. The movement had faced significant opposition from the British government and from mainstream media, epitomised by the authorities’ attempts to prevent camps at Stonehenge, and the resultant Battle of the Beanfield in 1985 – the largest mass civil arrest in English history.
In 1986 and subsequent years police again blocked the “Peace Convoy” (as they then identified themselves) from “taking the Stones” on the Summer Solstice (June 21). This led Travellers to spend summers squatting by the hundreds on several sites adjacent to the A303 in Wiltshire.
Housetruckers are individuals, families and groups who convert old trucks and school buses into mobile homes and live in them, preferring an unattached and transient gypsy lifestyle to more conventional housing. These unique vehicles began appearing around New Zealand during the mid-1970s and even though there are fewer today they continue to adorn New Zealand roads.
An early manifestation of this culture came with the Blerta (1970–1973) travelling circus of music, light theatre and art. This involved a well-known New Zealand actor, Bruno Lawrence, and 30 or 40 hangers-on who travelled around the country in a clapped-out Bedford bus, and sang, wrote and did hippie art. Most of the riders were radicals, hippies, groovers and free thinkers. They attracted a following and had a hit single with “Dance around the world” which was nominated for the Loxene Golden Disc in 1971, a local musical award at the time. After 1973 the Project ran out of steam, and Lawrence turned his hand back to acting in such movies as Smash Palace in 1981.
Contemporary British travelling scene
Many people see the Castlemorton Common Festival in 1992, a week-long festival that attracted up to 30,000 travellers and ravers, as a significant turning point for New Age Travellers in Britain, as it directly resulted in the government granting new powers to police and local authorities under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to prevent such events in the future. The Criminal Justice Act included sections against disruptive trespass, squatting and unauthorised camping which made life increasingly difficult for travellers, and many left Britain for Ireland and Europe, particularly Spain.
However, thousands of people still live a traveller lifestyle in Britain. As of 2010 they are normally known simply as Travellers. Few, if any, travellers live on the local authority sites reserved for Gypsies, Scottish Gypsies/Travellers and Irish Travellers , so instead stay on unauthorised sites throughout the countryside, particularly in Wales and the south-west of England, and in urban areas. London hosts a large number of traveller sites in places such as disused factory or warehouse yards, and there is often a crossover between travellers and squatters, with travellers parking up in yards attached to squatted buildings. Typical traveller sites might have anywhere from 5 to 30 vehicles on them, including trailers and caravans as well as buses, vans and horseboxes converted to live in. Although most travellers in Britain are British, large numbers of Continental Europeans also “travel” in the UK.
As unauthorised sites are evicted and travellers moved on frequently, accessing basic services such as health and dental care, refuse collection, benefits, and education for children can be problematic. Many traveller families home-school their children.
Although travellers have only taken to the road since the 1960s, as of 2010 many traveller families have reached their third or fourth generation. Despite widespread popular assumptions about travellers living on state handouts, many do seasonal or temporary work, on farms and building sites or in factories and pubs for example. Others work as self-employed mechanics, electricians and plumbers, or make money selling scrap, or running stalls at markets and car boot sales. Festivals during the summer also present many opportunities for travellers to make money through offering entertainment, services and goods to festival goers. A high level of mutual aid, the sharing of childcare and vehicle maintenance and “skipping” (collecting food from local supermarket skips) within communities allow travellers to live on very low incomes.