Monday, August 3, 2009

On Nomads

"So what are the qualities that nomadic cultures tend to encourage? It seems to me that they are humanistic virtues. The world is approached as a series of complex interactions, rather than simple oppositions, connecting pathways rather than obstructive walls.
Nomads are comfortable with uncertainty and contradiction. they are cosmopolitan in outlook, because they have to deal with difference, negotiate difference. They do not focus on long term goals so much as continually accommodate themselves to change. They are less concerned with the accumulation of wealth and more concerned with the accumulation of knowledge. The territorial personality - opinionated and hard edged - is not revered."

On the Rabari women, Gujarat ...
"These women owned property in their own right (receiving sheep from their husband's family at marriage and inheriting their mother's jewellery), and although they did not sit in panchayats, no one doubted who made the decidions at home. They were not burdened with childbearing during their teens (and seldom had more than four children). Their work was as valued as the men's. They could shop and do business in villages and towns without being chaperoned and without covering their faces. I do not mean to say that individual women were in any sense capricious regarding community law. Only that the power between the sexes (that inherited species disequilibrium that culture endlessly mediates) was balanced, so producing a confident sauciness in the women and a humerous appreciation in men.

Later, after I had left them, I came across other Kutchi Rabaris who had settled. Within a generation, the women were in strict purda, usually a hot compound at the back of a house, where they lived like caged parrots. By day they were bent over in the fields, digging, watched over by the patriarch. Or they worked and cooked in the stifling compound. At night they were locked in. They did not mourn the loss of their freedom. How could they? They had nothing with which to compare their lives. but I could compare them with their still nomadic cousins, whose men looked at them with affection, respect and not a little awe, who could stride out unchaperoned, haggle with shop keepers and fight with their slings beside their men."

Robyn Davidson, No Fixed Address, Nomads and the Fate of the Planet, Quarterly Essay, Black Inc, Issue 24, 2006.

images :


  1. My kind girls. Where do I join?
    I think I have the respect of my man and most others that count though. The rest can get stuffed.... :)

  2. Great women. Thanks for your post.

    Something I read recently:

    A family of nomads were crossing the desert on their camels. The kids were all bundled up on the humps. The family walked a steady pace and the kids kept asking the mother,'Are we there yet?'
    And the mother said, 'Quit asking if we are there. You'll never be there. You're a nomad!'