Vol 1 No 3 Fall/Winter 2000

An Encounter with the Dom of Jordan

by D. J. Phillips

(Editor's Note: Kuri welcomes the opportunity to publish notes from travel diaries regarding encounters with the Dom people. In so doing perhaps the stereotypes will be displaced and a more accurate ethnopicture of this people will begin to emerge.)

We approached two tents pitched more than 100 meters from the houses on a large spare lot in Mafraq, Jordan. Near the tents were two attractive, colourfully dressed girls with light skin and European faces. They seemed welcoming, but after an interval a short, much older man in Bedu dress appeared. He demonstrated a truculent attitude and refused to receive us. This was the only rebuff experienced on my visit to Jordan.

At a third tent about 500 meters away we were immediately welcomed. We approached and entered by the gable end, uncommon with the Bedouin. The canvas tent had a metal tubular frame without central posts. It was divided inside and very spacious, about eight meters by five meters. Its size suggested to me that it must have been made for some other purpose and acquired as a home. Inside the mattresses were not laid out in the three sides of a square as in Bedouin homes, but casually placed facing each other. The tent had a sparse un-lived in appearance compared to the Bedouin tents I have visited. There was no curtain forming a women's section and the only furniture was a stand or table against the rear wall. Blankets and bedding were neatly folded and piled on it to keep them off the ground. Beside the table were two suitcases. Hanging on the tent frame was a functioning, large, plastic battery clock. There was little sign of cooking or food or other activity inside. The space inside had been cleared and was tidy.

Living here were a man, his wife, his brother and twelve children. We were offered water, but no tea or coffee as the Bedouin do, although we must have been with them for about twenty minutes. They seemed pleased and open to talk to us, even enthusiastic to answer questions, though slightly embarrassed as the Arabs despise them. Presumably they get few visitors and are treated as 'wallpaper' or as a nuisance.

The wife hovered behind the men, but spoke up frequently to answer questions. Although willing to speak out, she thought it 'shame' to appear in a photo with the men and ran either into or out of the tent accordingly. She was scarved and dressed as a Bedouin but the younger girls were not. The men's dress would have passed for Bedouin. With regard to their beliefs, this family did not fast or observe prayer times. As an afterthought, the teenage son did claim to go to the mosques. They enthusiastically preferred to be called Dom as soon as I said it, even before translation. Another designation, Ghorbati, is used only in Iraq or Iran according to my hosts. They claimed that they had been blacksmiths and drivers in Baghdad, shoeing camels and horses among other tasks. They rented a house and had a television, as well as other household items, until the Gulf War when they abruptly left on 9/3/1990. They were at pains to show me their passports with the date. It was not clear why they fled. Although they spoke of their time in Iraq, they claimed to have come from Palestine originally.

To work as a blacksmith in Jordan was not practical. Dancing and minstrel playing for hire was done in Iraq but was not requested in Jordan. With their traditional occupations useless they lived by begging, which they automatically started to do, saying blatantly, "We need money." The tribe to which this family belonged was called Sawatha and the clan name was Jennayd. Their clan was made up of about 100 families. Their ancestors came from Palestine about one hundred years ago. Another tribe, the Hamashlir tribe, is known for dancing.

Let us hear from you!
Send your review/comments regarding this article by clicking to the left.