Vol 1 No 9 Fall/Winter 2003

KURI Journal Helps for Readers:


Readers who are new to Dom studies will find here a brief guide to some of the English language literature that has been published. Material is drawn from scholarly journals, popular magazines, and newspapers. Periodically, summaries of non-English works and/or translations of non-English works will be made available through Helps for Readers. The descriptions are content oriented as opposed to critical reviews.

Streck, Bernhard. Die Halab: Zigeuner am Nil. Edition Trickster im Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 1996.
  "The work presented here entails more than fifteen years study in the field, in archives, libraries and at the writing desk. However, it would be presumptuous to claim to have the answer to the puzzle of the Nile Gypsy. Like the prior work of Nabil Sobhi Hanna on the Ghajar in Egypt, this analysis of their 'Brothers' in the Sudan only deals with several apparently significant aspects - fortunately quite different ones from Nabil's, so that the studies complement one another" (Streck, 7). The following is an English translation of Streck's summarization of his monograph (Streck, 11-12).
  In the first chapter the reader is taken along on an ethno-historical path of discovery, the departure point being the racial diversity of the Sudanese Nile, especially with regard to the light skinned portion of the population. This is linked with the question of the origin of the Gypsies and the timing of their immigration. The present population mix established itself during the Anglo-Egyptian condominium, and the great public projects drew many ‘foreign workers’ into the country. Were the Nile Gypsies involved in this influx? The sources on the Ottoman Sudan, however, contain a few sparse references to an earlier immigration, when at the beginning of the 19th Century the Nile basin was joined to the world of the eastern Mediterranean. That raises many questions about the connection with the known Oriental Gypsies, questions which have already been posed for a long time in literature. Following the model of the ancients, the answer is also sought via the ‘language’. The Nile Gypsies are composed of a variety of different elements, pointing to Arabic, Persian, but also Balkan roots.

The second chapter is devoted to the niche economy, which the Nile Gypsies in the Sudan practise. The several occupation types, especially those of metal forging and blacksmithing, are presented in detail, besides certain specialisations within the metal trade, which partially spill over into the formal sector, but also complementary methods of earning in other similarly classical Gypsy branches. The relationship of settledness and nomadicy as well as all the transitional forms, needs to be clarified, as well as the processes that can lead to economic betterment and community integration.

The third chapter describes the internal ties and external boundaries, which preserve the social and symbolic characteristics of the Gypsy group. This has to do in part with inter-cultural dialogue: provoked stigmatisation and its stigmatising response. In a certain sense the Gypsies nurture a culture of obstinacy and the mutual categorisation resembles an agonic line – of course between unequal partners. The arenas for this are the multi-ethnic settlements, of which several examples are presented. Endogamy and inter-relation marriage, customary anyway in the Arabic Sudan, are essential for preserving the group. Close to this internal interlocking there also exist external attachments, mostly in the form of patronages, in which the Gypsies, however, do not always take the roll of client. Their situation of being on the fringe can best be described as a sliding solidarity: situational unities can be based on blood, trade, skin colour and even religion. The contempt of the majority population, based on the same criteria, is also a continual internal factor, so that a formal amalgamation of the Gypsy groups seems unthinkable. That which is truly common to them is to be sought in the realm of mythical obligation, for example, in the imitation of heroes, whose example outward confessions of belief in Folk Islam, even at a time of reformation, is able to survive.

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