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Sirat Al-Ghawazi

Ghawazi Research, Part 10: 1977, Nawary Gypsy Background of the Mazin Ghawazi


by Edwina Nearing
posted October 31, 2011

Begun in the mid-1970’s , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi" were first published under the title "The Mystery of the Ghawazi" in Habibi Magazine in 1977. The author, orientalist Edwina Nearing (writing under the nom de guerre "Qamar el-Mulouk"), intended the series to be an investigative report on what Lady Duff Gordon in 1865 called "the real dancing girls of Egypt." Now, in the decades since Nearing’s Ghawazi series first appeared, it has itself become a part of history, its people, places and events almost as exotic and remote as those described in the 19th century works the author drew upon for background information. "The Mystery of the Ghawazi" was reprinted in 1984 by popular demand and updated in a 1993 article, "Ghawazi on the Edge of Extinction." Since then, most of Nearing’s Ghawazi material has been out of print. Gilded Serpent is happy to be able to respond to the continued demand for these articles by making them available to our readers worldwide.

[ Ed note: This section was previously published in Habibi as the last section of "Part 9". Because it is has been so long since the previous section was published here in Gilded Serpent, it has been renamed "Part 10".]

The real origin of the Gipsies, I read, was uncertain, but the present consensus of scholarly opinion was that they came from Afghanistan, or northwestern India and western Pakistan. They were thought to have begun their migrations from there westward through Persia around 1000 A.D. "While here in Iran [Persia] ‘the gypsies’ quite possibly split into two bands, giving rise to two dia!ects: the European Romany of those who passed to the north through Armenia, and the fragmentary dialect of those traveling south to Syria."7

More scholarly tomes had nothing at all to say of ‘those traveling south to Syria,’ and it was not until I gained access to copies of The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society that I was able to pick up the trail of the Syrian Gipsies again, rather spectacularly, in a 1914 monograph entitled "The Nawar or Gypsies of the East." As this work is exceedingly hard to come by, it is quoted here in extenso:

"The Nawar or Nawarah are a race of men scattered over every land … They are a people having a language belonging exclusively to themselves … The Nawar, according to our view, are a mixture of Indians, Persians, Kurds, Turks, and Tatars, to whom there have joined some of the rabble and refuse of the peoples of those countries; and among them are some Arabs and certain of the other dregs of the populations who from time to time accompanied them or stopped in their country and their abodes.

"One of the names of the Nawar is Gagar (Ghajar). This is the name by which the people of Algiers and Tunis and the tribes of Egypt call them. Gagar we think a mistake for the Turkish Cotchar, that is, the ‘travellers’ or the ’emigrants.’ They are called by this Turkish name to-day in the west of Persia, the east of the Ottoman Empire in Asia, and the land of Mesopotamia …

Mazandaran map"In the time of Shah ‘Abbas the Great of the State of Safariyeh in the country of Iran (he died in the year 1621), certain governors ill-treated the Turkmans, and the ‘Band of Fifty Thousand’ fled from their fatherland. They came to the aforesaid Shah and asked him for dwellings in his country … the greater portion he placed in Mazandaran as a check to the pride of the Uzbak, Turkmans, Umid, and the nomad Tatars, who are always starting raids, and acting as highwaymen. Later on they were separated into a special class called Kotchar, Gatchar, or Katchar, all of which are obvious corruptions of the word Kotchar. But this last word became in its original form the term for a class of nomads or wanderers who do not belong to these peoples. After the Gagar became established in the new country in which the dwelt, they branched off into two parts, an eastern and a western. The … Western Kagar became completely mixed with the Persians, adopted their appearance, dress, costumes, and language, and assumed their manners. Some of them travelled far, and came to the east of Turkey, and began to be carried from country to country until the chances of fortune led them to the north of Africa, in the length and breadth of which they settled; and these are they with whom the name Gagar predominated …

"Now as to Nawar, and its singular Nuri, our view is that it is a corruption of Lur. This corruption seems the best explanation in the singular; the word Nuri is not far remote from Luri, except the n; and the interchange of n and l … is one of the most familiar features of Arabic … The diffusion of the word Nawar took place in the eighth century A.D., when the Arabs gained the mastery over the country of the Lur or Luristan (from 652 to 1258). But Arab classical writers do not mention it in their books, for they regarded this expression as a vulgar one, and generally they scorned the use of it except when necessity compelled them. It is known that the Lur are noted for their thievishness, craft, jugglery, sleight-of-hand, witchcraft, etc., these are some of the blemishes of character ascribed to them by the Arabs, who have a verb nawwar derived from  ‘Nuri”  meaning  ‘to practise jugglery, deceit, etc.’ The first among the Arabs to mention it is Al-Izhari (died 981 A.D.), but he held the opinion that the verb is derived from nurah, and that nurah is ‘a witch.’ .. It is a word [nawwar] frequent among the common people in the sense ‘to manage a horse well by one’s action, and to set it off in order to gain fraudulent profit.’ The plural is Nuwarah … or Nawar, both forms being recognised indifferently …

“The people of Aleppo called the Nawar Karbat, singular Karbati. The word is a contraction and corruption for Garbadakan … a district near Hamadan [Persia], in the outskirts of which vile and worthless men are numerous. Nadir Shah in the year 1738 A.D. ordered their expulsion, so they left these parts and went to the territory of the Sublime Porte [Turkish Empire], till their journeys ended in the district of Aleppo As-Sahaba. But some of them returned to their country, and they continue there to this day. According to this the Karbat are of Persian origin …

“In the vilayet of Mosul a Nuri is called Mutribah [entertainer; esp. dancer] …

“In part of Syria and Mesopotamia they are called Gu’aidiyah,singular Gu’aidi. This name signifies that they are of Arab origin or that they were connected with an Arab called Gu’aid … It is said that this Gu’aid was an Egyptian who wandered among the people, dressed in a cap with bells on it, and with a tambourine in his hand, on which he beat, and when asked for them he pronounced extempore panegyrics …

This relationship among the lower classes only means resemblance to the Gu’aidi. In my opinion most of what we see among the Nawar in the neighborhood of Baghdad resemble these Gu’aidiyah, following them in freedom and looseness, and their habits of the dance, music, and the extemporising of songs.

“The Damascenes and some of the people of Basra [Iraq] called the Nawar Zutt, singular Zutti. This name also is not unknown in Baghdad with the meaning Nawar … Al-Azhari has quoted from Al-Laith: ‘They are a people of India, who have given their name to gannents called Zuttiyah,’ and he adds that their name is arabicised from the Indian Jatt.

"The historical references to them [the Zutt] are perfectly familiar. They came from India before Islam, for they were numerous at the time of its appearance. Baladuri says in his Conquests of Countries (p. 162): ‘Mo’awia in the year … 669 or 670 A.D. removed to the coasts a race of Zutt of Basra and Sayabigah and settled some of them at Antioch’. Abu Hafas says: ‘In Antioch is a quarter known as that of the Zutt, and in Buka in the province of Antioch is a race of their descendants known as Zutt.’ Â Walid ibn  Abdu ‘l-Malik transferred to Antioch a number of the Zutt of Sind … and AI-Haggag sent them to Syria.’

Ibn Haldun says: ‘The Zutt are a mixture of peoples …

“Some form the plural word Zutt, which is pronounced Jat, in the Persian fashion, that is, with final -ān,and so say Jittān. From this word is derived the Spanish gitano. meaning Gypsy, and there is no doubt the Spaniards took this word from the Arabs of Andalusia.

“In the west of Persia, in the districts bordering on the Turkish Empire, the name of the Gypsies varies between Zozan, … and Sasan. which are erroneous renderings of Sasaniyah or Beni Sasan. This is the name of the Gypsies among the present day Arabs according to what is published in their books and histories; moreover, it is their real name, which includes all the tribes of the Gypsies in their classes, families, and divisions.

“The conclusion of the whole matter regarding the origin of this race is, that they are a mixture of widely scattered nations and peoples …"8

The above is the first part of what was to be a series, publication of which in The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society was evidently halted by the First World War. Presumably the article exists in its entirety in the Arabic periodical Al-Masriq, where it first appeared in 1902. The above abstract does not suffer greatly from being exerpted from the original, which is almost as dense and fanged with obscure references; it seems to have been the author’s intention in this part of the series to provide the reader with all of the philological data bearing on his subject. But. despite the author’s almost-inexhaustible supply of names and tribes, the diverting commentary of Major C. S. Jarvis, British Governor of the Sinai in the early years of this century, suggests that he may have overlooked a most important piece of the puzzle. …

-To be concluded

REFERENCES N.B. Notes which appear in brackets are those of Qamar El-Mulouk.
1. Lane, Edward William, The Manners and Customs of the Modem Egyptians, London, Everyman’s Library, 1966.
2. Ebers, Georg, Egypt: Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque, New York, Cassell & Company, Ltd., 1878-79, Vol. I, pp. 80-82, Vol. II, pp.223, 310, 316
3. Weir, Shelagh, The Bedouin, London, World of lslam Festival Publishing Co., Ltd., 1976, p. 59
4. Abdel-Hadi, Mahmoud, "An Art of the Egyptian Countryside," in HABIBI, Vol. 3, No.3, Mountain View, California, 1976, p. 9
5. Wilkinson, Sir John Gardner, Modem Egypt and Thebes, London, John Murray, 1843, Vol. II, p. 268
6. McDowell, Bart, Gypsies: Wanderers of the World, Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society, 1970, p. 161
7. Ibid., p. 161
8. Father Anastas, "The Nawar or Gypsies of the East," in The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Vol. VII, No.4, Monograph IV, Edinburgh, 1913-14, pp. 298-319

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