We are who we are because of the people who came before us and who followed us. We identify ourselves with names, last names, parents, family, community and nationality. Each carries certain types of characteristics which distinguish us from others and help us understand ourselves and each other as well.
I am always wondering about our ancestors and their origins. After reading about India’s history I learned that in search of green pastures for their cattle our tribe, called Rabari, moved to India from various parts of the world. Their survival depended on cattle so they had to keep migrating from place to place for enough food and water. The hardships they experienced during this time made them very rough and tough, but they carried some extraordinary characteristics. This was hard to recognize because it was very difficult for them to fit in with a settled society and keep themselves out of trouble since their everyday life was nothing but trouble.
In National Geography (September -1993) Robyn Davidson wrote a research article about India’s Rabari tribe. She spent 75 days traveling with them and slept under a tent sometimes with sheep, goats, and also once with deadly snake. She wrote, “I have never done anything in my life so demanding as traveling with Rabari.” In the last paragraph she wrote, “Something invaluable will be lost if their migration ceases.” The distinguish qualities she noticed in our tribe are: “Tolerance, wiliness, independence, courage and wit.” She also said, “When life is so brutal, the harmony of the group is essential to survival.”
With regard to how the women of our tribe are treated she wrote, “Although they do not sit in panchayats, or councils, no one doubts they are equal partners back home their work is as valued as men’s. They can shop and do business in town without being chaperoned and without covering their faces. The power between the sexes is balanced, producing a confidence and sauciness in the woman and humorous appreciation in the men.”
Some other highlights from this article are:
“A system rife with corruption, there is no law the Rabari can trust, no social safety net beyond the bonds of family and caste.” (p.76)
“According to one tradition all the Rabari once lived in Rajasthan in the Great Indian Desert. Over the centuries they spread into many other states, integrating themselves into Hindu culture as they went, splintering into countless sub castes, but retaining always their rabainess, their ‘otherness.’” (p. 70)
“They endured everything without complaint, and they would often walk 20 extra miles to a temple in order to thank divinities for life. I never saw any one of them commit an act of cruelty. And there was nothing servile about them.” (p. 92)
“They asked for neither charity nor an easy life, only recognitions of the value of their expertise. I do not wish to glorify them. They are as capable of underhandedness as anyone in their struggle for survival. Their herds and flocks do untold damage but no more so venality of the politicians and police who exploit them.” (p. 92)
“They take a spiritual bath in the music –their troubles washed away with songs as old as India.” (p. 87) (According to my knowledge these are Ruchas from Sam Veda which is one of the four famous Vedas).
“How comforting it must be to pass through life’s storms always with support of the group, infusing every thought with one voice extending down through the generations, saying, ‘It is all right. We all are here. There is no such thing as alone.’ (p .87)
Thank you Robyn, for writing such a great article in National Geography about us, a semi-nomadic caste from the northwest region of India. Pastoralists called Rabaris those “Outside the way” as it means.
By Rekha Sindhal