the-south-asian Life & Times          October -December 2009



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Rabari – the semi-nomads of Kutch

By Subhasish Chakraborty

Rabari are a semi-nomadic pastoral tribe found mainly in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. Though many now live in permanent settlements, they are believed to have originally migrated from Baluchistan more than a millennium ago.

The Kutch area in the western-most state of India – Gujarat – is also the home of the semi-nomadic Rabari tribe. I first heard of the Rabari from my archaeologist aunt who spent many years in Gujarat in the 90s. Ever since, I’ve had a burning desire to see the Rabari in their own environs. I got the opportunity to do so on a recent visit to Ahmedabad, the capital city of Gujarat.

We started our journey to Kutch, Bhuj to be precise, early in the morning. It was to be a six-hour drive from Ahmedabad. The road was excellent and the drive beautiful. By the time we arrived at the Bhuj Tourist Bungalow, it was evening. It would be appropriate to mention that Bhuj was at the epicentre of the devastating earthquake of 2001 and more than 7000 people perished – in Bhuj alone. Thousands of quakeproof houses have since been built in the Bhuj area and many more are under construction.

The following morning we drove towards the Rann of Kutch - a large barren area of salt marshes and mud flats – the heartland of the Rabari people. My guide Pavitran was of the opinion that we needed to drive 80 km away from Bhuj to a place called Parkar Vas, the stronghold of the Rabari. Parkar Vas is also where the renowned Kala Raksha Trust is located - a trust dedicated to preserving the culture of small ethnic communities, including the Rabari, through their traditional arts. The trust is run by an American lady – Judy Frater - who has spent nearly 25 years living in Kutch.

As our car sped out of the narrow alleyways of Bhuj towards the deserted highway, I could sense a silence descending. The population was beginning to get sparse and the landscape desolate. Just 25 km out of Bhuj, as the car took a sharp right turn, we saw, in the distance, a group of Rabari men and women on the move with their camels, probably looking for a place to pitch camp. The men folk wore turbans and were dressed in white while the women wore black skirts with tiny mirrors embroidered on them.

In Kutch, there are about 2500-3000 Rabari families. There are two types of Rabari – the Vagadia from Eastern Kutch and the Dhebaria from the Anjar Taluka. The white dress is common to all Rabari men.

Read the complete article in the print issue of SALT




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