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The Lambani Gypsy Tribe

July 21, 2010 2 min read

It is my good fortune to have spent a lot of time with the members of this tribe, and to have the opportunity to  explore their memes or their psychological make-up as well as their lifestyle. I have lived in their home, eaten their food and worked closely with them.

A few notes from conversations over the years.

First, many of them have strikingly good features. Handsome men and gorgeous women. With innate beauty shining through their faces.

Second, their language is a hybrid of a western Gujarat dialect and a South Indian dialect …maybe this indicates a migration pattern.

Third, their art and craft that is on its deathbed, is similar to that of their relatives in the North West. With each migratory step towards the south, icons and techniques have changed … but the similarities are much greater than the variations and it indicates a unified origin.

And fourth, for various reasons they remained isolated from the education programs that have led to India’s development and as a result, remain financially underdeveloped as a community.

Some of their core beliefs unite them to nature, in ways that the modern world cannot hope to achieve. For example, they are one with the forests in every way. They know the trees, can climb them gracefully, are aware of all the threats and the gifts of the forest, and are not fazed by the ants and the scorpions that abound. Their innate knowledge comes from the bonding they share with all these elements, since their toddler days. It is almost as though they are one of the organs of the living forest organism.

I had once employed one of them to trim a few trees in my hillside forest. The man argued against the cutting of any branches at that stage in the life cylce of the tress, since their flowering season had begun and they would be bearing fruit within a few weeks. Cutting the branches at this stage, would be a sin. This, to me is akin to religion.

Most in hamlets, still use firewood for cooking. They could, chop up wood arbitrarily for their use. But they pick and choose only the dead wood – which not only works better, but also leaves the tree unharmed.

With the intermingling of city folk and tribal folk, the contrast is very stark. Unofrtunately it often works negatively for the tribe. They are seen as financially poorer and therefore, in a world that relies on money as the sole measure of value, these people are looked down upon. Sometimes even laughed at for their dress. And so, this gorgeous community, is giving up its traditions, in order to gel with the rest of the homogenised world.  No more hair jewelry. No more colorful handworked clothes. Daughters are not even taught these adornment skills.

They will retain their unique language forever, and maybe their pure beliefs revering nature, for another generation or two. And then they will be indistinguishable from the rest. Maybe even aspire to wear Ralph Laurens and Armanis. What an awful trade-off that will be!

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