A Taste for Freedom - The Case of the Gomal Nomads

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A Taste for Freedom - The Case of the Gomal Nomads, Akbar S. Ahmed
Published in Khyber.ORG on Wednesday, September 8 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)


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A Taste for Freedom - The Case of the Gomal Nomads

Akbar S. Ahmed

Publishing Date: Wednesday, September 8 2004

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Dr Akbar S. Ahmed has published extensively on tribal life in Pakistan, particularly on the Pathans. He was at one time Political Agent with the Orakzais.

THIS PAPER is speculative and exploratory. Data were gathered during the period I was Political Agent in South Waziristan Agency (1978-1980) in Pakistan where some groups of the nomadic Suleman Khel and Dottani tribes live. These tribes have traditionally used the Gomal route to enter Pakistan, along the Gomal River which flows from Afghanistan into the Agency to join the Indus near Dera Ismail Khan. Over the last two generations some members of these tribes have decided to settle along the Gomal. Indeed, their association with the Gomal, reinforced by the presence of those who settled here created a name for them. They are known and refer to themselves - as "De Gomal Khalq"(the people of Gomal). In this paper, I will, therefore, refer to the two tribes under discussion as the Gomal nomads.

Nomad ethnographies have traditionally, and perhaps correctly, placed an emphasis on the dominant role of ecology as a factor shaping society; indeed, comparative studies have almost come to regard nomadism as an ecological adaptation. Climate and terrain, availability of pasture and water, and types of animals herded, are seen to influence patterns of movement and forms of herding and camping associations (Johnson 1969; Krader 1959; Rubel 1969; Spooner 1973; Sweet 1965). Thus nomadism is treated as a "trait of cultural ecology", characterized by "lack of interest in fixed property and fixed resources" (Spooner 1973: 3-4). Political structures, too, are seen as related to ecology (Barth 1961, 1962; Black Michaud 1975; Salzman 1967; Sweet 1965). Reflecting another view, Bates (1971) and Irons (1974) supported Lattimore's argument (1940) that nomadism may be also seen as an adaptation to the political rather than the natural environment. Although sufficient literature exists on the above themes, there is a conspicuous lacuna on the ideological/cultural content of nomadic life as it relates to concrete administrative/political zones. The Gomal nomads exhibit a defined ideological position which instructs daily life. This ideological position offers additional significant explanations for understanding Gomal nomads and phases of their sedentarization.

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A Taste for Freedom - The Case of the Gomal Nomads, Akbar S. Ahmed
Published in Khyber.ORG on Wednesday, September 8 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)