A nomad (Greek: νομάς, nomas, plural tribe) is a member of a
community of people who live in different locations, moving from one
place to another in search of grasslands for their animals. Among
the various ways nomads relate to their environment, one can
distinguish the hunter-gatherer, the pastoral nomad owning livestock,
or the "modern" peripatetic nomad. As of 1995, there were an estimated
30–40 million nomads in the world.
Nomadic hunting and gathering, following seasonally available wild
plants and game, is by far the oldest human subsistence
method. Pastoralists raise herds, driving them, or
moving with them, in patterns that normally avoid depleting pastures
beyond their ability to recover.
Nomadism is also a lifestyle adapted to infertile regions such as
steppe, tundra, or ice and sand, where mobility is the most efficient
strategy for exploiting scarce resources. For example, many groups in
the tundra are reindeer herders and are semi-nomadic, following forage
for their animals. These nomads sometimes adapt the use of high
technology such as solar photovoltaics to reduce their dependence on
Sometimes also described as "nomadic" are the various itinerant
populations who move about in densely populated areas living not on
natural resources, but by offering services (craft or trade) to the
resident population. These groups are known as "peripatetic
1 Common characteristics
3.2 Increase in post-Soviet Central Asia
4 Contemporary peripatetic minorities in Europe and Asia
4.1 Romani people
4.2 Dom people
5 Image gallery
6 See also
8 Further reading
Romani mother and child
Nomads on the Changtang, Ladakh
Rider in Mongolia, 2012. While nomadic life is less common in modern
times, the horse remains a national symbol in Mongolia.
Beja nomads from Northeast Africa
A picture of a woman from the Afshar clan on the edge of the Khabr
National Park in southeastern Iran
A nomad is a person with no settled home, moving from place to place
as a way of obtaining food, finding pasture for livestock, or
otherwise making a living. The word
Nomad comes from a Greek word that
means one who wanders for pasture. Most nomadic groups follow a fixed
annual or seasonal pattern of movements and settlements. Nomadic
peoples traditionally travel by animal or canoe or on foot. Today,
some nomads travel by motor vehicle. Most nomads live in tents or
other portable shelters.
Nomads keep moving for different reasons. Nomadic foragers move in
search of game, edible plants, and water. The Australian Aborigines,
Negritos of Southeast Asia, and San of Africa, for example,
traditionally move from camp to camp to hunt and to gather wild
plants. Some tribes of the Americas followed this way of life.
Pastoral nomads make their living raising livestock, such as camels,
cattle, goats, horses, sheep, or yaks, Gaddi tribe of Himachal Pradesh
India is one such tribe. These nomads travel to find more camels,
goats, and sheep through the deserts of Arabia and northern Africa.
Fulani and their cattle travel through the grasslands of
western Africa. Some nomadic peoples, especially herders, may also
move to raid settled communities or avoid enemies. Nomadic
craftworkers and merchants travel to find and serve customers. They
Lohar blacksmiths of India, the Romani traders, and the
Most nomads travel in groups of families called bands or tribes. These
groups are based on kinship and marriage ties or on formal agreements
of cooperation. A council of adult males makes most of the decisions,
though some tribes have chiefs.
In the case of Mongolian nomads, a family moves twice a year. These
two movements would generally occur during the summer and winter. The
winter location is usually located near mountains in a valley and most
families already have their fixed winter locations. The winter
locations have shelter for the animals and are not used by other
families while they are out. In the summer they move to a more open
area that the animals can graze. Most nomads usually move in the same
region and don't travel very far to a totally different region.
Because they usually circle around a large area, a community gets
formed and the other families generally know where the other ones are.
Most often, a family would not have the resources to move from one
province to another unless they are moving out of the area
permanently. A family can move on its own or with others and if it
moves alone, they are usually no more than a couple of kilometers from
each other. In the modern day there are no tribes and the people make
decisions among their family members, although they consult with the
elders on usual matters. The geographical closeness of families are
usually for mutual support. Pastoral nomad societies usually do not
have large population. One such society, the Mongols, gave rise to the
largest land empire in history. The
Mongols originally consisted of
loosely organized nomadic tribes in Mongolia, Manchuria, and Siberia.
In the late 12th century,
Genghis Khan united them and other nomadic
tribes to found the
Mongol Empire, which eventually stretched the
length of Asia.
The nomadic way of life has become increasingly rare. Many governments
dislike nomads because it is difficult to control their movement and
to obtain taxes from them. Many countries have converted pastures into
cropland and forced nomadic peoples into permanent settlements.
Main article: Hunter-gatherer
Starting fire by hand.
San people in Botswana.
'Nomadic' hunter-gatherers (also known as foragers) move from campsite
to campsite, following game and wild fruits and vegetables. Hunting
and gathering describes our ancestors' subsistence living style.
Following the development of agriculture, most hunter-gatherers were
eventually either displaced or converted to farming or pastoralist
groups. Only a few contemporary societies are classified as
hunter-gatherers; and some of these supplement, sometimes extensively,
their foraging activity with farming or keeping animals.
Main articles: Pastoralism, Transhumance, and nomadic pastoralism
Cuman nomads, Radziwiłł Chronicle, 13th century.
Lithograph showing nomads in Afghanistan.
A yurt in front of the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains. Approximately 30% of
the Mongolia's 3 million people are nomadic or semi-nomadic.
A Sami (Lapp) family in Norway around 1900.
Reindeer have been herded
for centuries by several Arctic and Subarctic people including the
Sami and the Nenets.
Pastoral nomads are nomads moving between pastures. Nomadic
pastoralism is thought to have developed in three stages that
accompanied population growth and an increase in the complexity of
social organization. Karim Sadr has proposed the following stages:
Pastoralism: This is a mixed economy with a symbiosis within the
Agropastoralism: This is when symbiosis is between segments or clans
within an ethnic group.
True Nomadism: This is when symbiosis is at the regional level,
generally between specialised nomadic and agricultural populations.
The pastoralists are sedentary to a certain area, as they move between
the permanent spring, summer, autumn and winter (or dry and wet
season) pastures for their livestock. The nomads moved depending on
the availability of resources.
Nomadic pastoralism seems to have developed as a part of the secondary
products revolution proposed by Andrew Sherratt, in which early
Neolithic cultures that had used animals as live meat ("on
the hoof") also began using animals for their secondary products, for
example, milk and its associated dairy products, wool and other animal
hair, hides and consequently leather, manure for fuel and fertilizer,
and traction.
The first nomadic pastoral society developed in the period from
8,500–6,500 BC in the area of the southern Levant.
There, during a period of increasing aridity, Pre-Pottery
(PPNB) cultures in the Sinai were replaced by a nomadic, pastoral
pottery-using culture, which seems to have been a cultural fusion
between a newly arrived
Mesolithic people from
Egypt (the Harifian
culture), adopting their nomadic hunting lifestyle to the raising of
This lifestyle quickly developed into what Jaris Yurins has called the
circum-Arabian nomadic pastoral techno-complex and is possibly
associated with the appearance of
Semitic languages in the region of
the Ancient Near East. The rapid spread of such nomadic pastoralism
was typical of such later developments as of the
Yamnaya culture of
the horse and cattle nomads of the Eurasian steppe, or of the Mongol
spread of the later Middle Ages.
Trekboer in southern Africa adopted nomadism from the 17th
Increase in post-Soviet Central Asia
One of the results of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the
subsequent political independence and economic collapse of its Central
Asian republics has been the resurgence of pastoral nomadism.
Kyrgyz people as a representative example, nomadism was the
centre of their economy before Russian colonization at the turn of the
20th century, when they were settled into agricultural villages. The
population became increasingly urbanized after World War II, but some
people still take their herds of horses and cows to high pastures
(jailoo) every summer, continuing a pattern of transhumance.[citation
Since the 1990s, as the cash economy shrank, unemployed relatives were
reabsorbed into family farms, and the importance of this form of
nomadism has increased. The symbols of nomadism,
specifically the crown of the grey felt tent known as the yurt,
appears on the national flag, emphasizing the central importance of
nomadism in the genesis of the modern nation of Kyrgyzstan.[citation
See also: Sedentism
From 1920 to 2008, population of nomadic pastoral tribes slowly
decreased from over a quarter of Iran's population. Tribal
pastures were nationalized during the 1960s. The National Commission
UNESCO registered the population of
Iran at 21 million in 1963, of
whom two million (9.5%) were nomads. Although the nomadic
Iran has dramatically decreased in the 20th century,
Iran still has one of the largest nomadic populations in the world, an
estimated 1.5 million in a country of about 70 million.
Kazakhstan where the major agricultural activity was nomadic
herding, forced collectivization under Joseph Stalin's rule met
with massive resistance and major losses and confiscation of
Kazakhstan fell from 7 million cattle to
1.6 million and from 22 million sheep to 1.7 million. The resulting
famine of 1931–1934 caused some 1.5 million deaths: this represents
more than 40% of the total Kazakh population at that time.
In the 1950s as well as the 1960s, large numbers of
the Middle East started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to
settle in the cities of the Middle East, especially as home ranges
have shrunk and population levels have grown. Government policies in
Egypt and Israel, oil production in
Libya and the Persian Gulf, as
well as a desire for improved standards of living, effectively led
Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather
than stateless nomadic herders. A century ago nomadic
made up some 10% of the total
Arab population. Today they account for
some 1% of the total.
At independence in 1960,
Mauritania was essentially a nomadic society.
The great Sahel droughts of the early 1970s caused massive problems in
a country where 85% of its inhabitants were nomadic herders. Today
only 15% remain nomads.
As many as 2 million nomadic
Kuchis wandered over
Afghanistan in the
years before the Soviet invasion, and most experts agreed that by 2000
the number had fallen dramatically, perhaps by half. The severe
drought had destroyed 80% of the livestock in some areas.
Niger experienced a serious food crisis in 2005 following erratic
rainfall and desert locust invasions. Nomads such as the
Fulani, who make up about 20% of Niger's 12.9 million population, had
been so badly hit by the
Niger food crisis that their already fragile
way of life is at risk. Nomads in
Mali were also affected.
Contemporary peripatetic minorities in Europe and Asia
This section may stray from the topic of the article. Please help
improve this section or discuss this issue on the talk page. (July
Main article: Itinerant groups in Europe
Further information: Vagrancy (people)
A tent of Romani nomads in Hungary, 19th century.
"Peripatetic minorities" are mobile populations moving among settled
populations offering a craft or trade.
Each existing community is primarily endogamous, and subsists
traditionally on a variety of commercial or service activities.
Formerly, all or a majority of their members were itinerant, and this
largely holds true today. Migration generally takes place within the
political boundaries of a single state these days.
Each of the peripatetic communities is multilingual; it speaks one or
more of the languages spoken by the local sedentary populations, and,
additionally, within each group, a separate dialect or language is
spoken. The latter are either of Indic or Iranian
origin, and many are structured somewhat like an
argot or secret language, with vocabularies drawn from various
languages. There are indications that in northern
Iran at least one
community speaks Romani language, and some groups in
Turkey also speak
Further information: Romani people
Further information: Dom people
In Afghanistan, the Nausar worked as tinkers and animal dealers.
Ghorbat men mainly made sieves, drums, and bird cages, and the women
peddled these as well as other items of household and personal use;
they also worked as moneylenders to rural women. Peddling and the sale
of various goods was also practiced by men and women of various
groups, such as the Jalali, the Pikraj, the Shadibaz, the Noristani,
and the Vangawala. The latter and the Pikraj also worked as animal
dealers. Some men among the Shadibaz and the Vangawala entertained as
monkey or bear handlers and snake charmers; men and women among the
Baluch were musicians and dancers. The Baluch men were warriors that
were feared by neighboring tribes and often were used as mercenaries.
Jogi men and women had diverse subsistence activities, such as dealing
in horses, harvesting, fortune-telling, bloodletting, and
Iran the Asheq of Azerbaijan, the Challi of Baluchistan, the Luti
of Kurdistan, Kermānshāh, Īlām, and Lorestān, the Mehtar in the
Mamasani district, the Sazandeh of Band-i Amir and Marv-dasht, and the
Toshmal among the Bakhtyari pastoral groups worked as professional
musicians. The men among the Kowli worked as tinkers, smiths,
musicians, and monkey and bear handlers; they also made baskets,
sieves, and brooms and dealt in donkeys. Their women made a living
from peddling, begging, and fortune-telling.
The Ghorbat among the Basseri were smiths and tinkers, traded in pack
animals, and made sieves, reed mats, and small wooden implements. In
the Fārs region, the Qarbalband, the Kuli, and Luli were reported to
work as smiths and to make baskets and sieves; they also dealt in pack
animals, and their women peddled various goods among pastoral nomads.
In the same region, the Changi and Luti were musicians and balladeers,
and their children learned these professions from the age of 7 or 8
The nomadic groups in
Turkey make and sell cradles, deal in animals,
and play music. The men of the sedentary groups work in towns as
scavengers and hangmen; elsewhere they are fishermen, smiths, basket
makers, and singers; their women dance at feasts and tell fortunes.
Abdal men played music and made sieves, brooms, and wooden spoons for
a living. The Tahtacı traditionally worked as lumberers; with
increased sedentarization, however, they have taken to agriculture and
Little is known for certain about the past of these communities; the
history of each is almost entirely contained in their oral traditions.
Although some groups—such as the Vangawala—are of Indian origin,
some—like the Noristani—are most probably of local origin; still
others probably migrated from adjoining areas. The Ghorbat and the
Shadibaz claim to have originally come from
Iran and Multan,
respectively, and Tahtacı traditional accounts mention either Baghdad
or Khorāsān as their original home. The Baluch say
they[clarification needed] were attached as a service community to the
Jamshedi, after they fled Baluchistan because of feuds.
Yörüks are the nomadic people who live in Turkey. Still some groups
such as Sarıkeçililer continues nomadic lifestyle between coastal
Taurus Mountains even though most of them were
settled by both late Ottoman and Turkish republic gets
Snake charmer from Telungu community of Sri Lanka.
Scythian horseman from the general area of the Ili river, Pazyryk,
Yeniche people in the 15th century
Bedouin lighting a camp fire in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Kyrgyz nomads in the steppes of the Russian Empire, Uzbekistan, by
pioneer color photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, c. 1910.
Tuareg in Mali, 1974.
Kyrgyz nomads, 1869-1870.
Nomads in the
Desert (Giulio Rosati).
Gros Ventre (Atsina) American Indians moving camps with travois for
transporting skin lodges and belongings.
House barge of the Sea Gypsies, Indonesia. 1914-1921
Photograph of Bedouins (wandering Arabs) of Tunisia, 1899
Banjara Woman of India.
Indian Gypsies painting by well-known artiste Raja Ravi Varma
List of nomadic peoples
Nomadic peoples of Europe
Seasonal human migration
Nomads of India
Antlers Gallery: The 'nomadic' gallery, Bristol
Figurative use of the term:
Third culture kid
^ In pictures: Tibetan nomads BBC News
^ a b Annamoradnejad, Rahimberdi; Lotfi, Sedigheh. "Demographic
changes of nomadic communities in
Iran (1956–2008)". Asian
Population Studies. 6: 335–345.
^ "Nomads: At the Crossroads – The Facts". New Internationalist
(266). April 5, 1995.
^ Svetlana V. Obydenkova and Joshua M. Pearce. Technical viability of
mobile solar photovoltaic systems for indigenous nomadic communities
in northern latitudes. Renewable Energy, 89, 253–67 (2016).
^ Teichmann, Michael. "ROMBASE: Didactically edited information on
^ Rao, Aparna (1987). The concept of peripatetics: An introduction.
Cologne: Bohlau Verlag. pp. 1–32.
^ "BBC NEWS - In Pictures - Your pictures: Ed Vallance". Retrieved 29
^ Yee, Danny (1991). "The Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast
Africa Karim Sadr [Book Review]".
^ Nomads of the Middle East, David Zeidan, OM-IRC, 1995
^ a b Patterns of Subsistence: Pastoralism
^ Fouché, Leo (1963) . "V: Foundation of the Cape Colony,
1652-1708". In Walker, Eric Anderson. The Cambridge History of the
British Empire. VIII: South Africa, Rhodesia and the Protectorates.
Cambridge: CUP Archive. p. 136. Retrieved 2016-11-16. [...] van
der Stel recognised the roving tendency among the colonists and tried
to arrest it. A proclamation of 1692 illustrated his fears: it stated
that colonists were making a living by grazing cattle and bartering in
the interior [...]. This seems clear proof that the trekboer, as a
distinct type, was coming into existence during the time of van der
Stel. [...] Generation after generation of these hardy and
self-reliant nomads pushed the frontiers of civilisation further into
Livestock Development in Central Asia, FAO Rural
^ "Persian & Iranian Nomads at Best
Iran Travel.com". Retrieved 29
^ ""Censuses of Pastoral Nomads and Some General Remarks about the
Census of Nomadic
Iran in 1998" by Moussavi-Nejad, Ebrahim -
Nomadic Peoples, Vol. 7, Issue 2, December 2003 - Online Research
Library: Questia". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
^ Iran's nomads going extinct, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2008
^ "National Geographic: Images of Animals, Nature, and Cultures".
Retrieved 29 April 2015.
^ "Kazahstan Student Society in the United Kingdom". Retrieved 29
^ "General information". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
^ The Middle East People Groups and Their Distribution, DAVID ZEIDAN,
Mauritania - POLITICAL POWER IN THE MID-1980s, U.S. Library of
Drought Driving Nomads From Desert, Los Angeles Times, June
Niger way of life 'under threat', BBC News, August 16, 2005
^ Mali's nomads face famine BBC News, August 9, 2005
^ Peripatetics of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey
^ "Customary Strangers". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nomads.
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
Oberfalzerova, Alena. (2006): Metaphors and Nomads, Triton, Prague.
Sadr, Karim. The Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast Africa,
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8122-3066-3
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The Songlines (1987)
Deleuze and Guattari,
A Thousand Plateaus (1980)
Melvyn Goldstein: The Impact of China's Reform Policy on the Nomads of
The Remote World of Tibet's Nomads
Grousset, René. L'Empire des Steppes (1939) (in French)
Michael Haerdter Remarks on modernity, mobility, nomadism and the arts
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