By Tamir Yahya Abdul Ghaffar
Gypsies have been living and migrating throughout Egypt for a very long time, but there is little evidence that the Ghawazi (travelling female dancers) travelled throughout Egypt like the Gypsies. We cannot be sure that there are families of the Ghawazi scattered through all Egyptian governorates and villages.
It is likely that intermarriage between some Gypsies and Al Ghawazi has caused many scholars to confuse the two groups or to believe that there are Al Ghawazis in all provinces and villages. None of the researchers has made an analytical and comparative study of the types of the dances of either group, and this has led to confusion.
There are members of the Egyptian community who practice folk dances and their families are involved in arts such as music or singing and Egyptian society calls them Ghawazi although they are not from the Ghawazi group. Some of them live with the Al Ghawazi while others live in the wider Egyptian society.
One of the most important features of the Gypsies’ history is their association with ‘al-Zir Salim’, the hero of a folk story often narrated by storytellers, which speaks of the origins of the conflict between ‘al-Zir’ and ‘Jassas’ and of how al-Zir's enemies started trying to kill him when he was a child. This story is completely different to the events of the story of the Baramikah family to which Al Ghawazi claim they are associated.
The Ghawazi women's profession is dance. Most great Ghawazis stop dancing as they grow older in order to play the tambourine and drums for the young Ghawazi at their parties.
Some Gypsy female dancers are also fortune tellers and they practice traditional medicine. The Ghawazi men always play music to accompany the dancers at the Ghawazis’ performances or they organise parties and celebrations, while Gypsy men tend to do more lowly jobs in society.
In conclusion, I can say that although Ghawazi groups are similar to Gypsies, they are not Gypsies. We need to research and analyse different characteristics of both the Ghawazi and Gypsies’ dances to establish typological references for this form of folk art.