ALVIN NG

The Last of the Guardians

Somewhere in the vast hinterlands, where the desert landscape stretches across the horizon, undisturbed by man till it touches the sky, lies the homelands of the Rabari, an indigenous ethnic minority scattered across the state of Gujarat. Also known in a loftier title as the Guardians of the camels and livestock, the Rabaris are a nomadic pastoral community that has been practicing animal husbandry since ancient times, a tradition also intimately entwined with their customs and mythical origins.

As told in folktales handed down from past generations, the mountainous region of the Himalayas was the birthplace of the first Rabari, formed by Lord Shiva to care for an animal which the Goddess Parvati had created from the sand of her skin. As time went by after the first creation, the descendants of the first Rabari, with the gods’ blessings and gifts, began to migrate down to the fertile lands of the South, bringing along the camels that they have cared for and gradually settling down in areas across the country, predominantly along the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

As a community that cherishes its culture and way of life, the Rabaris today are facing a multitude of obstacles that have driven them to an uncharted path. The ancient hinterlands that the Rabaris once grazed freely are rapidly shrinking due to many industrialization policies introduced by the current government to develop the area. This is coupled with the allure of a better life in urban cities enticing many Rabari families to settle in the urban centres, where the lack of formal education drives them into various odd job industries as unskilled laborers.

These various obstacles have rendered their way of life nearly impossible to continue. As a result, throughout the family clans, there has been a near-unanimous agreement to push the youths into schools to attain the necessary educational requirements to sustain a modern way of life. However, this strategy, in turn, comes with its own set of obstacles: primarily, the discontinuation of their ancient heritage.

With the youth preferring modern culture over their own, coupled with a lack of governmental response towards preserving its culture and history, the elders are the only ones left still practicing the old way of life. Many Rabaris have speculated that the disappearance of their culture has already begun, and it is only a matter of time before it will only exist in the names of future descendants.

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