Sema Balaman (Independent Researcher, semabalaman@usa.net).

Mugats - The Life of Central Asian Gypsies

The proposed presentation is about an on-going documentary project on Mugat
societies who are dispersed to several regions in Central Asia. In 2006, Sema
Balaman and her team has embarked on a mission of visual-ethnography, and so
far, the project has covered several countries including Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China, and parts of Pakistan, documenting
the everyday lives, traditions and language of Mugat societies.

For centuries –and up until to this day-, Central Asia has been a melting
pot of various tribes and cultures, among which the Russian, Turkic, and the
Persian being the most dominant ones. All societies in the region are shaped
by the influence of these cultures at different degrees and the result is a
region populated with various multicultural societies.

On a closer look, the documentation intends to capture the characteristics of
Mugat 's social life and the various multicultural elements that it embodies
and reflects: Gypsy identity, Traditions, Turkic folklore, Soviet ideology,
Zoroastrian, Islam-Sufism and pre-Islamic beliefs among others. Their identity
is further influenced by past and current political and social conditions.
But, above all, the main factor that redefines Mugat’s social codes and
seasonal migration patterns today is the economic conditions.

Despite all the common elements that it shares with neighboring cultures, it
is still possible to recognize a distinct Mugat identity that resonates quite
powerfully up to this day. The sad fact is that Mugat societies may not be
able to resist to the global trend of cultural homogenization for long. The
identity and language of tribal cultures such as Mugats are highly susceptible
to deterioration in a matter of decades. This realization was the main drive
behind our efforts to archive as much material as possible before its too late
and as to why we find it utterly important to document their culture.