The first gypsies claimed to be the Christian nobility of Egypt, who had abandoned their possessions in order to retain their faith when the Muslims gained power. They were believed for a good period.
However, linguistic evidence strongly demonstrates that they actually originated in India, and moved west, migrating through the middle east into Europe. Although the Gypsies call themselves ‘Rom’ and their language is known as’Romani’, the Romani language has nothing in common with the language known as Romanian (which is a Romance language, derived from Latin and kin to French, Spanish, Italian, etc.). Romanibeen shown to be closely related to groups of languages and dialects (such as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Cashmiri) still spoken in India and of the same origin as Sanskrit.
They were often described as dark-skinned magicians, entertainers, smiths, horsebreakers and other skilled tradeworkers. There is a good possibility that they originated belly dancing.
They lived in tents. Ggypsy wagons are a recent introduction. The wagons date from the late 18th early 19th century. Before that, they travelled by foot and horseback, setting up tents by night. The classic gypsy caravan wagons were usually built by commercial carriage shops for the gypsies, since they took a lot of woodworking and other equipment.
Reliable period info on gypsies is sadly lacking- the only people writing about them were the ones who wanted rid of them at all cost. I think it was in the fifteenth century that the pogroms against them really got rolling…Because gypsies have remained very secluded and secretive, cultural “tainting” has been comparatively low, and modern practices may well reflect medieval practices.
In France it was thought that these same people came from Bohemia and thus they were called ‘Bohemes’…. [thus began the English word “bohemian”]. There are Elizabethan laws against dressing or acting “as an Egyptian,” which from the descriptions seem to be what we would call ‘gypsies.’ It is quite possible that the word “gypsy” came into use as an abreviation of “Egyptian” somewhat later than the actual arrival of the Rom in England.
The Romnichels, or Rom’nies, began to come to the United States from England in 1850. Their arrival coincided with an increase in the demand for draft horses in agriculture and then in urban transportation. Many Romnichels worked as horse traders, both in the travel-intensive acquisition of stock and in long-term urban sales stable enterprise. After the rapid decline in the horse trade following the First World War, most Romnichels relied on previously secondary enterprises, “basket-making,” including the manufacture and sale of rustic furniture, and fortune telling.
The Rom arrived in the United States and Canada from Serbia, Russia and Austria-Hungary beginning in the 1880s, as part of the larger wave of immigration from southern and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Primary immigration ended, for the most part, in 1914, with the beginning of the First World War and subsequent tightening of immigration restrictions. Many in this group specialized in coppersmith work, mainly the repair and refining of industrial equipment used in bakeries, laundries, confectioneries and other businesses. The Rom, too, developed the fortune-telling business in urban areas.
The Ludar, or “Rumanian Gypsies,” emigrated to North America during the great immigration from southern and eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914. Most of the Ludar came from northwestern Bosnia. Upon their arrival in North America they specialized as animal trainers and show people, and indeed passenger manifests show bears and monkeys as a major part of their baggage. Only a handful of items covering this group have been published, beginning in 1902. The ethnic language of the Ludar is a form of Romanian. They are occasionally referred to as Ursari in the literature.
Gypsies from Germany, generally referred to in the literature as Chikeners (Pennsylvania German, from German Zigeuner), sometimes refer to themselves as “Black Dutch.” (While the term “Black Dutch” has been adopted by these German Gypsies, it does not originate with this group and has been used ambiguously to refer to several non-Gypsy populations.) They are few in number and claim to have largely assimilated to Romnichel culture. In the past known as horse traders and basket makers, some continue to provide baskets to US Amish and Mennonite communities. The literature on this group is very sparse and unreliable.
The Hungarian (or Hungarian-Slovak) musicians also came to this country with the eastern European immigration. In the United States they continued as musicians to the Hungarian and Slovak immigrant settlements, and count the musical tradition as a basic cultural element.
The Irish Travelers immigrated, like the Romnichels, from the mid to late nineteenth century. The Irish Travelers specialized in the horse and mule trade, as well as in itinerant sales of goods and services; the latter gained in importance after the demise of the horse and mule trade. The literature also refers to this group as Irish Traders or, sometimes, Tinkers. Their ethnic language is referred to in the literature as Irish Traveler Cant.
The present population of Scottish Travelers in North America also dates from about 1850, although the 18th-century transportation records appear to refer to this group. Unlike that of the other groups, Scottish Traveler immigration has been continuous. Also unlike the other groups, Scottish Travelers have continued to travel between Scotland and North America, as well as between Canada and the United States, after immigration. Scottish Travelers also engaged in horse trading, but since the first quarter of the 20th century have specialized in itinerant sales and services.
Much of this information came from the Gypsy Lore Society.
The Gypsy has some queer, old-fashioned gold piece; this she takes to some goldsmith’s shop, at the window of which she has observed a basin full of old gold coins, and shows it to the goldsmith, asking him if he will purchase it. He looks at it attentively, and sees that it is of very pure gold; whereupon he says that he has no particular objection to buy it; but that as it is very old it is not of much value, and that he has several like it.
“Have you indeed, Master?” says the Gypsy; “then pray show them to me, and I will buy them; for, to tell you the truth, I would rather buy than sell pieces like this, for I have a great respect for them, and know their value: give me back my coin, and I will compare any you have with it.”
The goldsmith gives her back her coin, takes his basin of gold from the window, and places it on the counter. The Gypsy puts down her head, and pries into the basin. “Ah, I see nothing here like my coin,” says she. “Now, Master, to oblige me, take out a handful of the coins and lay them on the counter; I am a poor, honest woman, Master, and do not wish to put my hand into your basin. Oh! if I could find one coin like my own, I would give much money for it; barributer than it is worth.”
The goldsmith, to oblige the poor, simple, foreign creature (for such he believes her to be), and, with a considerable hope of profit, takes a handful of coins from the basin and puts them upon the counter.
“I fear there is none here like mine, Master,” says the Gypsy, moving the coins rapidly with the tips of her fingers. “No, no, there is not one here like mine – kek yeck, kek yeck – not one, not one. Stay, stay! What’s this, what’s this? So se cavo, so se cavo? Oh, here is one like mine; or if not quite like, like enough to suit me. Now, Master, what will you take for this coin?”
The goldsmith looks at it, and names a price considerably above the value; whereupon she says: “Now, Master, I will deal fairly with you: you have not asked me the full value of the coin by three three-groats, three-groats, three-groats; by trin tringurushis, tringurushis, tringurushis. So here’s the money you asked, Master, and three three-groats, three shillings, besides. God bless you, Master! You would have cheated yourself, but the poor woman would not let you; for though she is poor she is honest”: and thus she takes her leave, leaving the goldsmith very well satisfied with his customer – with little reason, however, for out of about twenty coins which he laid on the counter she had filched at least three, which her brown nimble fingers, though they seemingly scarcely touched the gold, contrived to convey up her sleeves.
This kind of pilfering is called by the English Gypsies cauring, and by the Spanish ustilar pastesas, or stealing with the fingers. The word caur seems to be connected with the English cower, and the Hebrew kãra, a word of frequent occurrence in the historical part of the Old Testament, and signifying to bend, stoop down, incurvare.
From: Romano Lavo-Lil
The Gypsy makes some poor simpleton of a lady believe that if the latter puts her gold into her hands, and she makes it up into a parcel, and puts it between the lady’s feather-bed and mattress, it will at the end of a month be multiplied a hundredfold, provided the lady does not look at it during all that time. On receiving the money she makes it up into a brown paper parcel, which she seals with wax, turns herself repeatedly round, squints, and spits, and then puts between the feather-bed and mattress – not the parcel of gold, but one exactly like it, which she has prepared beforehand, containing old halfpence, farthings, and the like; then, after cautioning the lady by no means to undo the parcel before the stated time, she takes her departure singing to herself:
O dear me! O dear me!
What dinnelies these gorgies be.
The above artifice is called by the English Gypsies the hukni, and by the Spanish hokhano baro, or the great lie. Hukni and hokano were originally one and the same word; the root seems to be the Sanscrit huhanã, lie, trick, deceit.
From: Romano Lavo-Lil
The horses were an integral part of life; they pulled the colorful wagons that were what these people called home. Often cared for by the children, it was essential that the horses be kind and quiet, with a willing disposition. They also had to be hardy, sound and easily kept due to the nature of their lives.
Easy to recognize, these magical horses come in nearly all colors. They have amazing amounts of hair. Manes that grow below the shoulder, tails that drag on the ground and feet that appear to be floating is only the beginning.
The Gypsy Horse, or Gypsy Vanner / Gypsy Cob as it is also referred, is truly a breed for all! This horse has the spirit to excel at all disciplines. There is a wide range in size and the average gypsy stands between 14 and 16.2 hands, which makes it a great prospect for adults or children alike. Its natural disposition allows it to be perfectly suited for new horse people or individuals who just desire an easy going partner. It’s abundance of mane, tail and feather set it apart from all other breeds
The beauty of this horse is surpassed only by their gentle and intelligent nature, making them highly sought after, even outside the Romany culture.
At one time, it was commonly believed that just as the body is a vehicle for the spirit on earth, the vardo is the vehicle for the body on earth. When someone died, their vardo and most of their possessions were burned because their “vehicle for the body” was no longer needed.
Funerals are a very important rite of passage for the Gypsy Traveler community. When a Gypsy dies it is usual for a vigil to be kept over the body, which is kept illuminated until after the time of the funeral. The deceased is usually buried with the owner’s intimate personal possessions such as jewelry and trinkets.
Some Gypsy funerals will attract people from all over the country to pay their respects and floral tributes are usually on a grand scale. Personal items belonging to the deceased such as clothing, bedding and china are usually burnt or destroyed after the funeral. Many years ago, the wagon was very often burnt as well, but this is rarely done today.
The Roma flag is comprised of blue and green traditional colors with the red wheel in the center. Blue is the blue sky and the heavens, and symbolizes eternal spiritual values. The green is the land, organic and growing, and symbolizes earthly values. with the red sixteen-spoked chakra in the center. The wheel in the center symbolizes movement and progress, and the burst of fire from which all creation emerged at the beginning of time.
This flag was approved in 1971 in a location near London at the first World Romani Congress which was funded in part by the World Council of Churches and the Indian Government; representatives from India and some 20 other countries were in attendance. At the congress, the green and blue flag from the 1933 conference, now embellished with the red, sixteen-spoked chakra, was reaffirmed as the national emblem of the Romani people, and the anthem, Dzelem dzelem, since sung at all congresses, was adopted.