Gypsies-art - 4/7/02
"Gypsies in Period" by Sayidda Rakli Zada Orlenda.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Gypsies in Period
by Sayidda Rakli Zada Orlenda
The origin of the Gypsies is an often confusing one, between the inconsistencies of the documentation of the Gaje (non-gypsy) or the legends that have been passed down from the Roma themselves, you can find a different story of their beginnings at every turn. What I will try to do in this class is try to sort out the myths and the facts, and pull together a cognizant history of the Roma people in period.
No one source can definitively say why they left India at all. One theory is that the gypsies were in the Indus River Valley before the rise of Hinduism. As the caste system was set up, the gypsies, who could not assimilate to their new "masters", and could not seemingly be killed off, they set up the Sudra caste, the servants of the other three castes in Hinduism. Another theory states that the gypsies were thrown out of India by their own people because of a disagreement that lead to a long and bloody war. This theory is supported by the legend of Tchen and Gan. A legend that the gypsies still tell today. Still another theory believes that Alexander led the first gypsies from India, sending them to Macedonia to work metal for him. As up until World War II, the Macedonian Gypsies spoke the purest form of Romany, the closest version to the Sanskrit on which it is based.
Regardless of which theory is correct, in c. 400 A.D., we see the first mention of the group that would one day be called the Gypsies. Bahram Gur, Shah of Persia, sends for 10,000 Luri (or Zotts, depending on which translation) to be brought from the borders of India into his court. These Zotts were renowned musicians and dancers at this time. They became favorites of the Persian court, to the point that once the Caliphs took over, the Zotts were moved to Antioch to keep them away from the courts in case they were still sympathetic to the deposed Shah. When they went to Antioch, they took their music, and their cattle. They were a settled people there, until c. 820 A.D., when they were forcibly moved from the area to Baghdad, then separated into smaller groups so as not to cause any more trouble for the Arabs over their cattle’s grazing rights.
By 1050 A.D., the gypsies had made their way to Constantinople and the rest of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Monomachus asked the “Adsincani” (derived from the Greek "Atsinganoi" which is the root word for various names that the gypsies are called now, such as Tzigane, Zincali, etc.) to rid his forests of the wild animals which were killing off his stock in his hunting preserve. These people were well known for their ability with animals, along with their proficiency at metalwork and music.
As the Ottoman Empire spread, so did the gypsies. They are recorded in Serbia in 1348, Bulgaria in 1378 and can be documented in Hungary in 1383. The Ottomans were actually the first to refer to the gypsies as "Egyptians" in 1396 in what is now Bulgaria. These were a useful and well-received people in the Middle East and Eastern Europe during this time on the whole. The only place that this could not be said was true was in Romania. In 1385 there is the first record of gypsy slaves. But even then, they were coveted all over for their abilities in metalwork, music and animal handling. They also became well known as proficient mercenaries for hire, their prowess on the field legendary in Hungary and Romania, both fighting for the Turks and against them.
In 1407, everything changed for the gypsies. Historians are as opinionated as to how they came up with the idea to go to Western Europe as penitent pilgrims. To the gypsies, this "pilgrimage" is known as the Hakko Baro, or the Great Game/Scam. They appeared outside of the gates of Hildesheim, Germany, with letters from King Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, granting them safe passage through all lands under his domain. From there, they traveled to Italy, telling their story to the Pope, who in turn gave them letters of safe passage and a letter stating that all dioceses that these people come across would give them money and food. When they showed up with these letters outside the gates of Paris in 1427, they caused quite a commotion. An alderman wrote in his journal of their approach to the gates, with the "barely clad women" telling peoples’ fortunes, and their men dressed in scarlet, daring you to ignore them. All in their travelling group stayed outside the gates but for their leaders, who presented the letters to the authorities in the city.
Once they appeared in Western Europe, opinions began to change on how useful and alike to others the Gypsies were. In Eastern Europe and Germany, you see legislation begin to be passed forbidding gypsies entry into certain towns. The reasoning behind these laws was to quell the idea that they gypsies were Turkish spies and traitors to whatever country they were in at the time. Unfortunately, all this seemed to do was incite more and more suspicion, which eventually made the Gypsies second-class citizens in most Europeans’ eyes.
By the mid-16th century, the gypsies were not even safe in Turkish-controlled lands. What was different here was the fact that the settled Gypsies were the ones being persecuted here, instead of the nomadic Gypsies. They were taxed heavily, and "persuaded" to convert to Islam, sometimes being imprisoned and/or killed for not converting.
From this time period on, Gypsies become more outcast, with the peak of dehumanization and torture appearing during World War II with the Final Solution encompassing Gypsies along with Jews. Along with the human loss from that time, we also lost many of the people who actually may have been able to answer some of the questions that historians still pose today as to the origins of this people.
"Gypsies: from India to the Mediterranean" Donald Kenrick, 1993. University of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN: 2865650820
"Gypsies: Peoples of Europe" Angus Fraser, 1994. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN: 0631196056
"Pariah Syndrome" Ian Hancock, 1987. Karoma Publishers, Inc. ISBN: 0897200799
"A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia" David M. Crowe, 1996. St. Martin’s Press. ISBN: 0312129467
"Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanes)" Donald Kenrick and Gillian Taylor, 1998. Scarecrow Press. ISBN: 0810834448
"Handbook of the Vlax Romani" Ian Hancock, 1995. Slavica Publishers. ISBN: 0893572586
"The Rom: Walking the Paths of the Gypsies" Roger Moreau, 1997. Key Porter Books. ISBN: 1550138685
"History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 1: Empire of the Gazis 1280-1808" Stanford Shw, 1976. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521212804
"Gypsies Their Life, Lore, and Legends" Konrad Bercovici, 1983. Random House Publishers. ISBN:051741290x
"Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire" Lord Kinross, 1988. William Morrow and Co. ISBN: 0688080936
http://www.patrin.com/ - The Patrin Web Journal: Romani Culture and History
http://www.gypsyloresociety.org/ - The Gypsy Lore Society
http://www.romani.org/ - Romani.org homepage
http://www.domresearchcenter.com/ - Dom Research Center – Middle East and North African Gypsy Studies
http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/goudenhoorn/72karin.html – Golden Horn – A Journal of Byzantium
http://sca.lib.liv.ac.uk/collections/gypsy/intro.htm – Gypsy Collections at the University of Liverpool
http://www.herts.ac.uk/UHPress/Gypsies.html – University of Hertfortshire Press – Romani Publications
http://website.lineone.net/~rtfhs/ - Romany & Traveller Family History Society
http://www.romove.cz/roma/ - Roma in the Czech Republic
http://www2.arnes.si/~eusmith/Romany/ - Romany Language
http://www.eagnet.com/edipage/areaserv/camdentor/gypsyclass.htm – 15th and 16th Century Gypsy Women’s Costume
http://web.tiscali.it/imninalu/english.htm – Im Nin’alu’s Page – Comparison of Roma and Jewish Persecution
http://home.swipnet.se/~w-69051/romapeople.html - The Roma People
Copyright 2002 by Amber Hansford, 96 Von Steuben, St. Marys, GA 31558. <hawthorn62 at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.