Romanian Gypsies

By Peter van Beek

A mix of old and new technology.  Horse power on modern running gear.  Photo by Peter van Beek.  Click the image to view the photo album.

Peter van Beek has documented the difficult life of nomads in a modernizing Europe.  Fear, stereotypes, and unfamiliarity dominate their way of life and place them into a partially self-imposed, marginalized portion of society.  Although there is terrible poverty, he documents family life and survival of these remarkable people.

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Simple shelter as used by our ancestors since the beginning of time.

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It isn’t easy being a nomad in a modern technological world. There is easy place for this lifestyle.

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The world has changed but many traditions have not.

 

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There are certainly exceptions to nomadism. Many Romany cling to their traditions and morph them into a new lifestyle. All of our people have done this.

But it isn’t all oppressive poverty “By collecting and selling iron they get very rich and build their own village with huge palaces where they started living.”  While settling down, the community keeps it’s own unique sense of style.

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Hard work and some flexibility can make assimilation slightly easier.

Palace

Ethnic identity shows in this vernacular style.

Kalderash

Beautiful young women with a foot in both worlds.

“Many Kaldarash people (the coppersmiths) still wear colorful clothes, living in a beautiful traditional way.  In some villages, time seems to stand still.”

From Peter van Beek’s website:

“The only nomadic gypsies in Europe live in Romania, the country that joined the European Union in 2007. Living a hard life in Romania these semi-nomadic people hold on to traditions and rituals. Amongst them are story-and fortunetellers, musicians and coppersmiths. Despite a law against nomadic life these gypsies still live in their harsh and remarkable way.”

Images found at Peter Van Beek Photography.  Check out his beautiful work and consider buying his book about the Roma:

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Campsite Life

Scenes of life on the road and around the campsites.

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October 1951: Mrs Robert Matthew, an MP’s wife, campaigning at a gypsy encampment.

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Kids at the campsite.

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A classic image of Traveller children.

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Modern gypsies (Romany) in their simple accommodation.

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I really love these little bender tents.

Family Life

A fine caravan for a successful traveller.

This is part of a series of images, mostly Romany, Irish, and Scottish Travellers collected from around the internet.  Many of these historic images found on the web are without citation.  When a clear link to a source is found, I try to include it.  If a source is known, please pass it on and I will gladly include it or remove it if necessary.

Scottish Highland Travellers…

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Perthshire.

I really love these family photos generally taken in front of the wagon.

Scottish Travellers is a loose term that covers many diverse peoples in Scotland and even beyond.  Here, I’m primarily looking at the indigenous folk who seem to be descend from an in situ population of itinerant craftsmen and laborers.

Edited from Wikipedia:

Scottish Travellers, or the people termed loosely Gypsies and Tinkers in Scotland, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities, with groups speaking a variety of different languages and holding to distinct customs, histories, and traditions. There are three distinct communities that identify themselves as Gypsies or Travellers in Scotland: Indigenous Highland Travellers; Funfair Travellers, or Showmen; Romanichals (a subgroup of the Romani people) and Lowland Gypsies.

Indigenous Highland Travellers – In Scottish Gaelic they are known as the “Ceàrdannan” (the Craftsmen), or less controversially, “luchd siubhail” (people of travel) for travellers in general. Poetically known as the “Summer Walkers”, Highland Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and may be referred to as “traivellers”, “traivellin fowk'”, in Scots, “tinkers”, originating from the Gaelic “tinceard” or (tinsmith) or “Black Tinkers”.  Mistakenly, the settled Scottish population may call all travelling and Romani groups tinkers, which is usually regarded as pejorative, and contemptuously as “tinks” or “tinkies”. Highland Travellers are closely tied to the native Highlands, and many traveller families carry clan names like Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron, Williamson, and Macmillan. They follow a nomadic or settled lifestyle; passing from village to village and are more strongly identified with the native Gaelic speaking population. Continuing their nomadic life, they would pitch their bow-tents on rough ground on the edge of the village and earn money there as tinsmiths, hawkers, horse dealers or pearlfishermen. Many found seasonal employment on farms, e.g. at the berry picking or during harvest.  Since the 1950s, however, the majority of Highland Travellers have settled down into organized campsites or regular houses.

Origins and customs
The Highland Traveller community has a long history in Scotland going back, at least in record, to the 12th century as a form of employment and one of the first records of that name states a “James the Tinker” held land in the town of Perth from 1165-1214 and share a similar heritage, although are distinct from the Irish Travellers.  As with their Irish counterparts, there are several theories regarding the origin of Scottish Highland travellers, one being they are descended from the Picts, excommunicated clergy, or exiles from the pre-Norman-Invasion.  Highland travellers are distinct both culturally and linguistically from other Gypsy groups like the Romani, including the Romanichal, Lowland Scottish Travellers, Eastern European Romani, and Welsh Kale groups. Several other Continental European groups are related to the Scottish Highland Travellers, and share similarities to other non-Romany groups across Europe, namely the Yeniches, Woonwagenbewoners in Holland, and Landfahrer in Germany. As with Norwegian and Swedish Travellers, Highland travellers origins may be more complex and difficult to ascertain and left no written records of their own. As an indigenous group Highland Travellers have played an essential role in the preservation of traditional Gaelic culture.  Travellers’ outstanding contribution to Highland life has been as custodians of an ancient and vital singing, storytelling and folklore tradition of great importance. It is estimated that only 2,000 Scottish travellers continue to lead their traditional lifestyle on the roads.

The World is Your Workshop

In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms.  However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.

Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.

Gypsy carpenters making small and large stools for market. From an early 20th century postcard.  Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.

Gypsy Basket Weavers on Skyros. Source: http://from-hand-to-hand.org/.

There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry.  People are just people after all.

Gypsy Blacksmith. Source.

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Encampment on a pitch somewhere in France, early mid-20th century.

Community of Wanderers

Nomads are not loners.  In fact, humans do not do well alone in any setting.  We have always been communal people, depending upon one another for help and support.  Many hands make light work and it is essential to be near others you can depend on.

1930sI have been collecting images of Traveller communities for many years and I really enjoy the gritty, homespun feel of the old encampments with peeling paint and makeshift tarpaulin shelters.  I’m sure this image was not welcome in settled communities around Europe and the shiftless nature of these wanderers led to many suspicions, both unfounded and real.

4203n Woonwagenkamp, een draaiorgel komt langsThese are not the rolling home of the wealthy showmen of idle rich but the best compromise for families destined to live on the road.

FamilyVardoThe vardos bear many differences but within fairly tight physical contraints of size, weight, needs, and technology.  It’s important to remember as well that historic travellers of most varieties didn’t design or build their own accommodations but often modified or improved that which they acquired.

Dutch1940Even though they show few relevant details of the caravans themselves these are some of my favorite images; they give us a glimpse of the people who called them home.

Although Traveller families lived (and live) on the margins of “normal” society they were (are) more like their neighbors than not.

I hope you enjoy the photos as we head into the season of Thanksgiving here in North America and give thanks for what we have.

We are at our best and worst in groups, whether that is family or friends.  Humans are social animals.

Itinerant Blacksmiths

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I don’t have much information about the image above but I like what it is depicting.  Mom working the bellows while Dad heats up something he’s working on while the kids all look on.  Like most travelers in Europe, these (probably Roma) don’t have fancy wagons or accommodations; just carts and some rough tents.

We fear what we don’t understand.  Even though people like this have been ostracized and persecuted for centuries, they filled a vital role in society catering to the poorer elements as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, cobblers, basket-makers and more.

Banished to New York:

… an interesting historical post about the fate of traveling folk in 17th century Scotland

Scotland had draconian laws against travelling folk. Hostility towards “Egyptians” took off under King James VI, who was also famously opposed to Border Reivers, Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, alleged Witches, Protestant religious dissenters and tobacco smokers. Edinburgh, 13 May 1682: ‘His Royall Highnes his Maties heigh Comisioner and lords of privie counsel being informed by the Earl […]

Read the rest of this interesting but seldom taught piece of history by clicking the link below.

via Banished to New York: Seven Gypsies in 1682 #History #Scotland — Jardine’s Book of Martyrs

More Historic Caravans in Art

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum.

Here are a couple final Alfred Munnings images of Romani caravans in an English countryside.  As a keen observer, he definitely caught the important details of each type of caravan and the essentials of camp life.  The watercolor above is somewhat unusual for Munnings as it shows no animals, people, or campfire.

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Alfred Munnings.

Above is a rarely shown rounded square-top among other carts and caravans with livestock milling about.  The variety detailed in these historic images should be helpful for those desiring to design and build a similar living accommodation.  The previous post gave a glimpse of Laura Knight’s work on the subject and her subjects are remarkably detailed and informative.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

This is one of my favorite scenes of a camp in the countryside; two beautiful ledge wagons and a marquis tent in a field.  I could picture this in a high parkland of the Rocky Mountains.  Many people don’t know that the outlier tent, awnings, and tarps are almost ubiquitous with the old caravans.  This allows for a very flexible and expandable living arrangement or a sheltered kitchen area.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

If you look closely at the sketch above, you can see that this is the same encampment from another angle, focusing on the kids at play.  It looks like a fine way to grow up.

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Gypsy Wagon and Tent, Dame Laura Knight, 1962.

And finally, another favorite of mine.  I suspect it’s the same little yellow wagon next to the sketchiest bender tent ever.  Probably a makeshift shelter for work or cooking.  A wagon wheel in the foreground seems to await repair while the kids look on.  Note the size of these caravans relative to today’s “needs” and remember that whole families lived and were raised this way.

If you missed the previous post about historic caravans in art go HERE or check out a whole page of images I have curated HERE.

Historic Romani Caravan Paintings

These images might whet the appetite for summer days, picnics, an caravanning off into the great unknown; or it might just be a bunch of pretty pictures if the former isn’t your cup of tea.  Anyway, these are generally labelled and classed as Gypsy images although we know that this is often seen as an offensive word to many Romani (Roma, Romany, etc.), I don’t think it was intended this way in many cases.  For that matter, when not applied to an actual people, the word gets thrown around in art, aesthetic style, dance, music, and many other ways.  I have only known a few “Gypsies” in my lifetime and that was the term used; maybe out of simplicity, maybe just as resignation to the common language.  But enough of this digression, enjoy the paintings.  There will be more to come.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

“Knight … bucked trends through depicting liminal sites, such as circuses and gypsy settlements, from the very beginning of her career. An example of this is her delightful work Gypsy Caravans (1935).”

The caravans depicted above are the Rolls-Royce’s of their day; highly ornamented Reading Wagons with mollycrofts, awnings, windows, and fine paint work.  They would catch they eye of any artist.  I am particularly fond of the domestic scene around the hearth; laundry being done and hung out to dry in the background.

The paintings below are by Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), a British artist who made many beautiful watercolor paintings of horses, encampments, and caravans.  What better, more colorful, and dynamic subject matter?  Alfred Munnings’s biography states that he clearly considered himself accepted among the gypsies when he was able to persuade several of the older women to bring out the brilliant shawls, boldly coloured aprons, and flamboyant ostrich feathered hats that were special occasion wear for the women.”

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Sir Alfred Munnings.

The ubiquitous fire hook and kettle rest as the true center of this scene.  Everyone is done up in the Sunday best at Epsom Downs.  We see all kinds of accommodations from a bender tent to various quality of living wagon.  And no camp is complete without a lurcher (dog) and the milk goat.

Munnings became president of the Royal Academy and was made a Knight of the Victorian Orderwhile Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) served on a panel of European judges for an international exhibition at the Carnegie Institute and was appointed as an official artist for the Nuremberg War trials for her technical abilities.  In other words, good documentary artists.

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Sir Alfred Munnings.

Travellers and their goat gather ’round the morning tea.  I envision Mick’s garden will look like this once Jim and I get our ‘vans parked for the summer.

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Gypsy Life, the hops pickers, Sir Alfred Munnings..

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One of my favorites.  So much going on here and a great color scheme.

More images added HERE.