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.

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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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Tents and the Vardo Life; What is a Bender?

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The bender tent provides shelter from the damp while keeping the living space outdoors.

Travellers in Europe and Britain have always been associated with a style tent called a bender.  This comes from the construction technique of cutting saplings and bending them into a dome, elongated dome, or half cylinder shape,  These frameworks were then covered with tarps and made watertight in the temperate damp.  The origins of this design are lost in the mists of time and are believed by archaeologists to be one of the earliest style of recognizable tent structure used by humans.

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This size bender can more than double the living space of a vardo in a matter of minutes.

Even after a certain level of affluence allowed some Romany and other Travelling folk to own living wagons, the bender continued (and continues) to be a way to extend the living space without the need for a lot more gear.

In England, Gypsy women often used their homes for fortune-telling, especially around the Gadjo (non-Gypsy) vacation centers. Image, early 20th century. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

The fact that a tent becomes the subject for a Blackpool post card shows the ongoing fascination with “Gypsy Culture,” especially in the British Isles where Travellers are simultaneously suspect and romanticized.

Fortune Teller

The front or vestibule provides a place to do business in relative privacy. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

If you have family that me be Romany, Traveller, or Fairground folk in Britain or just want to learn more, check out the Romany & Traveller Family History Society at http://rtfhs.org.uk/.

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.

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A Traveller’s (sic) Tuesday.  Just a glimpse into life in a bender tent.  Despite the glamorous view of life on the road depicted by the romantic English Gypsy Caravans, this is how most Roma lived in 19th Century Britain.

Ralph_Headley_CharltonGypsies, Camped on the Beach, near South Shields, Ralph Hedley Charlton, painted 1876.

Traveler’s Life

Getting back to our theme of traveler’s, caravans, and other wanderers of the world… a few images from Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret a French Naturalist Painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Dans la forêt-Musée des beaux-arts de Nancy."

“Dans la forêt-Musée des beaux-arts de Nancy.”

I believe I would enjoy siting around this campfire.

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“Chevaux à l’abreuvoir.”

Once a common scene, now virtually lost in an era of loud, fume-belching machinery.

"Gypsy Scene."

“Gypsy Scene.”

A peaceful morning cooking breakfast in the morning dew.  The caravan is obscured by the smoke of the campfire.

Images from “Gipsy Life” by George Coalville

From a book published in 1880 about the Roma and some thoughts on how to “improve” their condition in Britain.  He traces their history in Britain from their first recorded arrival in Scotland in 1514 and is an interesting and somewhat sympathetic read.  Here are some images and a couple snatches of the writing.

bendertentSeveral types and qualities of bender tents are illustrated and show a realistic view of camp life.

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“For the dance no music can be better than that of a Gipsy band; there is life and animation in it which carries you away.  If you have danced to it yourself, especially in a czardas, then to hear the stirring tones without involuntarily springing up is, I assert, an absolute impossibility.”  Poor, deluded mortals, I am afraid they will find—

“Nothing but leaves!
Sad memory weaves
No veil to hide the past;
And as we trace our weary way,
Counting each lost and misspent day,
Sadly we find at last,
Nothing but leaves!”

familytentI was for the first ten minutes fully occupied in trying to keep a respectable distance from a number of dogs of all sizes and breeds, which had the usual appetite for fresh meat and tweed trowsering, and, at the same time, endeavouring in vain to find solid ground upon which to stand, for the place at the entrance and all round the tents was one regular mass of deep “slush.”  It soon became known that my p. 228pockets were plentifully supplied with half-ounces of tobacco and sweets.  These I soon disposed off, especially the latter, for there seemed no end to the little bare-footed children that could walk, and those that couldn’t were brought in turn by their sisters or brothers.  I was invited to visit all the tents, but I could gain but little information beyond an account of the severe winter, bad state of trade, your visit in one of the black, dense fogs, &c.

vardowccampfireandpipefancyvardoTo be quite honest, I’m mostly into this one for the images but for those interested, the book can be found online HERE.

Romany Rai

Romano Rai (Romany Rye) (Traditional, English)

I’m a Romano Rai, just an old didikai,
I build all my temples beneath the blue sky,
I live in a tent and I don’t pay no rent,
and that’s why they call me the Romano Rai.

Didi-a-didi-a-didi-di-kai, chavves,
Tika-dika-tika-a-lai

Your Daddus tryin’ to sell a mush a kushto grai.
I’m a Romano rai, just an old didikai,
I live in a mansion beneath the blue sky,
I was born in a ditch, so I won’t ever grow rich,
But that’s why they call me the Romano Rai.

Tikka, tikka, didikai, tikka, tikka, didikai
That’s why they call him the Romano Rai

Tikka-tikka-didikai, tikka tikka, didikai,
That’s why they call him the Romani Rai.

I’m a Romano Rai, a true didikai,
My temple’s a mansion beneath the blue sky,
I’m a Romano Rai, a true didikai,
just campin’ around, on any ol’ ground,

But that’s why they call him the Romano Rai.

 

*Didikai is a term than Romanichal (British) call mixed-blood Romani.