Traveller Life

Every traveler has a campfire has the center of daily life. The hearth has been our home for 1.5 – 2 million years now. No wonder it fascinates us and brings so much comfort.

Nomads in a stationary culture are often tolerated at best and left only marginal space to congregate. This will probably never change.

These high-end vardos with fancy covers are probably “gentlemen travelers,” the antecedents to modern RVers.

Yes, I know that Traveller has two Ls in our title but since we’re looking at Britain and the Continent that’s how we’re spelling it.

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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Paris Travellers

Paris, around 1900.

Paris, around 1900.

A tiny accommodation, side entry single horse style.  It is documented that the adults with this style wagon generally slept outdoors except in very bad weather.  It was a good way to confine the children and the valuables.

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.

Travellers at Home

Wonderful rolling home.

Wonderful rolling home.

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.

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/.

A Romany Family in Scotland

Near Boglehill in Midlothian, Scotland, n.d. late 19th century. Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

I really like everything about the image above.  We see three very different types of wagon-home-conveyances and a family, wearing clothing of the time.  Travellers on the margin of mainstream society have been shunned, persecuted, and culturally dismissed while at the same time romanticized for their freedom and seeming lack of attachment to a more mundane life.  I am glad to see a revitalization and pride from reconnecting with family roots.

Legal Documents.

People who have lived “off-grid” so to speak often have few documents or any official standing, making family histories more difficult to trace.  Hospital records, cemetery documents, or government permits, such as the Pedlar’s Certificate above, are the only way for many to trace their ancestry.

 

Diaper Family Portrait.

Fortunately, there is a concerted effort in Britain by the Romany & Traveller Family History Society (RTFHS) to create a clearinghouse for descendants of those often overlooked by the mainstream.

About the RTFHS:  Back in the early 1990s, a group of keen family historians with British Gypsy ancestors first met at a Gypsy family history conference organised by the historian and author, the late David Smith. Until that moment we’d all thought that we were pretty much alone in trying to trace our travelling ancestors and that there was no-one out there to learn from or share our experiences, trials and tribulations with.

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

Bender Tent

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.

Photographer – Nukshi Alice

NukshiAliceFrom her ABOUT Page:  Nukshi is a documentary and portrait photographer and an artist living and working in Nottinghamshire.
Her sensitivity to situations, culture and people, has allowed her to adapt well to new challenges and environments.  She captures her images by getting involved with people, their culture and lifestyle, which motivates her to preserve those times and moments.  Knowledge and empathy with her subjects is the key to her image success, especially when intimate portraits are involved.

With an open mind and a quest to explore extreme situations, places, cultures, people and learn from that interaction. She intend to travel more, in doing so broaden her abilities. Often able to impart new skills to individuals in an exchange for their confidence in her, which has allowed her to bond with them easily.

VardoWhen a friend sent a link to her website I was, of course, immediately interested in the vardo.  Looking beyond the structure, there is wonderful documentation of life on the road.  An exterior wash stand tripod, pragmatic stairs, cooking tripod, and the ubiquitous tea kettle extend the home.

fullinteriorA homey interior, with an eye for beauty is shown in this “typical” vardo.

CookingA rare site where I live.  Nomads and Travellers are not often welcome in the modern world.  I’m glad this couple can live as they wish.

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More details are documented on her website.  I picked a few of my favorites for this post.

GeorgeAnd let’s not forget the people who keep this tradition alive.  It’s all well to look at the staged “gypsy” wagons across the web, but it’s important to remember that these are truly home, made complete by their inhabitants.

grinderA way to make a living. I still remember the knife grinder who made his way around the city in St. Louis many years ago.  His was not quite this flashy but had the housewives scurrying out with handfuls of knives and scissors when he came around.  I suspect that’s a rare job in America today.

Many more images from this series and others are viewable on Nukshi’s website.  Have a look and read the little story that accompanies the photos.

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.

Van Gogh

Early in the planning stage while designing my ‘van, I encountered this painting by Vincent van Gogh.  Painted in the late 19th Century, it is, to me, a great image of what is now a bygone era in Europe.  Who knows, if the economy collapses, and the disparity between the rich and poor increases, maybe this will become a common sight again.

The New Gypsies

I have seen photos from this book around the web for a while now.  A fair number of “hippie” Brits are living mobile, a difficult thing to do in the U.S.  Iain McKell has done a wonderful job of photo-documenting the unique, beautiful, sometime spartan accommodations used by these folks on the move.  If I get back to Britain I will try to track these people down.

I have to admit, I’m mainly in it for the wagons.  None of these look like high-speed movers, but who really needs that when it is home?

Most of these clearly appear to be restored (more or less) original horse-drawn wagons.  Bow Tops, Open Lots, a Showman or two, but others look to be a bit more home-grown.

A close examination of the photos show some interesting clues to life on the road.  I particularly like the “tip out” on the above wagon.  I suspect it is for sleeping more people but I can imagine an outside space protected like this for cooking or storage.  Hmmm, next project?

In my opinion, wagons like this are a great alternative for the modern nomad, as long as one can find a safe place to settle for the night or week or month.  As with the Romani gypsies, modern travelers, living outside the norm of the greater social group are likely always to face fear and suspicion from the mainstream culture.  Unfortunately, this will probably always be the way of the world.

I think there will always be some of us who are okay existing outside the “normal”, expected behaviors of our peers.  In a case such as this, or other fringe social groups (e.g., the Society of Primitive Technology) we can find kindred spirits who may understand our outlook in ways not found in more mainstream lifestyles.

Please have a look at the art of Iain McKell and be sure to scroll down the left side of links to see more of his photos, including some fine shots of traveler’s wagons.