The Travelers ~ by Barbara Goss
I’ve always wanted to write a book about Gypsy’s, since to me, are the epitome of romance: the dancers, the dark beauty, and their mystique. Every time I start a story about them, I’m stymied by the lack of research material. It seems the Roma’s don’t really like their stories told. They hate being depicted as thieves and fake fortune tellers. If I ever do succeed in writing about them, I’ll be sure to put them in a better light. Every nationality has it’s less than desirable people and the Roma’s are no different.
The term Gypsy derives from Egyptian, reflecting a mistaken assumption of the origins of the people who refer to themselves as the Roma. Ethnic Gypsies are the descendants of diverse groups of people who were assembled in northern India as a military force to resist the eastward movement of Islam.
Gypsies have come to the United States for reasons similar to those of other immigrants; however, since European powers have tended to oppose Gypsies, this hostility has hastened Gypsy emigrations.
Many Americans have romanticized Gypsies as exotic foreigners. Some Americans draw on the supposedly romantic appeals of Gypsy traditions—especially traditions of dancing and music-making, lives on the road, and maintaining a traveling culture. Often, established Americans maintain or adopt European prejudices against Gypsies and treat Gypsy immigrants poorly. Just as Europeans have often attributed the fortune-telling skills of Gypsies to “black magic,” Gypsy traders have been accused of fencing stolen goods, and of stealing their goods themselves. Laws attempting to deter, prevent, and punish fortune-tellers and thieves in America have singled out Gypsy Americans.
Some Things You May Not Know About Gypsies
Ideas about health and illness among the Rom are closely related to a world view, which includes notions of good and bad luck, purity and impurity, inclusion and exclusion. These basic concepts affect everyday life in many ways including cultural rules about washing food, clothes, the house, fasting, conducting rituals such as baptism and diagnosing illness and prescribing home remedies. In Gypsy custom, ritual purification is the road to health.
The most powerful Gypsy cure is a substance called coxai, or ghost vomit. According to Gypsy legends, Mamorioor “little grandmother” is a dirty, sickness-bringing ghost who eats people, then vomits on garbage piles. There, Gypsies find and gather what scientists call slime mold, and bake it with flour into rocks. Gypsies also use asafetida, also referred to as devil’s dung, which has a long association with healing and spiritualism in India; according to experts, it has been used in Western medicine as an antispasmodic, expectorant, and laxative.
Gypsy women will not launder a male’s clothes with female clothing. They consider this unclean.
Gypsies of marriageable age may travel with their parents to meet prospective spouses and arrange a marriage. In making a good match, money, and the ability to earn more of it, tend to be factors more important than romance. A Gypsy woman who marries a noni-Gypsy can expect her community to expel her permanently. A Gypsy man, however, may eventually get permission to return to his people with his non-Gypsy wife. Once married, a new daughter-in-law must subject herself to the commands of her husband’s family, until her first pregnancy. With the birth of her first child, she fully enters womanhood.
Gypsy cultural practices attempt to prevent Gypsy children from learning non-Gypsy ways, and to facilitate raising them as Gypsies. Gypsy children, or at least post-adolescents, generally do not go to school, day-care centers, or babysitters who are not friends or relatives. Furthermore, Gypsy culture forbids them to play with non-Gypsies. Instead, they socialize with Gypsies of all ages. Formal schooling, as such, is minimal. Traditionally, Gypsies devalue education from outside their own culture. They educate their own children within extended families. An important reason Gypsies do not like to send their children to school is that they will have to violate Gypsy taboos: they will have to use public restrooms, and the boys and girls will come into contact too closely in classrooms and on the playgrounds. Many Gypsy Americans send their children to schools until the age of ten or eleven, at which time the parents permanently remove them from school. Then they learn the family business, often at home. Many Gypsies marry and become partners in family businesses by their late teens. For example, daughters, but not sons, or a fortune teller train early to become fortune-tellers. Boys may train to sell cars.
Many Gypsy contributors to American culture have been performers. Among English Gypsies who lived some in America, we can count Charlie Chaplin and Rita Hayworth. Ava Gardner, Michael Cain, and Sean Connery are reported to have Gypsy ancestry. Freddy Prinze (born Freddy Preutzel), the late comedian and television star on Chico and the Man was Hungarian Gypsy.