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Gypsies

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Gypsies

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue April 26th, 2011, 1:25 am

I have a character who is half-Gypsy, and I'm feeling uneasy that I know so little of the culture. The setting is sixteenth-century Spain, but as I understand it, Gypsies wandered all through Europe and, like the Jews, maintained their cultural distinctiveness. So I'm looking for recommendations on research books/sites and other information on Gypsy history.

I figured somebody on the forum would know

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue April 26th, 2011, 6:35 am

Some years ago, I read a fascinating book about present-day gypsies in the U.S., King of the Gypsies by Peter Maas. Gypsy culture (they prefer to be known as Rom or Romanies) is quite conservative in many ways, so a book like this about present-day gypsies may be more helpful in understanding 16th century gypsies than you might think. You might also try searching WorldCat and/or your local library using the subject search-term Romanies. Hopefully, you will be able to find more on the history of gypsies going back to your 16th century Spanish setting.
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Post by SGM » Tue April 26th, 2011, 7:15 am

There are the following books:

Gypsy-travellers in nineteenth-century society by David Mayall
Gypsy sorcery and fortune-telling by Charles Leland
Romani Culture and Gypsy Identity by Acton and Mundy
The Gypsies (The Peoples of Europe) by Angus Fraser

if you are seeking details of the Romanies in a specific time and place, there are books that are more specific.
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Post by wendy » Tue April 26th, 2011, 11:58 am

My central character in Fire On Dark Water is a gypsy called Lola Blaise. I found an incredible amount of material on Google - there are several UK gypsy web sites with information about language, customs etc. As a child I knew someone who 'ran off with the gyspies' and came back with some harrowing tales, but I chose not to perpetuate the stereotypes I grew up with in rural England and instead tried to recreate the essential rebelliousness and freedom of the seventeenth-century Romany culture. MLE - I'd be happy to chat with you directly about my findings!
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Post by annis » Wed April 27th, 2011, 5:46 pm

I have seen mention of a book called The Zincali, or an Account of the Gypsies of Spain, London: John Murray, 1841 by George Henry Borrow. Being an older book it may be available as an online read, though I haven't checked that.

There's an interesting little piece here which gives some idea of what life might have been like for Spanish gypsies.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed April 27th, 2011, 8:51 pm

I've read Zincali, Annis, which is specifically about Spanish Gypsies, but a more prejudiced round of ranting you never ran into. Very much a book of its era, which is somewhere around mid-1800's.

The author claims to have spent considerable time living with the Gypsies, but I don't believe him. For one thing, he claims that they have no worship or religious tradition of their own and therefore adopt that of whatever country they live in merely as a way to swindle the locals. But even a cursory check through various internet sites will reveal that they have a supreme being, Devli, and an opposing evil force, Beng--that these concepts happen to blend very nicely with both Christianity and Islam does not mean that they are not separate in their traditions and origins.

Thanks for the recs. I'll look them up. Unfortunately, most of the modern stuff I've read very much enforces the stereotype of Gypsies as thieves, swindlers, and opportunists. Definitely not PC, although after going through the court cases I don't think I will sign up with any Rom home-repair operations.

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Post by wendy » Thu April 28th, 2011, 1:03 pm

Thanks for the recs. I'll look them up. Unfortunately, most of the modern stuff I've read very much enforces the stereotype of Gypsies as thieves, swindlers, and opportunists. Definitely not PC, although after going through the court cases I don't think I will sign up with any Rom home-repair operations.[/QUOTE]

MLE - I think it's a question of perception. Modern day gypsies are reviled, especially today in Northern UK where locals claim a huge rise in petty crime when they are in town. Their traditional rights have been quietly eroded - so when they live off the land they get accused of theft and poaching - when they park their caravans in fields they become trespassers - and for many years the women relied on superstition (selling 'lucky heather' and telling fortunes) which is now met with much more scepticism. Many are reduced to begging or relying on charity or state donations. Those with regular employment appear to work with fairgrounds, carnivals and the travelling circus.

My research found that every period in history found its own reasons to persecute them. But the bottom line seemed to be that each side exploits the other for whatever they can get from them!
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Post by Michy » Thu April 28th, 2011, 2:37 pm

That's interesting that in the UK modern-day gypsies seem to still live in relatively traditional manner; here in the US they have pretty much integrated into a modern lifestyle. At least, that's how it is in the city where I live, where we have a small gypsy population. From what I have heard, though, they live largely off the radar -- that is, all their businesses are run on a strictly cash basis, and I've heard they don't send their children to public school. Don't know if that last part is true, but it wouldn't surprise me.

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Post by annis » Thu April 28th, 2011, 6:06 pm

It's interesting that your character is half-gypsy, MLE. While most gypsies didn't readily accept marriage outside of their own culture, in Spain intermarriage with non-gypsies was virtually enforced as part of the "get out of Spain or assimilate" programme. As happened with the Moors, language, customs and dress were suppressed in an attempt to make the gypsies more "Spanish".

According to the Wikipedia article on Romani in Spain, quite a few Moors quietly joined gypsy groups rather than face expulsion, though how well documented that is I don't know. Apparently quite a few gypsies went to Latin America during the Spanish Colonial era to avoid persecution, and there's a famous gypsy woman called María de Estrada who escaped the Spanish Inquistition and fought with Cortez' conquistadores in Mexico, but later became a fierce advocate for indigenous Indian rights.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 28th, 2011, 7:12 pm

I've read that article too, Annis. My character, along with her mother, are both prostitutes, which is apparently not accepted in Romani culture. So I opted for half-Gypsy and removed them from the tight circle of Gitano life. But she is an accomplished Flamenco dancer -- awkward, because in the sixteenth century, Flamenco was the Spanish word for Flemish people, as in Philip I and Charles V and their hangers-on. But I'm writing for present-day English-speakers, so Flamenco it remains, and not Fellah Mengu.

Besides which, there are plenty of Flamenco enthusiasts to market to, whereas Flemish readers of English novels about Spanish Gypsies are a vanishingly small pool of potential buyers. :D

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