There is no doubt, that nomadic communities the world over, have faced the challenges of poverty, racism and more, through the ages. While the general public tends to lump all nomadic people together as "Gypsies", the truth is, they are widely diverse in their customs, traditions, language and origin. Very briefly, we will take a look at some here. The Peoples we usually refer to as Gypsies, are known by many different names across the world.
Switzerland and Greece......Saracen's
Persia.........Zott's or Luri
They called themselves Romanichals and their language
was Romani.
The Irish Travellers however are completely unrelated
to the Romani people.


A Group of Irish Travellers.

Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic group which has existed for centuries in Ireland. Often they are mistakenly considered part of the nomadic Romani peoples, an ethnic group which originated in the region of India and is now widespread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The Irish Travellers are indigenous to Ireland. The two cultures are not related. Irish Travellers, also known as "White Gypsies," are members of a nomadic ethnic group of uncertain origin. Scholars often speculate that they are descended from a race of pre-Celtic minstrels and that their ranks were swelled by displaced farmers during Oliver Cromwell's bloody campaigns of the mid-1600s.
While both are nomadic, the Irish Travellers are Roman Catholic and speak a language that is theirs alone. They also have their own culture, customs and traditions. They are noted for their musical and story telling abilities.
In ages past, they travelled by horse drawn wagons making camp along the way. Tinsmithing, horse trading and peddling were the major sources of income. Tinsmiths were so prevalent among Irish Travellers that the terms Tinker and Irish Traveller were used interchangeably. Today, Tinker is one of many derogatory terms for Irish Traveller. Horses and wagons have given way to mobile homes pulled by motor vehicles. They continue their life on the road, to this day, but there are fewer places to stop and fewer places where they are welcome. Irish Travellers are poor, undereducated, and on the receiving end of much discrimination. Their life expectancy is lower than average and their infant mortality rate is higher than average. As is the case with the Romani, the Irish Travellers are seen by many as a group of immoral, ignorant, criminals and con artists. People distrust their nomadic culture and their language, Shelta. Many think its a secret language specifically developed as a tool to help the Irish Travellers trick innocent people. However, it is an old language, which has evolved with time and circumstances. Once heavily infused with Irish Gaelic, it is now infused with English.


The two handsome fellows above, are probably that which
most people have in mind when they think of the term

It is estimated there are more than twelve million Roma across the world. Exact figures are hard to estimate since many don't wish to admit to their heritage for social reasons.
No one knows for certain why the original Roma began their great wandering from India to Europe and well beyond, but they have dispersed worldwide, despite much persecution and oppression. It is believed many huge migrations of the Roma, began more than a thousand years ago.The second known great migration, called the Aresajipe, was from southwest Asia into Europe in the 14th century. The third migration was from Europe to the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the abolition of Roman Slavery in Europe in 1856-1864. Some scholars contend there is yet another great migration occurring today since the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. In the early days, thousands of nomadic Roma settled in France and Italy, soon finding their way into the British Isles.
There are three distinct groups of Romani peoples. Within those groups are "tribes" - each with their own language according to where they settled. It was thought for many years, that because the Romani people had dark skin, they came from Egypt or Turkey. Egyptians or ‘Gyptians, which is where the word "Gypsy" comes from. In the 15th century, James the Fifth of Scotland concluded a treaty with a local Romani leader pledging the support of his armies to help recover "Little Egypt" (an old name for Epirus, on the Greek-Albanian coast) for them. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that scholars in Europe began to realize that the Romani language, in fact, came from India. Basic words, such as some numerals and kinship terms, and names for body parts, actions, and so on, were demonstrably Indian. Further studies confirmed the reasons why the Romani had originally left India.
Certainly, as the Romani reached the British Isles and the Irish Travellers found their way to England, there was "some" inter-marrying, but most of the time, the communites stayed to themselves and married within own family groups. Over time, there has been also, some intermarrying between Gypsy communities and the general public, hence the finding of light haired, blue eyes people still within Roma Gypsy communities.

A rare look at Scottish Gypsies, probably of Romani descent
outside their bent frame huts and huddled
within rock formations or maybe a damaged building.
It should be noted that Gypsies didn't begin using
horse-drawn Caravans as we know them, until about the middle
of the 19th century or slightly before.


A member of the Woods family in Wales. Here he is, posing
proudly with his knife-grinding machine.

Members of the Welsh Gypsy family of Woods.
The Gypsies of Wales, were certainly made up originally of Romani Groups. They often referred to themselves as "Kale". They were a dark skinned, dark eyed people. It is thought several families of Romani origin first found their way to Wales, in the mid 1700's. Many took to themselves, common names found in Britain at the time. Their language was a mix of Hindi and Sanskrit with over time of course, a little English and Welsh thrown in.
They travelled throughout Wales, joining harvest workers when allowed, gathering berries for food, poaching fish from the rivers and often entertaining locals in towns and villages with their extraordinary musical abilites. I imagine most of the little acceptance they received, was in fact due to their music, since the Welsh are known for their love of music and singing. There were several well-known families of Gypsies in Wales. Two of the best known would be the Woods and the Lovells. The Proctors, Smiths and Chapmans, were well known also. Today one can find hundreds of descendants of these two families, still flourishing throughout Wales. The Gypsies of Wales were also renowned throughout the country for their knowledge of horses. Even though despised by most, many a Welsh farmer sought out a Gypsy if he had a sick horse and it was said, that if a Gypsy couldn't cure it - it couldn't be cured!
Many a Welsh Cob and Gypsy Horse of today, can find it's roots in horses bred originally by the Welsh Gypsies. Even though not given much credit for the breed, Welsh Gypsies played a huge part in producing some of the original horses which went into the mix of the horse we know today, as The Gypsy Horse. It might be said that the majority of the tough, sure-footed Welsh ponies used for generations to haul coal in the Welsh Coal Mines, were of old Welsh Gypsy breeding. Even today, descendants of the old Romani Welsh Gypsies, are still known horse breeders in Wales.

Job and Morennie Smith. 1909

A fab old photo of a Gypsy and his horse, taken in Poland.

A Gypsy encampment. Hungary 1902

Great old print of a Gypsy girl, combing her hair,
by E. Debat-Ponson. 1902.
Her Caravan and horse behind. Just beautiful.

Old picture of a Gypsy family,
with their dead horse.

A Gypsy gathering in Norwich. Circa 1897.
Note that their horses are very unlike, those we know today as Gypsy Horses. Also, they have Goats, Dogs and Pigs in their band.
Notice also, that above the caravan on the left, they seem to have a "V" and an "R" each side of a crown. I believe this is denoting "Victoria Regina" - Queen Victoria, who would have been Queen at the time this photo was taken. I believe they were celebrating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Our thanks to The Gypsy Lore Collection. University of Liverpool,
for many of the photos shown on this page.

There are loads of interesting books which one might
read on the various Nomadic People and their cultures.
Also one can find tons of information on the net
which goes into tremendous detail.

Go to our Other Sites We Recommend page, to find information on
the Nomadic tribesof the world - how they came to be,
where they went and what is happening to their cultures currently.

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