In continuing the discussion I started earlier this week, I thought it would be helpful to give a little background on Gypsy culture. I’ve been listening to a CD called The Music of the Gypsies while running errands this week.
Inside is a concise glimpse into Gypsy history:
The Gypsies — or Roma– are the modern descendants of a nomadic people who left the Indian subcontinent about a thousand years ago and gradually made their way west to Europe and beyond. No one knows exactly why or when they began their great Diaspora (wandering) but it could have been anywhere between the eighth and eleventh centuries AD. Leaving India they went through ancient Persia (now Iran), Armenia and the Byzantine Empire, first reaching Europe around the fourteenth century, and reaching every northern and western country by about 1500. When they first arrived in Europe, people thought they were from Egypt and called them Egyptians, or ‘Gyptians, which is where the word ‘gypsy’ comes from.
There are now millions of Gypsies living outside India. They remain the least integrated people in Europe: as a proud, clannish people, devoted to their traditions, they have resisted attempts to force them to assimilate. They believe that formal education for their children will make them forget Gypsy ways, which is why many older Gypsies cannot read or write, passing their traditions down through the generations by word of mouth. They have also been one of the most persecuted minorities over the centuries, in particular at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, and since the fall of the Iron Curtain, racist violence targeting Gypsies has been ob the rise throughout the Balkans.
Wherever they have travelled, the Gypsies have had a huge impact on the musical traditions and folklore, making their own unique contribution to Jewish klezmer music, flamenco music, dance and jazz. Freedom and love for life are strong Gypsy traits — these qualities are to be found in the spontaneous, and often humorous, playing of Gypsy musicians across the world…
Why take on such a difficult topic for my next book?
Because ultimately I’ll be writing about the human condition, something that transcends all cultures, time periods, lifestyles, and prejudices. I already know it will be tempting to explain, defend, simplify, whitewash, or point out areas where I don’t agree with my (future) character’s world, but this won’t be my place or purpose.
My job is to present a character and her world and let everything unfold from there.
Thanks to my local SCBWI’s October discussion on censorship/censoring the self while writing, which helped to formulate a lot of the ideas I’ve been processing these past few weeks.