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.
Kiki Hamilton says
Gypsies sound like a fascinating topic! I love the mystery that surrounds their culture. Hope you keep us posted on your progress. and btw – love the new website!
Caroline Starr Rose says
Kiki, thanks. 🙂
Tere Kirkland says
I discovered a lot of great resources on the web, but some had conflicting information. I think the term Roma is sometimes used to include all Romani, but I believe that other groups like the Kale and Sinti are independent of the Roma. Ian Hancock’s writing is one of the best resources to use, especially if you look at his bibliographies for other resources.
Good luck with your writing, I can’t wait to read your story!
Caroline Starr Rose says
Tere, he’s the professor at UT, correct? I’ve read a few of his things online, but need to get to his books.
One interesting thing I’ve learned is some people (Hancock included) find the term Gypsy offensive. I’ve been in touch with those who run the Gypsy Historical Society, and their feeling is it’s the most accurate word world-wide, as some Gypsies don’t identify with the name Roma/Romani. So many layers (and ways to offend, I’m afraid…but onward and upward, right?)
This is a very interesting subject, and I wish you well in your writing of it. You are so right when you speak of writing about the human condition, and how it’s something that transcends cultures, lifetstyles, etc. We’re exploring relationships in our stories–people and how they relate. I’ll be interested in following your progress 🙂
Natalie Aguirre says
Great post. I had no idea that gypsies originated in India. Sounds like you’re doing a lot of research for your story.
One the best experts on gypsy culture in the English-speaking world is George Borrow, who in the 1840s wrote “The Bible in Spain,” a work in which, as he tries to distribute Bibles throughout Spain for the London Bible Society, he learns about gypsy life from his guide (the phrase “the business of Egypt” is a hilarious constant coda). “Lavengro” is Borrow’s unique mix of autobiography, fiction and gypsies. In April 2010as we walked through the streets Paris groups of gypsies (especially the women) seemed to be everywhere. In some strange way they seemed to me to be in the world but not of it.
A.L. Sonnichsen says
My favorite book in high school was The Virgin and the Gypsy by D.H. Lawrence. I have no idea why I loved it so much, but I read it several times. It’s a novella, so it’s super short. You should check it out if you haven’t read it already. 🙂 I think I may, too, just to remind myself what the magic was that makes it stick in my memory. Anyway, your post reminded me of it. What a fascinating people group!
out of the wordwork says
I’m also fascinated by the Romani/Gypsy culture and lifestyle. One of the secondary characters in my current wip is a Roma woman. Good luck with your research and writing!
I am so interested. Gypsy life sounds fascinating and I would really like to get a more realistic picture than Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I don’t think I have the guts to write about a culture that is so different from my own, but maybe one day I will surprise myself.
Caroline Starr Rose says
Anonymous, thank you! I have read bits on Barrow but haven’t picked up any of his books.