For many years Gypsies have been thought of as dirty smuggling peasants. Many books have been written and many stories told falsely portraying the lifestyles of Gypsies in general. Manfri Fredrick Wood, a true Romany Gypsy, heard the stories, read the books and was disappointed to see that these books were being read and stories being told because they were,” either for the most part nonsense, or else a very good Didi kai book”, (Wood, 1973).
Frustrated, Wood wrote his own book called “In The Life Of A Romany Gypsy”, to “clear up atleast some of the misunderstandings that exist to this between my people and the Gorgios”, (Wood, ’73).
Gypsy lifestyle is quite unique. They seem to look at things differently. No one has a hobby because,” life is a hobby in itself; live it to the full and try and take an intelligent interest in every job you do, and there is no need for you to just kill time”, (Wood,’ 73).
Just like a Gorgio, (Romany nickname for non-Gypsy), will go for a walk or go for a drive just for the sake of driving or walking. Gypsies don’t do that. With everything they do, they have an in depth reason for it.
They may say they are studying the land, or exploring for food places to get food supplies incase they need to go out later as an emergency. So instead of “playing”, they work. Gypsies do many different jobs. Farming used to be a popular job, but now in many areas the land is almost completely dried up, so many have to look into other areas of work such as pest control, net making, wattle- hurdles; and the usual annual jobs like hedging, clearing out fields and ditching. Gypsies, for the most part, are paid by the acre, for these types of jobs. Different jobs for different people.
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For instance, pest control was performed by young men, because at their age most enjoy working with ferrets and dogs. Wattle- hurdles, is a sort of basket or wickerwork to make gates or fences The women mostly do this job. This type of fence is made out of split hazel ends and chestnut. It is mostly used for market gardens and sheep pens.
Most everyone does net making. They make nets for almost everything like catching birds or fish. Romany Gypsies sell these nets at market to yachtsmen for sea- fishing. But those jobs are just on the sidelines. What brings in most of the money is annual jobs like clearing out fields for harvest or digging trenches for water lines.
They do this work for Gorgios who pay and treat them poorly. Which is why Gypsies look down upon anyone who isn’t a Gypsy. They look down upon us so much they make sure they make sure their life style is completely different than ours just so that they could never be compared to Gorgios. Their whole system revolved around the original language and the original Romany religion “which had to be a blend with either the Christian or the Muslim faith, depending on which part of the world any particular tribe traveled to” (Wood, 73).
They speak a corrupt San skirt dialect. “The language of the Gypsies contains about 5000 words and is called by the Gypsies Romani Chip which means “Gypsies Tongue” (Funk and Wagnall’s).
Romany tribes communicated in more ways than just the spoken word. They also left trail signs (with pebbles and twigs), they their own sign language (with eye movements and hand gestures) and lastly they also have their own whistling signals that were all known to every Romany tribe. When it comes to religion there were two main gods. The god of life, Moshto; and the god of death, Arivell.
Each god had three sons who all carried out different tasks. The god of life, Moshto is the most cherished he includes everything in the whole world that supports life. So in order to follow him as a Gypsy you have to kill all that is harmful- “disease- carrying insects, rodents, cats and other parasites you came across because these were the creatures of the god of darkness, death and destruction- Arivell”, (Wood,’ 73).
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Arivell is greatly feared among the Romanies. “He was a poisoner who made deserts out of fertile land and who made water unfit for plants and fish to live in”, (Wood,’ 73).
Romany Gypsies believe that it is Arivell who is responsible for the creation of parasites and disease.
And it is he who sends out nightmares, worries and warts. All which can be charmed out with the help of a friend. And while chanting, Moshto will send out a handful of his healing fairies to bring you your senses. The lifestyle of a Romany Gypsy may seem strict or bizarre to us but to them it is logical. Romanies are uptight about keeping everything clean. For anything that is mokada, unclean, is just asking for demons and disease.
To Gypsies the most mokada things that exist are cats! No, not rats, cats. If a cat were to get into your tent or wagon you would first have to kill it and then you would have to go through a purification ceremony. Gypsies are very picky about the food they eat. You never eat fox, cat, rat, crow or any bird. As a Gypsy you are supposed to live strictly on fish, fruit, nuts and vegetables.
They aren’t big meat eaters because they believe that deer, bears and other such large animals are equals to them. And they would certainly never eat each other. One animal that you are to never kill is a hedgehog. This has to do with it having an antidote in its system, which can fight against most plant and animal poisons. “It eats every kind of garden-, farm- and forest- pest, and it should not be destroyed unless there are a good many in the area and nothing else to eat”, (Wood,’ 73).
And when one is eaten the fat is given to the eldest and the weakest for it is supposedly the best ointment in the world.
Romany Gypsies, unfortunately, also think of women, as mokada. Many rules reflect this belief. For instance, a woman must never pass in front of a sitting man- always behind him. At night the man must go to bed before his wife and she must wake up at the break of dawn, before her husband, to prepare for the day to come with the other wives. No man is to walk under the clothesline that women’s clothes are drying on it for women’s clothes are mokada, even after being washed. This is all because women get their periods.
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When a Gypsy woman is menstruating she isn’t aloud to cook or even touch any food except her own. One of the only times women are looked upon kind- heartedly is during the time of marriage. Marriage is a big thing among Gypsies. If you are married out of the Romany race without consent of your chief you were discarded. You were considered a born dead and if your tribe were to ever see you again they would believe it was your ghost they saw, not your spirit for you lost that when you married a Gorgio.
“There has only been one Gorgio ever accepted as a full Romany by all the Romanies in the West Country and Wales. When he died he was given a full traditional Romany cremation with all the main members of the Welsh Romany tribes taking part”, (Wood,’ 73).
In most cases if you ” re a Gypsy your parents pick out your future wife or husband. As an engagement, the male gives his dicklo to the girl to wear. A dicklo is a scarf that a male wears around his neck and a female if she accepts wears it around her head to hold back her hair. If she does accept they go for a walk together and if that goes well he builds them a tent and buys them a kettle.
They live like that for a week or so and when the time is right they go back into town and announce that they are soon to be married. That day they hold a traditional Romany wedding with a great wedding feast and then they will register at the church to make it legal. Not many Gypsies divorce for it is against Moshto and strengthens Arivell. Death is another time of big ceremonies and noise.
There are three different ways for Gypsies to be done away with. The traditional way to bury a Gypsy is to lay him in bed in his wagon with all his possessions- clothes, tools, furniture and so on- and set them all a fire. Things that couldn’t be burned like china were smashed with a sledgehammer and other items like a dog, horse and other animals are shot and then burned with the wagon. And whatever is left and just cannot be destroyed is either buried or thrown in a deep pond.
No possessions what so ever can be sold. “Women were always to be buried or burned with all their jewelry except one ring which could be left to their eldest daughter”, (Wood,’ 73).
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The second way a Gypsy is left to rest is through cremation and then throwing their ashes in the wind at the dead one’s favorite spot. They can also be buried on their favorite spot. Either way, their belongings are buried with them, shot or burned. Overall, Gypsies have certainly proven themselves as clean, harmless people who just want to live as they please and not to be bothered by Gorgio unless at market.
Manfri Fredrick Wood did an excellent job of portraying Romany Gypsies as they really live. And in writing this paper I hope their traditions and beliefs are never forgotten.