Curse of the Gypsy
Gypsies are generally viewed as a mysterious, care-free people living a nomadic life style, making merry, dancing and playing music...a simplistic view at best. But, the question of where they came from has long been a subject for debate.
Recently, scholars have discovered linguistic and genetic evidence (DNA) indicating their ancestors came from Northern India. At one time Gypsies were mistakenly thought to have their origins in Egypt…hence, the name "Gypsy."
Reasons behind why Gypsy history has been hard to trace are varied. It is generally accepted lack of written documentation and records, is to blame. Another theory points out they feared persecution and therefore would not register upon arriving in a new territory. Why Gypsies migrated out of India is not certain, but most researchers believe they didn’t leave India earlier than 1000 CE.
Many theories exist on reasons and times of migration. But one thing is certain. Their language is definitely unique. Their language referred to as Gypsy or Romany, includes several dialects and is part of the Indo-European family. It is classified as Indo-Iranian and derived from Sanskrit. Today, Gypsies primarily live in North Africa, Europe, and North America. (Source: http://www.worldlanguage.com/Languages/Romany.htm)
According to Sir William Jones, an English philologist, "The Sanskrit language, whatever its antiquity, is of wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both to them a stronger affinity."
Early documents show they arrived in the Middle East about 1000 AD, some migrating to North Africa while others settled on the European continent. Apparently, they found it easy to impress uneducated populaces by bestowing upon themselves unwarranted titles of royalty.
Lords, Dukes and Counts
Thus, they became Lords, Dukes, Counts and other persons of notable distinction. In such guises they often demanded assistance from local authorities. They sometimes told outlandish tales such as being banned from their homeland, 'Little Egypt,' or they were on a pilgrimage from the Pope, who demanded they be given safe passage. So they were able to travel safely, and could expect food and lodging from religious establishments. It’s no wonder then, they soon gained a reputation as scoundrels and thieves.
It is known a group of about four hundred arrived in Germany, at Luneberg, in 1417. Their leaders were dressed eloquently, giving the impression of wealth and respectability. However, the rank and file Gypsies were simply peasants. The 'nobles' were treated as royalty while their followers camped or found shelter wherever they could.
Gypsies often supported themselves off the generosity of the locals. Lacking any cooperation from them it was common for them to just “help themselves,” stooping to all levels of trickery and clever stunts. The females of various clans soon gained a reputation as fortune-tellers. However, many of their 'clients' seemed to lose their purses at the same time. Thus they also became known as thieves and pickpockets. Many were arrested and some executed.
Throughout the 1400's various Gypsy groups continued to arrive in Central and Western Europe. They are recorded in Italy, France, Germany and Hungary. The men carried on their trades as horse dealers, musicians and metal workers. The women continued to tell fortunes and to relieve patrons of their property. Ironically, they claimed to be a religious people but their contradictory actions caused many to fear them. This eventually led to anti-Semitism and governments began issuing edicts against them.
The first country to do this was Spain in about 1490. Over the next three hundred years Spain unsuccessfully sought to prohibit their dress, language and customs and thus force assimilation. Other counties followed suit, passing laws to expel them. In 1539, France issued a nationwide expulsion order. England had attempted similar actions in 1530 threatening imprisonment. But when that failed, the penalty became death in 1554.
In some parts of Central Europe, Gypsies were forced into bondage. And in Romania, they were enslaved. This treatment continued until they gained their freedom in 1856. In most cases, their answer was to simply move on whenever they could. In the 20th century, Nazi Germany about a quarter of a million Gypsies was exterminated in concentration camps much the same as the Jews. The Nazi war machine was intent on wiping them out.
Gypsies first arrived in the Americas during the 1500’s when the colonies were actually nothing more than dumping grounds for European undesirables.
Gypsy life is still very firmly based on family fundamentals with the elderly being revered and respected. Their customs and morality are strict. In some groups arrangement of marriages is still the norm. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, Gypsies are still held in low esteem. The traditional occupations of horse-trading, blacksmithing, metalworking and fortune-telling are still practiced.
Despite their history of persecution, Gypsies have maintained their identity and had a great influence on many cultures today. This can be seen with classical composers, such as Mozart, Rossini, and Beethoven. Their trademark Bohemian style clothing, also shows the influence of Gypsies in countries where they have lived.
Even in todays' modern world, Gypsy curses are another trademark of the Gypsy. Exactly why is not known, but it is generally thought to have originated with their past fortune telling practices. Perhaps one of the most common gypsy curses may be. "May you wander over the face of the earth forever, never sleep twice in the same bed, never drink water twice from the same well and never cross the same river twice in a year.”