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Everything You Want To Know About The Gypsy

Updated on March 2, 2012

Gypsy Wagon

Gypsy Caravan By du_buh_du_designs
Gypsy Caravan By du_buh_du_designs

Everything You Want To Know About The Gypsy

A gypsy is a person that is part of a close knit community of similar people that share the same background and belief systems. They are still widely scattered throughout the world as their nomadic culture ushered them into new places. Although their origins have caused a good amount of controversy over the centuries, due to much research into the deep history of their language, they are believed to have originated in the Northern parts of India. Later, they left India and scattered throughout the Middle East, Europe, and parts of America, taking on pieces of other religions and cultures as they traveled while still staying true to their roots.

Cigány tánc (Gypsy dance)

Gypsy Origin

The gypsies arrived around 1000 AD in the Middle East, some sprouting as far as Africa and Europe. They were intelligent people that impressed the uneducated locals with their wits. They often gave themselves undeserved titles such as lords, counts, earls and dukes of Little Egypt and demanded support from those in authority. They claimed that the wicked Saracens had ejected them from their homeland.

Additionally, some went to the Pope and claimed that they were all on a pilgrimage so that he would grant them a safe passage of travel. This allowed them to receive lodging and food from religious houses along their travels. The rich could not turn down supporting someone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land since it was the ultimate status symbol. Due to their silver tongues and quick wits, they found themselves under the protection of many kings throughout Europe.

In 1417, a group of 400 gypsies arrived in Germany. Michael and Andrew were the leaders who claimed to be dukes and along with their courts, they dressed to offer the impression of respectability and wealth. Since they had persuaded Pope Martin V of their tales that they were on a pilgrimage to last seven years, they received a protection letter allowing them free access to all Christian countries.

The locals were generous and when they felt the need, they simply helped themselves. The ladies became known as great fortune tellers however, since many purses came missing, they became associated with the terms of thieves and pickpockets so many were arrested and even executed.

Gypsy Caravan

Gypsy Vardo Art By Shirley Two Feathers
Gypsy Vardo Art By Shirley Two Feathers

The Gypsy Reputation

Throughout the 1400s, many similar groups arrived in Western and Central Europe. Aside from Germany, there were many recorded in Italy, Hungary and France. They lived the nomadic life and roamed far and wide. A male gypsy commonly was a horse dealer, metal worker or musician while the women told fortunes and stole property. Despite the fact that they were supposed to be religious and traveling to the Holy Land, many people feared them and many governments made movements against them.

Edicts were issued against the gypsies in many countries beginning with Spain in 1490 but this only drove them underground. For 300 years, Spain attempted to prohibit their language, dress and customs. France issued an expulsion order in the 1500s as well as England, threatening imprisonment and death. The gypsies were forced into bondage in Central Europe and lived as chattel slaves in Romania. Nazi Germany exterminated a quarter of a million of them in concentration camps.

Gypsy Dancing Evolution

The Gypsy Of Americas

In the 16th century, gypsies first began appearing in the Americas. By the turning of the century, they were entering Canada and the United States along with many other European immigrants. Initially, they settled primarily in country areas but they were forced to relocate into towns because of the Great Depression.

Various distinctive groups became isolated and more groups developed. Today, they still prefer to keep to themselves and they feel that mingling with non-gypsies endanger and pollute their customs and traditions. Their language has stayed strong, keeping Romani as their own; however, other dialects have developed and affected the traditional pronunciation of words. Many gypsies have adopted the religion found where they live such as Protestants, Roman Catholic, Muslims and Orthodox.

The elderly person in a gypsy family is deeply respected. Arranged marriages are considered normal and morality is strict. Fathers of the bride are often paid as a compensation for losing their daughter.

Gypsies found in most parts of the world tend to involve themselves in unimportant economic activity so they mostly are able to work for themselves. Traditionally they are involved in horse-trading, metalworking, healing, fortune telling, music, entertainment and producing crafts such as wood carvings.

Gypsy Woman And Children

Gypsy (roma tigan rrom tzigane) (Roman / Romania) By adypellegrino
Gypsy (roma tigan rrom tzigane) (Roman / Romania) By adypellegrino

Culture And Society

Gypsies are deeply rooted in their tradition. Unmarried women must remain virgins and marriages are known to commence at a young age. After a couple is married, the female joins her husband's family and her job is to tend to her husband, children and in-laws. Men have the most authority in the house beginning with the grandfather and working down. Women do gain respect with age, however, a young woman has very little respect or authority until she has her own children.

Genital organs are considered impure on a gypsy and toenails and fingernails can never be cut with clippers, only filed with an emery board. Clothes that are worn on the lower half of the body and all clothes worn by a menstruating woman are washed separately. Childbirth is believed to be impure and cannot be done in the same place where they live. Women are even considered to be impure for 40 days after they have their baby. Death is also considered impure and the whole family associated with the death is labeled impure for a designated period of time.

Gypsies are often confused with careless new-age travelers who live life by their own rules, settle where they wish and leave behind destruction. This is not what gypsies are. There is no doubt that the gypsy language, society and culture will continue to live on for a long time.


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    • SweatersPram profile image


      5 years ago

      Great sources of info. I did not realize that I had Rom ancestors until I started tracing my heritage on My father, for reasons to 'ride' his snooty sister, used to deride the Boswell side of the family (they were wealthy and that was important to her) as 'Irish Tinkers and horse traders.' We all thought that he was kidding, but it turned out to be true! At the present I am writing a novel centered around gypsies.

    • JLaszlo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Northwest

      I am glad you liked it Klarawieck. Thank you for the great comment. You might also like the one I did on Knighthood as well:

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I loved this article on gypsies. I'm a big fan of this culture and my own grandfather was a gypsy from Spain, who traveled and settled in Cuba at the age of 16. This is very well written and highly informative. Thank you!

    • JLaszlo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Northwest

      Thank you Thelma you might also like the one I did on Chivalry:

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      7 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Very interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.


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