The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #164815   Message #3948932
Posted By: Thompson
08-Sep-18 - 04:41 AM
Thread Name: The 'Gypsy' Controversy
Subject: RE: The 'Gypsy' Controversy
Words - including the word 'brigade' used in the context of contempt - rule us when we think we rule them.

Here's what I know about the various groups of travelling people: not an expert, I've picked it up along the way.

'Traveller' comes from the Irish term for 'na lucht siuil' - the travelling people. It should be a neutral term. But like the term 'itinerant', an attempt to neuter and clean up language, and the term 'tinker', a statement of what was the main male occupation of the travelling people, it has become soiled by hatred.

The Travellers were originally peripatetic craftsmen and craftswomen doing work that didn't require a workshop and heavy, immovable tools. During the Famine - roughly 1845-50 - when thousands of destitute people were evicted from their homes and took to the roads, their group was expanded. Reputedly, many of these evictees came from Rathkeale, the village that is now the epicentre of Irish Traveller life.

Prejudice (among settled people against Travellers and among Travellers against settled people) has continued to keep Travellers out of education and out of mainstream society. The result is - in some cases - a group that sees the State both as an oppressor and as something from which one has the right to get housing and care without contributing.

There is huge inequality among Travellers. Millionaires who have made their money trading antiques. Some criminal millionaires who have made money trading rhino horn. Terribly poor people who have never had a chance. These groups see themselves as sharing a common culture, but the millionaires don't, as far as I know, help their poor co-culturists.

It's slowly changing; when I was a child Traveller children rarely went to school. Now, young Travellers are slowly beginning to graduate from university.

There's a movement, supported by the European Union, to declare Travellers a separate ethnic group. This will give them the right to economic help; whether it helps to integrate Travellers into general society remains to be seen.

Gypsies: the 'gypsy violinists' who played in restaurants all across Europe in the last couple of centuries were - or so I've read - largely Jewish, taking advantage of people being less prejudiced against gypsies than against Jews.

The original gypsies were so called as a shortening of 'Egyptian', the accepted idea being that they had migrated over the centuries from Egypt. However, later study found first cultural and later genetic evidence that they had migrated through Europe from India; Romany language has etymological ties to Sanscrit, their social customs - for instance, washing males' and females' clothing in separate bowls and crockery in a third - comes from Indian customs.

The gypsies in England tend to have a prejudice (humans love to look down on other humans for any difference, given a chance) against Travellers. They see their own blood as 'pure'… however, there is a great deal of intermarriage and admixture.

A new group of migrants joined both in the 1960s: 'New Age Travellers' - people who rejected mainstream society and travelled glamorously in vardos (hoop-topped, brightly-painted gypsy caravans) and were skilled in alternative technologies. Unlike either the Travellers or the Romany (gypsies), they had fluid attitudes to social norms like marriage. (The Travellers tend to marry very young and are deeply intolerant of any escape from marriage; with the gypsies too, loyalty to family is a central value.) The New Age Travellers, who have rather degenerated from the early glamour, have changed both of the core travelling societies.

In Ireland, Travellers have a horribly high level of illness: mental illness, addictions to alcohol, gambling, violence and now drugs; and physical illness like kidney disease from sleeping rough and diabetes from a diet virtually free of normal nourishment. They (many of them) cling to their culture, but resist knowing it as part of a general Irish culture: to them, it is a culture apart.

Travellers are known as skilled traders, skilled musicians and skilled storytellers ('bionn siúlach scéalach - whoever is a Traveller is a storyteller) is one of the proverbs about them). Their other skills: horse-breaking, peripatetic farriery, tinsmithing - have ceased to have a market, and have not been replaced by other similar skills, making them a largely dependent part of society. And dependence can make you resentful.

The mainstream culture is rejecting of them; Traveller children told me (30 years ago, perhaps this has changed) that librarians refused to let them into the library. Librarians told me that if books were lent to them they were either never returned or came back ruined. Chaos has a way of clasping people to itself and preventing them from breaking free.

My own belief is that if society really threw resources at Travellers and gypsies and New Age Travellers - not just housing and benefits, but social care, medical care, psychological care and educational care - the cycle of damage could be stopped, and these fine and creative people could be valuable to society as a whole.