After emancipation, Gypsies left in great numbers (discussed in more detail in Hancock, 1983 and 1987b), fearing that the old order would be re-established: it had happened once before in 1848. Families made for the nearest foreign border, and it is the time spent following this, in e.g. Serbia, Hungary, Russia and the Ukraine, which has led in part to the development of the linguistic, and to some extent social, divisions within the Vlax branch of Romani. Phonological developments in the different varieties of Vlax reflect interference from the regional dialects of Rumanian; the shift of original /t/ to /ch/ and /k/, for example. Some have as much as a third of their vocabulary adopted from that language; these linguistic features suggest that, among most of the Gypsies in Rumania, bilingualism was extensive.
Migrations out of the Balkans went north-west from eastern Europe into Scandinavia and beyond, and through Jugoslavia into southern and western Europe. The first of these reached Paris in 1868. From Europe, considerable numbers continued on to North and South America, especially Argentina, and until their entry into the country was forbidden in the 1880s, thousands were able to make their way to the United States (see Chapter XIV). In spite of immigration policy, numbers of Vlax-speaking Rom continued to come into the U.S., especially between the two world wars. Others have settled more recently in Australia.
Still others, after emancipation, with no money or possessions, and having nowhere to go, offered themselves for re-sale to their previous owners. Grauer indicates that until shortly before the Second World War at least, this was reflected in the patterns of distribution of the Romani population in Rumania:
At the time of their liberation, Gypsies stayed mainly in the areas in which they had traditionally been located. Today, the densest concentrations are still found around the monasteries, which had owned many of the slaves (1934:108).
[Illustration with caption]
Rumania and surrounding territories at the end of the 19th century
Observers such as Potra have commented on the passivity of the slaves, and have wondered why there was so little evidence of resistance, given the huge discrepancy in numbers on the estates. It was not unusual for there to be three or four hundred Gypsies working for a household of less than ten Rumanians, and yet there is no known record of any organized uprising. Grellmann (1783:13) maintains that there were such revolts, although he provides no documentation to support his claim. There is, however, a case on record from 1780 of a slave taking revenge on his master for having been tortured; the owner was overpowered and brought to the slave's hut, where he was tied up and slowly poisoned to death over a period of several months. An intensive search by the estate staff failed to find the man, suggesting that the Gypsy quarters were not usually frequented by members of the household.
Centuries of powerlessness and abuse are probably the cause of this destruction of the spirit; many Gypsies, having been born to it, probably saw their enslavement as part of the natural order of things. But it is evident from examples such as the above, which could not have been an isolated incident, and from the success of the fugitive Netoci, that not everyone shared this feeling of helpless resignation.
Eyewitness accounts of the condition of the Balkan Rom during the last century were generally not sympathetic. An exception is found in the notebook of Samuel Gardner, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who visited south-eastern Europe in 1856, one year after liberation:
The children, to the age of 10 or 12, are in a complete state of nudity, but the men and women, the latter offering frequently the most symmetrical form and feminine beauty, have a rude clothing. Their implements and carriages, of a peculiar construction, display much igenuity. They are in fact very able artisans and labourers, industrious and active, but are cruelly and barbarously treated. In the houses of their masters they are employed in the lowest offices, live in cellars, have the lash continually applied to them, and are still subjected to the iron collar and a kind of spiked iron mask or helmet which they are obliged to wear for every petty offence. They are subjected to other servile regulations ... they have the worst of reputations, as robbers, thieves, murderers even; ... for myself, I have never regarded them otherwise than a poor, outcast race, injured and ill-treated ... the force of prejudice is great, and the fears entertained of these poor helots are the strongest condemnation of their treatment.
This contrasted clearly with the description given some years earlier by Bayle St. John, a British journalist who was obviously pandering to the middle-class sensibilities of the readers of Charles Dickens' magazine Household Words:
The children go naked up to the age of ten or twelve, and whole swarms of girls and boys may sometimes be seen rolling about together in the dust or mud in summer, in the water or snow in winter, like so many black worms. As you pass by, a dozen heads of matted hair and a dozen pair of sharp eyes are raised towards you, and you are greeted with a mocking shout, which alone tells you that these hideous things are your fellow creatures. [Gypsies] use no plates or spoons, but dip their hardened fingers into the steaming kettle, and bring up a ball of porridge or a fragment of meat, which they cool by throwing from one palm to the other until they can venture to cast it down their throats. The women and children eat after the men who, as soon as they have wiped their hands in their hair, take again to their pipes and, if they can afford it, to drinking. They make themselves merry for an hour or two, until fatigue comes over them, and then go pell-mell to their huts, or stretch out by the embers of their fires. Nothing can be more abominably filthy than the habits of this degraded tribe ... we are sorry to be obliged to add that both men and women are, as a rule, exceedingly debauched.
[Illustration with caption]
A Gypsy habitation in Wallachia
Even St. John's description of the slaves themselves reflects a literary cliché of the period, describing in stereotypical terms (like Ozanne, p.21 above), the kind of slave his Victorian audience was more likely to have been familiar with:
The men are generally of lofty stature, robust and sinewy. Their skin is black or copper-coloured; their hair, thick and woolly; their lips are of negro heaviness, and their teeth white as pearls; the nose is considerably flattened, and the whole countenance is illumined, as it were, by lively, rolling eyes.
Bayle St. John published his account anonymously. Another description by a writer who chose not to put his name to it, appeared in Chamber's Journal in 1856, and contains the same mixture of fascination and revulsion:
On a heap of straw in the middle, in the full heat of the blazing sun, lay four gipsies asleep. They were all four tall, powerful men, with coal-black hair as coarse as rope, streaming over faces of African blackness; and as they lay relaxed in sleep, their figures seemed gigantic. Their dress, so to call it, was a collection of the vilest rags ... if an injury was committed on a gipsy, he had no redress ...
Rascals as the zigeuners are, and living in the greatest misery and filth-in fact, the dirtier their huts, the better they like them - they are still a very handsome race, the women especially. These bold, brown, beautiful women only make one astonished to think how such eyes, teeth and figures can exist in the stifling atmosphere of their tents.
A further eyewitness account, by yet another anonymous writer, appeared in the French journal Magasin Pittoresque and adds to the picture:
Degraded by slavery, brutalized by ignorance and beatings, they have no material enjoyment by way of compensation. These are cattle, maintained by the boyar at the least possible cost; he feeds them with mamaliga, a kind of thick porridge made of corn meal. Their summer clothing consists of thick canvas which they wear until it rots off. Rain serves for their ablutions, and the children go completely naked. In winter, they drape themselves with rags scavenged from cast-offs: old suits, old coverlets, old carpets - all of these serve as their clothing. As for accommodation, they are not even allowed the luxury of dreaming about it. They ensconce themselves everywhere. In the morning, the vatave, or master's overseer, carefully wrapped in furs and with his whip in hand, assembles them together in order to assign them to the day's tasks. A distressing sight, this foul-smelling, haggard, half naked shivering group, everywhere appearing from stables, kitchens and sheds. The overseer, always hard and inflexible, beats them as much from fancy as from a desire to assert his authority.
Simson, in his more moderate discussion of the Balkan Romani population, believed that "They seldom beg, and more rarely steal ... they are not an idle race; they ought rather to be described as a laborious race; and the majority honestly endeavour to earn a livelihood" (1865:74), a quotation lifted verbatim (and without acknowledgement) from Clarke (1800:592) and repeated in Hoyland (1816:261). At the same place, Simson reproduces part of a description of the Wallachian Gypsies which appeared in the 1839 Report of the Scottish Mission of Enquiry to the Jews:
They are almost all slaves, bought and sold at pleasure. One was lately sold for 200 piastres, but the general price is 500. Perhaps 3 pounds is the average price, and the female Gipsies are sold much cheaper. The sale is generally carried on by private bargain. The men are the best mechanics in the country; so that smiths and masons are taken from this class. The women are considered the best cooks, and therefore almost every wealthy family has a Gipsy cook. Their appearance is similar to that of the Gipsies in other countries; being all dark, with fine black eyes, and long black hair. They have a language peculiar to themselves, and though they seem to have no system of religion, yet are very superstitious in observing lucky and unlucky days. They are all fond of music, both vocal and instrumental, and excel in it.
There exists a number of poems dealing with slavery and emancipation, which were composed in the mid 19th century by such writers as Coradini and Bolliac; some of these are found in the pages of Colocci (1889), translated into Italian. The originals were in French, and dwell on the magnanimity of the liberators as much as they do on the liberated - an indication of their non-Gypsy origin. English and Romani translations (by the present author) of two of these are given here, together with the original versions:
|Accourez tous, bien-aimés
Aujourd'hui accourez tous!
Libres tous nous
Fait le prince roumain,
Dieu, la terre, soleil, la lune
Tous, les viellards, hommes
Dieu grand! Et vous astres
|Come running, beloved brothers
Today, come running all;
For freed we are, by the
Let us cry out with full
So let it be!
God; Earth; Sun; Moon;
Great God, and all your stars
|Hajtar, prasten, kuch phralale,
Te prasten orde akana;
Ke slobozi kerdiljam
le thagarestar rumunjako;
Das baro muj
Te gadzhja vorta si.
O Del; o phuv; o kham; o tchon;
Sarro! Phure, barile,
Bare Devla! Thaj ji'l cherxa
|Réjouissez-vous tous, nobles
enfants de Rome,
Vous tous, qui dans vos seins sentez battre un cœur
Plus d'esclaves chez nous! Le grand mot est lancé.
Heureux qui, le premier, chez nous l'a prononcé!
"Réjouissez-vous en, Moldaves!
Nos divins autels sont lavés;
Notre Eglise n'a plus d'esclaves."
Honneur à qui les a sauvé!
Ils avaient tous un cœur, ils avaient tous une âme,
Tous avaient Dieu pour maître,
Et pour mère une femme.
Et tous au joug de fer avaient été rivés!
Honneur à vous qui les avez sauvés!
|Be glad, ye nobles sons of Rom,
In all whose breasts to beat
the hearts of men.
No longer slaves!
The Good Word has come down.
Happy he must be who first among us said
"Rejoice at this, Moldavians!
Our holy altars now are all washed clean!
Our Church has slaves no more!."
Honor to he who freed them!
For each had a heart, and each a soul,
Each had God as his master,
and each was born of woman-
Still, each was clamped into the iron yoke.
Honor to you who freed them!
|T'aves vojako, Rroma pachvalo,
And'e kolin kaske si jilo murshano;
Ma naj rroburja!
Kol drazhi vorbi amenga avile.
Vesolo kaj pervo mothodja
"Pa kadoleste radujsavon Moldovaja;
Amari svunci altarja vortosajle
Ma naj la khangeriake kak rrobi."
Pachiv das les kaj kerdo len mekhle.
Ke svakoske sas o Del o raj pesko
Thaj anda manushni kerdo.
Ma svako xutilajlo ande dzhuto sastruno.
Pachiv das les kaj kerdo mekhle.
After emancipation, the freed slaves attempted to improve their condition, and safeguard against any future domination by outsiders by working together toward some kind of political unity. A pan-European congress was held in September, 1879, in Kisfalu in Hungary, with the intention of establishing civil and political rights for Gypsies throughout Europe. Little came of this. The affair was mocked in the press, who found the concepts of intellectualism and 'Gypsiness' incompatible - an attitude still very prevalent today. Lecca blamed the lack of achievement on the Gypsies themselves, believing that "laziness is one of the greatest obstacles to the[ir] development" (1908:183).
In 1913, a statue of Kogalniceanu was erected at Piatri Neamts, and was reported in the western press in the Near East magazine for June 12th that year, as follows:
A touching episode occurred in connection with the unveiling of the statue of Mihail Kogalniceanu at Piatra Neamtz. Mihail Kogaliniceanu was a well-known reformer, and one of his principal acts had been to secure liberty for the many thousands of Roumanian gipsies, who had hitherto been in a condition approximating to servitude. Two days after the unveiling ceremony, a vast concourse of gipsies arrived at Piatra Neamtz and proceeded to the monument. Before the statue they placed a wreath of oak leaves and wild flowers, and then, to the wierd accompaniment of a gipsy band, the whole party joined in a national dance round the statue of their liberator.
In 1933, another conference, widely attended and publicized, was held by the General Association of the Gypsies of Rumania in Bucharest. It sought, among other things, to erect a monument to Grigore Ghica, and to make the date of emancipation a national holiday, and to establish a library, a hospital and a university for Rom (Haley, 1934). Although he made brief reference to this in his widely-influential book Zigeuner, which appeared three years later, Martin Block (1936:210) minimized its significance, stating (op. cit., 8) that "Gypsies offer no contribution to civilization, have no history, and do themselves in no way help to elucidate the problem of their survival." Distorted scholarship of this type, written during the time of the Nazi regime, helped justify Hitler's later program of genocide against the Romani people.
[Illustration with caption]
Poster advertising a slave auction in Wallachia in 1852*. It reads"For sale: a prime lot of Gypsy slaves, for sale by auction at the Monastery of St. Elias, May 8th, 1852. Consisting of eighteen men, ten boys, seven women and three girls, in fine condition."
*A photostat of this poster was kindly sent to me by Mr. Nicolae Oprescu of Bucharest. The poster appears to have provided the model for a similar illustration in Colocci (1889:89).
The general attitude in Rumania has not improved, as Beck has shown. Two American visitors to that country some years ago reported that poisoning Gypsies has been one means of dealing with them:
Later that day, we came to a Gypsy camp by a stream. A small, dark-skinned boy - barefoot and dirty - ran to beg for money. Bill tried a few words of Rumanian he had learned, but the child would not come close. Bill then offered him a piece of chocolate, whereupon the boy suddenly screamed "Moarte! Moarte! - Death! Death!" and scurried away. Many times in the past, we were told, the unwanted Gypsies were given poisoned food. One of the first lessons drummed into a Gypsy child is never to accept food from strangers (Durrancell and Knight, 1979:820).
It is the almost total lack of concern for anything except the traditional, from governmental and academic bodies, which has, more than any other factor, hindered the advancement of the Romani people. The wonder is rather that, since emancipation, Gypsies have continued to fight vicious discrimination in every country they have been in, and from every government. Yet with practically no help whatsoever from any outside agency, they have gained admittance to the United Nations Organization and the Council of Europe. Since 1971, there have been three international congresses, and the World Romani Union which sponsors these, now has bureaux in 27 countries. In March, 1982, twenty years after its founding, another Romani organization, the Comité International Rom held a ceremony commemorating the 125th anniversary of abolition, and has made this a recurrent event.
Kogalniceanu predicted that the abolition of slavery would herald the demise of Romani, since "in becoming civilized, they will experience new concepts, and not retain so defective a language" (1837:36). Since the end of the Second World War, however, and in particular since the Romani people obtained permanent consultative status in the UN in 1979, through Romani language journals and newsletters and its increasing use at the international congresses, the language has come to serve more and more as the principal binding factor of Jekhipe - Oneness.
[Illustration with caption]
A satra or Gypsy village in Wallachia, 1862 ("Un village des Tsiganes chrétiens", Lancelot, 1868:307)
"In these strange houses, which are more like gutters, one serves for each family, the roofs are made of branches daubed with mud, upon which grass grows. At least ten people, on average, live here. There are no furnishings, just a kettle, a pan, a water-jug, one spoon and one knife, and a few sheepskins and tattered blankets: it is a home under a hole in the roof. Lacking any wood, cow-dung is used as fuel. Torches do for light. Rain comes through the roof, and rheumatism follows it. No clean water is available, and yet the boyars stigmatize the Gypsies for being filthy. They go in rags, even in temperatures of minus twenty degrees, their feet wrapped in rags and the skins of dogs" (Colson, in Roleine, 1979:112).