Gypsy babies and bairns
The expected child arrives without much fuss in a bunk at the end of the caravan. Obviously, the event is taken as a matter of course, and, gypsy-folk are descended from the Hindu pariah caste known as Mangs.
The gypsy grand-mam, whose experience is wide and vast, manages things smoothly for her daughter and grand-daughter, she being both doctor and nurse. If she is faithful to her trust there are certain rites to observe, which, in the British Isles at least, appear to be more honoured in the breach than the observance.
The proper thing to do is hold the baby near the fire or sun and christen it with a curious decoction of herbs, walnut-juice, and brandy, which is likewise sprinkled over the bed.
The child is lain on the ground and a circle drawn around it with a hazel-wand or wooden spoon, and the enclosed ground sprinkled with charcoal- an antiseptic. It is a good sign if the fine charcoal makes the child sneeze, but a bad sign if it should cry.
Bendigo LEE an English gypsy once confessed that he celebrated every addition to his family by taking a whole loaf of bread and crumbling it around the caravan, the child would never then be short of bread. For some unexplained reason, bread, coconuts and millet seed are regarded as the best thing for averting evil.
Pure bred gypsy women have a plate, cup and saucer, set aside for their exclusive use at this time, which articles are subsequently destroyed after the birth.
Recognised baptismal christenings are not necessary to a race whose religion is so vague. The parents like to name their child with some unusual names, but not make a fuss about it, consequently compulsory registration of births is evaded wherever possible.
Some boy’s names :-
Aretas, Befial, Bendigo, Culvati, Dimiti, Erika, Eros, Eza, Gilderoy, Jasper, Jeniel, Khalai, Lucsha, Mantis, Marilli, Merlin, Neurbei, Opi, Piramus, Segel, Sylvanus, Sudaveres, Spico, Spysell.
Some girl’s names :-
Athealia, Bidi, Chrystal, Delaia, Dorilia, Fenella, Flamenca, Foma, Gentilla, Juranium, Liberina, Liubasha, Mia, Myrtle, Omfra, Otehame, Pendivella, Perpinia, Richarda, Saiki, Sanspi, Sardonia, Sybarini, Synfie, Trinafi, Truffeni and Zekkia.
Gypsy children are entirely nourished on mother’s milk, and are rarely delicate, if they were so few would survive, being nursed in a caravan, which is stuffy and draughty by turns, sometimes snowed up in the wilderness.
They are quickly weaned and put on coarse fare, little different to what serves for the whole camp.
Women go far afield on foot and carry their babies in a sling of red-orange hued material knotted at the shoulder, and hanging down in a pouch, resting on the mother’s hip.
Later when vans are not on the “drom” [road] the little ones are left in charge of the eldest girl, if the mother does not return till late, she finds her treasures stowed away in the cubby-holes at the end of the caravan. They invariably receive a “chooma” [kiss] whether asleep or awake.
Boys are made to work, carrying buckets of water, cutting, poplar, dogwood and guelder-rose for whittling into clothes-pegs and butcher’s scewers, with sticker-like knives, these they make into strings and bundles for sale.
The children are in complete sympathy with the wild creatures around them, being familiar with the call-notes of birds etc.
They hunt out eggs, but never molest the nest of singing-birds, the equine breed is also never badly done to. They will track down a hedgehog for supper, which is an excellent titbit.
The children’s charter has done little to keep tobacco pipes out of the mouths of young gypsys, who smoke “tuvalo” from as young as 7 or 8 yrs.
The education departments are determined that these young nomads will attend school, defaulting parents being liable to a fine of 20s for each child.
But what school will accept scholars for a few days at a time?
Compulsion of any kind is contrary to the ruling idea of any gypsy as he sees himself as a free agent.
Liverpool Mercury July 31st, 1897
Hundreds of persons have been led by curiosity to visit the tents of the Greek gipsies who have had a camp during the week on land at the north end of Bootle. While visitors have been moved by the picturesque appearance of the tents, each composed of four poles and a piece of matting, and the swarthy beauty of the numerous children of the party, they have nonetheless been struck by the slovenliness of the gypsy’s attire and their unwashed condition, not to mention their persistent and novel method of begging for coppers. This labour, if labour it can be called, is undertaken by the women and children, while the men loll about the tents, indifferent to the glances cast upon them. Besides the taking off of their caps when begging for a “penny” the little boys, aye, and youths, too, gracefully salaam before the stranger, kiss the sleeve or hem of his or her garment, and even kneel and kiss the ground upon which he, or she walks, the while calling down blessings. Thanks to the Greek Consul here, the party will sail from Liverpool today for Greece.
Copyright 2002 / To date