The Gypsies
The Early History
Gypsies in Scotland
Gypsies in the Borders
The Yetholm Gypsies
Gypsy Families
The Faa Family
Jean Gordon

The Early History

.... [cont'd]

In the 20th century, persecution reached its height in Nazi Germany where about a quarter of a million were exterminated in concentration camps. Wherever the Nazi authorities came across them, they were bent on wiping them out. After the Second World War, the Communist authorities of Eastern Europe tried to integrate them into their system as factory labour, and, although this was totally against the Gypsy ways, succeeded to some degree in eliminating their full-time nomadic life style. There was great reluctance to grant recognition to the Gypsies as an ethnic group, and only in parts of the former Yugoslavia were they treated as a recognised minority group. In western Europe, the nomad life continued to some extent, but their way of life led to continuous clashes with a structure set up to manage life in settled communities, and still does to this day. There are, at present, possibly up to six million gypsies in Europe with the largest concentrations being in the Balkans and Central Europe, with major groupings in Russia, Spain and France. In the former Communist countries many are suffering under the present economic hardship there, and with the collapse of national boundaries in Europe, there have been attempts by Central European groups to enter Britain, which has been sold to them as a country which is prepared to give handouts to all. Not being members of the EC they are not entitled to anything and have been returned.

Gypsies first appeared in the Americas in the 16th century when the colonies were being used, mainly, as dumping grounds for the undesirables of European society. By the end of the last century, however, the groups of gypsies were entering the US and Canada along with other European emigrees, with perhaps up to a million now being in North America. Initially they settled in country areas, but with the hardships of the Great Depression, they were forced into towns.

Over the years, with groups becoming isolated from one another, various distinctive groupings have developed, with their culture and social organisation changing and developing. They still tend to keep themselves to themselves and regard contact with non-Gypsies as polluting and a danger to their traditions and customs. Their language has been a major unifying force as they have kept Romani as their own, although dialects have developed and their own language has been affected by the language of the nation within which they live. Many groupings have taken up the religion of the areas within which they live, so there are Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Muslims.

Gypsy life is still very firmly based on the primacy of the family with the elderly being revered and respected. Morality is very strict with chaperoning and the arrangement of marriages still the norm in some groupings. Bride-prices may still paid to the father of the bride to compensate him for the loss of a daughter.

In most of the world, Gypsies are now held in low esteem and tend to be involved in economically unimportant activities, which allow them to work on their own behalf. The traditional occupations are horse-trading, peddling and door to door trading, blacksmithing and metalworking, fortune-telling and healing, small scale craftwork such as wood carving, and music and entertainment. Many will remember the pan mender, the clothes peg maker and the fortune teller whose palm had to be crossed with silver. The pressure to stop their nomadic ways and settle is still increasing. In Scotland their right to special campsites has been hotly disputed. Their cause has not been helped by the increase in the number of new-age travellers who tend to be seen as a disparate group of individuals living life by their own rules at the expense of 'law-abiding society', who settle where they wish, do what they want and leave nothing but destruction behind. This type is exactly what the Gypsies are not. Nevertheless, the two groups have tended to become confused to the detriment of the true Romanies. There seems no doubt that with the Gypsies' growing awareness of their common origins, language and culture that their society will survive.

The Gypsies

Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day