Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Roma  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at


Ciboure, a suburb of St. Jean de Luz, is a sort of Basque Yetholm. Like Yetholm it has largely lost its Gypsy character. Its 'Cascarrotac' are supposed to be the descendants of Gypsies who came from Spain two centuries ago, but they are now quite mixed up with the Basques of the neighbourhood, and have lost the last remnants of Rómani, though at the

p. xxxix

beginning of the century they retained a few words, as debla, the sun, mambrun, bread, and puro, old man. But Ciboure is still a regular halting-place of Hungarian Gypsies, as appears from this passage in a very valuable article on 'The Cascarrots of Ciboure,' by the Rev. Wentworth Webster (Gypsy Lore Journal, October 1888, pp. 76-84):--'My own observations are that the passage of the Hungarian Gypsies, or Gypsies from Eastern Europe, alluded to in 1868 and 1874 by the former mayor of Ciboure, M. Darramboure, is a recurring fact every two or three years. I left St. Jean de Luz in 1881, but for some time before that I had been ill, and a band may easily have passed without my being aware of it; but there were at least two other bands between 1870 and 1880--one, I believe, in 1872. 1 Their route seems to be, as far as I have been able to trace it, viâ Paris, Bordeaux, Bayonne, St. Jean de Luz, Hendaye, through Spain quite to the south, and returning by the eastern extremity of the Pyrenees, by Barcelona and Perpignan. M. de Rochas appears to have met one of these bands at Perpignan in July 1875 (Les Parias de France et d’Espagne, by V. de Rochas; Hachette, Paris, 1876, p. 259). These bands follow always the same route, and encamp on the same spots. When at St. Jean de Luz they make an apparently useless visit to Ascain, a village about five miles off their road, returning to St. Jean de Luz. They are evidently well-off, with good carts, wagons, horses, and utensils; many of them wear silver ear-rings and ornaments. Their trade, mending the copper vessels in the neighbourhood, seems to me to be a mere pretence; it cannot pay the expenses of the journey. What is the reason of this migration? Once I was standing with a Basque fisherman, watching their arrival, when the chief of the band addressed him in Basque, and the conversation went on between them in that language. When it had ceased, I asked the fisherman, whom I knew well, how the man spoke Basque. The reply was curt:--"He speaks it as well as I do." Afterwards I tried to draw out the Gypsy, but he evaded my questions. "We pick up languages along the road. I was never in the neighbourhood before," etc. These I believe to have been falsehoods. I must, however, add, that I have known Basque scholars learn Magyar, and Hungarians Basque, with unusual facility. Still the question remains: What is the object of these journeys?--a question for your Society to answer.'

Alas! the Gypsy Lore Society is dead; after four years' most

p. xl

excellent work it died of want of support in 1892. And that question remains still unanswered. In the passage itself, however, there is a good deal to be noticed. Ciboure at present has little or nothing to draw foreign Gypsies to it; but a hundred, two hundred years ago, it was probably a genuine Gypsy quarter: then there would be every reason why Caldarari should make it a regular halting-place. This conjecture, if valid, suggests the antiquity of these strange peregrinations; and Gypsies assuredly are the very staunchest conservatives. Another guess is that at Ascain Gypsies very likely are buried; that would fully account for their descendants turning aside thus. Mr. Webster's remark as to the ease with which Basque scholars acquire Magyar, and Hungarians Basque, was well worth making; still the fact remains--and it is an important one for our theory--that the unlettered Gypsies as a race are marvellous linguists. The immigrants of 1417-34 must, to tell fortunes as they did, have been able to speak German, French, and Italian; and I could, if necessary, adduce many testimonies as to the Gypsies' faculty for picking up foreign languages. I have myself known an English Gypsy family remove (for family reasons) into Wales, and in three years' time become thoroughly Cymricised.

M. Paul Bataillard was for years collecting materials about the Caldarari, but he died without publishing his promised monograph on the subject, so we must content ourselves with these stray notes from his writings:--'The Gypsy Caldarari (as they are called in the districts of Roumania where they are accustomed to journey), have recommenced in our own days, throughout the whole of the west, circuits which have led them sometimes as far as England, as far as Norway, and sometimes, by way of France and Spain, as far as Corsica and Algeria. France was during a certain time "infested" by them, to quote the newspapers of the day, whilst I was rejoicing in the good luck which had thrown them in my way. . . . These exotic Gypsy blacksmiths generally return to the country whence they came. . . . They travel sometimes in rather large numbers in waggons which have no resemblance to the houses upon wheels of our Gypsies; and wherever they stop they set up large tents, where each waggon finds its place. The men have generally long hair, and clothes more or less foreign, often ornamented with very large silver buttons; and the chiefs carry a large stick with a silver head. It is easy to recognise them at a glance by these signs, and by their trade. . . . The journeys of these Gypsy blacksmiths had already been noticed in Germany and Italy 1 long before 1866. On

p. xli

the other hand, the edict of Ferdinand and Isabella, published at Medina del Campo in 1499, mentions the "Calderos estrangeros," who might well be Gypsies ("Immigration of the Gypsies into Western Europe," Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 202-3). . . . The Caldarari, if I am rightly informed, form a corporation, strictly organised, and having its hierarchical chiefs, They always travel in groups, commanded by chiefs of different degrees; and the work is done always in common. They even say it is the head chief who procures at Temesvar all the copper used by the corporation, and supplies the wandering bands with it. . . . There was certainly an intermission in the circular journeys pushed as far as France and farther, since I know of none that date from earlier than 1866; but they may have gone back to a long way beyond that date; and, as a matter of fact, before 1866 the Caldarari made excursions in Germany and Italy' (Les Zlotars, p. 549). . . . 'A fact still stranger is that Algeria has recently received a visit from Hungarian Gypsies, forming part of the numerous bands of Danubian Tsigans (for the most part chaudronniers), who, for some years (especially since 1866) have been traversing the West. I know for a fact that at Algiers a band of twenty to twenty-five persons was seen towards the middle of 1871, and that the same persons, or others like them, reappeared six months later. I have myself seen at Paris Hungarian Gypsies who had a vague idea of visiting Algeria' (Les Bohémiens en Algerie, 1874, p. 3, note). Cf. also his L’origine des Tsiganes, pp. 54-58.

In an article on the Lithuanian Gypsies (Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 252) M. Mieczyslaw Dowojno-Sylwestrowicz says: 'Sometimes we are visited also by Hungarian, Servian, and Roumanian Gypsies. These last consider themselves to belong to the Orthodox (i.e. the Russian) Church. They are mostly tinkers, repairing copper cooking utensils; but of these they are very apt to steal the copper bottoms, substituting an imitation of papier-mâché. They differ greatly from our own Gypsies, whom they excel in an incredible amount of obtrusiveness; moreover, they attack and rob wayfarers, and when asked what they are, they say, "We are not Gypsies, sir, we are Magyars."'

In an article, already quoted, on the Gypsies of Belgium (ib. 138) Professor Henri van Elven writes of the Caldarari:--'They usually travelled in little two-wheeled carts covered over with tilts

p. xlii

of grey cloth, and containing straw, baggage, and tinworkers' tools. They have a great love for their horses, who are far from being in the miserable condition of horses of wandering mountebanks. I have seen the children share their bread with the horses. They buy and sell--sometimes steal--their horses. They have also dogs, large and well set-up. Their clothes are -for the most part of Hungarian style, but also often like ours notably, of gaudy colours, red and blue. All have long, black, curly hair, well furnished with inhabitants, which renders scratching a habit. 1 The complexion is swarthy; the features are fine and strongly accentuated, both among the men and the women. The nose is fairly long, and aquiline; the teeth are yellow, through the use of tobacco in all forms among women as well as men, unless in the case of some young girls. . . . These Gypsies were tin-workers, repairing metal utensils, and also basket-makers. The women went from door to door, asking work and begging. The women and children usually go barefoot and bare-headed, even in bad weather, displaying an astonishing endurance. We have not observed any smelters among the Gypsies, but many exhibitors of animals, jugglers, and female fortune-tellers. With regard to the young girls given over to vice, they are better attired, wearing clothes of the Italian and Hungarian modes of bright colours. They go about in the evening especially, looking about them, or carrying playing-cards, or again with small articles of basket-work for sale.'

In 1879 Sir Henry Howorth encountered in Sweden fez-wearing Gypsies, natives presumably of the Balkan peninsula; and in July 1881 a band of Gypsy blacksmiths from Corfu landed in Corsica, after having travelled over Italy (Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 204, note). Late in the sixties a company of Caldarari visited England, and en-camped at several points round London. I know no mention of this visit in print, and I never met them myself, but I have talked with English Gypsies who did, and who were full of their little horses, their big copper vessels, and curious Rómani. Some of the Taylors on Rushmere Heath in 1873 told me these foreign Gypsies came from the Langári country, and were called Langarians.'


xxxix:1 In 1894 there was a small band of Bosnian Gypsies at St. Jean de Luz on their way to Spain. They were evidently well-off.

xl:1 The tented Gypsies in Calabria in May 1777, described in Henry Swinburne's Travels in the Two Sicilies (2nd ed. ii. 168-172), were almost certainly p. xli not Italian Gypsies, but Caldarari. Borrow speaks of the foreign excursions of the Hungarian Gypsies, which frequently endure for three or four years, and extend to France, even to Rome (The Zincali, 1841, i. 13); and Adriano Colocci tells in Gli Zingari (Turin, 1889), p. 181, how in the Apennines of Fossato he encountered Hungarian Gypsies who seemed quite at home there, as also how at Kadi Köi in Asia Minor he had discourse with a band of Neapolitan Gypsies.

xlii:1 Against this statement I must set what was quite a typical remark of an English Gypsy, a Boswell:--'That's a thing, sir, I should be disdainful of, to be júvalo' (verminous).

Next: 'Greek Gypsies.'