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


p. lxii

Lastly, in the Gypsy Lore Journal for April and July 1890, were two long articles by Dr. A. B. Elysseeff--'Kounavine's Materials for the Study of the Gypsies.' According to these, Michael Ivanovitch Kounavine (1820-81) studied medicine at Moscow, and then having passed as doctor, for the thirty-five years 1841-76 wandered from Gypsy camp to Gypsy camp in Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. Eight of those years were passed amongst the Gypsies of Germany, Austria, Southern France, Italy, England, and Spain; twelve amongst those of Asia Minor, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Iran, Hindustan, and the Deccan; ten amongst Russian Gypsies; and then from the Caucasus 'the indefatigable traveller followed the transition of the European Gypsies into those of Kurdistan, and all along the Ural Mountains into those of Central Asia and Turan, on this occasion revisiting India and the ranges of Tian-Shan and the Himalayas.' Meanwhile he collected an 'immense store of materials, consisting of 123 tales, 80 traditions and legends, 62 ritual songs, and 120 smaller products of Gypsy poetry. . . . In the ancient legends the mythological elements assert themselves most strongly, and the characteristic features of the Hindu mythology are there so evident, that even the names in these tales recall the analogous divinities of the Hindu theology. These are Baramy, the proto-divinity, Jandra, the sun-god, Laki, Matta, Anromori, and others, in which one cannot fail to recognise the Hindu Brama, Indra, Lakshmi, Máta (Prithik, earth-mother), as well as the Zendic name of Ariman. . . . In the traditions and historical narratives one meets with classic names of towns known to the Greek geographers, such as Batala, Pourini, Espadi, Rikoi, Bikin, and Babili, in which it is not difficult to recognise the ancient towns Pattala, Poura, Aspadana (Ispahan), Rhagæ, Beikind, and Babylon, cited by Arrian and other historians and geographers.'

These are the merest pickings from Dr. Kounavine's 'colossal' collections, which perished, alas! with him somewhere in Siberia, and are known to us only through an elaborate abstract drawn up in 1878 by Dr. Elysseeff, since himself also dead. First printed in the Transactions of the Russian Geographical Society (1882), that abstract, thanks to Dr. Kopernicki, appeared in English in the Gypsy Lore Journal, where it occupied twenty-five pages. It was quite right it should appear there; still, I cannot feel absolutely certain that there ever was any Dr. Kounavine at all. If there was, I am certain that nine-tenths of the discoveries claimed for him are the merest moonshine. To maintain that the Gypsies of England, France, Spain, and Italy arrived at their present habitats from

p. lxiii

[paragraph continues] Africa by way of Sicily, is, as has been shown, to evince a crass ignorance of the Rómani language. Equally absurd is it to maintain that 'every Gypsy dialect contains a large number of words of non-Aryan origin: Aramaic, Semitic, and even Mongol words form 25 per cent. of the Gypsy vocabulary taken in its largest sense.' For this implies that Aramaic is non-Semitic, as though one should speak of Gaelic and Celtic, or of German and Teutonic. Again, what of the sketch-map, according to which Dr. Kounavine seems to have found 'fragmentary and confused traces of a primitive mythology' somewhere about Newtown in Montgomeryshire and round the Cambridgeshire Wash? Newtown is a Welsh-Gypsy centre (I had shown it be such in 1880); but unquestionably its Gypsies would have retained some recollection of a visit from a mysterious Rómani-speaking foreigner, even after the lapse of thirty or forty years.


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