Mythology And Folklore

Common Myths about Gypsies

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"Common Myths about Gypsies"
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British gypsies have a hard time because of the myths that are told and retold about them and their origins. Even supposedly educated people and apparently respectable newspapers peddle these myths. There are many kinds of travelling people in Britain, not all of them, strictly speaking, are gypsies. Some travel simply because they choose to do so and not because of their heritage.

People stereotype all travelling folk as gypsies. The largest group amongst the travelling peoples of the United Kingdom are the Roma who comprise over half of the country's travelling population. Even the name "gypsies" is a myth, it supposedly comes from a corruption of Egyptians. That is certainly rubbish. Most historians believe that gypsies left India in around 1000ad. Their language, Rom, is actually nearer to sandskrit than any modern Indian language, which is something of a puzzle.

It is widely believed that gypsies are dirty. They actually have very strict rules about hygiene, "Mochadi", translated as unclean, which detail the principles for such things as the necessity for very frequent handwashing, something the settled population might do well to follow. No Roma would ever wash dishes in the same bowl that is used for laundry. Human waste is unclean to gypsies and Mochadi rules require latrines to be away from living areas, which is why modern housing is difficult for the Roma. The Roma believe that settled folk are unclean.

Another myth states that gypsies are thieves and criminals if that were so they would form a large part of the prison population, they are in fact under-represented amongst prisoners.

In years gone by, the great fear was that gypsies would steal the children of settled folk. Gypsies usually have too many children of their own to bother about stealing other people's kids.

There is a perception that gypsies are lazy and avoid work. There are hardworking gypsies the same as there are hardworking settled people. There are probably lazy gypsies in exactly the same way as there are lazy people who live in houses. Gypsies fought for Britain in two World wars and some won medals for bravery. Gypsies formed a much needed traveling agricultural workforce before mechanization. In the days before machines picked hops gypsies came to Kent each year to help with the hop-picking.

Some irresponsible British would-be politicians represent gypsies as foreigners who should be deported. Gypsies have been part of Britain for 500 years. They are as much British as, if not more British than, some of those who try to cover themselves in the Union flag.

Gypsies allegedly have supernatural powers and can see into the future. There is no doubt that some gypsies are psychic but probably about the same percentage of the gypsy population as amongst settled people. The gypsy life is bound up with nature, the earth and the seasons. Settled people in their towns and cities have moved far away from nature. Gypsies, in their everyday lives, probably just know things that others have forgotten, e.g. when the weather is about to change, about animals and their habits, whether the winter will be hard, but this is not supernatural powers it is knowing how to read the signs that are round about one. Gypsies can still do so automatically, settled people in their urban jungles have forgotten how.

Not all gypsies live a travelling life, some live in houses, some live on fixed sites. They pay taxes in the same way as other self-employed people. They have a language, culture and traditions all of their own and they are a sizeable community in the UK. Some people amongst the settled population fear any community that is "different", racist xenophobia abounds in a small part of the British people.

Myths about gypsys have lasted centuries, ElizabethI's law meant people could hang just for being gypsies, in 1954 an unbelievably ignorant and racist entry was published in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica of all places! At least half a million gypsies died in the Holocaust. Roma are not all dark-skinned and swarthy, some are even blue-eyed blondes. They have been part of British society for more than 500 years. They have kept their culture whereas settled people in Britain lost theirs during the Industrial revolution. Perhaps settled people are jealous of the strong roots that the gypsy culture has, despite the popular misconception of their wandering rootless life.

More about this author: Maria C Collins

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