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THE ZINCALI OR AN ACCOUNT OF THE GYPSIES OF SPAIN - PART I

CHAPTER I

GITANOS, or Egyptians, is the name by which the Gypsies have been most generally known in Spain, in the ancient as well as in the modern period, but various other names have been and still are applied to them; for example, New Castilians, Germans, and Flemings; the first of which titles probably originated after the name of Gitano had begun to be considered a term of reproach and infamy. They may have thus designated themselves from an unwillingness to utter, when speaking of themselves, the detested expression 'Gitano,' a word which seldom escapes their mouths; or it may have been applied to them first by the Spaniards, in their mutual dealings and communication, as a term less calculated to wound their feelings and to beget a spirit of animosity than the other; but, however it might have originated, New Castilian, in course of time, became a term of little less infamy than Gitano; for, by the law of Philip the Fourth, both terms are forbidden to be applied to them under severe penalties.

That they were called Germans, may be accounted for, either by the supposition that their generic name of Rommany was misunderstood and mispronounced by the Spaniards amongst whom they came, or from the fact of their having passed through Germany in their way to the south, and bearing passports and letters of safety from the various German states. The title of Flemings, by which at the present day they are known in various parts of Spain, would probably never have been bestowed upon them but from the circumstance of their having been designated or believed to be Germans, - as German and Fleming are considered by the ignorant as synonymous terms.

Amongst themselves they have three words to distinguish them and their race in general: Zincalo, Romano, and Chai; of the first two of which something has been already said.

They likewise call themselves 'Cales,' by which appellation indeed they are tolerably well known by the Spaniards, and which is merely the plural termination of the compound word Zincalo, and signifies, The black men. Chai is a modification of the word Chal, which, by the Gitanos of Estremadura, is applied to Egypt, and in many parts of Spain is equivalent to 'Heaven,' and which is perhaps a modification of 'Cheros,' the word for heaven in other dialects of the Gypsy language. Thus Chai may denote, The men of Egypt, or, The sons of Heaven. It is, however, right to observe, that amongst the Gitanos, the word Chai has frequently no other signification than the simple one of 'children.'

It is impossible to state for certainty the exact year of their first appearance in Spain; but it is reasonable to presume that it was early in the fifteenth century; as in the year 1417 numerous bands entered France from the north-east of Europe, and speedily spread themselves over the greatest part of that country. Of these wanderers a French author has left the following graphic description: (16)

'On the 17th of April 1427, appeared in Paris twelve penitents of Egypt, driven from thence by the Saracens; they brought in their company one hundred and twenty persons; they took up their quarters in La Chapelle, whither the people flocked in crowds to visit them. They had their ears pierced, from which depended a ring of silver; their hair was black and crispy, and their women were filthy to a degree, and were sorceresses who told fortunes.'

Such were the people who, after traversing France and scaling the sides of the Pyrenees, poured down in various bands upon the sunburnt plains of Spain. Wherever they had appeared they had been looked upon as a curse and a pestilence, and with much reason. Either unwilling or unable to devote themselves to any laborious or useful occupation, they came like flights of wasps to prey upon the fruits which their more industrious fellow-beings amassed by the toil of their hands and the sweat of their foreheads; the natural result being, that wherever they arrived, their fellow-creatures banded themselves against them. Terrible laws were enacted soon after their appearance in France, calculated to put a stop to their frauds and dishonest propensities; wherever their hordes were found, they were attacked by the incensed rustics or by the armed hand of justice, and those who were not massacred on the spot, or could not escape by flight, were, without a shadow of a trial, either hanged on the next tree, or sent to serve for life in the galleys; or if females or children, either scourged or mutilated.

The consequence of this severity, which, considering the manners and spirit of the time, is scarcely to be wondered at, was the speedy disappearance of the Gypsies from the soil of France.

Many returned by the way they came, to Germany, Hungary, and the woods and forests of Bohemia; but there is little doubt that by far the greater portion found a refuge in the Peninsula, a country which, though by no means so rich and fertile as the one they had quitted, nor offering so wide and ready a field for the exercise of those fraudulent arts for which their race had become so infamously notorious, was, nevertheless, in many respects, suitable and congenial to them. If there were less gold and silver in the purses of the citizens to reward the dexterous handler of the knife and scissors amidst the crowd in the market-place; if fewer sides of fatted swine graced the ample chimney of the labourer in Spain than in the neighbouring country; if fewer beeves bellowed in the plains, and fewer sheep bleated upon the hills, there were far better opportunities afforded of indulging in wild independence. Should the halberded bands of the city be ordered out to quell, seize, or exterminate them; should the alcalde of the village cause the tocsin to be rung, gathering together the villanos for a similar purpose, the wild sierra was generally at hand, which, with its winding paths, its caves, its frowning precipices, and ragged thickets, would offer to them a secure refuge where they might laugh to scorn the rage of their baffled pursuers, and from which they might emerge either to fresh districts or to those which they had left, to repeat their ravages when opportunity served.

After crossing the Pyrenees, a very short time elapsed before the Gypsy hordes had bivouacked in the principal provinces of Spain. There can indeed be little doubt, that shortly after their arrival they made themselves perfectly acquainted with all the secrets of the land, and that there was scarcely a nook or retired corner within Spain, from which the smoke of their fires had not arisen, or where their cattle had not grazed. People, however, so acute as they have always proverbially been, would scarcely be slow in distinguishing the provinces most adapted to their manner of life, and most calculated to afford them opportunities of practising those arts to which they were mainly indebted for their subsistence; the savage hills of Biscay, of Galicia, and the Asturias, whose inhabitants were almost as poor as themselves, which possessed no superior breed of horses or mules from amongst which they might pick and purloin many a gallant beast, and having transformed by their dexterous scissors, impose him again upon his rightful master for a high price, - such provinces, where, moreover, provisions were hard to be obtained, even by pilfering hands, could scarcely be supposed to offer strong temptations to these roving visitors to settle down in, or to vex and harass by a long sojourn.

Valencia and Murcia found far more favour in their eyes; a far more fertile soil, and wealthier inhabitants, were better calculated to entice them; there was a prospect of plunder, and likewise a prospect of safety and refuge, should the dogs of justice be roused against them. If there were the populous town and village in those lands, there was likewise the lone waste, and uncultivated spot, to which they could retire when danger threatened them. Still more suitable to them must have been La Mancha, a land of tillage, of horses, and of mules, skirted by its brown sierra, ever eager to afford its shelter to their dusky race. Equally suitable, Estremadura and New Castile; but far, far more, Andalusia, with its three kingdoms, Jaen, Granada, and Seville, one of which was still possessed by the swarthy Moor, - Andalusia, the land of the proud steed and the stubborn mule, the land of the savage sierra and the fruitful and cultivated plain: to Andalusia they hied, in bands of thirties and sixties; the hoofs of their asses might be heard clattering in the passes of the stony hills; the girls might be seen bounding in lascivious dance in the streets of many a town, and the beldames standing beneath the eaves telling the 'buena ventura' to many a credulous female dupe; the men the while chaffered in the fair and market-place with the labourers and chalanes, casting significant glances on each other, or exchanging a word or two in Rommany, whilst they placed some uncouth animal in a particular posture which served to conceal its ugliness from the eyes of the chapman. Yes, of all provinces of Spain, Andalusia was the most frequented by the Gitano race, and in Andalusia they most abound at the present day, though no longer as restless independent wanderers of the fields and hills, but as residents in villages and towns, especially in Seville.

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