WHEN the six hundred thousand men, (34) and the mixed multitude of women and children, went forth from the land of Egypt, the God whom they worshipped, the only true God, went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light; this God who rescued them from slavery, who guided them through the wilderness, who was their captain in battle, and who cast down before them the strong walls which encompassed the towns of their enemies, this God they still remember, after the lapse of more than three thousand years, and still worship with adoration the most unbounded. If there be one event in the eventful history of the Hebrews which awakens in their minds deeper feelings of gratitude than another, it is the exodus; and that wonderful manifestation of olden mercy still serves them as an assurance that the Lord will yet one day redeem and gather together his scattered and oppressed people. 'Art thou not the God who brought us out of the land of bondage?' they exclaim in the days of their heaviest trouble and affliction. He who redeemed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh is yet capable of restoring the kingdom and sceptre to Israel.
If the Rommany trusted in any God at the period of THEIR exodus, they must speedily have forgotten him. Coming from Ind, as they most assuredly did, it was impossible for them to have known the true, and they must have been followers (if they followed any) either of Buddh, or Brahmah, those tremendous phantoms which have led, and are likely still to lead, the souls of hundreds of millions to destruction; yet they are now ignorant of such names, nor does it appear that such were ever current amongst them subsequent to their arrival in Europe, if indeed they ever were. They brought with them no Indian idols, as far as we are able to judge at the present time, nor indeed Indian rites or observances, for no traces of such are to be discovered amongst them.
All, therefore, which relates to their original religion is shrouded in mystery, and is likely so to remain. They may have been idolaters, or atheists, or what they now are, totally neglectful of worship of any kind; and though not exactly prepared to deny the existence of a Supreme Being, as regardless of him as if he existed not, and never mentioning his name, save in oaths and blasphemy, or in moments of pain or sudden surprise, as they have heard other people do, but always without any fixed belief, trust, or hope.
There are certainly some points of resemblance between the children of Roma and those of Israel. Both have had an exodus, both are exiles and dispersed amongst the Gentiles, by whom they are hated and despised, and whom they hate and despise, under the names of Busnees and Goyim; both, though speaking the language of the Gentiles, possess a peculiar tongue, which the latter do not understand, and both possess a peculiar cast of countenance, by which they may, without difficulty, be distinguished from all other nations; but with these points the similarity terminates. The Israelites have a peculiar religion, to which they are fanatically attached; the Romas have none, as they invariably adopt, though only in appearance, that of the people with whom they chance to sojourn; the Israelites possess the most authentic history of any people in the world, and are acquainted with and delight to recapitulate all that has befallen their race, from ages the most remote; the Romas have no history, they do not even know the name of their original country; and the only tradition which they possess, that of their Egyptian origin, is a false one, whether invented by themselves or others; the Israelites are of all people the most wealthy, the Romas the most poor - poor as a Gypsy being proverbial amongst some nations, though both are equally greedy of gain; and finally, though both are noted for peculiar craft and cunning, no people are more ignorant than the Romas, whilst the Jews have always been a learned people, being in possession of the oldest literature in the world, and certainly the most important and interesting.
Sad and weary must have been the path of the mixed rabble of the Romas, when they left India's sunny land and wended their way to the West, in comparison with the glorious exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, whose God went before them in cloud and in fire, working miracles and astonishing the hearts of their foes.
Even supposing that they worshipped Buddh or Brahmah, neither of these false deities could have accomplished for them what God effected for his chosen people, although it is true that the idea that a Supreme Being was watching over them, in return for the reverence paid to his image, might have cheered them 'midst storm and lightning, 'midst mountains and wildernesses, 'midst hunger and drought; for it is assuredly better to trust even in an idol, in a tree, or a stone, than to be entirely godless; and the most superstitious hind of the Himalayan hills, who trusts in the Grand Foutsa in the hour of peril and danger, is more wise than the most enlightened atheist, who cherishes no consoling delusion to relieve his mind, oppressed by the terrible ideas of reality.
But it is evident that they arrived at the confines of Europe without any certain or rooted faith. Knowing, as we do, with what tenacity they retain their primitive habits and customs, their sect being, in all points, the same as it was four hundred years ago, it appears impossible that they should have forgotten their peculiar god, if in any peculiar god they trusted.
Though cloudy ideas of the Indian deities might be occasionally floating in their minds, these ideas, doubtless, quickly passed away when they ceased to behold the pagodas and temples of Indian worship, and were no longer in contact with the enthusiastic adorers of the idols of the East; they passed away even as the dim and cloudy ideas which they subsequently adopted of the Eternal and His Son, Mary and the saints, would pass away when they ceased to be nourished by the sight of churches and crosses; for should it please the Almighty to reconduct the Romas to Indian climes, who can doubt that within half a century they would entirely forget all connected with the religion of the West! Any poor shreds of that faith which they bore with them they would drop by degrees as they would relinquish their European garments when they became old, and as they relinquished their Asiatic ones to adopt those of Europe; no particular dress makes a part of the things essential to the sect of Roma, so likewise no particular god and no particular religion.
Where these people first assumed the name of Egyptians, or where that title was first bestowed upon them, it is difficult to determine; perhaps, however, in the eastern parts of Europe, where it should seem the grand body of this nation of wanderers made a halt for a considerable time, and where they are still to be found in greater numbers than in any other part. One thing is certain, that when they first entered Germany, which they speedily overran, they appeared under the character of Egyptians, doing penance for the sin of having refused hospitality to the Virgin and her Son, and, of course, as believers in the Christian faith, notwithstanding that they subsisted by the perpetration of every kind of robbery and imposition; Aventinus (ANNALES BOIORUM, 826) speaking of them says: 'Adeo tamen vana superstitio hominum mentes, velut lethargus invasit, ut eos violari nefas putet, atque grassari, furari, imponere passim sinant.'
This singular story of banishment from Egypt, and Wandering through the world for a period of seven years, for inhospitality displayed to the Virgin, and which I find much difficulty in attributing to the invention of people so ignorant as the Romas, tallies strangely with the fate foretold to the ancient Egyptians in certain chapters of Ezekiel, so much so, indeed, that it seems to be derived from that source. The Lord is angry with Egypt because its inhabitants have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, and thus he threatens them by the mouth of his prophet.
'I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.' Ezek., chap. xxix. v. 12. 'Yet thus saith the Lord God; at the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered.' v. 13.
'Thus saith the Lord; I will make the multitude of Egypt to cease, by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.' Chap. xxx. v. 10.
'And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them among the countries; and they shall know that I am the Lord.' Chap. xxx. v. 26.
The reader will at once observe that the apocryphal tale which the Romas brought into Germany, concerning their origin and wanderings, agrees in every material point with the sacred prophecy. The ancient Egyptians were to be driven from their country and dispersed amongst the nations, for a period of forty years, for having been the cause of Israel's backsliding, and for not having known the Lord, - the modern pseudo-Egyptians are to be dispersed among the nations for seven years, for having denied hospitality to the Virgin and her child. The prophecy seems only to have been remodelled for the purpose of suiting the taste of the time; as no legend possessed much interest in which the Virgin did not figure, she and her child are here introduced instead of the Israelites, and the Lord of Heaven offended with the Egyptians; and this legend appears to have been very well received in Germany, for a time at least, for, as Aventinus observes, it was esteemed a crime of the first magnitude to offer any violence to the Egyptian pilgrims, who were permitted to rob on the highway, to commit larceny, and to practise every species of imposition with impunity.
The tale, however, of the Romas could hardly have been invented by themselves, as they were, and still are, utterly unacquainted with the Scripture; it probably originated amongst the priests and learned men of the east of Europe, who, startled by the sudden apparition of bands of people foreign in appearance and language, skilled in divination and the occult arts, endeavoured to find in Scripture a clue to such a phenomenon; the result of which was, that the Romas of Hindustan were suddenly transformed into Egyptian penitents, a title which they have ever since borne in various parts of Europe. There are no means of ascertaining whether they themselves believed from the first in this story; they most probably took it on credit, more especially as they could give no account of themselves, there being every reason for supposing that from time immemorial they had existed in the East as a thievish wandering sect, as they at present do in Europe, without history or traditions, and unable to look back for a period of eighty years. The tale moreover answered their purpose, as beneath the garb of penitence they could rob and cheat with impunity, for a time at least. One thing is certain, that in whatever manner the tale of their Egyptian descent originated, many branches of the sect place implicit confidence in it at the present day, more especially those of England and Spain.
Even at the present time there are writers who contend that the Romas are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians, who were scattered amongst the nations by the Assyrians. This belief they principally found upon particular parts of the prophecy from which we have already quoted, and there is no lack of plausibility in the arguments which they deduce therefrom. The Egyptians, say they, were to fall upon the open fields, they were not to be brought together nor gathered; they were to be dispersed through the countries, their idols were to be destroyed, and their images were to cease out of Noph! In what people in the world do these denunciations appear to be verified save the Gypsies? - a people who pass their lives in the open fields, who are not gathered together, who are dispersed through the countries, who have no idols, no images, nor any fixed or certain religion.
In Spain, the want of religion amongst the Gitanos was speedily observed, and became quite as notorious as their want of honesty; they have been styled atheists, heathen idolaters, and Moors. In the little book of Quinones', we find the subject noticed in the following manner:-
'They do not understand what kind of thing the church is, and never enter it but for the purpose of committing sacrilege. They do not know the prayers; for I examined them myself, males and females, and they knew them not, or if any, very imperfectly. They never partake of the Holy Sacraments, and though they marry relations they procure no dispensations. (35) No one knows whether they are baptized. One of the five whom I caused to be hung a few days ago was baptized in the prison, being at the time upwards of thirty years of age. Don Martin Fajardo says that two Gitanos and a Gitana, whom he hanged in the village of Torre Perojil, were baptized at the foot of the gallows, and declared themselves Moors.
'They invariably look out, when they marry, if we can call theirs marrying, for the woman most dexterous in pilfering and deceiving, caring nothing whether she is akin to them or married already, (36) for it is only necessary to keep her company and to call her wife. Sometimes they purchase them from their husbands, or receive them as pledges: so says, at least, Doctor Salazar de Mendoza.
'Friar Melchior of Guelama states that he heard asserted of two Gitanos what was never yet heard of any barbarous nation, namely, that they exchanged their wives, and that as one was more comely looking than the other, he who took the handsome woman gave a certain sum of money to him who took the ugly one. The licentiate Alonzo Duran has certified to me, that in the year 1623-4, one Simon Ramirez, captain of a band of Gitanos, repudiated Teresa because she was old, and married one called Melchora, who was young and handsome, and that on the day when the repudiation took place and the bridal was celebrated he was journeying along the road, and perceived a company feasting and revelling beneath some trees in a plain within the jurisdiction of the village of Deleitosa, and that on demanding the cause he was told that it was on account of Simon Ramirez marrying one Gitana and casting off another; and that the repudiated woman told him, with an agony of tears, that he abandoned her because she was old, and married another because she was young. Certainly Gitanos and Gitanas confessed before Don Martin Fajardo that they did not really marry, but that in their banquets and festivals they selected the woman whom they liked, and that it was lawful for them to have as many as three mistresses, and on that account they begat so many children. They never keep fasts nor any ecclesiastical command. They always eat meat, Friday and Lent not excepted; the morning when I seized those whom I afterwards executed, which was in Lent, they had three lambs which they intended to eat for their dinner that day. - Quinones, page 13.
Although what is stated in the above extracts, respecting the marriages of the Gitanos and their licentious manner of living, is, for the most part, incorrect, there is no reason to conclude the same with respect to their want of religion in the olden time, and their slight regard for the forms and observances of the church, as their behaviour at the present day serves to confirm what is said on those points. From the whole, we may form a tolerably correct idea of the opinions of the time respecting the Gitanos in matters of morality and religion. A very natural question now seems to present itself, namely, what steps did the government of Spain, civil and ecclesiastical, which has so often trumpeted its zeal in the cause of what it calls the Christian religion, which has so often been the scourge of the Jew, of the Mahometan, and of the professors of the reformed faith; what steps did it take towards converting, punishing, and rooting out from Spain, a sect of demi- atheists, who, besides being cheats and robbers, displayed the most marked indifference for the forms of the Catholic religion, and presumed to eat flesh every day, and to intermarry with their relations, without paying the vicegerent of Christ here on earth for permission so to do?
The Gitanos have at all times, since their first appearance in Spain, been notorious for their contempt of religious observances; yet there is no proof that they were subjected to persecution on that account. The men have been punished as robbers and murderers, with the gallows and the galleys; the women, as thieves and sorceresses, with imprisonment, flagellation, and sometimes death; but as a rabble, living without fear of God, and, by so doing, affording an evil example to the nation at large, few people gave themselves much trouble about them, though they may have occasionally been designated as such in a royal edict, intended to check their robberies, or by some priest from the pulpit, from whose stable they had perhaps contrived to extract the mule which previously had the honour of ambling beneath his portly person.
The Inquisition, which burnt so many Jews and Moors, and conscientious Christians, at Seville and Madrid, and in other parts of Spain, seems to have exhibited the greatest clemency and forbearance to the Gitanos. Indeed, we cannot find one instance of its having interfered with them. The charge of restraining the excesses of the Gitanos was abandoned entirely to the secular authorities, and more particularly to the Santa Hermandad, a kind of police instituted for the purpose of clearing the roads of robbers. Whilst I resided at Cordova, I was acquainted with an aged ecclesiastic, who was priest of a village called Puente, at about two leagues' distance from the city. He was detained in Cordova on account of his political opinions, though he was otherwise at liberty. We lived together at the same house; and he frequently visited me in my apartment.
This person, who was upwards of eighty years of age, had formerly been inquisitor at Cordova. One night, whilst we were seated together, three Gitanos entered to pay me a visit, and on observing the old ecclesiastic, exhibited every mark of dissatisfaction, and speaking in their own idiom, called him a BALICHOW, and abused priests in general in most unmeasured terms. On their departing, I inquired of the old man whether he, who having been an inquisitor, was doubtless versed in the annals of the holy office, could inform me whether the Inquisition had ever taken any active measures for the suppression and punishment of the sect of the Gitanos: whereupon he replied, 'that he was not aware of one case of a Gitano having been tried or punished by the Inquisition'; adding these remarkable words: 'The Inquisition always looked upon them with too much contempt to give itself the slightest trouble concerning them; for as no danger either to the state, or the church of Rome, could proceed from the Gitanos, it was a matter of perfect indifference to the holy office whether they lived without religion or not. The holy office has always reserved its anger for people very different; the Gitanos having at all times been GENTE BARATA Y DESPRECIABLE.
Indeed, most of the persecutions which have arisen in Spain against Jews, Moors, and Protestants, sprang from motives with which fanaticism and bigotry, of which it is true the Spaniards have their full share, had very little connection. Religion was assumed as a mask to conceal the vilest and most detestable motives which ever yet led to the commission of crying injustice; the Jews were doomed to persecution and destruction on two accounts, - their great riches, and their high superiority over the Spaniards in learning and intellect. Avarice has always been the dominant passion in Spanish minds, their rage for money being only to be compared to the wild hunger of wolves for horse-flesh in the time of winter: next to avarice, envy of superior talent and accomplishment is the prevailing passion. These two detestable feelings united, proved the ruin of the Jews in Spain, who were, for a long time, an eyesore, both to the clergy and laity, for their great riches and learning. Much the same causes insured the expulsion of the Moriscos, who were abhorred for their superior industry, which the Spaniards would not imitate; whilst the reformation was kept down by the gaunt arm of the Inquisition, lest the property of the church should pass into other and more deserving hands. The faggot piles in the squares of Seville and Madrid, which consumed the bodies of the Hebrew, the Morisco, and the Protestant, were lighted by avarice and envy, and those same piles would likewise have consumed the mulatto carcass of the Gitano, had he been learned and wealthy enough to become obnoxious to the two master passions of the Spaniards.
Of all the Spanish writers who have written concerning the Gitanos, the one who appears to have been most scandalised at the want of religion observable amongst them, and their contempt for things sacred, was a certain Doctor Sancho De Moncada.
This worthy, whom we have already had occasion to mention, was Professor of Theology at the University of Toledo, and shortly after the expulsion of the Moriscos had been brought about by the intrigues of the monks and robbers who thronged the court of Philip the Third, he endeavoured to get up a cry against the Gitanos similar to that with which for the last half-century Spain had resounded against the unfortunate and oppressed Africans, and to effect this he published a discourse, entitled 'The Expulsion of the Gitanos,' addressed to Philip the Third, in which he conjures that monarch, for the sake of morality and everything sacred, to complete the good work he had commenced, and to send the Gitanos packing after the Moriscos.
Whether this discourse produced any benefit to the author, we have no means of ascertaining. One thing is certain, that it did no harm to the Gitanos, who still continue in Spain.
If he had other expectations, he must have understood very little of the genius of his countrymen, or of King Philip and his court. It would have been easier to get up a crusade against the wild cats of the sierra, than against the Gitanos, as the former have skins to reward those who slay them. His discourse, however, is well worthy of perusal, as it exhibits some learning, and comprises many curious details respecting the Gitanos, their habits, and their practices. As it is not very lengthy, we here subjoin it, hoping that the reader will excuse its many absurdities, for the sake of its many valuable facts.
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