Make your own free website on


ALREADY, from the two preceding chapters, it will have been perceived that the condition of the Gitanos in Spain has been subjected of late to considerable modification. The words of the Gypsy of Badajoz are indeed, in some respects, true; they are no longer the people that they were; the roads and 'despoblados' have ceased to be infested by them, and the traveller is no longer exposed to much danger on their account; they at present confine themselves, for the most part, to towns and villages, and if they occasionally wander abroad, it is no longer in armed bands, formidable for their numbers, and carrying terror and devastation in all directions, bivouacking near solitary villages, and devouring the substance of the unfortunate inhabitants, or occasionally threatening even large towns, as in the singular case of Logrono, mentioned by Francisco de Cordova. As the reader will probably wish to know the cause of this change in the lives and habits of these people, we shall, as briefly as possible, afford as much information on the subject as the amount of our knowledge will permit.

One fact has always struck us with particular force in the history of these people, namely, that Gitanismo - which means Gypsy villainy of every description - flourished and knew nothing of decay so long as the laws recommended and enjoined measures the most harsh and severe for the suppression of the Gypsy sect; the palmy days of Gitanismo were those in which the caste was proscribed, and its members, in the event of renouncing their Gypsy habits, had nothing farther to expect than the occupation of tilling the earth, a dull hopeless toil; then it was that the Gitanos paid tribute to the inferior ministers of justice, and were engaged in illicit connection with those of higher station, and by such means baffled the law, whose vengeance rarely fell upon their heads; and then it was that they bid it open defiance, retiring to the deserts and mountains, and living in wild independence by rapine and shedding of blood; for as the law then stood they would lose all by resigning their Gitanismo, whereas by clinging to it they lived either in the independence so dear to them, or beneath the protection of their confederates. It would appear that in proportion as the law was harsh and severe, so was the Gitano bold and secure. The fiercest of these laws was the one of Philip the Fifth, passed in the year 1745, which commands that the refractory Gitanos be hunted down with fire and sword; that it was quite inefficient is satisfactorily proved by its being twice reiterated, once in the year '46, and again in '49, which would scarcely have been deemed necessary had it quelled the Gitanos. This law, with some unimportant modifications, continued in force till the year '83, when the famous edict of Carlos Tercero superseded it. Will any feel disposed to doubt that the preceding laws had served to foster what they were intended to suppress, when we state the remarkable fact, that since the enactment of that law, as humane as the others were unjust, WE HAVE HEARD NOTHING MORE OF THE GITANOS FROM OFFICIAL QUARTERS; THEY HAVE CEASED TO PLAY A DISTINCT PART IN THE HISTORY OF SPAIN; AND THE LAW NO LONGER SPEAKS OF THEM AS A DISTINCT PEOPLE? The caste of the Gitano still exists, but it is neither so extensive nor so formidable as a century ago, when the law in denouncing Gitanismo proposed to the Gitanos the alternatives of death for persisting in their profession, or slavery for abandoning it.

There are fierce and discontented spirits amongst them, who regret such times, and say that Gypsy law is now no more, that the Gypsy no longer assists his brother, and that union has ceased among them. If this be true, can better proof be adduced of the beneficial working of the later law? A blessing has been conferred on society, and in a manner highly creditable to the spirit of modern times; reform has been accomplished, not by persecution, not by the gibbet and the rack, but by justice and tolerance. The traveller has flung aside his cloak, not compelled by the angry buffeting of the north wind, but because the mild, benignant weather makes such a defence no longer necessary. The law no longer compels the Gitanos to stand back to back, on the principal of mutual defence, and to cling to Gitanismo to escape from servitude and thraldom.

Taking everything into consideration, and viewing the subject in all its bearings with an impartial glance, we are compelled to come to the conclusion that the law of Carlos Tercero, the provisions of which were distinguished by justice and clemency, has been the principal if not the only cause of the decline of Gitanismo in Spain. Some importance ought to be attached to the opinion of the Gitanos themselves on this point. 'El Crallis ha nicobado la liri de los Cales,' is a proverbial saying among them. By Crallis, or King, they mean Carlos Tercero, so that the saying, the proverbial saying, may be thus translated: THE LAW OF CARLOS TERCERO HAS SUPERSEDED GYPSY LAW.

By the law the schools are open to them, and there is no art or science which they may not pursue, if they are willing. Have they availed themselves of the rights which the law has conferred upon them?

Up to the present period but little - they still continue jockeys and blacksmiths; but some of these Gypsy chalans, these bronzed smiths, these wild-looking esquiladors, can read or write in the proportion of one man in three or four; what more can be expected? Would you have the Gypsy bantling, born in filth and misery, 'midst mules and borricos, amidst the mud of a choza or the sand of a barranco, grasp with its swarthy hands the crayon and easel, the compass, or the microscope, or the tube which renders more distinct the heavenly orbs, and essay to become a Murillo, or a Feijoo, or a Lorenzo de Hervas, as soon as the legal disabilities are removed which doomed him to be a thievish jockey or a sullen husbandman? Much will have been accomplished, if, after the lapse of a hundred years, one hundred human beings shall have been evolved from the Gypsy stock, who shall prove sober, honest, and useful members of society, - that stock so degraded, so inveterate in wickedness and evil customs, and so hardened by brutalising laws. Should so many beings, should so many souls be rescued from temporal misery and eternal woe; should only the half of that number, should only the tenth, nay, should only one poor wretched sheep be saved, there will be joy in heaven, for much will have been accomplished on earth, and those lines will have been in part falsified which filled the stout heart of Mahmoud with dismay:-

'For the root that's unclean, hope if you can; No washing e'er whitens the black Zigan: The tree that's bitter by birth and race, If in paradise garden to grow you place, And water it free with nectar and wine, From streams in paradise meads that shine, At the end its nature it still declares, For bitter is all the fruit it bears. If the egg of the raven of noxious breed You place 'neath the paradise bird, and feed The splendid fowl upon its nest, With immortal figs, the food of the blest, And give it to drink from Silisbel, (46) Whilst life in the egg breathes Gabriel, A raven, a raven, the egg shall bear, And the fostering bird shall waste its care.' -


The principal evidence which the Gitanos have hitherto given that a partial reformation has been effected in their habits, is the relinquishment, in a great degree, of that wandering life of which the ancient laws were continually complaining, and which was the cause of infinite evils, and tended not a little to make the roads insecure.

Doubtless there are those who will find some difficulty in believing that the mild and conciliatory clauses of the law in question could have much effect in weaning the Gitanos from this inveterate habit, and will be more disposed to think that this relinquishment was effected by energetic measures resorted to by the government, to compel them to remain in their places of location. It does not appear, however, that such measures were ever resorted to. Energy, indeed, in the removal of a nuisance, is scarcely to be expected from Spaniards under any circumstances. All we can say on the subject, with certainty, is, that since the repeal of the tyrannical laws, wandering has considerably decreased among the Gitanos.

Since the law has ceased to brand them, they have come nearer to the common standard of humanity, and their general condition has been ameliorated. At present, only the very poorest, the parias of the race, are to be found wandering about the heaths and mountains, and this only in the summer time, and their principal motive, according to their own confession, is to avoid the expense of house rent; the rest remain at home, following their avocations, unless some immediate prospect of gain, lawful or unlawful, calls them forth; and such is frequently the case. They attend most fairs, women and men, and on the way frequently bivouac in the fields, but this practice must not be confounded with systematic wandering.

Gitanismo, therefore, has not been extinguished, only modified; but that modification has been effected within the memory of man, whilst previously near four centuries elapsed, during which no reform had been produced amongst them by the various measures devised, all of which were distinguished by an absence not only of true policy, but of common-sense; it is therefore to be hoped, that if the Gitanos are abandoned to themselves, by which we mean no arbitrary laws are again enacted for their extinction, the sect will eventually cease to be, and its members become confounded with the residue of the population; for certainly no Christian nor merely philanthropic heart can desire the continuance of any sect or association of people whose fundamental principle seems to be to hate all the rest of mankind, and to live by deceiving them; and such is the practice of the Gitanos.

During the last five years, owing to the civil wars, the ties which unite society have been considerably relaxed; the law has been trampled under foot, and the greatest part of Spain overrun with robbers and miscreants, who, under pretence of carrying on partisan warfare, and not unfrequently under no pretence at all, have committed the most frightful excesses, plundering and murdering the defenceless. Such a state of things would have afforded the Gitanos a favourable opportunity to resume their former kind of life, and to levy contributions as formerly, wandering about in bands. Certain it is, however, that they have not sought to repeat their ancient excesses, taking advantage of the troubles of the country; they have gone on, with a few exceptions, quietly pursuing that part of their system to which they still cling, their jockeyism, which, though based on fraud and robbery, is far preferable to wandering brigandage, which necessarily involves the frequent shedding of blood. Can better proof be adduced, that Gitanismo owes its decline, in Spain, not to force, not to persecution, not to any want of opportunity of exercising it, but to some other cause? - and we repeat that we consider the principal if not the only cause of the decline of Gitanismo to be the conferring on the Gitanos the rights and privileges of other subjects.

We have said that the Gitanos have not much availed themselves of the permission, which the law grants them, of embarking in various spheres of life. They remain jockeys, but they have ceased to be wanderers; and the grand object of the law is accomplished. The law forbids them to be jockeys, or to follow the trade of trimming and shearing animals, without some other visible mode of subsistence. This provision, except in a few isolated instances, they evade; and the law seeks not, and perhaps wisely, to disturb them, content with having achieved so much. The chief evils of Gitanismo which still remain consist in the systematic frauds of the Gypsy jockeys and the tricks of the women. It is incurring considerable risk to purchase a horse or a mule, even from the most respectable Gitano, without a previous knowledge of the animal and his former possessor, the chances being that it is either diseased or stolen from a distance. Of the practices of the females, something will be said in particular in a future chapter.

The Gitanos in general are very poor, a pair of large cachas and various scissors of a smaller description constituting their whole capital; occasionally a good hit is made, as they call it, but the money does not last long, being quickly squandered in feasting and revelry. He who has habitually in his house a couple of donkeys is considered a thriving Gitano; there are some, however, who are wealthy in the strict sense of the word, and carry on a very extensive trade in horses and mules. These, occasionally, visit the most distant fairs, traversing the greatest part of Spain. There is a celebrated cattle-fair held at Leon on St. John's or Midsummer Day, and on one of these occasions, being present, I observed a small family of Gitanos, consisting of a man of about fifty, a female of the same age, and a handsome young Gypsy, who was their son; they were richly dressed after the Gypsy fashion, the men wearing zamarras with massy clasps and knobs of silver, and the woman a species of riding-dress with much gold embroidery, and having immense gold rings attached to her ears. They came from Murcia, a distance of one hundred leagues and upwards. Some merchants, to whom I was recommended, informed me that they had credit on their house to the amount of twenty thousand dollars.

They experienced rough treatment in the fair, and on a very singular account: immediately on their appearing on the ground, the horses in the fair, which, perhaps, amounted to three thousand, were seized with a sudden and universal panic; it was one of those strange incidents for which it is difficult to assign a rational cause; but a panic there was amongst the brutes, and a mighty one; the horses neighed, screamed, and plunged, endeavouring to escape in all directions; some appeared absolutely possessed, stamping and tearing, their manes and tails stiffly erect, like the bristles of the wild boar - many a rider lost his seat. When the panic had ceased, and it did cease almost as suddenly as it had arisen, the Gitanos were forthwith accused as the authors of it; it was said that they intended to steal the best horses during the confusion, and the keepers of the ground, assisted by a rabble of chalans, who had their private reasons for hating the Gitanos, drove them off the field with sticks and cudgels. So much for having a bad name.

These wealthy Gitanos, when they are not ashamed of their blood or descent, and are not addicted to proud fancies, or 'barbales,' as they are called, possess great influence with the rest of their brethren, almost as much as the rabbins amongst the Jews; their bidding is considered law, and the other Gitanos are at their devotion. On the contrary, when they prefer the society of the Busne to that of their own race, and refuse to assist their less fortunate brethren in poverty or in prison, they are regarded with unbounded contempt and abhorrence, as in the case of the rich Gypsy of Badajoz, and are not unfrequently doomed to destruction: such characters are mentioned in their couplets:-

'The Gypsy fiend of Manga mead,

Who never gave a straw,

He would destroy, for very greed,

The good Egyptian law.

'The false Juanito day and night

Had best with caution go;

The Gypsy carles of Yeira height

Have sworn to lay him low.'

However some of the Gitanos may complain that there is no longer union to be found amongst them, there is still much of that fellow- feeling which springs from a consciousness of proceeding from one common origin, or, as they love to term it, 'blood.' At present their system exhibits less of a commonwealth than when they roamed in bands amongst the wilds, and principally subsisted by foraging, each individual contributing to the common stock, according to his success. The interests of individuals are now more distinct, and that close connection is of course dissolved which existed when they wandered about, and their dangers, gains, and losses were felt in common; and it can never be too often repeated that they are no longer a proscribed race, with no rights nor safety save what they gained by a close and intimate union. Nevertheless, the Gitano, though he naturally prefers his own interest to that of his brother, and envies him his gain when he does not expect to share in it, is at all times ready to side with him against the Busno, because the latter is not a Gitano, but of a different blood, and for no other reason. When one Gitano confides his plans to another, he is in no fear that they will be betrayed to the Busno, for whom there is no sympathy, and when a plan is to be executed which requires co-operation, they seek not the fellowship of the Busne, but of each other, and if successful, share the gain like brothers.

As a proof of the fraternal feeling which is not unfrequently displayed amongst the Gitanos, I shall relate a circumstance which occurred at Cordova a year or two before I first visited it. One of the poorest of the Gitanos murdered a Spaniard with the fatal Manchegan knife; for this crime he was seized, tried, and found guilty. Blood-shedding in Spain is not looked upon with much abhorrence, and the life of the culprit is seldom taken, provided he can offer a bribe sufficient to induce the notary public to report favourably upon his case; but in this instance money was of no avail; the murdered individual left behind him powerful friends and connections, who were determined that justice should take its course. It was in vain that the Gitanos exerted all their influence with the authorities in behalf of their comrade, and such influence was not slight; it was in vain that they offered extravagant sums that the punishment of death might be commuted to perpetual slavery in the dreary presidio of Ceuta; I was credibly informed that one of the richest Gitanos, by name Fruto, offered for his own share of the ransom the sum of five thousand crowns, whilst there was not an individual but contributed according to his means - nought availed, and the Gypsy was executed in the Plaza. The day before the execution, the Gitanos, perceiving that the fate of their brother was sealed, one and all quitted Cordova, shutting up their houses and carrying with them their horses, their mules, their borricos, their wives and families, and the greatest part of their household furniture. No one knew whither they directed their course, nor were they seen in Cordova for some months, when they again suddenly made their appearance; a few, however, never returned. So great was the horror of the Gitanos at what had occurred, that they were in the habit of saying that the place was cursed for evermore; and when I knew them, there were many amongst them who, on no account, would enter the Plaza which had witnessed the disgraceful end of their unfortunate brother.

The position which the Gitanos hold in society in Spain is the lowest, as might be expected; they are considered at best as thievish chalans, and the women as half sorceresses, and in every respect thieves; there is not a wretch, however vile, the outcast of the prison and the presidio, who calls himself Spaniard, but would feel insulted by being termed Gitano, and would thank God that he is not; and yet, strange to say, there are numbers, and those of the higher classes, who seek their company, and endeavour to imitate their manners and way of speaking. The connections which they form with the Spaniards are not many; occasionally some wealthy Gitano marries a Spanish female, but to find a Gitana united to a Spaniard is a thing of the rarest occurrence, if it ever takes place. It is, of course, by intermarriage alone that the two races will ever commingle, and before that event is brought about, much modification must take place amongst the Gitanos, in their manners, in their habits, in their affections, and their dislikes, and, perhaps, even in their physical peculiarities; much must be forgotten on both sides, and everything is forgotten in the course of time.

The number of the Gitano population of Spain at the present day may be estimated at about forty thousand. At the commencement of the present century it was said to amount to sixty thousand. There can be no doubt that the sect is by no means so numerous as it was at former periods; witness those barrios in various towns still denominated Gitanerias, but from whence the Gitanos have disappeared even like the Moors from the Morerias. Whether this diminution in number has been the result of a partial change of habits, of pestilence or sickness, of war or famine, or of all these causes combined, we have no means of determining, and shall abstain from offering conjectures on the subject.

Jump to Zincali Part 2 CHAPTER IV

Return to Zincali Outline

This HTML version of  The Zincali is Copyright ©1999 by Dr. Frank Oliver Clark. This documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same.