THE Gitanos, in their habits and manner of life, are much less cleanly than the Spaniards. The hovels in which they reside exhibit none of the neatness which is observable in the habitations of even the poorest of the other race. The floors are unswept, and abound with filth and mud, and in their persons they are scarcely less vile. Inattention to cleanliness is a characteristic of the Gypsies, in all parts of the world.
The Bishop of Forli, as far back as 1422, gives evidence upon this point, and insinuates that they carried the plague with them; as he observes that it raged with peculiar violence the year of their appearance at Forli. (54)
At the present day they are almost equally disgusting, in this respect, in Hungary, England, and Spain. Amongst the richer Gitanos, habits of greater cleanliness of course exist than amongst the poorer. An air of sluttishness, however, pervades their dwellings, which, to an experienced eye, would sufficiently attest that the inmates were Gitanos, in the event of their absence.
What can be said of the Gypsy dress, of which such frequent mention is made in the Spanish laws, and which is prohibited together with the Gypsy language and manner of life? Of whatever it might consist in former days, it is so little to be distinguished from the dress of some classes amongst the Spaniards, that it is almost impossible to describe the difference. They generally wear a high- peaked, narrow-brimmed hat, a zamarra of sheep-skin in winter, and, during summer, a jacket of brown cloth; and beneath this they are fond of exhibiting a red plush waistcoat, something after the fashion of the English jockeys, with numerous buttons and clasps. A faja, or girdle of crimson silk, surrounds the waist, where, not unfrequently, are stuck the cachas which we have already described. Pantaloons of coarse cloth or leather descend to the knee; the legs are protected by woollen stockings, and sometimes by a species of spatterdash, either of cloth or leather; stout high-lows complete the equipment.
Such is the dress of the Gitanos of most parts of Spain. But it is necessary to remark that such also is the dress of the chalans, and of the muleteers, except that the latter are in the habit of wearing broad sombreros as preservatives from the sun. This dress appears to be rather Andalusian than Gitano; and yet it certainly beseems the Gitano better than the chalan or muleteer. He wears it with more easy negligence or jauntiness, by which he may be recognised at some distance, even from behind.
It is still more difficult to say what is the peculiar dress of the Gitanas; they wear not the large red cloaks and immense bonnets of coarse beaver which distinguish their sisters of England; they have no other headgear than a handkerchief, which is occasionally resorted to as a defence against the severity of the weather; their hair is sometimes confined by a comb, but more frequently is permitted to stray dishevelled down their shoulders; they are fond of large ear-rings, whether of gold, silver, or metal, resembling in this respect the poissardes of France. There is little to distinguish them from the Spanish women save the absence of the mantilla, which they never carry. Females of fashion not unfrequently take pleasure in dressing a la Gitana, as it is called; but this female Gypsy fashion, like that of the men, is more properly the fashion of Andalusia, the principal characteristic of which is the saya, which is exceedingly short, with many rows of flounces.
True it is that the original dress of the Gitanos, male and female, whatever it was, may have had some share in forming the Andalusian fashion, owing to the great number of these wanderers who found their way to that province at an early period. The Andalusians are a mixed breed of various nations, Romans, Vandals, Moors; perhaps there is a slight sprinkling of Gypsy blood in their veins, and of Gypsy fashion in their garb.
The Gitanos are, for the most part, of the middle size, and the proportions of their frames convey a powerful idea of strength and activity united; a deformed or weakly object is rarely found amongst them in persons of either sex; such probably perish in their infancy, unable to support the hardships and privations to which the race is still subjected from its great poverty, and these same privations have given and still give a coarseness and harshness to their features, which are all strongly marked and expressive. Their complexion is by no means uniform, save that it is invariably darker than the general olive hue of the Spaniards; not unfrequently countenances as dark as those of mulattos present themselves, and in some few instances of almost negro blackness. Like most people of savage ancestry, their teeth are white and strong; their mouths are not badly formed, but it is in the eye more than in any other feature that they differ from other human beings.
There is something remarkable in the eye of the Gitano: should his hair and complexion become fair as those of the Swede or the Finn, and his jockey gait as grave and ceremonious as that of the native of Old Castile, were he dressed like a king, a priest, or a warrior, still would the Gitano be detected by his eye, should it continue unchanged. The Jew is known by his eye, but then in the Jew that feature is peculiarly small; the Chinese has a remarkable eye, but then the eye of the Chinese is oblong, and even with the face, which is flat; but the eye of the Gitano is neither large nor small, and exhibits no marked difference in its shape from the eyes of the common cast. Its peculiarity consists chiefly in a strange staring expression, which to be understood must be seen, and in a thin glaze, which steals over it when in repose, and seems to emit phosphoric light. That the Gypsy eye has sometimes a peculiar effect, we learn from the following stanza:-
'A Gypsy stripling's glossy eye
Has pierced my bosom's core,
A feat no eye beneath the sky
Could e'er effect before.'
The following passages are extracted from a Spanish work, (55) and cannot be out of place here, as they relate to those matters to which we have devoted this chapter.
'The Gitanos have an olive complexion and very marked physiognomy; their cheeks are prominent, their lips thick, their eyes vivid and black; their hair is long, black, and coarse, and their teeth very white. The general expression of their physiognomy is a compound of pride, slavishness, and cunning. They are, for the most part, of good stature, well formed, and support with facility fatigue and every kind of hardship. When they discuss any matter, or speak among themselves, whether in Catalan, in Castilian, or in Germania, which is their own peculiar jargon, they always make use of much gesticulation, which contributes to give to their conversation and to the vivacity of their physiognomy a certain expression, still more penetrating and characteristic.
To this work we shall revert on a future occasion.
'When a Gitano has occasion to speak of some business in which his interest is involved, he redoubles his gestures in proportion as he knows the necessity of convincing those who hear him, and fears their impassibility. If any rancorous idea agitate him in the course of his narrative; if he endeavour to infuse into his auditors sentiments of jealousy, vengeance, or any violent passion, his features become exaggerated, and the vivacity of his glances, and the contraction of his lips, show clearly, and in an imposing manner, the foreign origin of the Gitanos, and all the customs of barbarous people. Even his very smile has an expression hard and disagreeable. One might almost say that joy in him is a forced sentiment, and that, like unto the savage man, sadness is the dominant feature of his physiognomy.
'The Gitana is distinguished by the same complexion, and almost the same features. In her frame she is as well formed, and as flexible as the Gitano. Condemned to suffer the same privations and wants, her countenance, when her interest does not oblige her to dissemble her feelings, presents the same aspect of melancholy, and shows besides, with more energy, the rancorous passions of which the female heart is susceptible. Free in her actions, her carriage, and her pursuits, she speaks, vociferates, and makes more gestures than the Gitano, and, in imitation of him, her arms are in continual motion, to give more expression to the imagery with which she accompanies her discourse; her whole body contributes to her gesture, and to increase its force; endeavouring by these means to sharpen the effect of language in itself insufficient; and her vivid and disordered imagination is displayed in her appearance and attitude.
'When she turns her hand to any species of labour, her hurried action, the disorder of her hair, which is scarcely subjected by a little comb, and her propensity to irritation, show how little she loves toil, and her disgust for any continued occupation.
'In her disputes, the air of menace and high passion, the flow of words, and the facility with which she provokes and despises danger, indicate manners half barbarous, and ignorance of other means of defence. Finally, both in males and females, their physical constitution, colour, agility, and flexibility, reveal to us a caste sprung from a burning clime, and devoted to all those exercises which contribute to evolve bodily vigour, and certain mental faculties.
'The dress of the Gitano varies with the country which he inhabits. Both in Rousillon and Catalonia his habiliments generally consist of jacket, waistcoat, pantaloons, and a red faja, which covers part of his waistcoat; on his feet he wears hempen sandals, with much ribbon tied round the leg as high as the calf; he has, moreover, either woollen or cotton stockings; round his neck he wears a handkerchief, carelessly tied; and in the winter he uses a blanket or mantle, with sleeves, cast over the shoulder; his head is covered with the indispensable red cap, which appears to be the favourite ornament of many nations in the vicinity of the Mediterranean and Caspian Sea.
'The neck and the elbows of the jacket are adorned with pieces of blue and yellow cloth embroidered with silk, as well as the seams of the pantaloons; he wears, moreover, on the jacket or the waistcoat, various rows of silver buttons, small and round, sustained by rings or chains of the same metal. The old people, and those who by fortune, or some other cause, exercise, in appearance, a kind of authority over the rest, are almost always dressed in black or dark-blue velvet. Some of those who affect elegance amongst them keep for holidays a complete dress of sky- blue velvet, with embroidery at the neck, pocket-holes, arm-pits, and in all the seams; in a word, with the exception of the turban, this was the fashion of dress of the ancient Moors of Granada, the only difference being occasioned by time and misery.
'The dress of the Gitanas is very varied: the young girls, or those who are in tolerably easy circumstances, generally wear a black bodice laced up with a string, and adjusted to their figures, and contrasting with the scarlet-coloured saya, which only covers a part of the leg; their shoes are cut very low, and are adorned with little buckles of silver; the breast, and the upper part of the bodice, are covered either with a white handkerchief, or one of some vivid colour; and on the head is worn another handkerchief, tied beneath the chin, one of the ends of which falls on the shoulder, in the manner of a hood. When the cold or the heat permit, the Gitana removes the hood, without untying the knots, and exhibits her long and shining tresses restrained by a comb. The old women, and the very poor, dress in the same manner, save that their habiliments are more coarse and the colours less in harmony. Amongst them misery appears beneath the most revolting aspect; whilst the poorest Gitano preserves a certain deportment which would make his aspect supportable, if his unquiet and ferocious glance did not inspire us with aversion.'
Jump to Zincali Part 2 CHAPTER VI
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.