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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

This people are called Gitanos


"There

exists, in the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, a people distinct from the rest of the inhabitants, of a foreign origin, and without any settled habits. It seems to have fixed its residence there for a considerable time. It changes its situation, multiplies there, and never connects itself by marriage with the other inhabitants. This people are called Gitanos, a Spanish word which signifies Egyptians. There are many Gitanos in Catalonia, who have similar habits to the above-mentioned, but who are very strictly watched. They have all the vices of those Egyptians, or Bohemians, who formerly used to wander over the world, telling fortunes, and living at the expense of superstition and credulity. These Gitanos, less idle and less wanderers than their predecessors, are afraid of publicly professing the art of fortune-tellers; but their manner of life is scarcely different.

"They scatter themselves among villages, and lonesome farms, where they steal fruit, poultry, and often even cattle; in short, everything that is portable. They are almost always abroad, incessantly watching an opportunity to practise their thievery; they hide themselves with much dexterity from the search of the police. Their women, in particular, have an uncommon dexterity in pilfering. When they enter a shop, they are watched with the utmost care; but with every precaution they are not free from their rapines. They excel, above all, in hiding the pieces of silver which are

given in exchange for gold, which they never fail to offer in payment, and they are so well hidden that they are often obliged to be undressed before restitution can be obtained.

"The Gitanos affect, externally, a great attachment to the Catholic religion; and if one was to judge from the number of reliques they carry about with them, one would believe them exceedingly devout; but all who have well observed them assure us they are as ignorant as hypocritical, and that they practise secretly a religion of their own. It is not rare to see their women, who have been lately brought to bed, have their children baptized several times, in different places, in order to obtain money from persons at their ease, whom they choose for godfathers. Everything announces among them that moral degradation which must necessarily attach to a miserable, insulated caste, as strangers to society, which only suffers it through an excess of contempt.

"The Gitanos are disgustingly filthy, and almost all covered with rags. They have neither tables, chairs, nor beds, but sit and eat on the ground. They are crowded in huts, pell-mell, in straw; and their neglect of the decorum of society, so dangerous to morals, must have the most melancholy consequences on wretched vagabonds, abandoned to themselves. They consequently are accused of giving themselves up to every disorder of the most infamous debauchery, and to respect neither the ties of blood nor the protecting laws of the virtues of families.

"They feed on rotten poultry and fish, dogs and stinking cats, which they seek for with avidity; and when this resource fails them, they live on the entrails of animals, or other aliments of the lowest price. They leave their meat but a very few minutes on the fire, and the place where they cook it exhales an infectious smell.

"They speak the Catalonian dialect, but they have, besides, a language to themselves, unintelligible to the natives of the country, from whom they are very careful to hide the knowledge of it.

"The Gitanos are tanned like the mulattoes, of a size above mediocrity, well formed, active, robust, supporting all the changes of seasons, and sleeping in the open fields, whenever their interest requires it. Their features are irregular, and show them to belong to a transplanted race. They have the mouth very wide, thick lips, and high cheek-bones.


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