Itinerant groups in Europe

article - Itinerant groups in Europe

There are a number of traditionally itinerant or travelling groups in Europe who are known as “Travellers” or “Gypsies“.

Traditionally nomadic groups in Europe
A Showman’s wagon, used for accommodation and transportation.

The origins of the indigenous itinerant groups are unclear. They have been assumed to have taken up the travelling lifestyle out of necessity at some point during the Early Modern period but to not be ethnically distinct from their source population. However, recent DNA testing has shown that the Irish Travellers are of Irish origin but are genetically distinct from their settled counterparts due to social isolation, and more groups are being studied.

Many groups speak their own language or dialect (distinct from the settled population); it is often a blend of the local settled language and Romani language, even in non-Romani groups.

The largest of these groups are the Romani people, who have Indian roots and heritage, who left India around 1,500 years ago entering Europe around 1,000 years ago; this includes the Sinti people, who are themselves the second largest group. The third largest group in Europe is the Yenish, an indigenous Germanic group.

As opposed to nomads who travel with and subsist on herds of livestock, itinerant groups traditionally travel for trade or other work for the sedentary populations amongst which they live.

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Voyageurs first began traveling around the 19th century in a effort to escape poverty. The first Voyageurs slept in stables and barns they encountered in the countryside along the way. It was only later that they started building covered wagons, a simple cart with a tarpaulin over it, which they pulled themselves or for which they harnessed some dogs. Even later the horses came, and the hood carts grew into caravans.

These Voyageurs obviously had their example in the nomadic way of life of mainly the Sinti. They partially adopted each other’s customs, and mixed marriages were not uncommon. From this mixture of Romani and Western culture, a very own subculture has emerged.

Many also currently live in houses, which makes tracking them difficult. In addition, some are at such an advanced stage of integration into sedentary society that they do not know or deny that they are descendants of Voyageurs, ashamed of an ancestor who walked from door to door. Their number is currently estimated at 8,000, but could be much higher. They are spread all over Flanders.[1]

Indigenous Dutch Travellers (Known as Woonwagenbewoners, which translates to Caravan Dwellers) are first mentioned in the 1879 census, although they were present before then. They traditionally travelled around and practised traditional professions, like chair bottomers, tinsmiths, broom binders, traders, peddlers, artisans, etc.[2]

Similar to Indigenous Norwegian Travellers, Dutch Travellers are theorised to have Yenish Traveller (German Traveller) admixture and possibly could be descended from them.

Settled people call Dutch Travellers Woonwagenbewoners (Caravan Dwellers) but they call themselves Reizigers (Travellers). They refer to settled people as Burgers (Citizens). The name Kampers (Campers) is considered discriminatory by Dutch Travellers.

Indigenous Norwegian Travellers (more commonly known as Fanter, Fantefolk or Skøyere) are an itinerant group who call themselves Reisende. Confusingly, this term is also used by Romanisæl Travellers (Tater people), the Romani group of Norway and Sweden. Unlike the Romanisæl Travellers, the indigenous Norwegian Travellers are non-Romani by culture and origins, and they do not speak any form of Romani language. Instead, their language is ‘Rodi’ which is a Norwegian dialect.

Similar to Indigenous Dutch Travellers, Indigenous Norwegian Travellers are theorised to have Yenish Traveller (German Traveller) admixture and possibly could be descended from them. Norwegian Rodi includes a large proportion of Yenish loanwords. Rodi also has a handful of Scandoromani loanwords due to Romanisæl Travellers and Indigenous Norwegian Travellers both living in close proximity to each other.

Indigenous Norwegian Travellers have always concentrated around Southern and Southwestern Norway along the coastline (which was separated from the rest of Norway due to mountains) and Romanisæl Travellers have always concentrated around Central Norway (specifically in Trøndelag county around the city of Trondheim). Historically, both groups have travelled all over, and often overlap into each other’s traditional areas.

They are known to the settled majority population as fant/fanter, but they prefer the term reisende(‘travellers’). This term is also used by Romanisæl Travellers (the largest population of Romani people in Norway and Sweden), though the two groups are distinct.

Eilert Sundt, a 19th-century sociologist, termed the indigenous Travellers småvandrer or småvandringer(‘small travellers’), to contrast them with the Romanisæl (Tater) Travellers, which Sundt called storvandrer or storvandringer (‘great travellers’) who ranged further in their journeys.

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