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Gypsy and Travellers - History, definitions and organisations

Gypsies

Gypsies were thought to have left the northern Indian sub-continent about 1000 years ago. Over the centuries they travelled westwards, often settling in countries where the host culture was more welcoming. Today they live on every continent. Gypsies are thought to have arrived in England during the reign of Henry VIII.

People thought they had come from Egypt, and so at first called them 'Egyptians'. The name changed over the years to 'Gyptians' then 'Gypsies'.

The Romany language has its roots in Hindi and has been adapted according to the host language. Many Gypsy children today are bi-lingual, speaking Anglo-Romany at home.

Their culture has always been an oral (spoken) one, and the language has never been formally recorded so there is no standard spelling. Some Romany words have been absorbed into English, for example, 'lolly' and 'dosh' can mean 'money'; 'mush' can mean 'man'; 'pal' can mean 'brother' and 'kushti' can mean 'good'.

Irish Travellers

When Gypsies arrived in the UK, there were already nomads here.

Until the 19th Century, Irish Travellers moved around in bender tents and wagons and were commonly known as Tinkers. The name Tinker came from 'tinceard' which means 'tinsmith'. This came from their ancient pre-Gaelic language called Shelta, which some Irish Travellers still use today alongside English.

'Irish Travellers' is a name society has given them, but their name for their people is Pavee.

Many do not consider themselves to be Irish. They consider themselves to be the indigenous population of the island of Ireland, much like the aborigines in Australia and the Native Americans in North America.

Past intermarriage between Gypsies and Irish Travellers and with the settled population, has resulted in English Gypsies being generally fairer than their European cousins.

Occasional intermarriage still occurs, but Irish Travellers and English Gypsies remain two distinct groups.

New Travellers

'New travellers' are a diverse group of people originating mainly from the settled British population, although some new travellers are now 2nd or 3rd generation. People in Britain have taken to the road for centuries, often as a reaction to social and economic pressures, and the present day 'new traveller' movement originated from people seeking an alternative way of life in the early 1970's. New travellers come from varied backgrounds, and choose, or end up, living as a traveller for different reasons. These reasons often include strong personal or political convictions.

Race Relations Case Law recognises English Romany Gypsies, and Irish Travellers as ethnic minorities. These do not include New Age Travellers.

English Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers have the same rights to race relations protection as other recognised ethnic minority groups.

Public bodies such as Borough of Poole have a legal duty to promote equality and racial harmony between these groups and others in everything they do, including decision making.

Public bodies must also look to Human Rights legislation. This means that Gypsies and Travellers needs should be balanced against those of the settled community.

Useful organisations

Dorset race equality council
The Link
3-5 Palmerston Road
Boscombe
Bournemouth BH1 4HN
Tel: 01202 392954 
Web: www.dorsetrec.org.uk

Friends, families and travellers community base
Tel: 01273 234777
Email: fft@gypsy-traveller.org
Web: www.gypsy-traveller.org

Gypsy council for education, culture, welfare and civil rights
Tel/Fax: 01708 868986

The traveller movement
Tel: 0207 607 2002
Email: info@travellermovement.org.uk
Web: www.travellermovement.org.uk

Traveller advice team
at the Community Law Partnership
Legal Service Commission funded advice line: 0121 685 8677
Email: office@communitylawpartnership.co.uk

Travellers aid trust
Tel/Fax: 01554 891876
Email: info@travellersaidtrust.org
Web: www.travellersaidtrust.org

Travellers’ school charitable trust
Tel: 07786 466 107
Web: www.travellersschool.plus.com

Travellers times
Tel: 01432 344039
Email: travellerstimes@ruralmedia.co.uk
Web: www.travellerstimes.org.uk

European Roma rights centre
Web: www.errc.org