Philistines, Gypsies alias Wałęsas/ LUD 1995 t.79

Dublin Core


Philistines, Gypsies alias Wałęsas/ LUD 1995 t.79


Cyganie - Romowie
Romowie - historia


LUD 1995 t.79, s.241-256


Mróz, Lech


Polskie Towarzystwo Ludoznawcze









PDF Text


Lud, vol. 79, 1995

Institute of Ethnology
Warsaw University

and Cultural



Gypsies (Romanies) are one of those communities about which is a great
deal of confusing or even outright false information. This refers there not only
to the Gypsies who live in Poland and Polish literature about them - confusion and misunderstanding in this respect are fairly universal. One reason is
the lack of source knowledge (both as regards documents of the past and the
results of present ethnological research), the other a certain stereotypical image
of the Gypsies deriving from the beginnings of their European history.
The 15th c. chronicles which recorded the arrival of Gypsies to various
towns and countries are usually quite favorable as the newcomers were treated
with curiosity as exotic guests. Very rare are entries that inform about cases of
theft or any unfavorable features of the Gypsies. This can be explained mostly
by the general situation in contemporary Europe and the prevailing social
tendencies. On the roads of medieval Europe one could meet all kinds of
wanderers - those who wished to go to famous schools and those who wanted
to improve their craftsmanship, runaway serfs, knights searching for fame and
a sovereign, mountebanks, robbers, monks wandering from one monastery to
another, and, above all, pilgrims going to sacred places or penitents who
wanted to repent for their own sins or the sins of their ancestors. Sometimes,
the roads were crowded with refugees who tried to escape plague, crusaders
who hoped to recapture the tomb of Christ from the Saracens or, finally,
flagellants, Beguines, Beghards, and others defined by the Catholic Church as
heretics. In such a crowd Gypsies were not unique, even though they were
different. The change of the attitude towards them occurred only in the next
century. The era of the Renaissance brought about a fundamental transformation in the approach to work and concept of good life. Holy Scripture, the
basis of knowledge and source of attitudes to the world and other people, was
reinterpreted and that interpretation considerably affected the approach to the
poor and loiterers - including pilgrims. The pilgrim, wanderer, ceased to be
treated as a holy man, as someone who may be Jesus Christ himself in disguise
and who, therefore, deserved hospitality. The evolution in scholarship - in
16 -

Lud t. LXXIX

philosophy, theology, and the Renaissance humanities in general - led to
essential modifications of attitude toward strangers. The wanderer is no longer
a distinguished figure, a God-fearing pilgrim, but he has become transformed
into a bum who avoids work and lives at the expense of others. In the previous
decades Gypsies had not only acquired some rudimentary knowledge of the
lifestyle and cultures of particular European countries, but also learned about
the way of thinking and mental characteristics of Europeans. Most probably,
that was why they chose to claim that the reason for their wandering was
penitence imposed on them by the Pope or that their pilgrimage from one cult
center to another was caused by religious zeal (as it is clearly confirmed by
chronicles from various regions of the 15th century Europe). Historical
documents indicate that such stories were eagerly accepted and guaranteed the
assistance of local authorities and common people. A hundred years later even though Gypsies still wished to be taken for pilgrims - their stories bring
about the opposite effect. Persecutions that began at that time would last for
centuries, increasing the distance between Gypsies and non-Gypsies and
contributing to a negative image of the Romany community.
Biblical studies and the general development of knowledge resulted in
attempts to explain the origin of Gypsies. That was also the moment when the
idea of their Egyptian descent became so widespread - the annals and
chronicles recorded the word "Philistines" which, together with ''Tartars'' and
"Egyptians", became popular with respect to Gypsy wanderers. That latter
term was perhaps in the widest use both in the Catholic and Protestant part of
Europe. From the very beginning - the first records from Dubrovnik, the
Peloponnese, and Walachia - they have also been known as "Tsigane"
(obviously, the names have been phonetically different in various languages
and countries, yet they all derive from one and the same root). Along with the
changes in mentality and the new image of the wanderer, new developments
brought about a modification of law. From the turn of the 16th c. till the end of
the 18th (another major change anticipated by the works of French philosophers and the French revolution), Gypsies were subject to very strict laws. The
increasing distance gradually resulted in the image of Gypsies as permanent
outcasts of society - notorious loiterers, fortune tellers, thieves and confidence
men. Attention paid to this process is fully justified of information and quite
desirable, for it has been directly reflected in literature about Gypsies.
The first message from Poland about a man referred to as a "Gypsy" comes
from 1401 from Cracow. Since the mid-16th c. Gypsies became the object of
interest of the royal chancellery and parliament which issued the first decrees
ordering Gypsies to leave the country. In the 1630s they ceased to be the object
of attention of the parliament, yet until the time of partitions local councils and
administration officials reminded citizens that Gypsies must not be put up, and
courts examined charges against those who "maintain Gypsies in their estates",

according to a 1736 citation recorded in the Cracow archive files [APK
(Wawel) Castr. Crac. ReI. t 16, pp. 115- t 18]. The oldest Polish publication
particularly mentioning Gypsies is Kronika, tho iesth Historya Świata
[Chronicle or, History of the World] by Marcin Bielski, originally published in
Cracow in 1564. This is how Gypsies are described in that work: "Idle,
cunning, mysterious, wild, black people ... with the language best suited for
theft, so that no one would understand what they say ... which makes them
master thieves ... they trade in horses, sell gilded copper and silvered iron, make
picklocks for thieves" (Bielski, ed. t 976, pp. 26 t - 262). Bielski's approach is by
no means original - the fragment on Gypsies is a fairly adequate transcription
of the content of Cosmographia universalis by Sebastian Munster, published in
Basel. In turn, Bielski's Chronicle became a standard reference source for other
Polish writers: it has no value for the history of Gypsy studies, being only
a manifestation of the attitude towards them.
In the context of the rise of ethnography, the most authoritative source of
knowledge about the 17th c. Polish village is the study by Jakub Kazimierz
Haur, Skład aho Skarbiec znakomitych sekretów oekonomiey ziemiańskiey
[A Collection or Treasury of the Most Precious Secrets of Land Economy]
(Kraków 1693). The same treatise contains the first Polish engraving showing
a Gypsy couple. In contrast to the description by Bielski, the value of Haur's
picture as an illustration documenting the Gypsy costume can be granted
(although it would be a mistake to assume that all the Gypsies wore such
That is basically all that can be found in Polish literature about Gypsies
until the beginning of the 19th c., apart from brief notes occasionally included
in various studies. For an attempt to present the lifestyle, internal organization,
and culture of the Gypsy community the value of these notes is (apart from
Haur's engraving) indeed minimal - actually, they reveal much more about
their authors and the society in which Gypsies lived. Yet, some t 6th - 18th c.
source documents, such as safe conduct letters, privileges, and entries in town
and court files, contain very interesting information about the Gypsy community itself and its relations with non-Gypsies.
In that period the knowledge of Gypsies in Poland did not particularly
differ from the European standard. Only the discovery made by the Hungarian
Etienne Valyi in the end of the 18th c. that the speech of Gypsies was similar to
the languages spoken in India became a major stimulus to the development of
Gypsy studies and, by the same token, increased the number of relevant
publications. The studies published in Germany and France later would inspire
Polish scholars.
The first text which originated Polish Gypsy studies was a lengthy footnote
included in the fundamental work O litewskich i polskich prawach [On
Lithuanian and Polish Laws] by Tadeusz Czacki (Warszawa 1800- 1801).

Several years later, Czacki - an outstanding personality, highly appreciated
by contemporary scholars both for his organizing abilities (he founded the
famous Liceum Krzemienieckie) and through and reliable historical knowledge - prepared a longer study called O Cyganach [On Gypsies]. The
author's death in 1813 considerably delayed the work's publication, and for
a long time the manuscript circulated only among a small group of readers.
Most certainly, it was known to and appreciated by Joachim Lelewel, which is
evidenced by the outstanding historian's correspondence with Ignacy Ołdakowski who was a professor in Liceum Krzemienieckie. Lelewel's interest in
Gypsies was not limited to his care for the legacy of Czacki - besides his
correspondence with Ołdakowski, he wrote on the subject in his letters to
another Vilna historian, Ignacy Daniłowicz, and then, already in exile,
corresponded with one of the renowned contemporary students of the Gypsy
culture, Paul Bataillard. One of Daniłowicz's studies indicates also Czacki's
work was highly appreciated by another outstanding humanist and philosopher, Hugo Kołłątaj. O Cyganach was finally published many years after
Czacki's death - it appeared in print in 1835 in Cracow, as a part of the
second volume of Pomniki historyi i literatury polskiej [Monuments of Polish
History and Literature] edited by Michał Wiszniewski. Later, in 1845, it was
included in the third volume of Czacki's Dzieła [Works] published in Poznań.
Czacki started working on his essay only after extensive research, and his
familiarity with foreign publications, including detailed knowledge of major
works such as the book by H. M. G. Grellmann, proves that he treated his
Gypsy studies very seriously. He was also the first to publish some source
records pertaining to the history of Gypsies in Poland. Czacki - as we may
infer it from his other works, e.g. the still valuable volume O litewskich
i polskich prawach, spent a lot of time studying ancient documents and in that
way he revealed much previously unknown information. Hence, there is no
doubt that he may be considered the founder or father of Polish Gypsy studies.
One of very few weak points of his study is the lack of precision in quoting
historical records. This is the reason why we cannot retrace the oldest of
Czacki's references (from 1501) which is important also because it contains the
name of a Gypsy leader mentioned in earlier Hungarian documents. In fact,
however, the fault may be not Czacki's but his editor's - at any rate, the truth
remains out of our reach and no verification of quoted information is possible.
In 1824 in Vilna a study was published called O Cyganach wiadomoH
historyczna, czytana na posiedzeniu puhlicznem cesarskiego uniwersytetu
wile/1skiego dnia 30 czerwca ]824 r., przez Ignacego Daniłowicza
[On Gypsies,

A Historical Message Read During a Public Session in the Imperial University
of Vilna on June 30, 1824 by Ignacy Daniłowicz]. The author of the study was
a historian and a professor of Vilna University, soon to be expelled from the
school after a trial of the student conspiracy (Towarzystwo Filomatów).

Sentenced in the trial, he was ordered to move to Kharkov and then hired by
the local university.
For Danilowicz Gypsies were a minor subject, as he spent most of his time
studying the legal systems of Poland and Lithuania. A legal historian, he
undertook that research for reasons which are impossible to ascertain,
especially given that his approach to Gypsies is evidently very critical. It was
perhaps mainly due to the influence of Lelewel who became Danilowicz's friend
and who - as we know - was very interested in Gypsies. O Cyganach
wiadomo.fć historyczna is a kind of monograph - next to the chapters devoted
to the origin and history of Romanies, the author included an account of
the Gypsy customs, religion, way of life, costumes, and professions. The
most valuable and original section is the part focusing on the situation in
Poland and Russia and the legal status of Gypsies in these two countries.
Danilowicz's study is largely based on a book by the German author
Grellmann, Historischer Versuch liber die Zigeuner ... (Gottingen 1787). In 1823,
a translated fragment of Grellmann's work was published with a critical review
in the journal "Lech. Dziennik poświęcony literaturze. Dziejom ojczystym
i współczesnym" (vol. l, No 7, pp. 201 - 209). O Cyganach wiadomość historyczna appeared in the following year; Danilowicz disparaged the "Lech"
publication, but a comparison of both texts shows far-reaching similarities
(cf. Mróz, 1994). What is, however, most surprising, is Danilowicz's lack of
criticism and sometimes naivete, even though otherwise he was an inquisitive
and discriminating historian. Grellmann's study was published 30 years earlier,
and since then the knowledge of Gypsies was considerably extended. Danilowicz supplemented it with a few documents issued for Gypsy leaders. Apart
from one of them, a privilege of Karol Radziwiłł which was then published for
the first time, all the remaining ones had already been known from earlier,
foreign sources. Later authors, from Narbutt to the present accused Danilowicz
of a bias against Gypsies - partly was due the prejudice of Grellmann, but
also to some extent reflecting Danilowicz's own opinion about Romanies must
have been unfavorable as well.
Six years after the publication of Danilowicz's study, in Vilna appeared
a book by Teodor Narbutt, Rys historyczny ludu cygańskiego
[An Outline
History of the Gypsy People]. When Danilowicz delivered his lecture to his
academic audience, romantic ideas were already quite familiar the Vilna
scholars, yet, oddly enough, even though the author of O Cyganach wiadomość
historyczna had widespread local contacts, no trace of the romantic influence
may be detected in his reasoning. It was only Narbutt who adopted the
romantic view of the country people, Gypsies, and vestiges of the past. The
difference between Danilowicz and Narbutt comes out most distinctly when
we compare respective fragments of their opinions on particular issue
(cf. e.g. Danilowicz, 1824, pp. 30 - 31; Narbutt, 1830, pp. 78 - 79). Narbutt's

book is also of a monographic character, yet the author's primary intention
was to modify the overly unfavorable image of Gypsies created by Danilowicz.
Rys historyczny ludu cygańskiego contains parts on the origin of Gypsies, their
European and Polish history, and various aspects of the Gypsy culture. Finally,
Narbutt presented an outline of the Romany language and a list of words, as
well as including several documents of the Gypsy history. Among them, the
most interesting is a safe conduct letter from 150 l, issued and signed by King
Alexander I. The problem is, though, that the date on the document does not
fit the reign of King Alexander. It is an open question whether Narbutt was
not aware of publishing a forgery (Gypsies were known to use forged letters
quite frequently), or forged the document himself? The answer may never
be provided. Narbutt has been commonly considered by other historians
unreliable - a fantast who would "supplement the historical lacunae" by
himself. It has been proved that employed this strategy frequently to validate
his own studies about the past of Lithuania. Narbutt was a true enthusiast of
Lithuania and Lithuanian antiquities, but so many documents were missing
(especially those from the remotest past - the beginnings of the Lithuanian
state and pagan times), that he could not resist supplying them. Many
contemporary authors mixed fantasy with real knowledge, but Narbutt was
above average in this respect. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the
fact that he "supplied" documents of Lithuanian history necessarily means that
he supplement the Gypsy past as well. There is no doubt, however, that the text
of the document quoted by Narbutt provokes serious doubts, and besides, it
has never been found in the files from which it had been supposedly copied
(cf. Mróz, 1988, pp. 305 - 322).
Regardless of all the weaknesses of the studies by Czacki and Danilowicz as
well as doubts concerning Narbutt, the first half of the 19th c. was most
important for the development of Gypsy studies in Poland. Later on, until the
most recent years, never again were so many wide-ranging works written in
such a short period of time.
Only after many years are a few studies about the Gypsy history published - these were all short articles, but they referred to an interesting chapter of
the Romany past. In 1900, Antoni Prochaska published in "Kwartalnik
Historyczny" (No 3, pp. 453 - 457) an article Przywileje dla cygańskiej starszyzny w Polsce [Privileges for the Gypsy Elders in Poland]. The author - an
outstanding historian, editor of many of the oldest documents from the Lvov
archives - included in that text two privileges: from 1652 (the oldest known
one) and from 1705, which he found during his archive queries. The privileges
were supplemented with an account of the very institution of Gypsy superior
appointed by the royal chancellery. Another publication on the same subject
appeared only thirty years later. In 1929, Teodor Modelski published in
"Ateneum Wileńskie" (No 1 - 4, pp. 583 - 588) his article Przywilej na starszeflstwo

z r. 1703 [The Gypsy Authority Privilege from 1703]. Then, the
question of privileges for Gypsy superiors was examined by Józef Broda who in
1951 published in "Czasopismo Prawno-Historyczne" a short study Przywileje
nominacyjne dla króla cygańskiego w Polsce z 1731 r. i na wójtostwo cygańskie
z 1732 r. [Nomination Privileges for the Gypsy King in Poland from 1732
and for the Gypsy Village Head from 1732J (pp. 346 - 356). Even though
the ideological jargon and the class point of view make most of Broda's
conclusions entirely irrelevant, the essential value of that publication consists in
two documents which are mentioned in the title and which until then had
remained unknown. The historical aspect was also discussed by Jerzy Ficowski
(in the first edition of his Cyganie polscy [Polish Gypsies] from 1953), but the
author limited his scope only to a report from literature. Only later would
Ficowski's publications make valuable contributions· to the study of the
Romany past.
The next decades brought hardly any new information, even though many
articles about Gypsies appeared in the press. The second half of the 19th c., and
in particular the 1880s and 1890s which were so important for the development
of Gypsy studies in Europe as well as a time of the publication of numerous
works of lasting value, did not prove to be a particularly fruitful period in
Poland. Nothing significant was produced, with the one possible exception of
the study La langue des Tsiganes Slovaques by Antoni Kalina, published in
Poznań. Various periodicals contained articles about Gypsies, yet they were all
intended for the general public and contributed little to specialist knowledge many of them were actually reprints from the foreign press.
In the second half of the 19th c. several articles were included in various
calendars and in "Dodatek do Gazety Lwowskiej" ["Supplement to Gazeta
Lwowska"]. In 1851 Wincenty Pol published his Rzut oka na północne stoki
Karpat [A Glimpse at the Northern Slopes of the Carpathians]. Among other
things, it contains an interesting account of the author's meeting with a group
of Gypsies occupied with rinsing gold out of the Carpathian rivers. The same
fragment, next to another one featuring Gypsies living on islets on the Polesie
marshes, was later included in the second volume of Pol's works entitled
Północny Wschód Europy [North-East of EuropeJ and published in 1870. Since
the 1860s, much attention was paid to Gypsies by "Tygodnik Ilustrowany",
publishing reports about the appearance, costumes, and camps of the Lovari
and Kelderashi tribes that came a few decades earlier from Transylvania and
Walachia. "Tygodnik Ilustrowany", as well as "Praca", also contained a variety
of illustrations (especially in the issues from the late 19th c. and the years
preceding World War I). Many contemporary artists would draw pictures of
Gypsies: types, camps, fair and wandering scenes - it was a result of
a universally European vogue. The country and the life of the country people
were often represented in art and literature. But the fin-de-siede
bohemia and

literary Young Poland treated the Gypsy subject in a special way, as
a representation of an idea, a symbol with often has little in common with
reality. Thus, only some of the engravings to be found in "Praca" and
"Tygodnik Ilustrowany" (as well as in "Wędrowiec", "Orli Lot", and other
journals) are of iconographic value - most of them just reflect the prevalent
fashion and freely develop inspiration, which is also the case of written texts.
Consequently, even though they undoubtedly enriched the general knowledge,
they cannot be considered as legitimate results of research on Gypsies.
The only ethnographic
periodical which more or less systematically
published various materials concerning Gypsies from its very beginnings was
Wisła. These often included folk tales and proverbs as well as, somewhat less
often, notes and descriptions of Gypsies themselves and their culture (language,
fairy tales, disposition, way of life, etc.). It was very important that "Wisła"
accounted for new interesting articles and books - the bibliography included
also publications on Gypsies.
In 1887 in Britain appeared the first issue of the "Journal of the Gypsy Lore
Society", a quarterly which has been very important for the development and
progress of Gypsy studies. The appearance of the periodical was acknowledged
in the second volume of "Wisła". The author of the account of the content and
objectives of the "Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society" was Izydor Kopernicki.
Kopernicki was the only outstanding Polish scholar who systematically wrote
about Gypsies (although usually in foreign periodicals).
Kopernicki had been interested in Gypsies already before; together with the
well-known French scholar, Bataillard, he wrote an article about the Gypsies
of Galicia making shepherd bells. In the first fascicles of the "Journal of the
Gypsy Lore" we come across several texts by Kopernicki, mostly presentations
of fairy-tales. Besides, he conducted research in physical anthropology, publishing the results in "Archiv fUr Anthropologie", but his primary interest was the
Romany language: both in the "Journal of the Gypsy Lore" (vol. 1, No 2) and
in "Wisła" (vol. 3), Kopernicki published short notes on the dialect of the
Gypsies from Bosnia. The most outstanding work of Kopernicki in the field of
Gypsy studies are Textes Tsiganes. Contes et Poesies published in Cracow in
1925 (vol. 1) and 1930 (vol. 2). The collection is fully bilingual - all the
included fables and tales are in the original Romany and in French. Kopernicki
was also working on a Gypsy language dictionary, but unfortunately he did
not manage to complete it - a small fragment was published in the "Journal of
the Gypsy Lore" and the rest of the manuscript is kept in the collection of the
Cracow branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences. "Wisła" also published texts
of several Gypsy fairy tales from Lithuania submitted by a collector of
Lithuanian folklore and co-worker of Jan Karłowicz, Sylwester Oowojno-Sylwestrowicz. Another author who, next to Kopernicki, published in the first
issues of the "Journal of the Gypsy Lore" and in "Wisła" materials about
Gypsies in Poland, Russia, and Hungary was Władysław Kornel Zieliński.

None of the Polish etnographers of those times conducted any systematic
research on Gypsies - the subject was approached only marginally and was
related to other materials collected among the rural population (Kopernicki's
studies focused primarily on the Romany language). The largest number of
short notes on Gypsies may be found in "Wisła" and while "Lud" published
a brief account of Gypsies in Galicia only in its 6th volume, the editorial board
did not pay too much further attention to Romanies. Almost all the
publications from that period stem from the folklore passions of their authors
and it is virtually impossible to trace in them any methodological inspirations
or propensities. The only exception in this respect may be the linguistic studies
by Kopernicki written to meet the criteria of formal scholarship.
Another fruitful period which came a whole century after the successful
inauguration of the Gypsy studies in the early 19th c. were the years between
the two world wars. However, it was the Romany language and not history,
which became at that time the main object of scholarly interest. The first step
to examine the Romany language was taken already by Narbutt and Danilowicz who supplemented their works with grammatical paradigms and
vocabularies. Later on, the novelist Józef Ignacy Kraszewski used Narbutt's
word list in his novel Chata za wsią [A Cottage Outside of the Village].
However, serious research on the Romany language was begun at the end
of the 19th c. by Kalina and Kopernicki. The most significant studies in this
field appeared between the world wars in Cracow: that was the time of
publication of both volumes of Gypsy texts by Kopernicki (1925 and 1930).
In 1927 Edward Klich published two articles on the speech of the Gypsies from
the Rabka region and the influence of Polish on Gypsy dialects. An essential
part of another Klich's study - Cygańszczyzna w "Chacie za wsią" Kraszewskiego [Gypsy Elements in Kraszewski's Chata za wsią] ("Prace Filologiczne"
vol. 25, pp. 171 - 220) - was an introduction to the general knowledge of
the Romany language. Several years later still another crucial publication
appeared - Warterbuch des Zigeunerdialekt von Zakopane by Jan Rozwadowski (1936). Before that, together with Stanisław Estreicher, Rozwadowski wrote
a long entry, Język cygański i Cyganie w Polsce [The Gypsy Language and
Gypsies in Poland], included in Encyklopedia polska [The Polish Encyclopedia], vol. 3 from 1915. The decades between the two wars were an
exceptional period in Polish Gypsy studies: research in the field was conducted
by scholars with established reputation. Unfortunately, their achievements are
known only to a small academic audience.
World War II destroyed the academic centers and brought the initiated
projects to a halt. Right after the war, Gypsies became an object of interest
mainly of the administration and police, and only two scholars - quite
exceptional in an indifferent academic community - have been continuously
doing research on Gypsies: in Cracow Tadeusz Pobożniak and in Warsaw
Jerzy Ficowski. They are both outstanding specialists, for many years virtually

alone in the field (a short text by Broda and casual press articles may be
legitimately ignored). Pobożniak, a linguist and orientalist (specializing in
Indian studies), professor of Jagiellonian University, continued the work of
Kopernicki, Klich, and Rozwadowski, but his achievement is thematically
more extensive and no less valuable. In the forties and fifties, Pobożniak
published several texts focused on some characteristics of the Gypsy language
and first names. Then he became interested in the Lovari, one of the most
interesting Gypsy groups widely scattered all over the world. In 1961, he
published an article Powstanie cygańskiej grupy Lowari [The Rise of the Gypsy
Lovari Group] (in: Sprawozdania z Posiedzeń Komisji P A N, pp. 127 - 129), and
a few years later the result of a more comprehensive research project, a highly
valuable Grammar of the Lovari Dialect (1966). A small booklet, O Cyganach
[On Gypsies], issued in 1972 as a volume in the popular monograph series of
the Polish Academy of Sciences, contained a brief account of the origin of
Gypsies, their culture, and the features of the Romany language. Volume 1
of a two-volume collective study Języki indo-europejskie
Languages] (1986) includes a chapter on Indian languages (Języki indyjskie),
written by Pobożniak and also covering the Gypsy language. The chapter
indicates that its author, continuously working on the issue, was familiar with
the latest publication and achievements in the study of Gypsy origins and
language. It is remarkable that Pobożniak (even when retired) kept teaching
university seminars on the Gypsy language. Professor Pobożniak, who died in
1990, was one of the most eminent Polish linguists, an authority in the history
of Polish Gypsy studies.
The research on the Romany language is still continued, although on
a much smaller scale. Among the involved scholars, there are: Ignacy Ryszard
Danka from the University of Łódź, specializing in the languages of Anatolia,
who wrote a few studies on the Gypsy language, and Andrzej Lewkowicz. The
1983 volume of "Prace Komisji Językoznawstwa. Studia indo-iranica", prepared to celebrate the jubilee of Prof. Pobożni ak, contained texts by foreign
scholars doing research on the Romany language: Jan Kochanowski and
Marcel Courtiade. Those were not the only works of both authors which
were published in Polish - in particular, Courtiade contributed with his
studies, lectures, and organizing activity to a revival of the Polish interest in
Gypsies and their language. It was in Poland, in Jadwisin, where, during the
4th Congress of the Romani Union in 1991, Courtiade put forward his
proposal of the standardization
of the Gypsy language.
The only scholar to devote a unique effort to the Gypsy studies - he
learned the language living among wandering Gypsies and wrote down his field
observations - has been Jerzy Ficowski, the man who contributed the most to
the knowledge of Gypsies in Poland. In 1953, he published a study Cyganie
polscy [Polish Gypsies], and some time later, in 1964, Cyganie na polskich

[Gypsies on the Polish Roads] - the latter work not only contains
much new material, but brings a thorough revision of the first book. Only
Cyganie na polskich drogach may be recognized as a magisterial wark, based on
long-lasting queries in libraries and archives, and, in the first place, observations and conversations with Gypsies themselves. It is a sizable monograph
supplemented with many photos and a chapter ~n the Gypsy language and its
grammar as well as a word list containing, apart from the vocabulary of the
Polska Roma, some expressions from the dialects of Carpathian Gypsies and
the Kelderashi. Ficowski is the first contemporary Polish scholar to have
recapitulated all the historical knowledge about Gypsies: he quoted from
documents (particularly the privileges concerning Gypsy elders) and added his
own discoveries and valuable analyses. The historical part of the book contains
also an account of the lot of Gypsies during World War II and the atrocities
committed in Nazi concentration camps. The most valuable and truly original
section of the stud y is that devoted to the Gypsy culture: the descriptions of the
lifestyle and ways of earning money, clothes, homes, and wagons as well as
customs related to such crucial moments in human life as birth, rites of passage,
marriage, parenthood, and death, and finally, the functioning of the Gypsy
community. Next, the author discusses the internal organization of particular
groups and their division, the social hierarchy, role of authorities, systems of
ethical norms, principles of the unwritten law, beliefs, and the practice of magic.
Additionally, Ficowski has written about Gypsy folk art, tales, and songs a unique achievement is the chapter on an outstanding Gypsy poet, Bronisława
Wajs, called Papusha. The book ends with fragments of 19th c. literature and
accounts of the Gypsy Holocaust.
In 1985 appeared - unfortunately with no illustrations - a new, expanded
(in comparison to the 1964 one) edition of Cyganie na polskich drogach. It did
not introduce any new problems, but particular chapters were enriched and
developed, and certain ambiguities which had been detected in the first edition
were eliminated.
Before Ficowski, many authors wrote about the Gypsy historyand
language, yet not a single study was a reflection of personal experience of the
Gypsy customs, way of life, and the attitude to non-Gypsies. The interested
audience had to wait for such an account for many years, until 1964. The
earlier literature on the subject lacked the ethnographic component (apart from
a few brief fragments) mainly because of the conditions of research. Czacki,
Daniłowicz, Narbutt, Klich, Kopernicki, Rozwadowski, and even Pobożniak
wrote about Gypsies with a kind of detachment - they examined the history
and language, but never approached their object of interest directly. It was only
after the World War II that Ficowski (and no none else) presented Gypsies as
they were. It is no exaggeration to claim that Cyganie na polskich drogach is the
fundamental Polish study in the field. Even if later other authors elaborated

on specific issues and enriched the knowledge of many details, none has ever
produced a better global description of the culture of Polish Gypsies. The
achievement of Jerzy Ficowski is not limited just to one book, but includes also
articles in scholarly journals "Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society", "Etudes
Tsiganes") and Polish literary magazines as well as a translation and
publication of Pieśni Papuszy [Songs of Papusha] which is a truly major
accomplishment. (Besides, Gypsy motifs may be found quite frequently also in
Ficowski's own literary works).
The handful of the aforementioned names (and titles) constitute the achievement of Polish Gypsy studies in their best. Apart from that, there are a few
short notes and papers as well as some popular essays and articles, but their
value is either minor or nil - they were intended to impress the reader, yet
they do not count as proper academic contributions. The academic knowledge
about Gypsies started growing only in the seventies as a result of systematic
commitment of scholars from two universities: in Warsaw and then in Cracow.
Within a few years several M. A. theses wą.re written: two in Warsaw and
several more in Cracow. In fact, such theses usually do not affect the progress
of knowledge, but in this case their significance cannot be ignored. This refers
predominantly to the studies written in Cracow which focus on various aspects
of the same group of Carpathian Gypsies hitherto much less known than the
Polska Roma. Two authors particularly deserve honors: Adam Bartosz (who
wrote about the economic foundations of the life of the Spisz Gypsies) and
Andrzej Mirga (writing about the Gypsy ethnic stereotypes and the Gypsy
attitudes to non-Gypsies). Both have successfully established themselves as
Gypsy scholars with many academic publications. A study by Ignacy Marek
Kamiński (from Warsaw) may be regarded as a sort of supplement to the
works mentioned above, since it presents the results of research conducted in
the Slovak part of Spisz. The materials obtained on that occasion by a group of
M. A. students later provided the basis for articles included in a special issue of
"Etnografia Polska" (1978, fasc. 2). That issue was the first Polish publication
of its kind and it was favorably reviewed in foreign ethnographic periodicals
and books.
At that time, research was conducted by three institutions. The Department
of the Ethnography of Slavs of the Jagiellonian University continued the work
in Spisz, planning a special monograph of the Spisz Gypsies. The project was
abandoned after the death of its main advocate, Zbigniew Biały.
The Spisz research was continued in the eighties by Andrzej Mirga from the
same department (and a group of students). Then he approached the problem
of current changes in Gypsy communities (not only in Spisz) and the
phenomena related to social adaptation. The results of Mirga's studies were
published in several Polish periodicals [e.g. in "Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego. Prace Etnograficzne" (1985), "Ethnologia Polona"

(1987), "Polska Sztuka Ludowa" (1982)] and in a collection of articles by
various authors published in Germany. A few years ago Mirga has become
a socia-political Gypsy activist (he is now President of the Roma Association in
Poland), cooperating with several international institutions and organizations,
such as the Council of Europe. He left academic life and thus the Gypsy studies
in the Department of the Ethnography of Slavs in Jagiellonian University in
Cracow have been suspended.
In 1980 two scholars associated with the University of Warsaw earned their
doctoral degrees through research in Gypsy topics. Lech Mróz defended his
dissertation, which focused on general adaptation and assimilation processes
and a shift from the nomadic lifestyle to life in settlements, in Adam Mickiewicz
University of Poznań. Several months later, on the basis of a study of Gypsies
in Sweden and the immigration of Gypsies from Eastern Europe to Sweden as
well as an analysis of certain phenomena in the field of social ecology,
Kamiński received his doctorate at the University of Goteborg. In Polish
Gypsy studies, Kamiński's book, A Stale of Ambiguity.
Studies of Gypsy
Refugees, is the most original and interesting achievement. Most publications
from the same period reveal a collector's descriptive bias caused by a number
of factors: the reading of earlier literature, individual approaches to the Gypsy
research, and specific ethnographic education. Kamiński's study not only
introduces a different mode of thought, but also locates Gypsies in the context
of subjects analyzed by contemporary anthropology, which is a novelty in
Poland. It is a pity that Kamiński's book is not familiar to Polish ethnographers, including those interested in Gypsies.
In the University of Warsaw, in the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural
Anthropology, Romany research has been carried out for many years under the
supervision of M róz, in whose regular course students also participate in
various projects. At first, the study was focused on mutual relations between
Gypsies and non-Gypsies, ethnic stereotype, and internal divisions within
Gypsy groups as well as relations between the groups. In most cases, the object
of research were the groups Polska Roma and Chaladytka Roma - then other
groups were also taken into account (although to a somewhat lesser extent):
the Lovari, Kelderashi, and Carpathian Gypsies. After some time, when it
turned out that some issues could not be explained without recourse to history,
researchers started archive queries and became more interested in the past.
Partial results of that research were published in "Etnografia Polska"
(e.g. in the special Gypsy issue published in 1978) and in "Polska Sztuka
Ludowa" (1982). In 1984 and 1986, the studies were continued in India: the
focus of that project was on the origin of Gypsies and their ethnic and cultural
ties with India. The results of that, and earlier programs, were partly presented
by Mróz in various journals in Poland ("Etnografia Polska", "Polska Sztuka
Ludowa", "Ethnologia Polana") and abroad ("Etudes Tsiganes", "Lacia

Drom", and "Roma"). In 1992 Mróz published in Warsaw his post-doctoral
dissertation, Geneza Cyganów i ich kultury [The Origin of Gypsies and their
Culture]. The most important objective of the book was to analyze and
reinterpret the available source records, starting with these from the most
remote past, and, in particular, to analyze the history of the Romanies in
Poland. At present, the Warsaw department is also carrying out research
among Gypsies in the Republic of Lithuania. This is being done as one of the
projects constituting a program of studies of ethnic groups and minorities in
Lithuania and represents continuation of earlier work, since the Lithuanian
Gypsies are closely related to Chaladytka Roma and Polska Roma - some of
them have family in Poland.
The third Polish institution which has been important for Gypsy studies is
the Regional Museum in Tarnów, with Adam Bartosz as its long time director.
For several years, it is the only museum in the world with a separate Gypsy
section and a permanent exhibition of Gypsy artifacts. Only much later, other
museums outside Poland started organizing (temporary) exhibitions of the
same kind, and a few years ago a Gypsy (Romany) M useum was established in
Brno, in the Czech Republic. The Tarnów museum now holds the largest
collection of iconographic materials, a rich library, and unique exhibits (such as
a set of items used by Gypsy women in the practice of magic and fortune-telling, and wagons used until the early 1970s by wandering Gypsy groups).
Apart from its exposition in Tarnów, the museum has prepared a number of
exhibitions in Poland and abroad. Its director, Adam Bartosz, is also the
author of many popular publications and catalogues.
The year 1994 was particularly good for the Gypsy studies in Poland, for
Polish authors published two books: Nie bój się Cygana [Do Not Be Afraid of
the Gypsy] by Bartosz, and Cyganie. Odmienność i nietoleramcja [Gypsies.
Otherness and Intolerance] by Mirga and Mróz. Both are intended for the
general public, and as such they discuss a wide variety of problems concerning
the Romany past and present (both in the aspect of historyand
However, the mode of analysis, number of references to source records and
literature on the subject as well as detailed presentation of particular issues
leads to a classification of Mirga's and Mróz's work as an academic study,
while Bartosz's work is more popular in character.
Finally, closing this account of the Polish interest in Gypsies, one should
pay some attention to the question of methodology of research which is
probably the most remarkable weakness of Polish Romany scholarship. The
number of books and articles (both academic and popular) which have been
published after the a war, and even in the last 25 years, has far exceeded the
sum total of all the earlier publications. However, the fundamental paradox is,
that the fewer Gypsies still live in Poland, the more research is actually

conducted and the more material is produced. In fact, this phenomenon,
which became accute through the last few decades, pertains to ethnology in
general - what has developed, are the methods and institutions of research,
while the object of study is clearly waning. The speed of ongoing changes has
made the Gypsies gradually lose what is usually called tradition (the problem is
complicated and reaches beyond the scope of this paper). Gypsies are able to
adjust themselves to new circumstances - with no sense of connection with
a specific territory, relatives living in many different countries, many of them
(even whole Romany groups, with the exception of the Carpathian Gypsies)
live on the border area or the periphery of the non-Gypsy world and,
simultaneously, within it. This leads to such an enormous variety of paradoxes
and problematic situations, that the available methods of research prove
insufficient. The authors of the past did not supply us with enough descriptions
which would today serve as a ground for comparison. Hence, the contemporary students of the Gypsies face the necessity of working in many
directions: they have to account for and analyze specific situations, but also to
create a comprehensive data base of records and basic information. Another
crucial task is the completion of far too fragmentary historical knowledge of
the subject.
In the last few years, the image of the Gypsies and the attitude of the
authorities and the public towards them have considerably changed. For
centuries, they used to be called Philistines and Tartars - suspicious
vagabonds and walęsas, then just Gypsies [Polish "Cyganie" derives from the
verb "cyganić" which is a synonym of "to cheat" - trans.], in fact, more "Gypsy"
than human. That was the case until recently. Whenever the press would
write no matter if in the crime column or not - about a non-Gypsy (a Pole),
the last name or the initial appeared, while with respect to Gypsies the ethnic
identification was enough. Nowadays, for the first time Gypsies are identified
by their names, and not even as "Gypsies" but as "Roma" (this is how they call
themselves). It is an essential and very favorable change. Besides, Gypsies have
begun developing contacts with non - Gypsies. All this bears out certain
implications to be taken into account in future Gypsy studies. It would be
desirable to: (a) publish as soon as possible all the collected historical records
which are still not available to the public and continue archive queries,
(b) classify, analyze, and publish the results of fieldwork which have been stored
in the archives of the Cracow and Warsaw departments of ethnography as well
as the Tarnów museum, (c) develop methods of research useful in the study of
processes which are presently going on within the Gypsy communities. The
general situation of the country favors such projects, and there is a group of
qualified scholars ready to start the work. However, current financial problems
will most probably turn all these proposals into wishful thinking.


Mróz L.
Narbutt T.

O Cyganach



[On Gypsies. A Historical Account],


Suplement do pocztu królów i starszych cygUllskich w Polsce [Supplement to the List
of Gypsy Kings and Elders in Poland], "Etnografia Polska" vol. 32, No I.
Geneza Cyganów i ich kultury [The Origin of Gypsies and their Culture], Warszawa.
Rys historyczny

ludu cygańskiego

[An Outline History of the Gypsy People], Wilno.


by Marek




Mróz, Lech, “Philistines, Gypsies alias Wałęsas/ LUD 1995 t.79,” Cyfrowa Etnografia, Dostęp 6 października 2022,

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