Gypsies & Sindhis & Catalonia

Hordes of otherwise quite sensible people here spend acres of time (makes sense to me) worrying about whether their sacred language is being polluted by others. Francisco de Sales Mayo was so generous as to extend his concern to Caló, which he claimed had suffered adulteration at the hands of the authors of early nineteenth century gypsy literature (Rafael Salillas, El delincuente español (1896)), and he sought in his El gitanismo, historia, costumbres y dialecto de los gitanos (1870) to turn the tide. I haven’t read the book, but Lou Charnon-Deutsch in The Spanish Gypsy: The History of a European Obsession (2004) writes that

thanks to the “science” of linguistics, [Sales Mayo] reported that the original homeland of the Gypsies could be definitively established as somewhere in the vicinity of the Sind River in India… To substantiate his claims about the Hindu origins of Gypsies, Sales Mayo was eager to establish links between modern Caló customs, features, and character and those of their present-day co-descendents in India. Both populations, he argued, were primitive, “with only the vaguest notions of a natural religion, without religious practices or beliefs of any kind, without the knowledge of any other moral code than that of an absolute materialism, without leaders or laws, without property and without asylum.” The only code by which both the Sind Indians and Gypsies live is that of “the freedom to act according to the dictates of their own desires and needs.”

As Charnon-Deutsch goes on to point out, Sales Mayo’s speculation is the product of contemporary belief in strong and weak races and serves to fortify distinctions between authochtonous and allochthonous Spaniards. However, it’s Sunday-afternoon, butterfey interesting because gypsies are popularly supposed (Charnon-Deutsch Chap 1 supports this) to have entered Spain via Catalonia in the early C15th (I speculate it was earlier), and large numbers are still concentrated here, and Barcelona was where the Sindhi minority made its home from the 1960s on. If Sales Mayo were to be brought back to life and commissioned to produce a new comparative study, then I bet he’d say that gypsies are in fact closer to Punjabis, who also form a sizeable minority nowadays. Then we could put the stake back in his heart and the garlic in his mouth and return to whatever we do on Sundays.

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