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The Gypsies Of Ceylon

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago




"The Gypsies Of Ceylon," The London Times April 23, 1889






Commentary on the Text

__The Gypsies Of Ceylon __

This article on “They Gypsies of Ceylon” was published in The London Times on April 23, 1889. It is striking that The Times would write such a specific report on a minor occurrence in Ceylon, modern day Sri Lanka. However, this issue impacted England as well. Gypsies, commonly spelled "gipsy" in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have been a topic of great interest for hundreds of years. They were often looked at as somewhat of a curiosity even a spectacle of sorts. The article gives a very common perspective of gypsies in the nineteenth century and very clearly states what the general view of a gypsy was. We are going to talk about the ways in which this article buys into stereotypes about gypsies that were popular at the time as well as the social relevance of the article.

The article begins by stating that there has been a decrease in game population in Ceylon, which has been blamed on gypsies. The article claims that a band of gypsies wander about the island and are often found to be "exhibiting tame cobras or monkeys and performing jugglery.” These are common stereotypes of gypsies that were created by the English at this time. Gypsies were often portrayed as vagrants and are often accused of dishonesty or stealing from people. It was commonly thought that the first real "gypsies" were from Egypt though some current sources explain that they originated in India. The word gypsy comes from the word gipcyan, which is short for Egyptian indicating why they were thought to be from Egypt. (Gypsy) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word gypsy means, "A member of a traveling people with dark skin and hair, speaking the Romany language." The gypsies referred to in the article may have originated in India and in fact the article refers to these particular gypsies as being from Tamil, which would indicate origins from South India or Sri Lanka.

The article also discussed the various religions that gypsies were known to have practiced at that time. The gypsies referenced in this article claim to be Buddhist asserting “that their ancestors came over in the time of Buddha”. This indicates that their ancestors hail from northern India, where Buddhism was founded between the fourth and sixth century BCE. (Buddhism) Also noted in the article is the religion of Sivites, which is associated with the Hindu religion. The Sivite religion was the prominent religion in Ceylon during the late 1800s followed by Buddhism. (Elliott 132)

Many English people found the gypsies particularly frightening because of their lack of a homeland. The Romany people have dwelled in England, out of society, for centuries. However, because of colonization and the expansion of the British Empire in the nineteenth century, many foreigners were entering England. Concern about these invaders is reflected in much of the literature of this time. The idea of losing track of these foreigners was a daunting notion for the British, and many attempted to locate the origin of these people. The fact that Ceylon was a part of the British Empire from 1815 to 1948 makes the concern in this article especially significant. This article itself is a speculation on the origin of the English gypsies. By comparing the gypsies of Ceylon with the British gypsies, the author of the article was clearly attempting to connect them and explain the existence of the gypsies of Great Britain throughout the Empire. The final sentence reflects this connection: “It is not known whether these gypsies have any affinity with the wanderers going by that name in Europe and elsewhere.”

The article also notes that the “women of the monkey-dancers also practice palmistry,” which according to Oxford English Dictionary is “the art or practice of supposedly reading a person's character or future by examining the lines and other features of the hand, especially the palm and fingers.” This is a clear example of the common notion that gypsies were associated with “fortune telling” or even witchcraft. In the gypsy society these people were called “chovihanis” and could be either male or female. It is said that no matter what the origin of the gypsy, all posses innate psychic abilities, and have the capability to create both good and bad fortune. It is also interesting to note that gypsies never go to “chovihanis” themselves, this practice is strictly reserved for non-gypsies, and used only for the purpose of making money (Theiss).

The article reinforces the idea that it was written to enforce the common stereotypes that society held of gypsies. It is interesting that the information provided on gypsies within the article was so easy to prove false. As we stated there were many kinds of stereotypes about gypsies at the time. The historical sources we used as references prove this fact, contradicting most of the “facts” about the gypsies of Ceylon and really highlighting the stigma placed on gypsies of the day.






Works Cited


"Buddhism." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

12 February 2008 <http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9105944>.


Constantakis, Sara. "Gypsies in Nineteenth-Century England and in Jane Eyre: a

Love/Hate Relationship." Charlottes Web. Winter 2005. University of Michigan. 6 Feb. 2008 <http://www.umd.umich.edu/casl/hum/eng/classes/434/charweb/GYPSIESI.htm>.


Crabb, James. The Gipsies' Advocate. 3rd ed. London: Mills, Jowett, and Mills, 1832


Elliot, Brooke. Real Ceylon. New York: Asian Educational Services, 2003.


"Gipsy." Oxford English Dictionary. 6 Feb. 2008 <http://www.oed.com/>.


"Gypsy." Dictionary.Com. 6 Feb. 2008



Leland, Charles G. The English Gipsies and Their Language. 2nd ed. London: Trubner

and Co, 1874.


Nord, Deborah E. "Marks of Race: Gypsy Figures and Eccentric Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing." Victorian Studies. 1996. Princeton University. 6

Feb. 2008 <http://iupjournals.org/victorian/vic41-2.html>.


“Palmistry.” Oxford English Dictionay. 2008. Oxford English Dictionary Online. 12 February 2008 <http://dictionary.oed.com.ezproxy.library.wwu.edu>.


Theiss, Allie. Gypsy Magic for the Lover’s Soul. New York, 2005.







For Additional Reading

see "Works Cited"





Project Group Members


Kelsey Snyder

Vanessa Trippel

Kaitlin Yarnish

Andrea Smith

Western Washington University

English 310






Project Completed: Winter 2008

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Comments (1)

Lauren Obermark said

at 11:44 pm on Apr 28, 2008

It's amazing to me that the term "gypsy" has infiltrated so many countries and has been used as a derogatory term to label any "undesirable" group. During the Holocaust, even, gypsies were one of the groups targeted. It fascinates me how this term has labeled so many different types of people in so many different environments, and no one is ever too clear on what it actually means. Your work here sheds some light on that, which is wonderful.

It also seems especially relevant here that the gypsies are clearly a group is exoticized by the British and seen as Other. This wiki opens up reading Victorian periodical texts like this one through the lens of postcolonial theory, which is not something that had ever crossed my mind. I thank your group for bring such a text to our attention!

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