A Welsh Kalo Rom


Walshenenge Kaule - The True Welsh Gypsies
Author - Stef Solomon Bate 2007

The Motion Picture "Eldra" is an award winning period drama produced by Teliesyn for S4C and a landmark film for Welsh Romani heritage. Fast becoming a classic, it explores the tensions and cultural differences between the Welsh Gypsies and the small community in which they live.  Set in the 1930s amongst the shadows of Penrhyn Slate Quarry, a schoolboy's fascination with Eldra, a barefoot Gypsy girl, sparks resentment from his brother.  Taid rolls up in his Gypsy caravan and warns that the two cultures cannot mix - but is this true?

Welsh Romani had a unique influence on the history and culture of Wales - yet many people have never heard of their existence and contribution to our  national heritage.  Sadly, the Welsh Romani way of life today has all but vanished unless of course you know where to look.  Where Celtic Wales has hung on to its culture and done a pretty good job, in contrast Romani fokendi in Britain have been slowly losing their heritage over the last 50 years. Sadly, it's now on the verge of extinction.

Some would say it was bound to happen.  A people with no land, "Romanistan was wherever a Rom stood", a nation on foot. 
It's a very tragic outcome. Yet ironically, throughout international literature the Welsh Gypsy tribes and their extinct Cale language now command great recognition and respect amongst many academics.

How ignorant that the Romani people of Britain still don't have a National Heritage Museum of their own, yet there's a museum on every other subject. There's even one on the grand old toilet.  You will find one or two attractions with Romani themes, or a museum displaying a Gypsy waggon. They are often shoved into a dusty corner after being donated in frustration by some old Rom in a feeble attempt to save his
family's most prized possession - but the majority of museums have no interest in Romani culture.  Out of respect, isn't it time a National Romani Heritage Museum was instigated and created.

The land of Wales welcomed the Romani tribes into the region - however that's not what it looks like if you study pre-1900 written evidence, mainly authored by the English well-educated fraternity. This type of "academia-discrimia" often portrayed the Romani people in bad light. It's doubtful that was the view of many of the Welsh countryside people who made up the vast majority of the Celtic Nation. How many ordinary farmers or villagers had the privilege to have their views and experiences with Welsh Gypsies recorded and published? - Very few. Like the Romani at the time, many working class Welsh folk were illiterate themselves and so could never have written material about their own lives, let alone about the Sipsi Cymreig - local Gypsies.  It's this fact that needs to be taken into account to "keep a truthful balance"  whenever studying past literature portraying all Gypsies as bad - because that's simply not true. There's good and bad in all humans, and many of  the "antique" personal views of these early authors deflaming gypsies would, if said today, equate to what you would read in your tacky Sunday papers. It's because of this that Romanies regard some gauje' - non-Romani - as foolish people, and you can you see why.

Ego Scholar Rai - Fortunately, in the 1800s/early 1900s there were the Great Rais - Master Gypsies Scholars like Burrow, Leyland, Groome, Samson and many others - who worked tirelessly to address unbalanced issues relating to Gaje ignorance. Groome even married one chi Gypsy girl, Esmeralda, while Samson was intellectually and emotionally absorbed by strong Welsh Romani friendships. There are many instances of  the Welsh people warmly accepting Roms into their midst. Could this be anything to do with the fact that the Gypsy "Kaule" and the "Celt" have a greater understanding of what persecution means? Or, more importantly, the notion that both people come from the same ancient origins of India, travelling the ancient silk routes many eons ago - even before that possibly The Sea of Grass - Mongolia?

After all, phonetically Khan - Llan - there's not much difference. Khandudno? Tartar - Tartan, Pwllheli - Pwlldeli, there's many indications.  The Indian Sanskrit word Kam dev means Son of Vishnu, the Celtic word Mac mean Son, Mac was probably back-slang and so if reversed means Cam or Kam. In Sanskrit, Indian or Gypsy, it doesn't matter, Kam means love and born of love is a Son, the same Sun in the god-sky that gives life each day. It's all the same. Deep down there's a natural legacy or kindred that exists between both the Nomadic Celts and Gypsy tribes - somewhere scrawled undocumented in ancient history.  The Gypsies were hounded and heavily persecuted across most continents from when they first left India's Rajastan regions around 30 to 40 generations ago in 800 AD.  They were driven from one European country to the next and a hand full of Tribes eventually reaching the safe wooded valleys and mountains of Cymru - a celtic wilderness, a sanctuary,  where they could at last rest, for there was no need to run any more. Just like the Welsh Celts were driven into these lands many centuries earlier. 

English Murderous Monarchs - When these nomadic Gypsies arrived in Wales it provided a natural haven and easement for the harassed tribes where they could melt away and become "mystical figures in the valleys".  But there was one other major element they both had in common - a hatred for the English monarchs who killed Welsh princes and Gypsies alike on there bloody gallows. Celtic blood and "kaulo rati" Gypsy blood historically ran together, along the same kings' gutters...  A parallel not dissimilar to the Nazis in their murderous campaign, slaughtering Jews and Gypsies under the same roof. So it could be safe to say the Welsh Gypsies and the Welsh Celts have a lot more in common than most people are aware.

Celts and Gypsies alike persecuted? - When you first watch the film Eldra you wouldn't think the Welsh were any different from anyone else from the way the young Gypsy girl is treated - with typical discrimination - on this occasion by a young Welsh lad and his buddies, but look closely beyond all this to the scene of the song and dance evening by the waggons. The barenenge - local miners - are singing in harmony with the Romani folki, and it's this image that clearly demonstrate the rapport between Rom and Celt. The miners around this time had been treated extremely harshly as slave labour - intended persecution by Lord Penrhyn in his stone city, who starved them from their tied homes over a dispute. He destroyed the community, forcing the quarrymen's wives to "beg for food from door to door" whilst they slowly starved to death. Echoes not dissimilar to the Romnis hawking door to door.  Dignified and defiant, 2800 quarrymen stood up for their beliefs, brothers together trapped in poverty and squalor - but with no where to go, as the following extract from an official article shows.

Freedom or Slavery?
"Let there be no doubt as to the issue at stake.  The whole history of the Penrhyn struggle shows it to be between freedom and slavery.  There can be no doubt whatever that if Lord Penrhyn triumphs the men's morale will be utterly shattered and broken.  They will in very truth be helots.  I doubt if even yet the public realise the full significance of the regime at the quarries; bad as it is to-day". 
See more on - The Persecution of the Welsh Quarrymen's Community of Bethesda

It's ironic that the eldest boy's discrimination in the Eldra film is born of innocent ignorance.  After all, his father lost his arm in Lord Penrhyn's quarry of Hell, the very same families that suffered great persecution themselves.  Yet the lad even goads his own brother  "You'll end up in the quarry"! - meaning no hope, to suffer, always our destiny, a Welshman's place? Yet towards the end of the film the bitter boy melts to Eldra's Romani charm, for when all's said and done they were both victims from the same struggle - having dictatorial suppression for centuries engrained in their blood. Still, Wales wasn't a perfect world, and no doubt more serious discrimination did take place against many Gypsies - mainly in the towns and cities, though much less in the countryside.  However, in general, far less in Wales then in other European countries.

It's hardly any wonder then that some people - even experts outside of Wales - fail to understand why the Welsh Kalo Roms are so settled, but then how many truly understand our Welsh culture anyway.  The occasional Rom even became a farmer dealing in sheep instead of the grai (horse).  Most are now settled in harmony with their Welsh environment, often keeping very dignified to themselves. I'm certain it has everything to do with the natural Celtic ethos. 

Either way, the Wolshenenge Kaule - no matter how they live, whether settled or not, are undisputedly still true Gypsy - it's by bloodline, not by there environment, vocal chords or colour of eyes. Many are fiercely proud of their roots alongside their English prala brothers. So was Cymru, Wales, this rare discovery? A secret haven in Europe for these nomadic Romani tribes who landed on the shores of Britain all those centuries ago? 
Boro Atchin Tan - their Romanistan.

More on Welsh Gypsies see - Romani Cymru


Article Copyright - Stef Solomon Bate 2007
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