IT is impossible to dismiss the subject of the Spanish Gypsies without offering some remarks on their marriage festivals. There is nothing which they retain connected with their primitive rites and principles, more characteristic perhaps of the sect of the Rommany, of the sect of the HUSBANDS AND WIVES, than what relates to the marriage ceremony, which gives the female a protector, and the man a helpmate, a sharer of his joys and sorrows. The Gypsies are almost entirely ignorant of the grand points of morality; they have never had sufficient sense to perceive that to lie, to steal, and to shed human blood violently, are crimes which are sure, eventually, to yield bitter fruits to those who perpetrate them; but on one point, and that one of no little importance as far as temporal happiness is concerned, they are in general wiser than those who have had far better opportunities than such unfortunate outcasts, of regulating their steps, and distinguishing good from evil. They know that chastity is a jewel of high price, and that conjugal fidelity is capable of occasionally flinging a sunshine even over the dreary hours of a life passed in the contempt of almost all laws, whether human or divine.
There is a word in the Gypsy language to which those who speak it attach ideas of peculiar reverence, far superior to that connected with the name of the Supreme Being, the creator of themselves and the universe. This word is LACHA, which with them is the corporeal chastity of the females; we say corporeal chastity, for no other do they hold in the slightest esteem; it is lawful amongst them, nay praiseworthy, to be obscene in look, gesture, and discourse, to be accessories to vice, and to stand by and laugh at the worst abominations of the Busne, provided their LACHA YE TRUPOS, or corporeal chastity, remains unblemished. The Gypsy child, from her earliest years, is told by her strange mother, that a good Calli need only dread one thing in this world, and that is the loss of Lacha, in comparison with which that of life is of little consequence, as in such an event she will be provided for, but what provision is there for a Gypsy who has lost her Lacha? 'Bear this in mind, my child,' she will say, 'and now eat this bread, and go forth and see what you can steal.'
A Gypsy girl is generally betrothed at the age of fourteen to the youth whom her parents deem a suitable match, and who is generally a few years older than herself. Marriage is invariably preceded by betrothment; and the couple must then wait two years before their union can take place, according to the law of the Cales. During this period it is expected that they treat each other as common acquaintance; they are permitted to converse, and even occasionally to exchange slight presents. One thing, however, is strictly forbidden, and if in this instance they prove contumacious, the betrothment is instantly broken and the pair are never united, and thenceforward bear an evil reputation amongst their sect. This one thing is, going into the campo in each other's company, or having any rendezvous beyond the gate of the city, town, or village, in which they dwell. Upon this point we can perhaps do no better than quote one of their own stanzas:-
'Thy sire and mother wrath and hate
Have vowed against us, love!
The first, first night that from the gate
We two together rove.'
With all the other Gypsies, however, and with the Busne or Gentiles, the betrothed female is allowed the freest intercourse, going whither she will, and returning at all times and seasons. With respect to the Busne, indeed, the parents are invariably less cautious than with their own race, as they conceive it next to an impossibility that their child should lose her Lacha by any intercourse with THE WHITE BLOOD; and true it is that experience has proved that their confidence in this respect is not altogether idle. The Gitanas have in general a decided aversion to the white men; some few instances, however, to the contrary are said to have occurred.
A short time previous to the expiration of the term of the betrothment, preparations are made for the Gypsy bridal. The wedding-day is certainly an eventful period in the life of every individual, as he takes a partner for better or for worse, whom he is bound to cherish through riches and poverty; but to the Gypsy particularly the wedding festival is an important affair. If he is rich, he frequently becomes poor before it is terminated; and if he is poor, he loses the little which he possesses, and must borrow of his brethren; frequently involving himself throughout life, to procure the means of giving a festival; for without a festival, he could not become a Rom, that is, a husband, and would cease to belong to this sect of Rommany.
There is a great deal of what is wild and barbarous attached to these festivals. I shall never forget a particular one at which I was present. After much feasting, drinking, and yelling, in the Gypsy house, the bridal train sallied forth - a frantic spectacle. First of all marched a villainous jockey-looking fellow, holding in his hands, uplifted, a long pole, at the top of which fluttered in the morning air a snow-white cambric handkerchief, emblem of the bride's purity. Then came the betrothed pair, followed by their nearest friends; then a rabble rout of Gypsies, screaming and shouting, and discharging guns and pistols, till all around rang with the din, and the village dogs barked. On arriving at the church gate, the fellow who bore the pole stuck it into the ground with a loud huzza, and the train, forming two ranks, defiled into the church on either side of the pole and its strange ornaments. On the conclusion of the ceremony, they returned in the same manner in which they had come.
Throughout the day there was nothing going on but singing, drinking, feasting, and dancing; but the most singular part of the festival was reserved for the dark night. Nearly a ton weight of sweetmeats had been prepared, at an enormous expense, not for the gratification of the palate, but for a purpose purely Gypsy. These sweetmeats of all kinds, and of all forms, but principally yemas, or yolks of eggs prepared with a crust of sugar (a delicious bonne- bouche), were strewn on the floor of a large room, at least to the depth of three inches. Into this room, at a given signal, tripped the bride and bridegroom DANCING ROMALIS, followed amain by all the Gitanos and Gitanas, DANCING ROMALIS. To convey a slight idea of the scene is almost beyond the power of words. In a few minutes the sweetmeats were reduced to a powder, or rather to a mud, the dancers were soiled to the knees with sugar, fruits, and yolks of eggs. Still more terrific became the lunatic merriment. The men sprang high into the air, neighed, brayed, and crowed; whilst the Gitanas snapped their fingers in their own fashion, louder than castanets, distorting their forms into all kinds of obscene attitudes, and uttering words to repeat which were an abomination. In a corner of the apartment capered the while Sebastianillo, a convict Gypsy from Melilla, strumming the guitar most furiously, and producing demoniacal sounds which had some resemblance to Malbrun (Malbrouk), and, as he strummed, repeating at intervals the Gypsy modification of the song:-
'Chala Malbrun chinguerar,
Birandon, birandon, birandera -
Chala Malbrun chinguerar,
No se bus trutera -
No se bus trutera.
No se bus trutera.
La romi que le camela,
Birandon, birandon,' etc.
The festival endures three days, at the end of which the greatest part of the property of the bridegroom, even if he were previously in easy circumstances, has been wasted in this strange kind of riot and dissipation. Paco, the Gypsy of Badajoz, attributed his ruin to the extravagance of his marriage festival; and many other Gitanos have confessed the same thing of themselves. They said that throughout the three days they appeared to be under the influence of infatuation, having no other wish or thought but to make away with their substance; some have gone so far as to cast money by handfuls into the street. Throughout the three days all the doors are kept open, and all corners, whether Gypsies or Busne, welcomed with a hospitality which knows no bounds.
In nothing do the Jews and Gitanos more resemble each other than in their marriages, and what is connected therewith. In both sects there is a betrothment: amongst the Jews for seven, amongst the Gitanos for a period of two years. In both there is a wedding festival, which endures amongst the Jews for fifteen and amongst the Gitanos for three days, during which, on both sides, much that is singular and barbarous occurs, which, however, has perhaps its origin in antiquity the most remote. But the wedding ceremonies of the Jews are far more complex and allegorical than those of the Gypsies, a more simple people. The Nazarene gazes on these ceremonies with mute astonishment; the washing of the bride - the painting of the face of herself and her companions with chalk and carmine - her ensconcing herself within the curtains of the bed with her female bevy, whilst the bridegroom hides himself within his apartment with the youths his companions - her envelopment in the white sheet, in which she appears like a corse, the bridegroom's going to sup with her, when he places himself in the middle of the apartment with his eyes shut, and without tasting a morsel. His going to the synagogue, and then repairing to breakfast with the bride, where he practises the same self-denial - the washing of the bridegroom's plate and sending it after him, that he may break his fast - the binding his hands behind him - his ransom paid by the bride's mother - the visit of the sages to the bridegroom - the mulct imposed in case he repent - the killing of the bullock at the house of the bridegroom - the present of meat and fowls, meal and spices, to the bride - the gold and silver - that most imposing part of the ceremony, the walking of the bride by torchlight to the house of her betrothed, her eyes fixed in vacancy, whilst the youths of her kindred sing their wild songs around her - the cup of milk and the spoon presented to her by the bridegroom's mother - the arrival of the sages in the morn - the reading of the Ketuba - the night - the half-enjoyment - the old woman - the tantalising knock at the door - and then the festival of fishes which concludes all, and leaves the jaded and wearied couple to repose after a fortnight of persecution.
The Jews, like the Gypsies, not unfrequently ruin themselves by the riot and waste of their marriage festivals. Throughout the entire fortnight, the houses, both of bride and bridegroom, are flung open to all corners; - feasting and song occupy the day - feasting and song occupy the hours of the night, and this continued revel is only broken by the ceremonies of which we have endeavoured to convey a faint idea. In these festivals the sages or ULEMMA take a distinguished part, doing their utmost to ruin the contracted parties, by the wonderful despatch which they make of the fowls and viands, sweetmeats, AND STRONG WATERS provided for the occasion.
After marriage the Gypsy females generally continue faithful to their husbands through life; giving evidence that the exhortations of their mothers in early life have not been without effect. Of course licentious females are to be found both amongst the matrons and the unmarried; but such instances are rare, and must be considered in the light of exceptions to a principle. The Gypsy women (I am speaking of those of Spain), as far as corporeal chastity goes, are very paragons; but in other respects, alas! - little can be said in praise of their morality.
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