§ 1.  The Egyptian Ghajar or Ghagar


IF there is anything persistent in Gypsy tradition, it is the assertion that the Gypsies originally came from the banks of the Nile—that Egypt, in fact, gave them a local habitation and a name. Yet, curious to say, this is the country, and the only country, where a tribe of the Romá, preserving the physiognomy and the pursuits of its ancestors, has apparently lost its old Aryan tongue, or rather has exchanged it for a bastard argot, mostly derived from Arabic.1 Nor does this phenomenon seem to be of modern date. A very rare Italian comedy of the middle sixteenth century, La Cingana, pronounced “Tchingana,” was expected to yield treasures of philological lore; but on investigation it proved that the Gypsies spoke only a corrupt Arabic.


1 In Spain this is called “Germania,” which, however, refers not to the true Gypsy, but to the cant slang, or “Thieves’ Latin”; the French argot and the Italian gorgo, a mere farrago, which con­tained only a few words of Romani.





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The following pages are mostly taken from the well‑known work Aegypten, etc. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1860), by the famous Orientalist, Alfred von Kremer. As will be seen, he made a careful study of the “Zigeuner” or “Aegypten,” the “Ghagar”; whereas these interesting families of the Gypsy race, a people of wanderers, who have nowhere a house, and who have everywhere a home, are most perfunctorily treated of by Lane.


“On the banks of the Nile,” says Von Kremer, whose words I shall now quote, as in other places, “the Ghagar men, like the Polloi of Herodotus, are tinkers, ape‑leaders, rope‑dancers, and snake­charmers; whilst the women are Áhnahs, prostitutes, and fortune‑tellers. They are very numerous; they trade in asses, horses, and camels, and, as pedlars (Baddaah), they manage almost all the petit com­merce of the country. The Ghagar buy goods whole­sale in Cairo, and frequent the two annual fairs of Tantá; that of May was instituted about 1853, and entitled the Maulid El Shilkáni (birth‑festival of the Shaykh El Shilkáni), who is buried some three hours’ march from Beni Suef. Thus they not unfrequently become rich.


“The Háwi1 (snake‑charmers) and the snake‑eaters


1 Lane (chap. xx.), generally so correct, falls, according to Kremer, into an error when he explains Hawi simply by “performer of sleight of hand tricks” (Taschenspieler); the origin of the word, Hayyeb, “a snake,” shows its signification. Amongst the Sinaitic Bedawin almost every tribe has an official called the Hawi, who is supposed


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(Rifaijjeh) live at Cairo; and many travellers have seen the disgusting spectacle without suspecting that the Dervish’s frock covered the ‘tinkler.’ These classes are useful to the naturalist, as they have always a supply of live or dead serpents, with and without poison‑fangs, lizards, uromastix, jerboas, jackals, wolves, ferrets (Stinkthiere), and so forth. They find and catch serpents with surprising dexterity: armed with a bit of palm frond to tap the walls and ceilings, and with a pipe whose tones draw the reptiles from their hiding‑places, they rarely fail to make captures, as the older houses of Cairo are mostly haunted by harmless snakes. This proceeding of course awes the ignorant, and none dare to engage a room when the Háwi has declared it to be snake‑possessed.


“The term ‘Ghagar’ or ‘Ghajar’ is general; the people, according to their own account, are divided into tribes, who all, however, represent them­selves to be pure Arabs and wandering immigrants from the West.1 The date of this movement is apparently unknown; but its reality is confirmed by the fact that all, without exception, belong to


to be poison‑proof, and to have the power of stanching wounds and curing hurts by his breath. The necessary qualification for this office is that the mother should make her babe swallow, before he has tasted other food, a cake composed of seven barleycorns, seven grains of wheat, a small scorpion, and a hornet, all pounded and mixed together (The Desert of the Exodus).


1 Algeria as well as Morocco is full of Gypsies, including the ’Aysawí Dervishes.



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the Maliki school, prevailing in Morocco and in North‑West Africa. They are vagrants by profes­sion, and obtain written permission to travel, either from the police or from the Guild Shaykh of the Rifai Dervishes.


“The most numerous tribe everywhere in Egypt is the Ghawázi;1 in every city, town, and village there are representatives of these arch‑seductresses, whose personal beauty makes them dangerous. They call themselves Baramaki,2 and derive themselves from the Persian Barmekides, the historical house ruined and annihilated by the Khalif Harun‑er‑Raschid. Yet they are very proud of their Bedawin descent; and they lead the lives of the sons of the desert, dwelling in tents, which they carry from fair to fair. The


1 Gházi (plural Ghawázi) would mean in Arab “one who fights for the Faith,” or “a conqueror of infidels.” Europe has learned this much during the Russo‑Turkish war (1877); but our papers ridicu­lously misused the term “Gházi Mukhtar,” for Mukhtar Páshá Gházi is worse than any amount of “Sir Smith.” According to some authorities, the Egyptian Gypsies took this title to gratify their Oriental crave for grandiloquence. But, I would remark, in Persian it is synonymous with rope‑dancer or courtisan; and perhaps both are derived from the Ghagar “Ghazíyah,” meaning a woman (?).

2 The origin of the term is a Persian jeu de mots. “Bermek’am” would mean I am a Barmak; Bar‑maken, I sup it up. These were the words spoken by Ja’afar the “Barmekide” when his poisoned ring caused the stones upon the arm of the Ommiade Caliph (Abd el Malik) to rattle—a general and popular superstition. It is quite possible that this memorable family belonged to the Gypsy tribe so common in Persia. According to Ibn Khálikán, the first great ancestor was the principal, or the grand prior, of the convent in Balkh called Nan‑buhar (young spring), a palpable corruption of Nava bihára, in Sanskrit the “new monastery.”




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maidens are dancers, the old women spae‑wives;1 the girls rarely marry before securing a competency, and they often take their slaves to husband. The Gháziyah’s goodman is generally nothing more than a servant, who brings her new acquaintances, and who pipes or drums when she dances. There are cases of these girls marrying village chiefs; and their after‑lives are as correct as their youth was dis­solute (compare p. 145, Burckhardt’s Arabic Proverbs: London, 1830). The Ghawázi speak the Gypsy jargon which is in use amongst all the other tribes.


“The Gypsies of the Sa’id (Upper Egypt), who call themselves ‘Saáideh,’ have purely Asiatic, not African, features, with dark brown skins, piercing black eyes, and lank hair, also black. The women tattoo their lips, hands, and bosoms generally in blue, wear heavy brass ear‑rings, and hang round their necks strings of blue and red beads. They divine by muscle‑shells, broken bits of glass, coloured stones as agates and jaspers, pieces of stained wax, and so forth, carried upon the shoulders in a kirbah, or bag, generally of gazelle‑skin. After taking her seat on the mat or carpet, the woman empties her sack, and, choosing one article which shall represent the person who pays, draws her revelations from the grouping. Money is required at various stages of the process; and at the end the


1 Hence an Englishman defined the Gypsy religion as “faith in fortune‑telling.”



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Gypsy presents some bits of stone or coloured wax by way of charms to her employer.1


“These people may be seen in the streets of Cairo, dressed like the Felláhah (peasant woman), in taubs, or long shirts of home‑made indigo‑dyed cotton, but lacking the shintiyán (drawers) and the burka’ (nose‑bag). Their features at once distinguish them from the Muslims and the Copts; and they are noted, moreover, by the sheep‑skin or gazelle‑skin thrown, besides the bag, over their shoulders. They frequent the bazars, and stroll about the principal thorough­fares of the great towns, especially in summer‑time, as the Nile begins to rise; and their favourite cries are ‘Nibejjin‑ez‑zein!’ (We show the good, i.e. luck), ‘Ta’ál! shuf el Bakht’ (Come and see your fortunes), and ‘Nidmor el Ghaib!’ (We find the lost).


“The capital contains a large company of Ghagar women, who speculate upon public credulity; and their quarter is the Hosh Bardak, once a fine quarter, now a squalid hole behind that noble pile the Sultan Hasan Mosque. I visited it in November, 1877, and found the courts still occupied. The people, tinkers and blacksmiths, who sell ear‑rings, bracelets, amulets,


1 Captain Newbold (p. 288) tells a curious tale of a Fehemi (wise woman), who threw a cowrie into a basin of clear water, and muttered an invocation over it; when the pot began to boil, the shell was shot out—doubtless by some chemical substance—to the distance of several feet. Some of the water accompanied it, with a slight explosion like that of a percussion cap thrown into the fire.


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and other metal articles, exactly resembled Fellahs to a superficial glance. Apparently they had for­gotten their favourite craft, fortune‑telling. More­over, they did not like the term Ghagar. There is, or rather was, another colony at Masr el ’Atíkah (Babylon or Old Cairo). A third used to camp chiefly during winter and spring near a village on the right of the Cairo‑Shubrá road, and I believe they are still there. Their rivals, the Maghribí (North‑West African) magicians, and those from the central regions, of which Darfur1 supplies the greatest number, are known by their sitting in the streets and performing upon cards or sand.2 Predicting by marks drawn on the sand (Ilm el Raml) is old in the East, and plays a great part in the Arabian Nights.


“Other tribal names are H’aleb or Helebi (Aleppine), Schah’āini, and Tatar (T’at’ar). The men of the last class, almost all farriers or tinkers, are also termed A’wwādāt or Mua’merrātijjeh.3 Amongst the other Ghagar there are many smiths, who make


1 The word should be written Dár‑For, the abode or region of the For tribe.

2 The latter material is that originally used in the Arab Darb el Raml (throwing of the sand), briefly called El Raml (the sand), that is, geomancy.

3 In conversation Von Kremer quoted the name Sabáijeh, a “broken plural,” of which no singular is known, as alternating with Zutt in old Arab historians. Newbold enumerates among the “distinct classes” of Ghagar the Meddáhín, Gharrádín, Barmekí (Barmekides), Walad Abú Tenná, Bayt el Rífá’í (?), Hemmeli, and Románi (p. 292).



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the brass rings worn on the fingers and arm‑joints, in the ears and nose, and around the neck.


“The monkey‑leaders so numerous in Cairo, especially about the Ezbekijjeh quarter,1 the Kuray­dati,2 so called from Kird, an ape, also belong to the Gypsy tribes; and these mostly supply the Bahlawán,3 gymnasts or strong‑men, athletes, and especially wrestlers, who frequent fairs and festivals. During the ’Id ed Dahijjeh4 they swarm in the capital.5


“All these subdivisions speak the same Rothwelsch, or ‘Thieves’ Latin,’ which they call El Sím. It explains the idea prevailing in the middle of the last century; namely, that the Gypsy language was an invented tongue; a ‘Germania,’ as the Spaniards say; a conventional jargon; a jail‑bird’s speech, varying with every horde.6 The origin and full


1 This was written before 1863; in 1877 the old camping‑ground of the Uzbeg Tatars had become a kind of Parisian quarter.

2 Kremer gives “Kurudāti”; the word is generally in the diminu­tive form Kurayd, a little Kird (baboon).

3 From the Persian Pahlewán, a brave, a wrestler, an athlete.

4 Generally written ’Id el Zuhá, the great Meccan festival when the victims are offered.

5 Their active habits make them a fine race. Newbold says that “one of the most magnificent women he had ever seen in the East” was a Ghagar rope‑dancer at the palace of one of the Cairene Beys; he complains only that she had disfigured herself by tattooing her under lip and chin—a practice very common among the Arab women of Syria and Egypt.

6 At the end of 1763 the Gazette of Vienna printed a letter from the Hungarian captain, Szekely de Doba. The latter related how a Protestant pastor, when studying at Leyden, made the



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import of the term Sím are undetermined; but it is understood to mean something hidden or secret;1 and it is applied to the impure and gilt ‘gold-­wires’ imported from Austria. It is said, however, that the Bahlawán above use another speech; of this I have been unable to collect proofs, nor do I hold the information wholly credible.”


The following vocabulary was compiled by Von Kremer at Cairo, where he persuaded many of the Ghagar to frequent the Consulate, especially Muhammad Merwán, who pompously styled himself “Shaykh of all the Snake‑charmers of Egypt.” He also consulted many Gypsy women from Upper Egypt; these appeared to speak a somewhat different


acquaintance of some Malabar youths, who spoke of a province Zingania (of course Zigeuner), and whose language was that of the Gypsies. He made a vocabulary of about a thousand words, and returning home to Almasch or Almas, near Komorn, he found, to his surprise, that the “tinklers” understood them. The Hindustani grammars published in England (1773) and in Portugal (1778) en­abled Grellman, Richardson, Marsden, Ludolf, and others to trace the resemblance with a firm hand. See Mayo and Quindalé, who in p. 45 fall into the vulgar error that the “Mongol‑Hindustani jargon” began to be used in India only after the Moghol Conquests. These authors declare that when the celebrated Mezzofanti, of Bologna, became deranged in 1832, he never confused Gypsy with his other thirty‑two tongues. Borrow’s Translation of St. Luke is also said to have retained several Spanish words from Padre Scio. As regards the “Germania” argot of Spain, a vocabulary was published about the middle of the last century by Juan Hidalgo; and though mostly obsolete, the useless farrago was textually reproduced in the Diccionario de la Academia.


1 It is usually explained as an abbreviation of Símiyá, a word formed in imitation of Kímiyá (alchemy).





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dialect, and the words taken from them are dis­tinguished by an S. The numerals, all save one corrupted Arabic, are as follows:




1, Mach1 (Etruscan, Max): according to Newbold (loc. cit.), Helebi, Ek; Náwer, Yek.

2, Machayu (evidently a dual form purely Arabic): Hel. Dúi; Naw. Dú.

3, Tulit (S), or Telát (Salás) Máchát (three ones): Hel. Dúi‑ek (i.e. 2 + 1), or Sih (Pers.); Naw. Súso (Sih).

4, Rúbi’ (S), or Arba’ah Máchát (four ones), and so forth: Hel. and Naw. Chár, or Dúi fi dúi (the fí being pure Arabic “in”).

5, Khúmis (S), or Shammáleh (i.e. the hand): Hel. Penk, Peng; Naw. Fowi.

6, Sutet (S): Hel. and Naw. Penk‑ek (5 + 1).

7, Súbí’: Hel. and Naw. Penk‑i‑dúi (5 + 2).

8, Túmin (S): Hel. and Naw. Ister or Heshter (Nasht, Pers.).

9, Tiwa’ (S): Hel. and Naw. Enna, Nau, or Peng‑i‑dui‑fi dúi (5 + 2 in 2).

10, Úshir (S): Hel. Das, Des, Desh; Naw. Halaheh.


Evidently Von Kremer’s numerals are altered just enough to be hardly intelligible in a sentence hurriedly spoken; whilst Newbold’s are Persian and Hindi.2


1 Curious to say, this word is pure Etruscan, and appears in no other language known to me.


2 Newbold adds:


20, Yuksi or Yeksi; 21, Yirksi wa, etc.

30, Yuksi wa dés (30 and 10); 31, Yuksi wa des wa, etc.

40, Kamáki or Kumáki.

50, Kamáki wa des, etc.

60, Kamáki wa yuksi.

70, Kamáki wa yuksi wa des.



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Water, Móge (evidently Máych, Moyyeh), Himbe (S). Newbold: H. Hembi, Sheribni (Pers.), or Pani (Hindi); G. Páni; and N. Óah.

*Bread, Shenúb, Bishleh (S).

Father, Ab (Arab.) or A’rub;2 my father, Abamru or A’rubi.

*Mother, Kodde, plur. Kadáid; my mother, Koddéti; it also means generically woman: H. Ammámri; G. Kuddi.

*Brother, Sem’a or Khawíj, (from Akkawí, adj. brotherly ?); my brother, Sem’ai; thy brother, Sema’ak or Kha­wijak;3 also generically a boy, lad, youth: H. Huwiji; G. Búrdi.

Sister, Sema’ah4 or Ukht (pure Arabic); thy sister, Sem’atak: H. Khawishti; G. Marash N. Maras:


80, Du Kamáki (2 forties).

90, Du Kamáki wa dés.

100, Hel. Bank, Sad (Pers.), or Dúi Kamáki wa yuksi (2 forties + 20); Naw. Beni.

1000, Des Bank (10 hundred); das Sad.


1 I have marked with a star the words which appear original, or rather unconnected with Arabic. The list is compared with New­bold’s vocabularies, H. (Helebi), G. (Ghagar), N. (Náwer).


2 They are not likely to have two words for “father,” so A’rub is probably dialectic. Newbold gives the Helebi word Gárúbi; Ghagar, Bálo, Mánsh; Náwer, Báyábí.


3 The two affixed pronouns—í (my) and ak (thy)—are also pure Arabic.


4 This form of feminine (opposed to Maia, masculine), Sem’ah, from Sem’, is also Arabic. Newbold adds:


Wife: H. Kúdah; G. Gazíyeh; N. Gad.

Husband: H. El‑baráneh; G. Marash; N. Maras. Of these the latter two are evidently corrupted from the Sansk. Manu­shya; Prak. Mánus.

Boy: H. Lambún, Sumgun; G. Chabo; N. Sowaiti.

Girl: H. Lambúnih, Samgunih; G. Somah, Chabo, or Chai; N. Bubúr.



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also generically a girl, lass, e.g. Sema’ah bahíleh, a pretty girl.

*Night,1 Ghalmúz’a: H. Dámúd; G. Rátse.

*Horse, Soh’lí (Sohl, neighing), Husánáish (S) (from Husán, a stallion): H. Sohli ; G. Ghera (Hind.).

*Ass, Zuwell: H. Zowilli; G. Kharís (Pers. Khar).

*Camel, Hantif: H. Huntif; G. Hunt (Hind.), Ashtr (Pers.).

Buffalo, En Naffákheh (from the Arab Nafkh, blowing, the blower ?).

*Lamb, Mizghál, Minga’esh (from classical Arabic Naja’ah) (S), Khurraf (Arab. Kharúf) (S).2

Tree, Khudrumán (Akhdar, green ?), Shagaráish (Arab. Shajar) (S).

Flesh, A’dwaneh Mahzuzah (S).

Fowl, En‑Nebbásheh (Nabsh, scratching the ground): H. Churïya (Hind.); G. Kagmiyeh; N. Burah.

*Fat (subst.), Barúah.

Ghost, angel, devil, Astrúm (Shúm, Arab. ill‑omened ?).

Hell, Ma‑anwára, ma, the thing which is light, i.e. fire, from núr, anwár, light, lights (e.g. add el‑ma‑anwara, light the fire); not the Sa’idi, El‑Mugánwara (S).


1  Day: H. Merrakrish; G. Chebish.

Rain: H. Matr (Arab.); G. Bursunden (Pers.), Moga; N. Aug. The two latter may be Sansk. Megha, a cloud.

Snow: H. TeIj (Arab.); G Gharábi.

Cloud: H. Reim (Arab. Ghaym); G. Bárúd.

Light: H. and G. Núr.


2  Sheep: H. Hahaiya; G. Bakra (Hind.).

Hare: H. Emeb (Arab.); G. Kundu.

Cat: H. Ghutta (Arab.); G. Berkuka.

Mare: H. Schliyeh; G. Aghorai. The first is the Arabic form of feminine from Sohli, a stallion; the second is Hind.

Hog: H. Khangír (Arab.); G. Hallúf (Arab.); N. Segel harmin (?).

Crow: H. Grab (Arab.); G. Mentuf, Kil.

Snake: H. Tábun (Arab. Thu’ubán ?); G. Samp (Hind.).

Fish: H. Semek (Arab.); G. Machchiyeh (Hind.).



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Date, Ma’ahli, Mahalli (S) (the thing sweet).

Gold, El‑ma‑asfar (the thing yellow for El‑má‑asfar, a transposition), Midhabesh (S) (corrupted from Dahab).

*Silver, Bítúg.

Iron, Hadidaish (Arab. Hadid): H. Megan; G. Sista; N. Shir.

*Corn, Duhúbi, Duhúba (S): H. Dahuba; G. Ghiú; N. Ghiudem (Pers. Gaudum).

Hunter, Dabaibi (from Díb, a wolf‑hunter ?)

*Magician, Tur’ai.

Stone, Hogger (Arab. Hajar, Hagar; dimin. Hujayr): H. Hajar; G. Path.

*Land, region, Anta, plur. Anáti.1

*Uncle, A’rúb; and Aunt, A’rubeh.

Milk,2 Raghwán, Hirwán (S) (Arab. Raghwah, foam of milk).

Onion, Musanúm, Mubsalcheh (S) (Arab. Basal): H. Musmunum; G. Piyaz (Pers.).

Cheese, El‑Mehartemeh, Mahárteme (S).3

*Soured milk, Atreshent, Mishsh (the Arabic Laban).

Millet, Handawil, Mugaddiriyyeh (S) (the dish Majadderah, rice and lentils mixed, from Judrá, the small‑pox).

*Beans, Buhus.4

*Dog, Sanno: H. and G. Sunno.

Wolf, Dibaish (Arab. Dib).


1 Sea: H. Buhr (Arab.); G. Pani (Sansk.).

A Spring (fount): H. Ain (Arab.); G. Moga (Mayet, corr. Arab ?).

A Well: H. Bir (Arab.); G. Ghibini.


2 Milk: H. Millanish, Helwah (Arab. Halwá, the sweet ?); G. Rágún, Rághebi, Chúti; N. Rawán.


3 In this, as in other cases, the Sa’ídi dialect appears to throw back the accent.


4 Barley: H. Muharish; G. Jan (Sansk. Pers.).

Dhurra‑grain: H. Meghidhurra; G. Darineh.

Rice: H. Ruz (Arab. Pers.); G. Barnu, Fukiyeh, Udbukh (i.e. tetbukh, cook thou! ?).

Bread: H. Shemun, Mushmul; G. Márey; N. Nan (Pers.).



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Knife, El‑Khúsah: H. Tillúmeh; G. Matwa, Churi (Hind.); N. Chiri.

Foot, Darrágeh (Arab. Daraj, a step), er‑raghaleh (Arab. rijl, rigl) (S), Mumeshayát (S) (Mashi, walking).

Head, Kamúkhah, Dumákheh (S) (Pers. Damágh, brain): H. Ras; G. Sir (Hind.), Sherit, Kamokhti.

Eye, Bassáseh (Bassáseh, she that sees ?), Huzzárah (S): H. Hazára; G. Ankhi (Hind.).

*Thief, Damáni: H. Gowáti; G. Dumáni, Kálo; N. Showústi.

Hand,1 Shammáleh (Arab. Shamala, be collected; Shimál, the left‑hand ?), also two number five: H. Kumá­shteh; G. Gadno, Kustúr (Augushti ?), Chang (Pers.); N. Fowítak.

North, Baharaish (from Bahar, the sea, i.e. towards the Mediterranean).

South, Kiblaisk (Kibleh, Arab. the fronting‑place, i.e. Mecca).

East, Sharkaish (Arab. Shark; hence probably Saracen).

West, Gharbaish (Gharb, whence probably Maurus, a Moor).

Coffee, Magáswade (Má aswad, that which is black).

*Clothes,2 Sarme (S).

Shoe, Merkubáish (Arab. Merkúb).

Nose, Zenúnáish.

Ear, Widu (Arab. Uzu); thy ear, Widuamrak1 (S) or

           Mudáusheh (S) : H. Wudu; G. Kirkawiyeh.


1 Finger: H. Sabua (Arab.); G. Augushti (Hind.).

Neck: H. Rekl (Arab.); G. Sheriti.

Knee: H. Ruggal or Kumayhtu; G. Shang.

Teeth: H. Sinnan (Arab.), Suvan; G. Dándi (Hind.), Sinnam.

Flesh: H. Udwan; G. Maas (Hind.).

Perd, mas.: H. Lib; G. Kiah.

,,      neut.: H. Budi; G. Minchiá; N. Bud.

Belly: H. Batu (Arab.); G. Burri; N. Bosah.


2 Ring: H. Khatim (Arab.); G. Augústir (Hind.).



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Cow, Mubgársheh (S) (Arab. Bakar): H. Mubgursha; G. Góm (Goa, Pers. ?).

Bull, Mutwáresh (S) (Arab. Taur): H. Mutwarish; G. Maia, Góno (male cow ?).

River, Mistabhar (S) (from Bahr, sea or river).

Palm (tree), Minkhalesh (S) (Arab. Nakhl).

Tent, El‑Mikhwáshesh (S) (Arab. Khaysheh).

Wood, Makhshabesh (S) (Arab. Khashab).

Straw, Tibuáish (Arab. Tibu).

Christ, El‑Annawi (el‑Nabbí, The Prophet ?).

*Egg, Mugahrada (S): H. Mejáhaled; G. Wáin.

Fire,2 El‑Mugáuwara, (S): light the fire, Walláish el-Mugáuwara.

*Food, esh‑Shimleh.

Sack, Migrábesh (Arab. Kirbeh, Girbeh).

Arm, El‑Kemásheh; my hand hurts, Kemmashtu waga’ani (Arab. Kamasha, he collected, picked up; the last word pure Arab.).

Hair, Sha’aráish (S) (Arab. Sha’ar) : H. Hára ; G. Bál or Vál (Hind.).

*Tobacco, Tiftaf (S) (possibly formed like the Turk. Tutun).

Mountain, Migbalish (S) (Arab. Jebel, Egypt. Gebel, whence Monte‑Gibello): H. Gebel (Arab.); G. Melúsh, Durum; N. Koh (Pers.).

*Nasty (adj.), Shalaf.3


1 The terminal, amrak, may be they work, business, property; in fact, synonymous with the vulgar bitá’k.


2 Every Arabic dialect has some euphonistic form of expressing fire; the simple word Nar would be inauspicious, suggesting the idea of hell‑fire.


3 Newbold adds:




God: H. Allah; G. Allah; N. Allah.

Devil: H. Shaytan (Arab.); G. Iblis (Arab.); N. Harmir (Harami ?).



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*Go, Fell; I went, Felleit (Arab. termination—ayter, ayt). To go: H. Fil; G. Já (Hind.).

Come, E’utib (S); he came, Gádat. To come: H. Ig; G. Utelo or á (Hind.).

*Say, Agmu; I said, Agemtu.

Strike, Il’big; he struck, H’abash, Habash (S) (Himya­ritic ?); he still strikes, Hay yihbig (Ha fa háza el wakt; vulgar Egyptian).

*We ate, Rakkhayná or Shamalna (Arab. we gathered). To eat: H. Eshna, Shemb; G. Khaba, Jála N. Arkus.

Sit, Watib.

We drank, Mawwajná (from Manj, a wave ?); I drank, Mawwagt, Hamball (S). To drink: H. Hunnib; ­G. Mowwak.

He cut, Shafar.

He called, cried, Nabbat’a.

*He died, Entena.


Christian: H. Ghiraie; G. Balámu.

Gentile, i.e. non‑Gypsy: H. Hushno; G. Chaju; N. Kegháneh.

Luck (fortune): H. Bakht (Pers.); G. Búji; N. Sohri.

Poison: H. Sun (Arab. Sum ?); G. Zúngali; N. Mubahah (Arab. the permitted ?).

Love: all use Hebb (Habb, Arab.).

Harlot: H. Beskanan; G. Besignan, Gabu; N. Gad el‑haram.

Zone of chastity: H. Hug; G. Dilk; N. Fowi (Fútah, a napkin).

Name: H. Ism (Arab.); G. Rubon (i.e. your name); N. Minas.

Year: H. Shahr (Arab.); G. Yuk Sadísh.

King: H. Dazi, Zilk; G. El‑reibo, el‑burro (Hind. Bará, gnat ?).

City or village: H. Gavuti (Hind.); G. Gáv (Hind.); N. Desi (Hind.)

­Bridge : all Juntava (error or corruption of Kantaral ?).

House: H. Nizb; G. Kír (Ghar, Hind ?).

Door: H. Bál (Arab.); G. Kápú (Turk.).

Rope: H. Hebl (Arab.); G. Dori (Hind.).

Paper: all use Warkeh (Arab.).

Book: all use Kitáb (Arab.).



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*He killed, slew, Tena; he kills, Yitni.

*He sleeps, Yidmukh; I slept, Dammacht. To sleep, H. Dumak; G. Sobelar; N. Suk.

*He rides, Yita’alwan.

*He gives, Yikif; he gave, Kaf.

*He steals, Yiknish; he stole, Kanash. To rob: H. Gunwani; G. Churabi (Hind.); N. Lahis.

*He cooks, Yittabig; he cooked, Tabag (Arab. Tabaxa).

He saw, Haseb.

*He laughs, Biarr’a.

*Sit, Ukriz.

Stand up, Utib.

*He married, Etkaddad.


“From these philological facts,” says Von Kremer, in conclusion, “I draw no inference, the material being perhaps too scanty to warrant deductions. It is very regrettable that the old original words are dropping out of use, being replaced by a cant or




Sick, tired: H. Tabau (Arab.).

Bad: H. Battál (Arab.); G. Bilbey.

Good: H. Tayyib (Arab.); G. Sasho (pure Gypsy).

Great: H. Kabir (Arab.); G. Bara (Hind.); N. Bari.

Small: H. Sughayyar (Arab.); G. Thoranki (Hind.).

Black: H. Aswadish (corr. Arab.); G. Kálo (Hind.).

White: all use Alyar (Arab.).

Cold: H. Melladish (corr. Arab.); G. Memudrih.

Hot: H. Mahrarish (corr. Arab.); G. Garu (Pers.).




Much: H. Ketír (Arab.); G. Bhút (Hind.).

A little: H. Meframrush ; G. Theráki, Thukrání (corr. Hind.).

Enough: H. Keffi (Arab.); G. Bas (Pers.), Nunniya.

Here: H. Hene (Arab.); G. Syde.

There: H. Hunáh (Arab.); G. Aurileh.



[p. 250]


jargon from Arabic according to a purely conven­tional plan, a changing of the ending, like Kiblas for Kibla. It is also evident that the Ghagar have sunk in favour of the vernacular their own peculiar names for colours, for the sun and moon, for earth and fire, and for other terms of universal use.”


In Newbold’s vocabulary, on the other hand, we have distinct signs of an Eastern, not a Western pro­vincialism, as the author says: “There is a marked difference in the three dialects, or jargons; that of the Ghagar most resembles the language of the Kurbat, or Gypsies of Syria. The Gypsy dialect in Borrow’s work contains more words of Indian origin than the Helebi and Nawar jargon. The Helebi comprises a large number of words of Arabic root, indicating a long sojourn in Yemen, or other parts of Arabia. Its numerals, which are also used by the Ghagar when secrecy is required, bear strong marks of Eastern, or Persian, origin. Usually the Helebis adopt the vulgar Arabic numerals in use throughout Egypt.1 . . . The numerals of the Nawars are evidently of Persian origin. . . . All the tribes disclaim having any written character peculiar to themselves,2 and it is rare to find one among them


1 This proves one of two things: first, that the Gypsies left India before the Hindus had borrowed a Western character from the Phoenicians; or two, the Gypsies were a low caste, which, like the Pariahs and others, ignore writing.


2 When travelling, for instance, they place on prominent rocks and remarkable trees pebbles, bits of thread, and similar articles, showing the road they have taken.



[p. 251]


who can write the common Arabic of the country. I have been informed, however, by a respectable Copt that they have secret symbols which they sedulously conceal. It seems to me probable that the whole of these tribes had one common origin in India and the adjacent countries on its western frontier, and that the difference in the jargons they now speak is owing to their sojourn in the various countries through which they have passed. It is certain that the Gypsies are strangers and outcasts in the land which has given them a name, and which has long been supposed to have given them birth.”


In Sindh I met Captain Newbold, and, assisted by my late friend James Macleod, then Collector of Customs at Karachi, supplied him with a short vocabulary. His studies gained breadth by noting the manners and habits of a singular wandering tribe called the Jats, whose remarkable physical appearance reminded him strongly of the Gypsies of Egypt and Syria. He saw a tribe living in tents and rude movable huts in the wood of Balut, near Jujah, between Karachi and the Indus. Hence he drew the following conclusions:


“Since my visit to the banks of the Indus, I am more than ever convinced that from the borders of this classic river originally migrated the horde of Gypsies that are scattered over Europe, Asia, and the northern confines of Africa. The dialects spoken by the numerous tribes which swarm upon the



[p. 252]


territories adjacent to the Indus, from the sea to the snowy mountains of Himalaya and Tatary, have, with those spoken by the Gypsies, a certain family resemblance, which, like their physical features, cannot be mistaken. I find it impossible at present to place my hand on any particular tribe, and say, ‘This is the parent stock of the Gypsies’; but as far as my researches have gone, I am rather inclined to think that this singular race derives its origin, not from one alone, but from several tribes that constitute the family of mankind dwelling on, or adjacent to, the banks of the Indus.”


Captain Newbold’s studies in Egypt, where he was assisted by the Shaykhs of the Romá, complete those of Von Kremer, and prove that the latter had chiefly noticed the Ghawázi and Ghagar families. The former would divide the vagrants into two—the Helebis and their wives, the Fehemis (wise women), who practise palmistry and divination, and look down with supreme contempt upon their distant kinsmen the Ghagar or Ghajar, whose better halves are musicians and rope‑dancers. The Helebis, who evidently derive their name from H’abel (Aleppo), claim to be derived from El Yemen, and declare that in the early history of their race a great king persecuted and expelled them. The tribe then wandered over Syria, Egypt, Persia, and Europe under some brother‑chiefs, whose tombs are still held holy to this day. The Helebis confined their



[p. 253]


wandering to the Rif or Nile Valley and the Delta. They rarely go deep into the desert, except when they sally forth to sell cattle medicines, or to buy jaded beasts from the returning pilgrim caravans, and a few perform the pilgrimage in order to win the title of Hagi.


The Shaykhs speak of four tribes scattered about Egypt, and each comprising fifty families, a number of which Newbold had reason to believe is much and designedly underrated. According to the Helebis, the sworn chiefs obtained from the sovereign of Egypt the right of wandering unmolested about the country, and the privilege of exemption from taxes. Muhammad Ali Pasha compelled them, however, to pay a poll tax, which accounts for their numbering only two hundred instead of perhaps five thousand families. In 1847 the pasha had ordered the people not residing in their native villages to return to them, causing great distress and scenes of violence and misery. The Gypsies took the hint, struck their tents by night, decamped bag and baggage, and disappeared altogether. They are expert in disguises, and do not yield the palm to European brethren in cunning and deception. Remarkably intelligent and quick in gaining information, they would make capital spies in an enemy’s camp. The women during their halts on the outskirts of towns and villages, and in running about the streets, bazars, and coffee­-houses, pick up with wonderful tact and accuracy all



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requisite information concerning the private history of those on whom they may be expected to exercise their vocation of fortune‑telling. In this secret intelligence department they are aided by the men, who, it is said, are numerous in official employ­ment, although unknown to be Gypsies. At all events they mingle with residents on the spot, and with strangers in the caravanserais and other public places.


The Helebis, leading a vagabond, wandering life, usually pitch tents or portable huts on the outskirts of towns and large villages. The former resemble in all points those of the pauper Bedawin, and contained little beyond wretched horse and ass furniture, mats, cooking‑pots, and similar necessaries. Everything denotes externally the most squalid poverty, except only the enormous mass of fowl, mutton, and savoury vegetables seething in the large caldron suspended from the familiar crossed sticks over the embers of a large fire, thus proving to more senses than one that the care of the flesh‑pots of ancient Egypt has not devolved upon a race insensible to their charms. All deny the common charge of eating dogs, cats, and other meat held impure by Muslims.


The male Helebis are ostensibly dealers in horses and asses, camels and black cattle. They pretend to great skill in the veterinary art; but their character for honesty does not stand high with those who know



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them best. Without known religion, priests, or houses of prayer, this tribe, like the Ghagar and all others, conform to El Islam, or to the predominant religion whenever policy or convenience demands. They bury their dead, but have no fixed places of interment. The men will marry Ghagar damsels, but will not give their daughters to Ghagar. The zone of chastity is even made, they say, of plaited things like that of the Nubian, and is cut off on the wedding night. The women, though chaste themselves, will act as Mercuries to the Gentile male and female; and they have been charged with sundry indecencies for money. The Muslims and Copts declare that they kidnap children, and they of course swear they do not. The women never intermarry with strangers, and in this respect they are as rigid as the Hindus. They are not remarkable for cleanliness either of person or apparel. In this respect, and in their passion for trinkets of brass, silver, and ivory, they remind one of certain native women of India. Their special privilege is the practice of palmistry and divination. The Fehemi takes the inquirer’s right hand by the finger tips, and bends them gently backward so as to render the lines more visible. She mutters a spell while with all gravity she reads the book of destiny, and then reads the result; of course her hand must be crossed with silver. Palmistry, I must add, is one of the many superstitions to which India gave birth, and all the world over the



[p. 256]


lines and mounts and spaces and other distributions of the hands are the same.


Newbold says comparatively little of the Ghagar, who claim to be of the same stock as the Helebis, and who speak of brethren in Hungary, while the original tongue is preserved. Comparatively poor in physical appearance and in vagabond habits, they bear a family resemblance to the Helebis and to the Syrian Kurbat. During the summer months they wander about the cultivated land, and pitch tents and Kaysh. A favourite way of gaining a livelihood is by carrying water‑jars, and by singing at the birthday fêtes of saints, etc., during the fine season. In wandering they prefer the towns. In ancient Arabia they have Ghettos, as at Old Cairo and elsewhere.


Being subject to the poll tax, they have an interest in understating their numbers, which can scarcely be less than sixteen thousand. When the publican is abroad, they quietly abscond across the Nile, and take refuge in some village on the skirts of the desert. After paying a first visit to them, which aroused their suspicion, Newbold returned the following day, and to his surprise found the quarter quite deserted. Subsequently, however, a better acquaintance was established.


With few exceptions the Ghagar are all thieves. Ostensibly the men are athletes, monkey‑leaders, and mountebanks attending several fairs. They



[p. 257]


are also metal‑workers and horse‑dealers. The women are not allowed to practise palmistry and divination, consequently they are despised by the Fehemis. Many of them are excellent rope‑dancers; others are musicians, playing chiefly on the talla, a kind of castanet. They also practise female circumcision upon Muslim girls, bore ears and nostrils, and tattoo lips and chins.


The Nawar of Egypt were hereditary robbers, like certain tribes in India. They were protected and even employed by the Billi tribe of Arabs, and the relations of patron and client were those of the High­land chiefs and the crofters upon their properties. Muhammad Ali Pasha succeeded in taming this law­less tribe, which for generations had given immense trouble to his predecessors, upon the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief. He employed them as police and watchmen upon his country estates, and he allowed them 50 per cent. on property recovered from plunderers brought to justice. Since that time they have seldom broken the law, except at Cairo, where there is less chance of detection. They intermarry with the Fellahin, or Egyptians of the soil, from whom in physique and raiment they can hardly be distinguished. Outwardly they profess Muhammadanism, and they have little inter­course with the Helebis and Ghagar. In 1847 their chief was a certain Shaykh Yusuf, one of the most notorious thieves in Egypt.




[p. 258]


§ 2.  The Gzane of Algeria and Morocco.


This race is interesting because it shows the origin of the Darb el‑mendel, the Magic Mirror of Egypt, known to the Hindus as Aujan. It was first noticed in India by the learned Dr. Herklots, who in 1832 published a most valuable volume on the manners and customs of the Hindi Muslims. Unfor­tunately the British public misjudged its title, and held it to be a cookery‑book. The next to notice it was Mr. Lane (Modern Egyptians, Vol. II., chap. xii.) in 1835. He tells us that two Europeans, an Englishman and a Frenchman, learned to induce the phenomenon; and he concludes with the normal deprecatory formula of his age: “Neither I nor others have been able to discover any clue by which to penetrate the mystery; and if the reader be alike unable to give the solution, I hope that be will not allow the above account to induce in his mind any degree of scepticism with respect to other portions of this work.” Since that time the Zoist, the Journal de Magnétisme, and similar publications took up the subject, and traced it from Cornelius Agrippa and Dr. Dee to the most degraded of existing savages, the Australians:


The following is Dr. de Pietra Santa’s account of the two modes of fascination employed by the “magicians” of French Africa (Algiers)1:


1 Letter written from Algiers, and published in the Union Médicale of January 2, 1860.



[p. 259]


“The first forms part of the baggage of all Arab Gzanes, Gypsies, sorceresses, and fortune‑tellers. When one wishes to strike the imagination of the multitude, it is absolutely necessary to find phenomena which are both intelligible to all and which each one can instantly verify for himself. Amongst such there is not one more evident than sleep. It is therefore important for the Gzane, in order to prove in an undeniable manner her moral power and super­natural influence, that she should be able to send to sleep at a given moment the person who has recourse to her occult science. She employs the following means:


“Upon the palm of the hand she describes, with some blackish colouring matter, a circle, in whose centre is marked a spot equally black. After looking fixedly at the latter for a few minutes, the eyes grow heavy, they blink, and the sight is confused; the heaviness is presently succeeded by sleep, and sleep by a sort of insensibility,1 of which the Gypsy profits to exercise her manœuvres more securely. I give you the simple fact without commentaries; and abjuring any pretensions to determine its importance.


“Let us now pass on to the second mode of fascina‑


1 This is evidently the hypnotism so called by Dr. John Braid, of Manchester, the Braidism of Continental writers. The discovery was made in 1841. See Neurypnology, or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep, Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism. About 1849, profiting by the studies of Doctors J. B. Dods and Philips, a certain Mr. Stone introduced into England a modification of hypnotism, which he absurdly called Electro‑biology; his zinc and copper discs were the civilized succedanea of the ink‑blot.




[p. 260]


tion. Upon a table covered with a white cloth is placed a bottle, usually filled with water and backed by a small lamp lighted. The subject is comfortably seated on a chair, and told to look at the bright point placed before him at the distance of a few steps. After a few minutes the eyelids grow heavy, then they gradually smile, and sleep is induced. With nervous temperaments palpitation of the heart and headache also manifest themselves.


“In order to give an odour of the supernatural to these phenomena, the Moroccan, Gypsy or Marabout, has a certain quantity of benzoin burnt behind the table; and while the vapour spreads itself through the room, the person undergoing the process falls into a complete state of anæsthesia.”


Borrow mentions in Barbary sundry “sects of wanderers,” which he shrewdly suspects to be Gypsies, and whom he provides with the worst of characters. The first are the “Beni Aros” (?), who wander about Fez, and have their homes in the high mountains near Tetuan. A comely, well­made race, they are beggars by profession, notorious drunkards, addicted to robbery, murder, and effemi­nate crimes. They claim to be Moors, and their language is Arabic. The second are the “Sidi Hamed au Muza,” so called from their patron saint. In many respects they not a little resemble the Gypsies; but they speak the Shilhah, or a dialect of that tongue. They earn their livelihood by vaulting,



[p. 261]


tumbling, and tricks with sword and dagger, to the sound of wild music, which the women, seated on the ground, produce from their uncouth instruments.



§ 3.  The Gypsies in Inner Africa.


It is generally believed that the Romá have extended far southwards from Morocco and Barbary. Borrow remarks of the Dar‑bushi‑fal (fortune-­tellers), that if they are not Gypsies, the latter people cannot be found in the country. Numerous in Barbary, they wander during the greater part of the year, pilfering, fortune‑telling, and dealing in mules and donkeys. Their fixed villages are known as “Char Seharra,” witch hamlets. They can change the colour of an animal, and transform a white man into a negro black as a coal, after which they sell him as a slave. They are said to possess a peculiar language, which, being neither Arabic nor Shilhah, is intelligible only to their own caste. Borrow often conversed with them; but he neglected to apply his favourite Shibboleth, Pani (water). Their faces are described as exceedingly lean, their skins swarthy, and their legs are reeds; “when they run, the devil himself cannot overtake them.” Their vehicles of divination are oil, a plate full of flour, or a shoe placed in the mouth. They are evil people, and powerful enchanters, feared by the emperor himself.



[p. 262]


M. Paul Bataillard (Notes et Questions) refers, for information concerning the Gypsies, to the Voyage dans le Nord et dans les Parties Centrales de l’Afrique, the journey of Denham and Clapperton, translated by Eyries and another (Paris, 1826, 3 vols. 8vo). These authors, he says, pretend to assimilate the “Chouâa” Arabs of Bornou with the Gypsies. Indeed, they expressly declare that their Arabic is almost pure Gypsy. This is, however, incom­patible with another passage, which declares that these “Chouâas” have imported into Bornou the Arabic, which they speak purely.


I can only find1 that the women of the Chouâa Arabs are described as “a very extraordinary race, with scarcely any resemblance to the Arabs of the north: they have fine open countenances, with aquiline noses and large eyes; their complexion is a light copper colour; they possess great cunning with their courage, and resemble in appearance some of our best‑formed Gypsies in England, particularly the women; and their Arabic is nearly pure Egyptian.” Major Denman afterwards found the “Shouaas of the tribe of Waled Salamat, extending eastward quite as far as the Tchad.” He notes their difference from the Fellalahs, and their practice of sending plundering parties to Mandara. We also hear of their skill in the chase and their use of the spear on horseback.


1 Narrative of Travels in 1822‑24. The folio edition shows two women with the crisp African hair.