Rromani people were a very visible part of the steam era and many writers and cos-players want to work a ‘Gypsy’ character into their Steampunk worlds. Sadly the information about who Rromani people were and are, why they did not always live in houses and what their beliefs, lifestyle and occupations were during this period is largely incorrect.
Sources drawn on by modern writers are often works of fiction from the Georgian / Victorian period or ‘research’ published by the elite gentleman’s club known as the ‘Gypsy Law Society.’ These works dehumanised Rromani people into mythical ‘Gypsy Creatures’ – lawless, nomadic, romantic and magical beings far removed from the reality of Rromani people’s lives.
It is even the case that more modern publications (books / blogs / websites etc) which claim to be authentic sources of information on Rromani beliefs, lifestyle, language and history are often based purely on these earlier works.
Both historically and recently there have been books and articles published by people who have paid money to ‘live amongst’ Rromani people and then written about their experiences. This is obviously a deeply and complexly problematic scenario and any material derived from such ‘research’ cannot be considered reliable.
So what can we, as readers, writers, cos-players, artists and Steampunk enthusiasts do if we want to include the experiences of Rromani people in our Steampunk worlds in a realistic and respectful way?
Fortunately, there are lots of Rromani writers, artists, scholars, activists and researchers working to chip away at this false image of the mythical ‘Gypsy Creature’ and reveal the true historical and modern faces of Rromani people across the globe.
This series of articles listed below is my own humble offering to this collective effort and of course it includes links to the works of other Rromani writers and creators. My hope is that these articles will provide plenty of useful information and examples for those who want to include Rromani characters in their Steampunk worlds. If you have specific questions or topics you’d like me to cover please let me know in the comments. If you are a Rromani writer, artist or Steampunk enthusiast and are interested in collaborating, adding to this project or would like me to link to your own work on the subject, please do get in touch.
This is a careful, illustrative walk-through showing how you can respectfully draw on aspects of real Rromani history and culture to create a Race and characters for your Steampunk world.
Another careful, illustrative walk-through, this time exploring the pros and cons of incorporating a real life Rromani person into a fictional Steampunk setting. (In this case the poet Bronislawa Wajs)
Steampunk Gypsies: The Many Names Of The Rromani People
Where does the word gypsy come from? Why don’t Rromani people like it? What should I call Rromani people instead? Can I use the word gypsy in my fiction without being racist? This article aims to answer all these questions and more.
Steampunk Gypsies: Spells, Magic and Fortune Telling
This upcoming article will explore the perceived connection between Rromani people and magic, how this idea has developed and whether there is any truth behind the mythology.
Steampunk Gypsies: Beggars and Thieves
This upcoming article will look at the fictional representation of Rromani people throughout history as ‘beggars and thieves’ , the effect this has had on the real-life treatment of Rromani people up to the present day and provide a detailed explanation of the various vocations, trades and lifestyles common to (though by no means comprehensive of) different Rromani clans, particularly during the steam era.
Steampunk Gypsies: “Where’s your steam-powered caravan?”
This is a racist remark my family and I received (along with a torrent of other dubious witticisms) at a convention once. A Rromani Vardo is certainly a beautiful thing, but its use was confined to very specific group of Rromani people at a very specific point in history. This upcoming article will look at different types of Vardo, when they were used and by whom, the rise of the Ra Ra Land Kites, the modern Vardo revival and the many other abodes that Rromani people have lived in – including houses! 😉 … and yes, alright, I will be linking to some flipping fantastic steampunked caravans 😉 😀
Authentic Sources Of Information