Academic journal article Romani Studies

Suomen Romanien historia/[The History of Romanies of Finland]

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Suomen Romanien historia/[The History of Romanies of Finland]

Article excerpt

Suomen Romanien historia [The history of Romanies of Finland]. Panu Pulma, ed. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. 2012. 494 pp. isbn 978952-0222-364-7.

Reviewed by Matt T. Salo

This monumental tome of nearly 500 pages is the product of a joint project of a History Committee chosen by the Finnish Literature Society and the Advisory Board for Romany Affairs. Hie inclusion of representatives from scientific societies and Gypsy organizations assured cooperative input on ethics, questions of research, and presentation style. This compilation of general overviews and in-depth studies on selected topics spanning 500 years of the history of the Finnish Gypsies or Kaale (now called by the currently politically correct term "Romanies"),1 was a prodigious undertaking. It required the collection of thousands of pieces of information from widely scattered sources that were so scant for the earlier years as to make any generalization about Gypsy life hazardous, to an over-abundance of sources after 1900 that still needed careful sifting, source criticism, and understanding of the prejudices and other biases that their authors brought to their descriptions. Examples of some of the more significant early sources used, both in Swedish and Finnish, include court and clerical records, legislation aimed at curbing itinerancy and the lack of steady employment, census and military records, as well as vital statistics where available.

Later sources include documentation of Gypsy customs, beliefs and norms, including purity regulations and taboos, occupations, language and music. At first, this was done sporadically by interested individuals from various walks of life; only in the past few decades have professional ethnographers, linguists and ethno-musicologists begun a more systematic investigation of Gypsy life. This input helped elucidate some of the murkier historical references, without which many of them would have remained undeciphered.

This volume is the first effort in Finland to document historical developments in the life of the bands of itinerant minorities, variously described in documents as zigenare, tattare, mustalaiset, irtolaiset (vagrants), from the period starting in the mid 1500s, when their presence was first noted in Finland, to the present. This work excels in the depth, extent, and richness of material, but even more importantly, in the quality of scholarship manifested in the key articles. The historical articles are by the chief editor Panu Pulma and paid researchers Tuula Rekola and Miika Tervonen; the articles on Gypsy worldview are by cultural anthropologists Anna Maria Viljanen and Marko Stenroos, both at Helsinki University; music by folklore archivist Risto Blomster at the Finnish Literature Society, and language by Kimmo Granqvist, lecturer on Romani language and culture at Helsinki University.

Pulma, the project director, states that the book was intended to provide an accurate general presentation of the vicissitudes of the Gypsy population for both the Gypsies themselves and for the non-Gypsy Finnish people, that focuses on historical processes that were deemed most important for given periods. The intention was also to develop a reliable database for the future that could serve as a fertile source for posing new research questions.

In spite of the avowed intention to avoid the biases of earlier authors, who invariably described Gypsies from the majority perspective only, the current authors have not totally escaped viewing their subject matter through culturebound perspectives, rather than those of the Gypsies. To counteract outsider biases, self-identified Gypsies were included in all phases of the research and writing, but their influence on the final product is uneven and remains unclear.

Unfortunately, no clear distinction was made between respondents who were well integrated into the life from those associated with the Gypsy population only marginally by having been orphaned, adopted by non-Gypsy parents or institutionalized, e. …

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