The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Chapter 7

The Festival — The Gypsy Song — Piramus of Rome — The Scotchman — Gypsy Names

On the following day there was much feasting amongst the Romany chals of Mr. Petulengro’s party. Throughout the forenoon the Romany chies did scarcely anything but cook flesh, and the flesh which they cooked was swine’s flesh. About two o’clock, the chals and chies dividing themselves into various parties sat down and partook of the fare, which was partly roasted, partly sodden. I dined that day with Mr. Petulengro, and his wife and family, Ursula, Mr. and Mrs. Chikno, and Sylvester and his two children. Sylvester, it will be as well to say; was a widower, and had consequently no one to cook his victuals for him, supposing he had any, which was not always the case, Sylvester’s affairs being seldom in a prosperous state. He was noted for his bad success in trafficking, notwithstanding the many hints which he received from Jasper, under whose protection he had placed himself, even as Tawno Chikno had done, who himself, as the reader has heard on a former occasion, was anything but a wealthy subject, though he was at all times better off than Sylvester, the Lazarus of the Romany tribe.

All our party ate with a good appetite, except myself, who, feeling rather melancholy that day, had little desire to eat. I did not, like the others, partake of the pork, but got my dinner entirely off the body of a squirrel which had been shot the day before by a chal 63 of the name of Piramus, who, besides being a good shot, was celebrated for his skill in playing on the fiddle. During the dinner a horn filled with ale passed frequently around; I drank of it more than once, and felt inspirited by the draughts. The repast concluded, Sylvester and his children departed to their tent, and Mr. Petulengro, Tawno, and myself getting up, went and lay down under a shady hedge, where Mr. Petulengro, lighting his pipe, began to smoke, and where Tawno presently fell asleep. I was about to fall asleep also, when I heard the sound of music and song. Piramus was playing on the fiddle, whilst Mrs. Chikno, who had a voice of her own, was singing in tones sharp enough, but of great power, a gypsy song:



To mande shoon ye Romany chals

Who besh in the pus about the yag,

I’ll pen how we drab the baulo,

I’ll pen how we drab the baulo.

We jaws to the drab-engro ker,

Trin horsworth there of drab we lels,

And when to the swety 65 back we wels

We pens we’ll drab the baulo,

We’ll have a drab at a baulo.

And then we kairs the drab opre,

And then we jaws to the farming ker,

To mang a beti habben,

A beti poggado habben.

A rinkeno baulo there we dick,

And then we pens in Romano jib;

Wust lis odoi opre ye chick,

And the baulo he will lel lis,

The baulo he will lel lis.

Coliko coliko saulo we

Apopli to the farming ker

Will wel and mang him mullo,

Will wel and mang his truppo. 66

And so we kairs, and so we kairs;

The baulo in the rarde 67 mers;

We mang him on the saulo,

And rig to the tan the baulo.

And then we toves the wendror well

Till sore the wendror iuziou se,

Till kekkeno drab’s adrey lis,

Till drab there’s kek adrey lis.

And then his truppo well we hatch, 68

Kin levinor at the kitchema,

And have a kosko habben,

A kosko Romano habben,

The boshom engro 69 kils, he kils,

The tawnie juva 70 gils, she gils

A puro Romano gillie,

Now shoon the Romano gillie.

Which song I had translated in the following manner, in my younger days for a lady’s album.

Listen to me ye Roman lads, who are seated in the straw about the

fire, and I will tell how we poison the porker, I will tell how we

poison the porker.

We go to the house of the poison monger, 71 where we buy three

pennies’ worth of bane, and when we return to our people we say, we

will poison the porker; we will try and poison the porker.

We then make up the poison, and then we take our way to the house of

the farmer, as if to beg a bit of victuals, a little broken victuals.

We see a jolly porker, and then we say in Roman language, ‘Fling the

bane yonder amongst the dirt, and the porker soon will find it, the

porker soon will find it.’

Early on the morrow, we will return to the farm house, and beg the

dead porker, the body of the dead porker.

And so we do, even so we do; the porker dieth during the night; on

the morrow we beg the porker, and carry to the tent the porker.

And then we wash the inside 72 well, till all the inside is

perfectly clean, till there’s no bane within it, not a poison grain

within it.

And then we roast the body well, send for ale to the alehouse, and

have a merry banquet, a merry Roman banquet.

The fellow with the fiddle plays, he plays; the little lassie sings,

she sings an ancient Roman ditty; now hear the Roman ditty.


                              By Ursula.

Penn’d the Romany chi 74 ke laki dye

‘Miry dearie dye mi shom cambri!’ 75

‘And savo 76 kair’d tute cambri,

Miry dearie chi, miry Romany chi?’

‘O miry dye a boro rye,

A bovalo 77 rye, a gorgiko rye,

Sos 78 kistur 79 pre a pellengo grye,

’Twas yov sos kerdo man cambri.’

‘Tu tawnie vassavie lubbeny,

Tu chal 80 from miry tan abri; 81

Had a Romany chal kair’d tute cambri,

Then I had penn’d ke tute chie, 82

But tu shan a vassavie lubbeny

With gorgikie 83 rat to be cambri.’

‘There’s some kernel in those songs, brother,’ said Mr. Petulengro, when the songs and music were over.

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘they are certainly very remarkable songs. I say, Jasper, I hope you have not been drabbing baulor 84 lately.’

‘And suppose we have, brother, what then?’

‘Why, it is a very dangerous practice, to say nothing of the wickedness of it.’

‘Necessity has no law, brother.’

‘That is true,’ said I, ‘I have always said so, but you are not necessitous, and should not drab baulor.’

‘And who told you we had been drabbing baulor?’

‘Why, you have had a banquet of pork, and after the banquet Mrs. Chikno sang a song about drabbing baulor, so I naturally thought you might have lately been engaged in such a thing.’

‘Brother, you occasionally utter a word or two of common-sense. It was natural for you to suppose, after seeing that dinner of pork, and hearing that song, that we had been drabbing baulor; I will now tell you that we have not been doing so. What have you to say to that?’

‘That I am very glad of it.’

‘Had you tasted that pork, brother, you would have found that it was sweet and tasty, which balluva 85 that is drabbed can hardly be expected to be. We have no reason to drab baulor at present, we have money and credit; but necessity has no law. Our forefathers occasionally drabbed baulor, some of our people may still do such a thing, but only from compulsion.’

‘I see,’ said I, ‘and at your merry meetings you sing songs upon the compulsatory deeds of your people, alias their villainous actions; and after all, what would the stirring poetry of any nation be, but for its compulsatory deeds? Look at the poetry of Scotland, the heroic part founded almost entirely on the villainous deeds of the Scotch nation; cow-stealing, for example, which is very little better than drabbing baulor; whilst the softer part is mostly about the slips of its females among the broom, so that no upholder of Scotch poetry could censure Ursula’s song as indelicate, even if he understood it. What do you think, Jasper?’

‘I think, brother, as I before said, that occasionally you utter a word of common-sense; you were talking of the Scotch, brother; what do you think of a Scotchman finding fault with Romany?’

‘A Scotchman finding fault with Romany, Jasper? Oh dear, but you joke, the thing could never be.’

‘Yes; and at Piramus’s fiddle; what do you think of a Scotchman turning up his nose at Piramus’s fiddle?’

‘A Scotchman turning up his nose at Piramus’s fiddle! nonsense, Jasper.’

‘Do you know what I most dislike, brother?’

‘I do not, unless it be the constable, Jasper.’

‘It is not the constable, it’s a beggar on horseback, brother.’

‘What do you mean by a beggar on horseback?’

‘Why, a scamp, brother, raised above his proper place, who takes every opportunity of giving himself fine airs. About a week ago, my people and myself camped on a green by a plantation in the neighbourhood of a great house. In the evening we were making merry, the girls were dancing, while Piramus was playing on the fiddle a tune of his own composing, to which he has given his own name, Piramus of Rome, and which is much celebrated amongst our people, and from which I have been told that one of the grand gorgio composers, who once heard it, has taken several hints. So, as we were making merry, a great many grand people — lords and ladies, I believe, came from the great house and looked on, as the girls danced to the tune of Piramus of Rome, and seemed much pleased; and when the girls had left off dancing, and Piramus playing, the ladies wanted to have their fortunes told; so I bade Mikailia Chikno, who can tell a fortune when she pleases better than anyone else, tell them a fortune, and she, being in a good mind, told them a fortune which pleased them very much. So after they had heard their fortunes, one of them asked if any of our women could sing, and I told them several could, more particularly Leviathan — you know Leviathan, she is not here now, but some miles distant, she is our best singer, Ursula coming next. So the lady said she should like to hear Leviathan sing, whereupon Leviathan sang the Gudlo pesham, 86 and Piramus played the tune of the same name, which, as you know, means the honeycomb, the song and the tune being well entitled to the name, being wonderfully sweet. Well, everybody present seemed mighty well pleased with the song and music, with the exception of one person, a carroty-haired Scotch body; how he came there I don’t know, but there he was; and coming forward, he began in Scotch as broad as a barndoor, to find fault with the music and the song, saying that he had never heard viler stuff than either. Well, brother, out of consideration for the civil gentry with whom the fellow had come, I held my peace for a long time, and in order to get the subject changed, I said to Mikailia in Romany, ‘you have told the ladies their fortunes, now tell the gentlemen theirs, quick, quick — pen lende dukkerin. 87 Well, brother, the Scotchman, I suppose, thinking I was speaking ill of him, fell into a greater passion than before, and catching hold of the word dukkerin —“Dukkerin,” said he, “what’s dukkerin?” “Dukkerin,” said I, “is fortune — a man or woman’s destiny; don’t you like the word?” “Word! d’ye ca’ that a word? a bonnie word,” said he. “Perhaps you’ll tell us what it is in Scotch,” said I, “in order that we may improve our language by a Scotch word; a pal of mine has told me that we have taken a great many words from foreign lingos.” “Why, then, if that be the case, fellow, I will tell you; it is e’en ‘spaeing,’” said he very seriously. “Well, then,” said I, “I’ll keep my own word, which is much the prettiest — spaeing! spaeing! why, I should be ashamed to make use of the word, it sounds so much like a certain other word,” and then I made a face as if I were unwell. “Perhaps it’s Scotch also for that?” “What do ye mean by speaking in that guise to a gentleman?” said he, “you insolent vagabond, without a name or a country.” “There you are mistaken,” said I, “my country is Egypt, but we ‘Gyptians, like you Scotch, are rather fond of travelling, and as for name — my name is Jasper Petulengro, perhaps you have a better; what is it?” “Sandy Macraw.” At that, brother, the gentlemen burst into a roar of laughter, and all the ladies tittered.’

‘You were rather severe on the Scotchman, Jasper.’

‘Not at all, brother, and suppose I were, he began first; I am the civilest man in the world, and never interfere with anybody who lets me and mine alone. He finds fault with Romany, forsooth! why L——d A’mighty, what’s Scotch? He doesn’t like our songs; what are his own? I understand them as little as he mine; I have heard one or two of them, and pretty rubbish they seemed. But the best of the joke is, the fellow’s finding fault with Piramus’s fiddle — a chap from the land of bagpipes finding fault with Piramus’s fiddle! Why, I’ll back that fiddle against all the bagpipes in Scotland, and Piramus against all the bagpipers; for though Piramus weighs but ten stone, he shall flog a Scotchman of twenty.’

‘Scotchmen are never so fat as that,’ said I, ‘unless indeed, they have been a long time pensioners of England. I say, Jasper, what remarkable names your people have!’

‘And what pretty names, brother; there’s my own, for example, Jasper; then there’s Ambrose 88 and Sylvester; then there’s Culvato, which signifies Claude; then there’s Piramus, that’s a nice name brother.’

‘Then there’s your wife’s name, Pakomovna, then there’s Ursula and Morella.’

‘Then, brother, there’s Ercilla.’

‘Ercilla! the name of the great poet of Spain, how wonderful; then Leviathan.’

‘The name of a ship, brother; Leviathan was named after a ship, so don’t make a wonder out of her. But there’s Sanpriel and Synfye.’

‘Ay, and Clementina and Lavinia, Camillia and Lydia, Curlanda, and Orlanda; wherever did they get those names?’

‘Where did my wife get her necklace, brother?’

‘She knows best, Jasper. I hope —’

‘Come, no hoping! She got it from her grandmother, who died at the age of a hundred and three, and sleeps in Coggeshall churchyard. She got it from her mother, who also died very old, and who could give no other account of it than that it had been in the family time out of mind.’

‘Whence could they have got it?’

‘Why, perhaps where they got their names, brother. A gentleman who had travelled much, once told me that he had seen the sister of it about the neck of an Indian queen.’

‘Some of your names, Jasper, appear to be church names — your own, for example, and Ambrose and Sylvester; perhaps you got them from the Papists, in the times of Popery, but where did you get such a name as Piramus, a name of Grecian romance. Then some of them appear to be Slavonian; for example Mikailia and Pakomovna. I don’t know much of Slavonian; but —’

‘What is Slavonian, brother?’

‘The family name of certain nations, the principal of which is the Russian, and from which the word slave is originally derived. You have heard of the Russians, Jasper?’

‘Yes, brother, and seen some. I saw their crallis at the time of the peace; he was not a bad-looking man for a Russian.’

‘By-the-bye, Jasper, I’m half inclined to think that crallis 89 is a Slavish word. I saw something like it in a lil 90 called “Voltaire’s Life of Charles.” How you should have come by such names and words is to me incomprehensible.’

‘You seem posed, brother.’

‘I really know very little about you, Jasper.’

‘Very little indeed, brother. We know very little about ourselves, and you know nothing, save what we have told you; and we have now and then told you things about us which are not exactly true, simply to make a fool of you brother. You will say that was wrong; perhaps it was. Well, Sunday will be here in a day or two, when we will go to church, where possibly we shall hear a sermon on the disastrous consequences of lying.’

63 Only used by gypsies in the phrase ‘Romani chal.’

64 According to Knapp, this song was built up from a slender prose draft, three separate versions of it occurring in his MSS.

65 ‘People.’ Not Anglo Romani. The English gypsies use the loan word foki.

66 Better trupos.

67 Better raati.

68 For hotcher, ‘to burn,’ but the right word for ‘roast’ is pek.

69 Boshimengro, fiddler.

70 Tarni juvel, ‘young woman.’

71 The apothecary.

72 Lit., entrail.

73 The best of Borrow’s songs, here or elsewhere. Knapp gives no account of it, but the Romani is evidently Borrow’s own, and does not admit of our taking it for a modernization of a genuine old gypsy song. Imitating the uncouth lilt of the original, this piece may be translated:

Said the gipsy girl to her mother dear,

‘O mother dear, a sad load I bear.’

‘And who gave thee that load to bear,

My gypsy girl, my own daughter dear?’

‘O mother dear, ’twas a lord so proud,

A lord so rich of gentile blood,

That on a mettled stallion rode —

’Twas he gave me this heavy load.’

‘Thou harlot young, thou harlot vile,

Begone! my tent no more defile;

Had gypsy seed within thee sprung,

No angry word had left my tongue,

But thou art a harlot base and lewd,

To stain thyself with gentile blood!’

74 Pronounced chy, ‘girl.’

75 Better kabni, ‘enceinte.’

76 ‘What,’ incorrectly for kon, ‘who.’

77 Better barvalo, ‘rich.’

78 Lit., ‘what’s,’ incorrectly for te, ‘that.’

79 Read kister’d, ‘rode.’

80 Better jal, ‘go.’

81 Better avri, ‘out.’

82 Pronounced chee, ‘nothing.’

83 Read gorjiko.

84 Incorrectly for baulay, ‘pigs.’

85 Better balovas, ‘pigmeat.’

86 Lit., ‘sweet bee.’

87 ‘Tell their fortunes,’ but no gypsy would say anything except dukker lende.

88 Jasper’s real name. See p. 29 note.

89 King.

90 Book.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51