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2 The Traveller colonised The question of group origins as a marker for cultural legitimacy is today often considered a very recent development, a development that can be attributed entirely to modernity. The issues of ethnogenesis, group origins, kin-related heredity and apparent ‘legitimacy’ in both cultural and historic terms were all issues which fascinated intellectuals and scholarly communities in the nineteenth century and earlier, however. In fact such subjects or ‘objects of enquiry’ would actually serve as the backdrop to the very first ‘institutionally-inspired’ studies of Travellers and Gypsies in Western Europe. A secondary or marginal interest for much of the nineteenth (and indeed, twentieth) century, the study of Traveller and Gypsy communities and their cultures was a very minor concern. In Western Europe the main source of interest for Gypsies and Travellers (the latter to a much lesser extent) in the late 1900s was the Gypsy Lore Society based in Liverpool, England. This Society was a ‘pseudo-scholarly’ amalgam of linguists, artists, folklorists, cultural enthusiasts and hobbyists which had originally been founded in 1888. In their day, they were considered Europe’s leading authorities on Romany Gypsies and other traditionally nomadic groups with a similar social and cultural history. Amongst the early members of this Society were some of the leading political and cultural figures of that era including Middle Eastern explorer Sir Richard F. Burton, the highly regarded linguist and Celtic scholar Kuno Meyer, Archduke Joseph of Austria-Hungary and the artist Augustus John, to name but a few. Irish poet William Butler Yeats was also a member of the Society for a short period, a society whose members sought to record folk tales, songs, examples of dialect and genealogical information from Romany Gypsy families in Britain and other parts of Europe. Outside of Britain, their primary European focus was on Gypsies in Central and Eastern Europe, partly because a number of their more prolific contributors/correspondents spent 02 Insubordinate Irish 009-025 13/6/11 14:15 Page 9 periods of time working and living in the Balkans and in countries such as Bulgaria.1 It is no coincidence that many aspects of the Gypsy Lore Society’s intellectual outlook and scholarly intent held much in common with its closest Irish counterpart, the Irish Folklore Commission2 , albeit the latter organisation was founded in Dublin a few decades later. As with certain elements of the folklore movement which developed in 1920s and 1930s Ireland, the British Gypsiology movement was very much a product of its time and included strong elements of primitivism, romanticism and exoticism in its approach to the study of Gypsies or ‘Gypsydom’, the latter being the term which the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society used. Gypsy and Traveller cultures were a particular fascination to the Society’s members (sometimes known as Gypsilorists) since they were considered to live a life that was in many ways external to capitalism, state control and the encroaching individualism associated with modernity. The Society’s members saw it as their cultural duty or mission to collect all information, cultural or linguistic, relating to the customs, mores and practices of Gypsies before what they considered was the almost inevitable disappearance of such peoples and cultural groups, groups who were perceived to inhabit the ‘primitive’ or ‘exotic’ socio-cultural spheres. Modern-day scholars including Delaney (2000) have highlighted the particular nature of this primitivism, a primitivism whereby difference was more often than not encapsulated in the character of the ‘doomed primitive’ or ‘native’, a figure who was also often used as a synonym for a more ancient and apparently underdeveloped society. Such thinking could be linked with a conception of human development which was then very fashionable, a hierarchical model of human development which ranked societies and cultures into those which were either advanced or primitive. Such a hierarchisation of humanity provided strong cultural and social (i.e. class-related) reference points and functioned to categorise people along more definitive lines in an era when the divisions between peoples were becoming less apparent than in the rural society of previous generations. One obvious shortcoming of such a philosophical approach to humanity and society was the fact that such often essentialist demarcations only served to override and obscure the historical specificities of those societal elements and groups which had always been culturally heterogeneous. Interestingly, the trope of the ‘doomed primitive’ is still a vibrant designation as attributed to many minorities today, certain traditionally nomadic groups as the Roma Gypsies and...


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