Bohemian, Gypsy, Roma, Hippie – You surely have come across many of these terms browsing the internet lately. We know that they intend to capture a certain attitude towards life, politics and art. But in our popular culture, they are all wrongly connotated with the same meaning. In this article I will try to distinguish the terms from each other and also show, how one wouldn’t exist today without the influence of the other.
First of all, you can losely devide these terms into two categories, one being ‘Ethnical Backround’ and the other being ‘Social Critical Backround’. Gypsy and (Sinti and) Roma belong into the first category, whereas Bohemians and Hippies lean towards the second.
The Roma / The Gypsies
The Romani are an ethnic group of people, who, originating from their history, include many countryspecific subgroups today, whos name derives from their romanes language. Historically, the Roma or Romanis originate from the northwest of India, where between 800-1000 ac the immigration of arabic tribes forced them to migrate to the east of asia and eastern europe. Between 1500 and 1700, the Roma also spread out to England and North America, where the strict structures of class society left them socially excluded. During that time, especially in Europe, the romani people where legally declared to be prosecuted and killed, continued by the severe genocide instructed by the Nazi Regime, till 1945.
Due to their age-long history of slavery, prosecution and oppression, the romani have retained their independency. Today you find the greated concentration of the Roma population in central, eastern and southern europe. The name “Gypsy” is associated with the Roma folk, but carries a negative connotation at the same time, that has them distancing themselves from the term itself. I find it interesting how all this information gets lost along the way and today in fashion and music, you find the terms taking on new meaning. I am all for postive cultural development, but it is good to know where it is coming from.
Bohemianism and “The Bohemians”
Let me start with bohemianism, as it lies farther back in history. Originally, the term derives from a cultural movement, that took place in the 1930s in Paris, describing the unconventional lifestyle of students, musicians, writers and artists of that time, who met outside of the “Salons”, the offical pivits of conversation and culture at that time, to create and exchange without dependence on popular art culture and expectations. The 1932 Dictionnaire de l’Academie Francaise defined “a bohemian” this way: “One who lives a vagabond, unregimented life without assured resources, who does not worry about tomorrow” (Mtholyoke). Interestingly, the bohemians parted into two groups. Those who lived with an anti-establishment attitude and purposly chose poverty and the “haute bohème”, who still created art independently from conventions, but maintained their wealthier lifestyle.
Almost 80 years earlier, the term “bohemian” was established in northern america as a synonym for “newspaper writer”, as a self-named “bohemian” group of journalists began to report about the civil war, the term became widely known and soon many writers, including Mark Twain, counted themselves as bohemians. In the book “The History of Bohemianism in America” Albert Perry sets an example of how he personally defines a bohemian: “There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty.” Still, and there we have the interconnection with the Roma, the name “bohemia” derives from the Romani, who were then mistaken to have migrated from Bohemia, Czech Republic.
Originating from San Francisco in the 1960s, the hippie movement questioned the ideals of wealth the middle class carried at that time and propagandized an outlook on life that is free from restrictions and civil taboos. In itself, it has no connection to the Roma movement, though it gets thrown into the same hat often. Gypsy and Hippie, are two fundamentally different terms, one carrying a historical backround that gives reason for their political outlook and leisure appearance, while the other strives towards political independence but out of their own choice and their appearance being adjusted towards their advertised lifestyle.
But rather than setting a sign against politics back then, the hippies wanted to promote the thought of selfrealization, escaping the pressure of society and finding new ways to life itself. In my oppinion, that is why the term and all connected to it is living it up again now, for, studying the new media, the overall tendency of our generation is to move towards selfrealization, work less, live in ways that mirror our personalities and find our “one true calling”.
I hope this is small overview helps you to differentiate between those terms. The next time you leaf through a fashion magazine, you will recognise that this “Gypsy Style” is not something invented by the fashion industry, but a historical development that is used as fashion inspiration all over the world.
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