Norwegian Travelers

Norwegian Travelers
   The some 5,000 indigenous Travelers in Norway have many names but they prefer to be known by the less pejorative name of Reisende (Travelers). They are traditionally divided into two groups by both themselves and outside experts-the storvandringer and smavandringer (long- and short-distance Travelers). The long-distance Travelers are generally considered to be the descendants of Romanies who went underground to avoid deportation in the 15th and 16th centuries and intermarried with local nomads. On the other hand, the short-distance Travelers are thought to be of Norwegian origin, with some intermarriage with German Jenisch, who came to Norway to trade.
   By the 19th century, the existence of the Travelers was worrying the government, and in 1841 a Commission of Enquiry was set up. Three years later the discussion of "the problem of the Fanter" (another name for the Travelers) in the Norwegian Parliament resulted in a new Poor Law. Aimed specifically at the Travelers, it imposed a punishment of two years' imprisonment for any of them who nomadized in bands. The government voted in 1855 an annual sum of money to educate Travelers. This budget was later used for placing them in workhouses, where they were forced to labor. The policy failed due to a lack of suitable institutions. In 1893 the Church Department, which had responsibility for Travelers, estimated that there were some 4,000 of them. In 1896 a law was passed permitting the state to remove children from parents to state institutions. In some cases, the child could be detained until the age of 21. This law was also invoked against some Romany families into the 20th century.
   In 1897 Pastor Jacob Walnum followed Eilert Sundt as the official expert on Travelers. He became general secretary of the Association for the Fight against Nomadism, which, under the new name of Norwegian Mission for the Homeless, operated until 1986. In 1934 about 1,800 Travelers were said to still be living as nomads. Articles written by J. Scharffenberg appeared in the press recommending their sterilization, and many Traveler women were operated on from 1935 until 1950 or even later.
   During World War II and the German occupation, moves were made to intern the Travelers in work camps. A story is told that some Traveler families painted swastikas on their caravans to convince the
   Germans that they, too, were of Aryan origin, but this has not been substantiated. The proposal of the puppet Norwegian government was to submit the Travelers to tests to see to what extent they were of Romany origin and sterilize those who were. Government minister Jonas Lie compared the Traveler question with the Jewish question, while the Norwegian Mission for the Homeless offered its card index of Travelers to the police and recommended more stringent laws. Fortunately, the German occupation of Norway ended before these plans could be put into effect.
   Two varieties of Norwegian are spoken by the Travelers, known as romani and rodi (or rotipa). The grammar of both is Norwegian, but there are many loans of vocabulary from Romani as well as from Jenisch. Many Travelers played the violin and contributed to Norwegian folk music, including in the 19th century Karl Frederiksen and his pupil Fredrik Fredriksen. Another Traveler musician was Nils Gulbrand Frederiksen. The songs and melodies of the Travelers have been collected and form part of the repertoire of contemporary folk singers. Gjertruds Sig0ynerorkester produced the album Jeg er pà Vandring. A cultural center for the Travelers is being established.

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