To tell the history of the Vardo, is also to tell the history of the Roma, also known as Gypsy's and travelers. Therefore, I'll start with that. The Roma aren't one group, with one ethnicity, origin or religion. When checking the Open Society Foundations website (Marh, 2013), it becomes clear that there are
Catholic Manouche, Mercheros, and Sinti; Muslim Ashkali and Romanlar; Pentecostal Kalderash and Lovari; Protestant Travellers; Anglican Gypsies; and Baptist Roma.
Also, Roma can mean to be the
Romanichals in England; Kalé in Wales and Finland; Travellers in Ireland (who are not Roma), Scotland, Sweden, and Norway; Manouche from France; Gitano from Spain; Sinti from Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy; Ashakli from Kosovo; Egyptians from Albania; Beyash from Croatia; Romanlar from Turkey; Domari from Palestine and Egypt; Lom from Armenia, and many others.
Their origins is most commonly seen as in north-west India, where they started the journey towards Europe between the 3th and 7th century AD (BBC, 2009). Amongst them were “farmers, herdsmen, traders, mercenaries or book-keepers. Others were entertainers and musicians”. The first place the Roma have settled was the Middle East. Here they lived, calling themselves Dom, which translates as 'man', according to the BBC. This name is still being used, and their language, Rromanës, is related to Sanskrit. A large amount of Dom traveled further towards Europe, fleeing the Ottoman empire (Wogg) where the Dom became Rom, where the name Roma, as its plural version, has it's origin.
However this history seems to make the Roma 'one people' with 'one origin' I already showed they have a very diverse history instead. But Roma do have many things in common, as for instance their lexicon, although in different dialects, of Rromanës; their common world view, and the notions about cleanliness codes and behaviors: to behave with dignity and respect as Roma person. Common work being done among Roma are for instance trading life stock and repairing items which aren't seen to be very economic. They are known for recycling goods, and were in old times often healers and herbalists for those living in the countryside (Marsh, 2013). Further, the flexibility of moving has been part of the Roma identity, although they have been also engaged with agriculture. They're experts in automobile mechanics, artisan skills, road repairs and roofing. Metal work and making baskets are also amongst their trades.
Something else binding the Roma people is their 'outsider' position in society, and their long history since leaving the Indian lands. However not all Roma have their origins in this history, it creates a symbolic bond between them. For the Roma there is not one land, one religion or one holy priesthood, the world is a place for all and they live in this world to the fullest. Already in the Byzanthium, Roma were put away as 'the untouchables' (BBC, 2009). This idea is the origin for words as 'gypsy', 'tzigane' and 'zigeuner'. As seen in the video, they have been oppressed barely everywhere they have set foot. In the 14th century Roma were in Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, but when working in Romania, in the principalities Wallachia and Moldova, they were enslaved. A century later some managed to flee Romania, and moved to Ukraine and Russia. Presenting themselves as pilgrims they had a rather safe life, until the year 1500 when the 'first Romani genocide' happened. As the BBC (2009) describes it: “There were hangings and expulsions in England; branding and the shaving of heads in France; severing of the left ear of Roma women in Moravia, and of the right one in Bohemia”. Fleeing this aggression, countries as Poland and Russia were more welcoming, allowing the Roma to keep their nomadic lifestyle. In the western part of Europe however, the Roma had to be 'civillized' and were forced to abandon their language, were forbidden to marry amongst themselves, restricted of playing music and children were taken away. In the end this has let to the Holocaust where the Roma were amongst the first victims: up to 500.000 Roma are believed to have been killed under fascist rule.
Post-WOII Europe denied the Roma any help or support, and in some countries the Roma were forced to be sterilized (Czechoslovakia), change their name and hide (Bulgaria). Today there are about 6 of the 10 million European Roma living in Central and Eastern Europe, despite the killings and enslavements, a majority lives in Romania. They are still living in exclusion and poverty, and:
Most Roma families live in small shacks with no electricity or running water, and international institutions calculate that Roma poverty rates are up to 10 times higher than those of the majority population where they live, while their lifespan is 10 or 15 years lower (BBC, 2009).
The usage of a Vardo (coming from the Iranian word vardonfor carriage) has only been done by Roma since a 150 years. Before they traveled on foot, pulled charts themselves to carry their goods and slept in tents which are called 'benders', made out of hazel twigs covered with canvas. Around 1810 the first form of Vardo's were created in France, as carriage not just for goods but also to carry people and mainly, to live in. Newly weds bought a carriage from a non-Roma builder, which took between 6 to 12 months to build. Specific of these carriages are that they are extensively painted and decorated, often enriched with goldleaf. Six types of Vardo's are often distinguished: the Brush wagon, The Reading, the Ledge, the Bowtop, the Openlot, and the Burton (see this link).
In the interior there was an iron stove, however the Roma preferred to cook on camp fire, and in the end there was a bed behind closed doors. Under the bed was a smaller space for the children to sleep, and sometimes even a hidden safe hole. A single horse was being used, who could travel about 24 km per day. For going uphill a second horse was added. After 10 years the Vardo returned to the builder to be repaired, and when the owners died the Vardo was often burned. In the late 19th, beginning 20th century lots of Vardo's were made in Brittain, however the moterhome made them its entry and become more popular. The old craftsmen had all died by the end of the WOII, so nowadays there are only a few left, who are often seen as monuments of history (see the website Gypsywaggons).