Fifty years ago Rumer Godden’s young adult novel The Diddakoi told the story of a half-gypsy girl’s struggle to maintain her travelling culture following the death of her wagon dwelling guardian as she is assimilated into a rural community near Rye. As with other depictions of Gypsy, Roma & Travellers (GRT) in literature, film and photography the book’s dominant viewpoint is that of the settled community.
Now, in the 2020’s, this approach can seem uncomfortably ethnographic and is being challenged by a growing acceptance of the right and importance of different areas of society, especially the marginalised, to define themselves. In the case of GRT communities, this is more complex than it may initially appear. For Roma
in particular, visibility (or lack of it) has always been closely linked to security. How they present themselves to the outside world is deliberate, conforming to the expectations of others and preserving essential privacy.
In addition, any demarcation between the nomadic and the settled is unclear, unlike in the novel. Many Roma no longer travel but guard their traditions. Many “New Travellers” are second or third generation and were born on the road. For A Town Explores A Book, Jules Earl and
Béla Váradi have investigated their own wider communities revealing modern lives that are complex and nuanced, both surprising and surprisingly ordinary.
Kushti (or cushty), a Romany term for something good, has become a part of everyday English along with many other Romany words such as pal, wonga, gibberish or lollipop. Unconsidered by most, Romany and traveller peoples and cultures are woven into the fabric of our society beyond caravan holidays and “gypsy fashion”, as they have been for centuries.
Searching For Kushti is a contribution to the growing awareness of the diversity and enduring presence of traveller cultures despite being increasingly marginalised, othered and now potentially criminalised by new laws currently before the British Parliament.