Gypsies and Caravan Dwellers in the Netherlands - Economy

In contrast to the negative stereotype of Gypsies, the history of the Kaldarash, Ursari, Lowara, and Sinti in the Netherlands makes it clear that they fulfilled a useful economic function and in general were able to provide for their livelihood. The Kaldarash were praised for their skill in mending copper and tin objects, especially kettles. They not only worked for the rural population, but also received orders from local shopkeepers and industry. In the twentieth century they worked for bakers and dairy factories. They did not have a monopoly position in their trade; their nomadic life-style was too unpredictable. Nevertheless they were successful until World War II. The Ursari earned a good living by their performances. They taught their bears, and sometimes monkeys, to dance and do all kinds of tricks. These activities were especially appreciated by the rural population, because it was a welcome distraction from their monotonous daily life. This can be deduced from the sometimes impressive wealth of the Ursari and also from letters sent by local authorities who pleaded in their support against the accusations of the central government. Because of a ban on performances with bears during the Nazi occupation, the Ursari exchanged them in the 1930s for monkeys and street organs.

The history of the Kaldarash and Lowara in the Netherlands shows that the prevalent opinion that Gypsies hold on to traditional and outdated professions is false. It is likely that as a result of the diminishing demand for the services of Coppersmiths at the end of the nineteenth century many Kaldarash shifted to the horse trade. In the following decades they became known as Lowara. This is an illuminating example of economic adaptation, as this market was booming in western Europe and remained important until World War II. The Lowara more or less controlled the trade in cobs at the Dutch horse fairs and made an important contribution to this economic sector. The Sinti were mainly show people and concentrated on juggling, acrobatics, music, and dancing. In the course of the twentieth century many felt forced to restrict themselves to music and became popular musicians in cafés, pubs, and restaurants. Apart from this they traded in violins, which they also made and repaired.

After World War II, the Dutch Gypsies—both caravan dwellers and foreign Gypsies—did not occupy a stable position in the labor market, but they remained adaptable. However, because they were discouraged from traveling, they did not succeed in increasing their job opportunities. At present about 90 percent of the three groups receive social-security benefits. They try to supplement this income by all kinds of small-scale activities, such as selling automobiles, peddling, playing music, etc.

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