Friday, 19 February 2010

Traveller Weddings

Okay, I know this looks like the third marriage post in a row, but it is not. It is about weddings. Weddings are not the same thing as marriages. And it is about Travellers, i.e. Irish Gypsies. There was a show on telly last night about Traveller Weddings and I was AGOG.

Travellers, like all Gypsies, have a mixed reputation in Britain. Travellers are unique from the Roma, for the Travellers have been in the British Isles since the 15th century and most of them look very British, or Irish, indeed. B.A. pointed out some Traveller teenagers in the train, and they looked just like ordinary Scottish teenangers. There are about 19,000 Irish Travellers in the U.K.

People who don't like Travellers say they steal and rubbish the landscape and fight a lot--which sums up the non-Travellers of Trainspotting, but there you go. But what fascinated me about last night's program about Traveller Weddings was their family values.

Travellers marry young (as young as sixteen) and never divorce. They have big families. They homeschool. They tend to live together in caravan parks. The girls, who dress as gaudily as any British or Irish teenager, are strictly watched over, and they are absolutely forbidden to have premarital sex. It is considered a dishonour to themselves and a shame for their families. (Boys are also discouraged from such behaviour, though [as usual] not to the same extent.) They don't drink either. Once a girl is married, her father is no longer responsible for providing for her; her husband is. Traveller men apparently won't work for other people, so they are self-employed tradesmen. Their family honour is intensely important to them, and they will fight for it, bare-knuckle.

I was entranced as I heard all these things. I remember reading as a child of "Gypsy child weddings" and strictness about sex, but I didn't know these ideas were still around. And then the woman who makes the marvellous wedding dresses for the Traveller girls was asked how much she charges.

"I'd have to kill you," she said. "If I told you, the Travellers would kill me."

Travellers, apparently, never talk about money. Never, never, never. And this struck me as incredibly classy for a group of people famous for (as you will read) their bad taste. I realize that it might be difficult to be a very bright Traveller girl who wants to become a university professor, but in general, I am impressed by their domestic virtues. Or am I? I am all for girls being chaste and not drinking, and I can understand how marrying young helps society, and I can understand how higher education is not practical when your life is going to be devoted to raising kids, keeping house and maintaining Traveller traditions, but I am uncomfortable with, well... Oh, never mind. I don't fuss about Amish and Mennonite women. The Irish Travellers are mostly devout Catholics.

Bad taste is, of course, in the eye (the tongue?) of the beholder, but I for once would never wear any of the concoctions I saw on the television last night. In themselves, they were amazing, but....uh-uh. The current fashion is for BIG, and some Traveller brides design for themselves dresses with skirts so big they can barely get in through the church doors. I am not kidding.

Behold here. And here. And here.

Sometimes the dresses weigh more than 300 pounds, and they literally leave scars on the bride's hips. But apparently the girls are proud of their dress scars. Their wedding day is literally the most important day of their lives.

The last wedding on the show made me sad. The bride was 22, and so considered herself relatively old. Her family lives in a house in Lancashire; her groom was taking her back to live in Ireland. She had saved up for her immense wedding through her job in a call centre: she had worked hard and saved everything. But she had met the groom only TWICE. And as she danced with her father at the wedding, she cried. When she danced with the groom, we weren't shown her face, but the groom looked very concerned.

And I'll tell you what I think. I think this girl just wanted to get married. She didn't know this young man (and to give the Travellers credit, they don't marry off their daughters to old men) particularly well, but she was getting on (at 22!) and she had been saving for this wedding her entire life. Perhaps all her friends were already married. So she jumped at his proposal.

I hope I am wrong. And I hope she will be happy. At any rate, her close-knit culture forbids infidelity and divorce, and the other women will probably be a help to her.

Update:I don't know how I feel about the Tacky Weddings site. I thought it would provide all you Singles with a good guffaw, but I'm loving these people who did their weddings THEIR way. Singles, it will depend on the mood you're in. The comments are mean-spirited but the photos are simply... Well, I don't know what to say.

Update 2: Don't run away with the Gypsies just yet. An Irish reader drew my attention to this.


Lemons said...

I wrote a big Anthropology paper on gypsies last semester for my final. It was just a topic I chose at the last minute, but I ended up being truly enthralled by their culture. They're really fascinating people, made more-so by the fact that they are Catholics and morally admirable.

Seraphic said...

Morally admirable in a lot of ways, although unfortunately the Irish Travellers believe in settling "old scores" amongst themselves with violence. And this violence, unfortunately spills into domestic life.

Alisha said...

That doesn't surprise me at all about the domestic me, "values" or not, these young kids seem woefully unprepared for the maturity that marriage requires...marriage should not be kept together solely because divorce is frowned upon but because the unions themselves are founded in the person of Christ.

Maddie said...

Dear Seraphic,
(I know this is an old blog post, but I'm a new reader and have been looking through the archives!)
I agree with Alisha. There have been more episodes of that show and it seems that the girls only get married because they're expected to. One woman could barely say her wedding vows because she was giggling. They might have the values of devout Catholicism (like the no sex before marriage) but it seems to be more cultural than anything else - and hardly difficult when you barely know the other person!
I pity the women on the programme because it seems that they aren't given opportunities for full lives - some don't even finish their education. I just think it's sad.