The indigenous Travellers in Norway have many
names but they prefer to be known by the non-pejorative name of Reisende
(Travellers). They are traditionally divided into two groups both by themselves
and outside experts - the storvandringer and the småvandringer
(long and short distance travellers). The long-distance Travellers 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 Travellers 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 Travellers 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 Travellers) in the Norwegian Parliament resulted in a new Poor
Law (in 1845). This was aimed specifically at the Travellers and 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 Travellers.
This budget was later used for placing them in work-houses, where they
were forced to labour. The policy failed due to a lack of suitable institutions.
In 1893 the Ecclesiastical Council, which had responsibility for Travellers,
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 twenty-one.
This law was also invoked against some Romany families in the 20th century.
In 1897 pastor Jacob Walnum followed Eilert Sundt as the official expert
on Travellers. 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 Travellers were said to still
be living as nomads. Articles written by Dr. Scharffenberg appeared in
the press recommending their sterilisation and many Traveller women were
operated on from 1935 until 1950 or even later. During the second World
War and the German occupation there were moves to intern the Travellers
in work camps. A story is told that some Traveller 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 Travellers to tests to see to what extent
they were of Romany origin and sterilize those that were. The government
minister Jonas Lie compared the Traveller question with the Jewish question,
while the Norwegian Mission for the Homeless offered its card index of
Travellers to the police and recommended more stringent laws. Fortunately,
the German occupation of Norway ended before these plans could be put into
Two varieties of Norwegian are spoken by the Travellers,
known as Romani and Rodi. The grammar is Norwegian but there
are many loans of vocabulary from Romani, as well as from Jenisch.
Many Travellers played the violin and contributed to Norwegian folk music.
In the 19th century these included Karl Frederiksen and his pupil Fredrik
Fredriksen. Another Traveller musician was Nils Gulbrand Frederiksen. The
songs and melodies of the Travellers have been collected and form part
of the repertoire of contemporary folk singers.