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In the extensive exhibition devoted to the history and culture of the Romani/Gypsies, the exhibits particularly attracting the attention of visitors are the colourful wagons presented in the courtyard of the Ethnographic Museum. Preserved in the Polish landscape in the 1st half of the 20th century as well as in Polish pop culture thanks to the song by Maryla Rodowicz, they make an interesting memento of the vagabond, truly “Gypsy life”.

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In the extensive exhibition devoted to the history and culture of the Romani/Gypsies, the exhibits particularly attracting the attention of visitors are the colourful wagons presented in the courtyard of the Ethnographic Museum. Preserved in the Polish landscape in the 1st half of the 20th century as well as in Polish pop culture thanks to the song by Maryla Rodowicz, they make an interesting memento of the vagabond, truly “Gypsy life”. The wagon, in Romani called vurdun or verdan, assumedly comes from one of the workshops in Szamotuły and was made around 1960. It is obviously made of wood, an example of the type of a planked wagon. Four wheels with tyres and two sprung axles support a large construction that is 515 metres long, 200 cm wide and 240 cm high.
Wagons, such as the one presented here, served as a means of transport and a sleeping-room for rich Gypsies. They were usually equipped with a stove and a separate cupboard for storing dishes. The interior of a wagon was lit with glazed skylights placed along the raised roof. A characteristic feature of the wagon exhibited in the Ethnographic Museum in Tarnów is the sculpted wooden dragons painted in black, decorating the vehicle’s corners.
What was the reason for the disappearance of Gypsy camp wagons from Polish roads and how long did this process last? On 24 May 1952 the Polish government passed the act on “the assistance for the Gypsy population in the transition to a settled way of life.” The campaign intended on facilitating the Romani people to change their lifestyle, had begun. Its aim was to eliminate Gypsy nomadism as well as gradually assimilate the Romani people with the native Polish population. The Citizens’ Militia [Milicja Obywatelska] — state police institution in communist Poland) was ordered to register the nomadic Gypsies, issue their documents and create photographs and finger-print documentation. Nonetheless, the eight-year effort of the communist government did not bring the expected results.
In 1964 a new, more restrictive policy towards the Gypsies was implemented. In spring yet another action was aimed at registering Gypsy camps. It was carried out by the militia and several days later, talks with the Gypsies were held and encouraged them to settle in. The Romani people were threatened with sanctions if they decided to continue their nomadic way of life. Initially the Gypsies ignored the threats and did not resign from wandering, but the attitude of the militia and local state authorities led to the gradual reduction of camp traffic and its virtual disappearance in the late 1970s.

Elaborated by Patrycja Hajek (District Museum in Tarnów), © all rights reserved

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