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Petulengro ‘King of the Gypsies’

Found in the Frederick Warne published children's magazine The Merry-go-Round of October 1937 this piece by (Xavier) Petulengro, who was known as 'King of the Gypsies.' Kooshti Bok, sometimes spelt Kushti Bok is Romany for 'Good Luck.'

Wikipedia says of him '...a British Romanichal horse trader, violinist, businessman, writer and broadcaster, known as the "King of the Gypsies". He frequently broadcast on BBC radio in the 1930s and 1940s, and later wrote regular astrology columns in magazines as well as publishing his autobiography and several books on Romany lore... His funeral at the age of (about) 97 was arranged in traditional Romanichal style, with about 100 mourners in traditional costumes and some 1,500 sightseers.'

This piece was written for the boy and girl readers of Merry-Go-Round -some of whom had attended this ceremony. 'Chavvies' = children.

Kooshti-Bok, Chavvies,

Well, this has been an exciting time for me. As many of you know, I was crowned King of the Gypsies at Baildon in Yorkshire on August 28th. I hope you saw the ceremony on the screen at your picture-house, but I am going to tell you all about it here.

This rare event, the survival of open-air ceremonies performed by Romanies throughout the ages, took place in the town that was once the great stronghold of the gypsies, Baildon Moor. First there was a long procession of gypsies and other folk, descendants of gypsies who had eventually settled down in the district. I led the procession mounted on a grey horse, and behind me came the Gypsy Prince and Princess, also on horseback. Thus we travelled to the spot where the ceremony was to be performed. There an avenue was formed of Gypsy Chis and Chals (boys and girls), and my band of Hungarian and Gypsy players heralded my approach. The tribes assembled in crescent form behind the Coronation Throne, to which the Prince and princess then led me.

Next a big black glove was thrown on to the grass, and the Prince called out the Challenge. Twelve Gypsy maidens bearing coloured goose-quills filed past and touched my forehead with the quills, then planted them in a circle round the throne, and themselves formed a horse-shoe behind me.

Then a handsome young gypsy who represented the different tribes offered me a horse's bit, which he laid across my feet. He then picked up the black glove and shouted: "The challenge is not accepted. There is none here to deny that Petulengro the Zingari be our chief. Do you who are assembled here swear with uplifted hands that Petlengro shall be our King?" And twenty thousand voices shouted: "We do, we do! Long live Petlengro!" A Gypsy maiden carrying a whip advanced and laid it upon the horse's bit at my feet. Another beautiful Chi bearing a golden goblet full of "Kini" (a Gypsy wine made from the flowers of the dandelion and coltsfoot), handed it to me and I drank from it. Then all the twelve maidens drank in turns and handed me back the goblet, from which I drained the remainder of the wine.

Then a maiden brought a dish on which was a huge gold-fish with a ring in its mouth - the gift of the Golden Fish. There followed a Gypsy giant, bearing a flaming torch, and he dropped on one knee before me, holding out the torch. I passed my bare hand seven times through the flames, repeating as I did so the Oath of the King. 

After that two maidens appeared, one bringing the King's Brooch, the other the Chain of Authority. I was then anointed by a third maiden with the Oil of the Eagle.

Now the time had come for me to address the tribes and to ask them to swear allegiance. With left hand on heart and right hand on head, they swore fealty, shouting; "Long live Petulengro, Roy da Zingari!"

And then the crown was placed on my head, and all the tribes filed past and touched the Brooch and ancient Romany Ring that I wore. Next came a magnificent sight: thousands of pigeons were released from baskets and flew in all directions, carrying to Gypsies far away the message that Petulengro the Gypsy had been proclaimed their King.

A big Gypsy brought over to me a huge "golden" cauldron, in which I must brew the Secret Broth. Maidens then strewed wheat around my throne, and a path of wheat was made to my tent, and as I walked upon it, the Gypsy crier called out: "Petulengro is King!"

The tribes cheered, streamers were thrown and everyone danced with mad gaiety while the Hungarian fiddler Violina, and Jonhie, Renie and other musicians played wild Gypsy music.

The day was fine, and thousands of people witnessed the event. But what pleased me most was that some of my Merry-go-Round chavvies had come to give me cheer; I invited them into my caravan - the caravan of their King and Uncle, - Petulengro.

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