Nomadic tradition of the Jenish and Sinti


Nomadic life shapes the identity of the Jenish and Sinti in Switzerland, even though many families have permanent homes nowadays. Many family groups still travel during the summer months, living and working in caravans. The essence of this time is spending time together and the music. The Jenish travelling musicians in Graubünden, who once played dance music, had a decisive influence on Swiss folk music from the 19th century onwards.

The Jenish language hardly exists in written form, and has evolved as a more colourful and lively form of expression as a result. The Sinti, on the other hand, use a local form of Romanès for communication within their community. Family ties are very close, which is crucial if the nomadic lifestyle is to survive: everyone has to get on in their daily lives in the camps or in their everyday business activities.

Religious highlights include annual pilgrimages to see the Black Madonna, the ‘mother of the gypsies’, in Einsiedeln, while more secular trips include travelling to and from the ‘Feck-er-Chilbi’. This fair is and has always been a place for political debate and for Swiss people to meet this recognised national minority group.

Image gallery

  • Knife grinder at work [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Jenish antique dealer [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Antique trade [Le Landeron, 2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Evening campfire at the camp [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Family life [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Jenish musician with a small Swiss accordion [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Young musicians with small Swiss accordions [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Fire and music at the camp [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Tent construction [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Everyday life at the camp [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Family life [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Procession [2017] © BAK/Eric Roset
  • Jenish travellers by Lauerzer Lake [Seewen, 1923] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Jenish travellers Ringgeler and Gantenbein“ [at the turn of the cen-tury in the Muotathal] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Woman with pots and pans for sale [Davos region, around 1930] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Dancing at the Feckerchilbi fair [Gersau, early 1980s] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Basket weaver [Diessenhofen, 1986] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Bootsch tournament at the Feckerchilbi fair [Bern, 2016] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft
  • Jenish musicians at the Feckerchilbi fair [Bern, 2016] © Bildarchiv Radgenossenschaft

References and documentation

  • Dazzi/Galle/Kaufmann/Meier: Puur und Kessler. Sesshafte und Fahrende in Graubünden. Ed. Institut für Kulturforschung Graubünden. Baden. 2008. S. 27

  • Galle/Meier: Von Menschen und Akten. Die Aktion „Kinder der Landstrasse“ der Stiftung Pro Juventute. Zürich. 2009

  • Thomas Huonker: Fahrendes Volk – verfolgt und verfemt. Jenische Lebensläufe. Ed. Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse. Zürich. 2008

  • Meier/Wolfensberger: „Eine Heimat und doch keine“. Heimatlose und Nicht-Sesshafte in der Schweiz (16.-19.Jahrhundert). Zürich. 1998

  • Sebastian Brant: „Das Narrenschiff, 1494 Ed. von Johann Bergmann von Olpe, Basel 1497; Wortliste mit jenischen Begriffen im „Liber vagatorum“, 1510

  • Minelli/Bürgisser: Kleine Freiheit: Jenische in der Schweiz. Zürich. 2015

  • Thomas Huonker: „Alle sind auseinander gerissen worden. Keines weiss, wo das andere ist. Ein jenisches „Niemandskind“ unter Vormundschaft des Seraphischen Liebeswerks Solothurn.“ In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften. 2014

  • Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse: Jenische Kultur. Ein unbekannter Reichtum. Ed. Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse, Zürich. 2017.