In pictures: the Romani vardo wagons–these were more than just cozy homes

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The vibrant horse-drawn vardo wagons were at the cultural heart of the British Romanichals (Romani) from the mid-1800s into the early 20th century.

These sometimes opulent-looking caravans were more than just cozy and warm homes that housed the Romani families who were always on the road. A vardo wagon attested to the economic status of the family as well as supporting the age-old nomadic way of life of the Romani people.

They were probably first used by traveling showmen and slowly came to replace the older “benders”–tents made with a hazel frame covered by canvas. They allowed freedom to travel the country and trade everything from horses to brooms.

As we can see in the photos, vardo wagons are a work of art in their own right. It takes real craftsmanship and effort to build and decorate one. There are six distinct types: Burton, Brush, Reading, Ledge, Bowtop, and Openlot.

In the old days, families would have moved from farm to farm, pursuing work according to the season. The winter was time to rest, usually parked near some town or a bigger city. Romani also made an income from various trades, such as tinsmiths, hawkers, tinkers, and horse dealers. They were known for playing lively music and could reputedly make or mend anything.

The wagons were typically elaborately decorated on the outside. The more lavish the decor, the wealthier the family. For instance, if a cart was gilded with gold leaf, it meant the Romani family which owned it was particularly affluent.

Specific patterns and designs on the vardo were almost always associated with their artist. A well-known design likely meant a reputable craftsman. Many of the designs were inspired by nature and wildlife, therefore the recurrent flowery patterns.

And how was life on the road with these beauties?








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Typically, it was a mobile household which included everyone, from small children to the elderly. Each family member took care of their own assignments for the day.

Some of the group members were there to work and earn money. If there were kids, it was the grandparents who normally took care of them.

After an active day, there usually followed a get-together evening by a campfire set alongside the cart. Families entertained themselves by the fire sharing jokes, narrating stories, singing, and playing music.

Inside the vardo wagons, there was enough room for sleeping. Besides beds, they contained all the necessary appliances and assets to run a household. Perhaps it was all in miniature but there was everything: a stove, some cupboards, a table, chairs, and a place to store clothes and other belongings.

The vardo wagon was not only a warm little home–it also paid the ticket to freedom.

 Alex .A

The Pirate Cemetery of Madagascar was the off-season home for an estimated 1,000 pirates

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, Ile Sainte-Marie (or St. Mary’s Island as it is known in English), a long, thin island off the eastern African coast, became a popular base for pirates.

Up to 1,000 pirates reportedly called the rocky island home, including widely-feared brigands Adam Baldridge, William Kidd, Olivier Levasseur, Henry Every, Robert Culliford, Abraham Samuel and Thomas Tew. They lived in the île aux Forbans, an island located in the bay of Sainte Marie’s main town, Ambodifotatra.

This place was not far from the maritime routes along which ships returning from the East Indies sailed in transit, their holds overflowing with wealth, it was provided with bays and inlets protected from storms and finally, it had abundant fruit and was situated in quiet waters.

For around 100 years, Ile Sainte-Marie was the off-season home of an estimated 1,000 pirates. Source

The beautiful tropical island’s numerous inlets and bays made it the perfect place to hide ships. The pirates sailed mostly from England, Portugal, France and America to make this island off the coast of Madagascar a home, a hideout and a strategic place.

Cyclones and centuries have worn away many of the well-aged engravings on the stone markers. Source

With so many pirates abiding on the island, some even raising families at the time, it’s no wonder Sainte-Marie claims to have what may be the world’s only legitimate pirate cemetery.

In the center of the cemetery, there is a large black tomb that locals say is the final resting place of Captain Kidd, buried there in an upright position to punish him for his sins.

There are mostly graves from 1800s but only one with the classic skull and crossed bones. Source

The pirates were off Ile Sainte-Marie by the late 1700s, when the French seized the island. It wasn’t returned to Madagascar until 1960. The utopian pirate republic of Libertalia was also rumored to exist in this area, although the republic’s existence, let alone its location, has never been proven.

Today, 30 headstones remain, though locals say there were once hundreds. Source

A recently discovered map from 1733 by John de Bry, an archaeologist working on shipwrecks in the area, called the land mass the “Island of Pirates” and identified the location of three pirate ship wrecks.

The crumbling cemetery, its graves half covered by tall, swaying grass, is open to the public. Source

So many pirate legends are floating around Sainte-Marie, but, is this cemetery authentic? Everyone on the island, including government tourism officials, of course, claim it is. However, dead pirates or not, this cemetery is one of Madagascar’s most popular tourist destinations.

By David Goran