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Romani people

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Romani people

Romani people
Rromane dźene
Romani flag created in 1933 and accepted by the 1971 World Romani Congress
Total population
2 million ~ 12 million[1][2][3]
Also see Romani people by country
Regions with significant populations
 United States 1,000,000
 Brazil 800,000
 Spain 650,000
 Romania 621,573
 Turkey 500,000
 France 500,000
 Bulgaria 370,908
 Hungary 205,720
 Greece 200,000
 Slovakia 189,920
 Russia 182,766
 Serbia 147,604
 Italy 130,000
 Germany 120,000
 United Kingdom 90,000
 Macedonia 53,879
 Mexico 53,000
 Sweden 50,000 – 100,000[21]
 Ukraine 47,587
 Portugal 30,000 – 50,000
 Finland 10,000 – 15,000
Romani, languages of native region
Related ethnic groups
Dom, Lom, Domba; other Indo-Aryans
Part of a series on
Romani people
Flag of the Romani people
Romani Wagon in Germany in 1935
Recent Romani wagon in Grandborough (Grandbourough Fields Road is a popular spot for travelling people)

The Romani (also spelled Romany), or Roma, are an ethnicity of Indian origin, living mostly in Europe and the Americas.[24][25] Romani are widely known among English-speaking people by the exonym "Gypsies" (or Gipsies). Another exonym is Ashkali and Balkan Egyptians and Sinti .

Romani are dispersed, with their concentrated populations in Europe—especially Central and Eastern Europe and Anatolia, Iberia, and Southern France. They originated in India and arrived in Mid-West Asia, then Europe, around 1,000 years ago,[26] either separating from the Dom people or, at least, having a similar history;[27] the ancestors of both the Romani and the Dom left North India sometime between the sixth and eleventh century.[26]

Since the nineteenth century, some Romani have also migrated to the Americas. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States;[4] and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the nineteenth century from eastern Europe. Brazil also includes Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era.[28] In migrations since the late nineteenth century, Romani have also moved to other countries in South America and to Canada.[29]

The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which add up to an estimated number of speakers larger than two million.[30] The total number of Romani people is at least twice as large (several times as large according to high estimates). Many Romani are native speakers of the language current in their country of residence, or of mixed languages combining the two; those varieties are sometimes called Para-Romani.[31]


Romani usage

In the Romani language, Rom is a masculine noun, meaning 'man of the Roma ethnic group' or 'man, husband', with the plural Roma. The feminine of Rom in the Romani language is Romni. However, in most cases, in other languages Rom is now used for both a man and a woman.[32]

Romani is the feminine adjective, while romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.[33]

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani. In this case rr is used to represent the phoneme /ʀ/ (also written as ř and rh), which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r. The rr spelling is common in certain institutions (such as the INALCO Institute in Paris), or used in certain countries, e.g. Romania, in order to distinguish from the endonym/homonym for Romanians (sg. român, pl. români).[32][34]

English usage

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), Rom is a noun (with the plural Roma or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romanies or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romani was initially spelled Rommany, then Romany, while today the Romani spelling is the most popular spelling. Occasionally, the double r spelling (e.g., Rroma, Rromani) mentioned above is also encountered in English texts.

The term Roma is increasingly encountered during recent decades,[35][36] as a generic term for the Romani people.[37][38][39][40]

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.[41] Today, the term Romani is used by some organizations — including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress.[34]

However, the Romani language, Romani culture.[32]

The standard assumption is that the demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same origin.[42][43]

Other designations

The English term Gypsy (or Gipsy) originates from the Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien. It is ultimately derived from the Greek Αἰγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi), meaning Egyptian, via Middle French and Latin. This designation owes its existence to the belief, common in the Middle Ages, that the Romani, or some related group (such as the middle eastern Dom people), were itinerant Egyptians.[44][45] According to one narrative they were exiled from Egypt as punishment for allegedly harbouring the infant Jesus.[46] As described in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the medieval French referred to the Romanies as Egyptiens. The word Gypsy in English has become so pervasive that many Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names.

This exonym is sometimes written with capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[47] The term 'Gypsy' appears when international research programmes, documents and policies on the community are referred to. However, the word is often considered derogatory because of its negative and stereotypical associations.[38][39][48][49][50][51][52] The Council of Europe consider that 'Gypsy' or equivalent terms, as well as administrative terms such as 'Gens du Voyage' (referring in fact to an ethnic group but not acknowledging ethnic identification) are not in line with European recommendations.[32] In North America, the word Gypsy is most commonly used as a reference to Romani ethnicity,[53] though lifestyle and fashion are at times also referenced by using this word.[54]

Another common designation of the Romani people is Cingane (alt. Tsinganoi, Zigar, Zigeuner) which probably derives from Athinganoi, the name of a Christian sect with whom the Romani (or some related group) became associated with in the Middle Ages.[45][55][56][57] The Spanish term gitano and the French term gitan have a more uncertain origin but could originate from any of the two main designations mentioned above or their conflation and corruption.[58]

Population and subgroups

Romani population

For a variety of reasons, many Romanies choose not to register their ethnic identity in official censuses. There are an estimated four million Romani people in Europe (as of 2002),[59] although some high estimates by Romani organizations give numbers as high as 14 million.[60] Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkans, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. Several million more Romanies may live out of Europe, in particular in the Middle East and in the Americas.

A tent of Romani nomads in Hungary, 19th century

Romani subgroups

As a result of the caste system, inherited from India, and their movement on Asia, Europe, America and Australia, many designations can be given to individual Roma groups. [61][62]

Interior of a gipsy's house in Brazil c. 1820, by Debret
Camping gypsies near Düsseldorf, Germany, c. 1905, by Emil Volkers

All-encompassing self-description is always "Rom".[63] Even when some groups are not using an endonym "Roma", they all acknowledge a common origin and a dichotomy Roma-Gadjo.[64]

Other groups, using different endonyms are, for example:

Other Romani sub-groups include:

Two Romani women in Spain, by Francisco Iturrino



Findings suggest an Indian origin for Roma.[81][82] Because Romani groups did not keep chronicles of their history or have oral accounts of it, most hypotheses about the Romani's migration early history are based on linguistic theory.[83] There is also no known record of a migration from India to Europe from medieval times that can be connected indisputably to Roma.[84]

Shahnameh legend

An illustration of "Bahrām V Gōr and the Indian princess in the black pavilion."

According to a legend reported in Shahnameh and repeated by several modern authors, the Sasanian king Bahrām V Gōr learned towards the end of his reign (421–39) that the poor could not afford to enjoy music, and he asked the king of India to send him ten thousand luris, men and women, lute playing experts. When the luris arrived, Bahrām gave each one an ox and a donkey and a donkey-load of wheat so that they could live on agriculture and play music gratuitously for the poor. But the luris ate the oxen and the wheat and came back a year later with their cheeks hollowed with hunger. The king was angered with their having wasted what he had given them, ordered them to pack up their bags on their asses and go wandering around the world.[85]

Linguistic evidence

The linguistic evidence has indisputably shown that roots of Romani language lie in India: the language has grammatical characteristics of Indian languages and shares with them a big part of the basic lexicon, for example, body parts or daily routines.[86]

More exactly, Romani shares the basic lexicon with Hindi and Punjabi. It shares many phonetic features with Marwari, while its grammar is closest to Bengali.[87]

Romani and Domari share some similarities: agglutination of postpositions of the second Layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, concordmarkers for the past tense, the neutralisation of gender marking in the plural, and the use of the oblique case as an accusative.[88][89] This has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages. Domari was once thought to be the "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the Indian subcontinent, but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (Hindustani) group of languages. The Dom and the Rom therefore likely descend from two different migration waves out of India, separated by several centuries.[27][90]

Numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison.[91] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.
Hindi Romani Domari Lomavren Persian
1 ek ekh, jekh yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj lui du, do
3 tīn trin tærən tərin se
4 cār štar štar išdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž pandž pendž pandž
6 che šov šaš šeš šaš, šeš
7 sāt ifta xaut haft haft
8 āţh oxto xaišt hašt hašt
9 nau inja na nu nuh, noh
10 das deš des las dah
20 bīs biš wīs vist bist
100 sau šel saj saj sad

Genetic evidence

Genetic findings in 2012 suggest the Romani originated in northwest India and migrated as a group.[81][82][92] According to a genetic study in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.[93] In December 2012, additional findings appeared to confirm the "Roma came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago,"[82] They reached the Balkans about 900 years ago,[81] and then spread throughout Europe. The team found that, despite some isolation, the Roma were "genetically similar to other Europeans."[81][82] Contemporary populations suggested as sharing a close relationship to the Romani are the Dom people of Western Asia and North Africa, and the Banjara of India.[94]

Genetic evidence supports the mediaeval migration from India. The Romani have been described as "a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations",[95] while a number of common Mendelian disorders among Romanies from all over Europe indicates "a common origin and founder effect".[95][96] A study from 2001 by Gresham et al. suggests "a limited number of related founders, compatible with a small group of migrants splitting from a distinct caste or tribal group".[97] The same study found that "a single lineage ... found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males."[97] A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romani population "was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago".[98]

Possible migration route

They may have emerged from the modern Indian state of Rajasthan,[99] migrating to the northwest (the Punjab region, Sindh and Baluchistan of the Indian subcontinent) around 250 BC. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is now believed to have occurred beginning in about AD 500.[82] It has also been suggested that emigration from India may have taken place in the context of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazni.[100] As these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire. The 11th century terminus post quem is due to the Romani language showing unambiguous features of the Modern Indo-Aryan languages,[101] precluding an emigration during the Middle Indic period.

The migration of the Romanies through the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe

Arrival in Europe

Though according to a 2012 genomic study, the Romani reached the Balkans as early as the 12th century,[102] the first historical records of the Romani reaching south-eastern Europe are from the 14th century: in 1322, an Irish Franciscan monk, Symon Semeonis encountered a migrant group, "the descendants of Cain", outside the town of Heraklion (Candia), in Crete. Symon's account is probably the earliest surviving description by a Western chronicler of the Romani people in Europe. In 1350, Ludolphus of Sudheim mentioned a similar people with a unique language whom he called Mandapolos, a word which some theorize was derived from the Greek word mantes (meaning prophet or fortune teller).[103] Around 1360, a fiefdom, called the Feudum Acinganorum was established in Corfu, which mainly used Romani serfs and to which the Romani on the island were subservient.[104][105] By 1424, they were recorded in Germany; and by the 16th century, Scotland and Sweden. Some Romani migrated from Persia through North Africa, reaching the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. The two currents met in France.

First arrival of the Romanies outside Bern in the 15th century, described by the chronicler as getoufte heiden (“baptized heathens”) and drawn with dark skin and wearing Saracen-style clothing and weapons (Spiezer Schilling, p. 749)

Early Modern history

An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Romani slaves in Bucharest.

Their early history shows a mixed reception. Although 1385 marks the first recorded transaction for a Romani slave in Wallachia, they were issued safe conduct by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1417.[106] Romanies were ordered expelled from the Meissen region of Germany in 1416, Lucerne in 1471, Milan in 1493, France in 1504, Catalonia in 1512, Sweden in 1525, England in 1530 (see Egyptians Act 1530), and Denmark in 1536.[106] In 1510, any Romani found in Switzerland were ordered to be put to death, with similar rules established in England in 1554, and Denmark in 1589, whereas Portugal began deportations of Romanies to its colonies in 1538.[106]

Later, a 1596 English statute, however, gave Romanies special privileges that other wanderers lacked; France passed a similar law in 1683. Catherine the Great of Russia declared the Romanies "crown slaves" (a status superior to serfs), but also kept them out of certain parts of the capital.[107] In 1595, Ştefan Răzvan overcame his birth into slavery, and became the Voivode (Prince) of Moldavia.[106]

Although some Romani could be kept as slaves in Wallachia and Moldavia, until abolition in 1856, the majority were traveling as free nomads with their wagons, as it is resembled at their flag.[108] Elsewhere in Europe, they were subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction of their children, and forced labor. In England, Romani were sometimes expelled from small communities or hanged; in France, they were branded and their heads were shaved; in Moravia and Bohemia, the women were marked by their ears being severed. As a result, large groups of the Romani moved to the East, toward Poland, which was more tolerant, and Russia, where the Romani were treated more fairly as long as they paid the annual taxes.[109]

Modern history

Romani began emigrating to North America in colonial times, with small groups recorded in Virginia and French Louisiana. Larger-scale Roma emigration to the United States began in the 1860s, with groups of Romanichal from Great Britain. The largest number immigrated in the early 1900s, mainly from the Vlax group of Kalderash. Many Romani also settled in South America.

Sinti and other Romani about to be deported from Germany, May 22, 1940.

World War II

During World War II, the Nazis and the Ustaša embarked on a systematic genocide of the Romani, a process known in Romani as the Porajmos.[110] Romanies were marked for extermination and sentenced to forced labor and imprisonment in concentration camps.

They were often killed on sight, especially by the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) on the Eastern Front.[111] The total number of victims has been variously estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000; even the lowest number would make the Porajmos one of the largest mass killings in history.[112]


In Czechoslovakia, they were labeled a "socially degraded stratum," and Romani women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population. This policy was implemented with large financial incentives, threats of denying future welfare payments, with misinformation, or after administering drugs (Silverman 1995; Helsinki Watch 1991).

An official inquiry from the Czech Republic, resulting in a report (December 2005), concluded that the Communist authorities had practiced an assimilation policy towards Romanies, which "included efforts by social services to control the birth rate in the Romani community". "The problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic, either with improper motivation or illegally, exists," said Czech Public Defender of Rights, recommending state compensation for women affected between 1973 and 1991.[113] New cases were revealed up until 2004, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland “all have histories of coercive sterilization of minorities and other groups.” [114]

Society and traditional culture

A Gipsy Family, facsimile of a woodcut in the Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster (Basle, 1552)

The traditional Romanies place a high value on the extended family. Virginity is essential in unmarried women. Both men and women often marry young; there has been controversy in several countries over the Romani practice of child marriage. Romani law establishes that the man's family must pay a bride price to the bride's parents, but only traditional families still follow this rule.

Once married, the woman joins the husband's family, where her main job is to tend to her husband's and her children's needs, as well as to take care of her in-laws. The power structure in the traditional Romani household has at its top the oldest man or grandfather, and men in general have more authority than women. Women gain respect and authority as they get older. Young wives begin gaining authority once they have children.

Romani menstruating women, are washed separately. Items used for eating are also washed in a different place. Childbirth is considered impure, and must occur outside the dwelling place. The mother is considered impure for forty days after giving birth.

Death is considered impure, and affects the whole family of the dead, who remain impure for a period of time. In contrast to the practice of cremating the dead, Romani dead must be buried.[115] Cremation and burial are both known from the time of the Rigveda, and both are widely practiced in Hinduism today (although the tendency is for Hindus groups for cremation, while some communities in South India tend to bury their dead).[116] Some animals are also considered impure, for instance cats because they lick their hindquarters. Horses, in contrast, are not considered impure because they cannot.[117]

Belonging and exclusion

Romanipen (also romanypen, romanipe, romanype, romanimos, romaimos, romaniya) is a complicated term of Romani philosophy that means totality of the Romani spirit, Romani culture, Romani Law, being a Romani, a set of Romani strains.

An ethnic Romani is considered to be a Gadjo (non-Romani) in the Romani society if he has no Romanipen. Sometimes a non-Romani may be considered to be a Romani if he has Romanipen; usually this is an adopted child. As a concept, Romanipen has been the subject of interest to numerous academic observers. It has been hypothesized that it owes more to a framework of culture rather than simply an adherence to historically received rules.[118]


Christian Romanies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in France, 1980s


The ancestors of modern day Romani people were previously Hindu, but adopted Christianity or Islam depending on their respective regions they had migrated through.[119] Muslim Roma are found in Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Egypt, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and form a very significant proportion of the Romani people.

Deities and saints

Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla is considered a patron saint of the Romani people in Roman Catholicism.[120] Saint Sarah, or Kali Sara, has also been venerated as a patron saint in the same manner as the Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla. Since the turn of the 21st century, Kali Sara is understood to have been an Indian deity brought from India by the refugee ancestors of the Roma people; as the Roma became Christianized, she was absorbed in a syncretic way and worshipped as a saint.[121]

Mother Goddess figurines have been found in the excavations of the Indus Valley Civilisation in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in the Sindh - Punjab - Haryana area [Some Romani claim Punjab to be their original habitat], and Kali Mata [Mother Kali] is still worshipped in India, particularly by the Hindus. Therefore, Saint Sarah is now increasingly being considered as "a Romani Goddess, the Protectress of the Roma" and an "indisputable link with Mother India".[121][122]

Ceremonies and practices

Romanies often adopt the dominant religion of their host country in the event that a ceremony associated with a formal religious institution is necessary, such as a baptism or funeral (their particular belief systems and indigenous religion and worship remain preserved regardless of such adoption processes). The Roma continue to practice "Shaktism", a practice with origins in India, whereby a female consort is required for the worship of a god. Adherence to this practice means that for the Roma who worship a Christian God, prayer is conducted through the Virgin Mary, or her mother, Saint Anne—Shaktism continues over one thousand years after the people's separation from India.[123]

Besides the Roma elders, who serve as spiritual leaders, priests, churches, or bibles do not exist among the Romanies—the only exception is the Pentecostal Roma.[123]


Costume of a Romani woman (most likely Muslim Roma).

For the Roma communities that have resided in the Balkans for numerous centuries, often referred to as "Turkish Gypsies", the following histories apply for religious beliefs:

  • Bulgaria - In northwestern Bulgaria, in addition to Sofia and Kyustendil, Islam is the dominant faith among Romani people; however in the independent Bulgarian state, a major conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity among Romani people has occurred. In southwestern Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), Islam is also the dominant religion among Romani people, with a smaller section of the Romani population, declaring themselves as “Turks”, continuing to mix ethnicity with Islam.[124]
  • Romania - According to the 2002 census, the majority of Romani minority living in Romania are Orthodox Christians, while 6.4% are Pentecostals, 3.8% Roman Catholics, 3% Reformed, 1.1% Greek Catholics, 0.9% Baptists, 0.8% Seventh-Day Adventists.[125] In Dobruja, there is a small community that are Muslim and also speak Turkish.[124]
  • Greece - The descendants of groups, such as Sepečides or Sevljara, Kalpazaja, Filipidži and others, living in Athens, Thessaloniki, central Greece and Aegean Macedonia are mostly Orthodox Christians, with Islamic beliefs held by a minority of the population. Following the Peace Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, many Muslim Roma moved to Turkey in the subsequent population exchange between Turkey and Greece.[124]
Muslim Romanies in Bosnia and Herzegovina (around 1900)
  • Albania - The majority of Albania's Roma people are Muslims.[126]
  • Macedonia - The majority of Roma people are followers of Islam.[124]
  • Serbia - Most Roma people in Serbia are Orthodox Christian, but there are some Muslim Roma in Southern Serbia, mainly refugees from Kosovo.
  • Kosovo - The vast majority of the Roma population in what has become Kosovo is Muslim.[124]
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro - Islam is the dominant religion amongst the Roma.[124]
  • Croatia - Following the Second World War, a large number of Muslim Roma relocated to Croatia (the majority moving from Kosovo).[124]

Other regions

Gypsys in Germany, 1910

In Ukraine and Russia the Roma populations are also Muslim as the families of Balkan migrants continue to live in these locations. Their ancestors settled on the Crimean peninsula during the 17th and 18th centuries, but then migrated to Ukraine, southern Russia and the Povolzhie (along the Volga River). Formally, Islam is the religion that these communities align themselves with and the people are recognized for their staunch preservation of the Romani language and identity.[124]

Most Eastern European Romanies are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Muslim. Those in Western Europe and the United States are mostly Roman Catholic or Protestant—in southern Spain, many Romanies are Pentecostal, but this is a small minority that has emerged in contemporary times.[123] In Egypt, the Romanies are split into Christian and Muslim populations.


Young Hungarian Romani performing a traditional dance

Romani music plays an important role in Central and Eastern European countries such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Hungary, Slovenia and Romania, and the style and performance practices of Romani musicians have influenced European classical composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. The lăutari who perform at traditional Romanian weddings are virtually all Romani.

Probably the most internationally prominent contemporary performers in the lăutari tradition are Taraful Haiducilor. Bulgaria's popular "wedding music", too, is almost exclusively performed by Romani musicians such as Ivo Papasov, a virtuoso clarinetist closely associated with this genre and Bulgarian pop-folk singer Azis.

Many famous classical musicians, such as the manele. Zdob şi Zdub, one of the most prominent rock bands in Moldova, although not Romanies themselves, draw heavily on Romani music, as do Spitalul de Urgenţă in Romania, Shantel in Germany, Goran Bregović in Serbia, Darko Rundek in Croatia, Beirut and Gogol Bordello in the United States.

Another tradition of Romani music is the genre of the Romani brass band, with such notable practitioners as Boban Marković of Serbia, and the brass lăutari groups Fanfare Ciocărlia and Fanfare din Cozmesti of Romania.

Many musical instruments like violins and guitars are said to have originated from the Romani. Many dances such as the flamenco of Spain and Oriental dances of Egypt are also said to have originated from them.

The distinctive sound of Romani music has also strongly influenced bolero, jazz, and flamenco (especially cante jondo) in Europe. European-style gypsy jazz ("jazz Manouche" or "Sinti jazz") is still widely practiced among the original creators (the Romanie People); one who acknowledged this artistic debt was guitarist Django Reinhardt. Contemporary artists in this tradition known internationally include Stochelo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, Jimmy Rosenberg, Paulus Schäfer and Tchavolo Schmitt.

The Romanies of Turkey have achieved musical acclaim from national and local audiences. Local performers usually perform for special holidays. Their music is usually performed on instruments such as the darbuka, gırnata and cümbüş.[127]

Contemporary art and culture


Most Romani speak one of several dialects of the Romani language,[128] an Indo-Aryan language, with roots in Sanskrit. They also will often speak the languages of the countries they live in. Typically, they also incorporate loanwords and calques into Romani from the languages of those countries and especially words for terms that the Romani language does not have. Most of the Ciganos of Portugal, the Gitanos of Spain, the Romanichal of the UK, and Scandinavian Travellers have lost their knowledge of pure Romani, and respectively speak the mixed languages Caló,[129] Angloromany, and Scandoromani.


Historical persecution

One of the most enduring persecutions against the Romani people was their being enslaved. Slavery was widely practiced in medieval Europe, including the territory of present-day Romania from before the founding of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in the 13th–14th century.[130] Legislation decreed that all the Romani living in these states, as well as any others who immigrated there, were classified as slaves.[131] Slavery was gradually abolished during the 1840s and 1850s.[130]

The exact origins of Mongol invasion of Europe and considered their slavery as a vestige of that era, in which the Romanians took the Roma as slaves from the Mongols and preserved their status to use their labor. Other historians believe that the Romani were enslaved, while captured during the battles, with the Tatars. The practice of enslaving war prisoners may also have been adopted from the Mongols.[130]

Some Romani may have been slaves or auxiliary troops of the Mongols or Tatars, but most of them migrated from south of the Danube at the end of the 14th century, some time after the foundation of Wallachia. By then, the institution of slavery was already established in Moldavia and possibly in both principalities. After the Roma migrated into the area, slavery became a widespread practice by the majority population. The Tatar slaves, smaller in numbers, were eventually merged into the Roma population.[132]

Some branches of the Romani people reached Western Europe in the 15th century, fleeing as refugees from the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Although the Romani were refugees from the conflicts in southeastern Europe, they were often suspected by the local populations in the West as being associated with the Ottoman invasion because of their physical features seemed related to the Turks. (The German Reichstags at Landau and Freiburg in 1496-1498 declared the Romani to be spies of the Turks). In Western Europe, such suspicions and discrimination against a people who were a visible minority resulted in persecution, often violent, with efforts to achieve ethnic cleansing until the modern era. In times of social tension, the Romani suffered as scapegoats; for instance, they were accused of bringing the plague during times of epidemics. Jews, another non-assimilated minority, also suffered at the hands of the majority culture.[133]

In 1749 Spain conducted The Great Roundup of Romani (Gitanos) in its territory. The Spanish Crown ordered a nationwide raid that led to the break-up of families as all able-bodied men were interned into forced labor camps.

Later in the 19th century, Romani immigration was forbidden on a racial basis in areas outside Europe, mostly in the English-speaking world. (Argentina in 1880 prohibited immigration by Roma, as did the United States in 1885.)[133]

Deportation of Roma from Asperg, Germany, 1940 (photograph by the Rassenhygienische Forschungsstelle)


The persecution of the Romanies reached a peak during World War II in the Porajmos, the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1935, the Nuremberg laws stripped the Romani people living in Nazi Germany of their citizenship, after which they were subjected to violence, imprisonment in concentration camps and later genocide in extermination camps. The policy was extended in areas occupied by the Nazis during the war, and it was also applied by their allies, notably the Independent State of Croatia, Romania and Hungary. Despite being "Indo-Aryans", the Romanis were considered "non-Aryans" by the Nazis.

Because no accurate pre-war census figures exist for the Romanis, it is impossible to accurately assess the actual number of victims. Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, proposes a figure of up to a million and a half, while an estimate of between 220,000 and 500,000 was made by Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.[134] In Central Europe, the extermination in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became extinct.

Forced assimilation

In the Habsburg Monarchy under Maria Theresa (1740–1780), a series of decrees tried to force the Romanies to permanently settle, removed rights to horse and wagon ownership (1754), renamed them as "New Citizens" and forced Romani boys into military service if they had no trade (1761), forced them to register with the local authorities (1767), and prohibited marriage between Romanies (1773). Her successor Josef II prohibited the wearing of traditional Romani clothing and the use of the Romani language, punishable by flogging.[135]

In Spain, attempts to assimilate the Gitanos were under way as early as 1619, when Gitanos were forcibly settled, the use of the Romani language was prohibited, Gitano men and women were sent to separate workhouses and their children sent to orphanages. Similar prohibitions took place in 1783 under King Charles III, who prohibited the nomadic lifestyle, the use of the Calo language, Romani clothing, their trade in horses and other itinerant trades. The use of the word gitano was also forbidden to further assimilation. Ultimately these measures failed, as the rest of the population rejected the integration of the Gitanos.[135][136]

Other examples of forced assimilation include Norway, where a law was passed in 1896 permitting the state to remove children from their parents and place them in state institutions.[137] This resulted in some 1,500 Romani children being taken from their parents in the 20th century.[138]

Contemporary issues

Roma estimate percentage of population in European countries[139]
Country Percent
Czech Republic
Distribution of the Romani people in Europe (2007 Council of Europe "average estimates", totalling 9.8 million)[140]
The Romani settlement at Letanovský Mlyn, Slovakia

Discrimination against the Romani people has continued to the present day,[141][142] although efforts are being made to address them.[143] Amnesty International reports continued instances of Antizigan discrimination during the 20th Century, particularly in Romania, Serbia,[144] Slovakia,[145] Hungary,[146] Slovenia,[147] and Kosovo.[148] The European Union has recognized that the discrimination the Romani people face needs to be addressed and with the national Roma integration strategy they are encouraging member states to work towards greater Romani inclusion and upholding the rights of the Romani in the European union.[149]

The Romanis of Kosovo have been severely persecuted by ethnic Albanians since the end of the Kosovo War, and the region's Romani community is regarded to be for the most part annihilated.[150]

Czechoslovakia carried out a policy of sterilization of Romani women, starting in 1973.[151] The dissidents of the Charter 77 denounced it in 1977-78 as a genocide, but the practice continued through the Velvet Revolution of 1989.[152] A 2005 report by the Czech government's independent ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001, and called for criminal investigations and possible prosecution against several health care workers and administrators.[153]

In 2008, following the brutal rape and subsequent murder of an Italian woman in Rome at the hands of a young man from a local Romani encampment,[154] the Italian government declared that Italy's Romani population represented a national security risk and that swift action was required to address the emergenza nomadi (nomad emergency).[155] Specifically, officials in the Italian government accused the Romanies of being responsible for rising crime rates in urban areas. One police raid in 2007 freed many of the children belonging to a Romani gang who used to steal by day, and who were locked in a shed by night by members of the gang.[156]

The 2008 deaths of Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic, two Roma children who drowned while Italian beach-goers remained unperturbed, brought international attention to the relationship between Italians and the Roma people. Reviewing the state of play in 2012, one Belgian magazine observed:
On International Roma Day, which falls on 8 April, the significant proportion of Europe's 12 million Roma who live in deplorable conditions will not have much to celebrate. And poverty is not the only worry for the community. Ethnic tensions are on the rise. In 2008, Roma camps came under attack in Italy, intimidation by racist parliamentarians is the norm in Hungary. Speaking in 1993, Václav Havel prophetically remarked that "the treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for democracy": and democracy has been found wanting. The consequences of the transition to capitalism have been disastrous for the Roma. Under communism they had jobs, free housing and schooling. Now many are unemployed, many are losing their homes and racism is increasingly rewarded with impunity.[157]

Forced repatriation

In the summer of 2010 French authorities demolished at least 51 illegal Roma camps and began the process of repatriating their residents to their countries of origin.[158] This followed tensions between the French state and Roma communities, which had been heightened after French police opened fire and killed a traveller who drove through a police checkpoint, hitting an officer, and attempted to hit two more officers at another checkpoint. In retaliation a group of Roma, armed with hatchets and iron bars, attacked the police station of Saint-Aignan, toppled traffic lights and road signs and burned three cars.[159][160] The French government has been accused of perpetrating these actions to pursue its political agenda.[161] EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that the European Commission should take legal action against France over the issue, calling the deportations "a disgrace". Purportedly, a leaked file dated 5 August, sent from the Interior Ministry to regional police chiefs included the instruction: "Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority."[162]

Fictional representations

Vincent van Gogh: The Caravans – Gypsy Camp near Arles (1888, oil on canvas)

Many fictional depictions of Romani people in literature and art present romanticized narratives of their supposed mystical powers of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Herge's The Castafiore Emerald and Miguel de Cervantes' La Gitanilla.

The Romani were also heavily romanticized in the Soviet Union, a classic example being the 1975 Tabor ukhodit v Nebo. A more realistic depiction of contemporary Romani in the Balkans, featuring Romani lay actors speaking in their native dialects, although still playing with established clichés of a Romani penchant for both magic and crime, was presented by Emir Kusturica in his Time of the Gypsies (1988) and Black Cat, White Cat (1998). The films of Tony Gatlif, a French director of Romani ethnicity, like Les Princes (1983), Latcho Drom (1993) and Gadjo Dilo (1997) also portray gypsy life.

In contemporary literature

The Romani ethnicity is often used for characters in contemporary fantasy literature. In such literature, the Romani are often portrayed as possessing archaic occult knowledge passed down through the ages. This frequent use of the ethnicity has given rise to 'gypsy archetypes' in popular contemporary literature. A UK example is the Freya Trilogy by Elizabeth Arnold.

See also


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  137. ^ Kenrick, Donald. "Roma in Norway". Patrin Web Journal. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
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  141. ^ "Demolita la "bidonville" di Ponte Mammolo".  
  142. ^ "Fini: impossibile integrarsi con chi ruba".  
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  147. ^ "roma | Human Rights Press Point". Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
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  150. ^ Claude Cahn (2007). "Birth of a Nation: Kosovo and the Persecution of Pariah Minorities".  
  151. ^ Sterilised Roma accuse Czechs, BBC, 12 March 2007
  152. ^ For Gypsies, Eugenics is a Modern Problem - Czech Practice Dates to Soviet Era, Newsdesk, June 12, 2006
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  155. ^ de Zulueta, Tana (2009-03-30). "Italy's new ghetto?". The Guardian (London). 
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  160. ^ "Q&A: France Roma expulsions". BBC. September 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  161. ^ "France Begins Controversial Roma Deportations". Der Spiegel. 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
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(An extensive historical bibliography, "Gypsies in France, 1566–2011", is available at [5].)

  • Viorel Achim (2004). "The Roma in Romanian History." Budapest: Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9241-84-9.
  • Auzias, Claire. Les funambules de l'histoire. Baye: Éditions la Digitale, 2002.
  • De Soto, Hermine. Roma and Egyptians in Albania: From Social Exclusion to Social Inclusion. Washington, DC, USA: World Bank Publications, 2005.
  • Fonseca, Isabel. Bury me standing: the Gypsies and their journey. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1995.
  • Fraser, Angus The Gypsies : Blackwell Publishers, Oxford UK, 1992 ISBN 0-631-15967-3.
  • Genner, Michael. Spartakus, 2 vols. Munich: Trikont, 1979-80.
  • "Germany Reaches Deal to Deport Thousands of Gypsies to Romania," Migration World Magazine, Nov-December 1992.
  • Gray, RD; Atkinson, QD (2003). "Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin." Nature.
  • Gresham, D; et al. (2001). "Origins and divergence of the Roma (Gypsies)." American Journal of Human Genetics. 69(6), 1314-1331. [6]
  • Groome, Francis Hindes. In Gipsy Tents 1881
  • Hackl, Erich. (1991). Farewell Sidonia, New York: Fromm International Pub. ISBN 0-88064-124-X. (Translated from the German, Abschied von Sidonie 1989)
  • Helsinki Watch. Struggling for Ethnic Identity: Czechoslovakia's Endangered Gypsies. New York, 1991.
  • Leland, Charles G. The English Gipsies and Their Language. London: Trübner & Co., 1873.
  • Lemon, Alaina (2000). Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2456-3
  • Luba Kalaydjieva; et al. (2001). "Patterns of inter- and intra-group genetic diversity in the Vlax Roma as revealed by Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA lineages." European Journal of Human Genetics. 9, 97-104. [7]
  • Marushiakova, Elena; Popov, Vesselin. (2001) "Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire." Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.
  • Matras, Yaron (2002). Romani: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-512-02330-0 .
  • McDowell, Bart (1970). "Gypsies, Wanderers of the World". National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-87044-088-8.
  • "Gypsies, The World's Outsiders." National Geographic, April 2001, 72-101.
  • Nemeth, David J. (2002). The Gypsy-American. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.
  • Ringold, Dena. Roma & the Transition in Central & Eastern Europe: Trends & Challenges. Washington, DC, USA: World Bank, 2000. pp. 3, 5, & 7.
  • Roberts, Samuel. The Gypsies: Their Origin, Continuance, and Destination. London: Longman, 4th edition, 1842.
  • Silverman, Carol. "Persecution and Politicization: Roma (Gypsies) of Eastern Europe." Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1995.
  • Simson, Walter. History of the Gipsies. London: S. Low, 1865.
  • Smith, George. I've been a gipsying, or, Rambles among our gipsies and their children in their tents and vans (1883)
  • Tebbutt, Susan (Ed., 1998) Sinti and Roma in German-speaking Society and Literature. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Turner, Ralph L. (1926) The Position of Romani in Indo-Aryan. In: Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 3rd Ser. 5/4, pp. 145–188.
  • Danish Broadcasting Corporation A page in Danish about Romani treatment in Denmark

External links

European countries Roma links
  • - History the Roma and Sinti in Germany -
  • - History of the Roma in Austria -
  • - History of the Roma in Czech Republic
  • History of some Roma Europeans
The concentration, Labor, Ghetto camps that the Roma were persecuted in during World War II
  • European Parliament resolution on the situation of the Roma in the European Union - April 28, 2005
  • Final report on the human rights situation of the Roma, Sinti and travellers in Europe by the European Commissioner for Human Rights (Council of Europe) - February 15, 2006
  • Shot in remote areas of the Thar desert in Northwest India, "Jaisalmer Ayo: Gateway of the Gypsies" on YouTube captures the lives of vanishing nomadic communities who are believed to share common ancestors with the Roma people - released 2004
Non-governmental organisations
  • European Roma Rights Centre - International Romani NGO
  • Roma Rights Network - Romani INGO
Museums and libraries
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