A Brief History of the Roma
|There are more than twelve million Roma located in many countries around the world. There is no way to obtain an exact number since they are not recorded on most official census counts. Many Roma themselves do not admit to their true ethnic origins for economic and social reasons. The Roma are a distinct ethnic minority, distinguished at least by Rom blood and the Romani, or Romanes, language, whose origins began on the Indian subcontinent over one thousand years ago. No one knows for certain why the original Roma began their great wandering from India to Europe and beyond, but they have dispersed worldwide, despite persecution and oppression through the centuries. |
There have been several great migrations, or diaspora, in Romani history. The first was the initial dispersal from India about a thousand years ago. Some scholars suggest there may have been several migrations from India. The second great migration, known as the Aresajipe, was from southwest Asia into Europe in the 14th century. The third migration was from Europe to the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the abolition of Romani slavery in Europe in 1856-1864. Some scholars contend there is a great migration occurring today since the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe.
Simplified map of possible migration routes from India to Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Romani language is of Indo-Aryan origin and has many spoken dialects, but the root language is ancient Punjabi, or Hindi. The spoken Romani language is varied, but all dialects contain some common words in use by all Roma. Based on language, Roma are divided into three populations. They are the Domari of the Middle East and Eastern Europe (the Dom), the Lomarvren of Central Europe (the Lom), and the Romani of Western Europe (the Rom). There is no universal written Romani language in use by all Roma. However, the codification of a constructed, standardized dialect is currently in progress by members of the Linguistic Commission of the International Romani Union.
There are four Rom "tribes", or nations (natsiya), of Roma: the Kalderash, the Machavaya, the Lovari, and the Churari. Other groups include the Romanichal, the Gitanoes (Calé), the Sinti, the Rudari, the Manush, the Boyash, the Ungaritza, the Luri, the Bashaldé, the Romungro, and the Xoraxai. The first European descriptions of the Roma upon their entering Europe emphasized their dark skin and black hair. Through integration with Europeans over the centuries, Roma today can also be found with light skin and hair.Romani culture is diverse and there is no universal culture per se, but there are attributes common to all Roma: loyalty to family (extended and clan); belief in Del (God) and beng (the Devil); belief in predestiny; Romaniya, standards and norms, varying in degree from tribe to tribe; and adaptability to changing conditions. Integration of many Roma into gajikané (non-Roma, or foreign) culture due to settlement has diluted many Romani cultural values and beliefs. Not all tribes have the same definition of who and what is "Roma." What may be accepted as "true-Roma" by one group may be gadjé to another. Romani culture is diverse, with many traditions and customs, and all tribes around the world have their own individual beliefs and tenets. It would be invalid to generalize and oversimplify by giving concrete rules to all Roma. Despite what some groups may believe, there is no one tribe that can call themselves the one, "true" Roma.
|There have been many large-scale, state-sponsored persecutions, or pogroms, against the Roma throughout European history. The Nazi terror of World War II is the most infamous and is responsible for the deaths of up to 1.5 million Roma in the Porrajmos (Holocaust). The recent collapse of the communist governments of Eastern Europe have rekindled anti-Roma sentiment in Eastern and Western Europe. Violent attacks against Romani immigrants and refugees have been permitted to occur with little or no restraint from government authorities. The Romani people remain the least integrated and the most persecuted people of Europe. Almost everywhere, their fundamental civil rights are threatened. Racist violence targeting Roma is on the rise after the fall of Communism. Discrimination against Roma in employment, education, health care, administrative and other services is observed in most societies, and hate speech against them deepens the negative anti-Roma stereotypes which are typical of European public opinion. |
Anti-Roma attitudes also exist in the Americas to one extent or another. Misrepresentations of the Romani people in the popular press, books, films and television have contributed to negative stereotypes and characterisations. Special "Gypsy" units in some local police forces exist to warn the gadje population of "Gypsy" activities.
In the last few years, the Roma issue has been addressed by various non-governmental organisations, national as well as international. Different approaches - economic, social, political, cultural, and others - have been applied in the hope of improving the living standards of the Roma, of promoting a more just social policy, of strengthening Roma cultural identity, or of encouraging Roma political participation. Solutions have been sought in the context of the struggle against racism and nationalism, as well as in the context of enhancing cultural pluralism. These recent projects are fragments of a growing all-European Roma movement that is now only in its formative stage. The shape of this movement is still amorphous and incomplete. There still exists no significant internationalised human rights strategy initiative to monitor the human rights situation of the Roma and to provide legal defense in cases of human rights abuse.
|The spoked-wheel image above represents a sixteen-spoked chakra, adopted at the First World Romani Congress in London in 1971 as the international Romani symbol. The chakra is a link to the Roma's Indian origins (the 24-spoked Ashok Chakra is in the center of the national flag of India, the Tiranga) and represents movement and the original Creation. The green and blue flag with a red chakra in the center was adopted as the Romani flag, as well as the motto "Opré Roma" (Roma Arise). The song "Gelem, gelem," also known as "Djelem, djelem" and "Opré Roma," was selected as the Romani anthem. April 8 was proclaimed International Romani Day. There have been four World Romani Congresses to date. Among the chief goals of these meetings are the standardization of the Romanes language, reparations from World War II, improvements in civil rights and education, preserving Romani culture, and international recognition of the Roma as a national minority of Indian origin. Among the chief Roma organisations, the International Romani Union has consultative status to the United Nations Social and Economic Council. |
The Romani people have been known by many names, including Gypsies (or Gipsies), Tsigani, Tzigane, Cigano, Zigeuner, and others. Most Roma have always referred to themselves by their tribal names, or as Rom or Roma, meaning "Man" or "People." (Rom, Roma, Romani, and Romaniya should not be confused with the country of Romania, or the city of Rome. These names have separate, distinct etymological origins and are not related.) The use of Rom, Roma, Romani, or the double "r" spelling, is preferred in all official communications and legal documents. In response to the recommendations put forth by Roma associations, the Council of Europe has approved the use of "Rroma (Gypsies)" in its official documents (CLRAE Recommendation 11 - June 1995). The trend is to eliminate the use of derogatory, pejorative and offensive names, such as Gypsies, and to be given proper respect by the use of the self-appelation of Roma, or Rroma.