The Roma are a distinct ethnic minority whose origins began on the Indian
subcontinent over one thousand years ago. Why the Roma left India is clouded
in uncertainty, yet they entered southeastern Europe in the last quarter
of the 13th Century. Because they arrived in Europe from the East, they
were thought by the first Europeans to be from Turkey, Nubia or Egypt,
or any number of non-European places. They were called, among other things,
Egyptians or ‘Gyptians, which is where the word "Gypsy" comes from.
In some places, this Egyptian identity was taken entirely seriously, and
was no doubt borrowed by the early Roma themselves.
In Europe, Roma were either kept in slavery in the Balkans from the
14th century (officially abolished in 1864), or else moved into the rest
of the European continent, reaching every northern and western country
by about 1500. The fragmentation of the Romani population occurred on a
major scale after their arrival into Europe in the 14th century. Once in
Europe, their particular ability to adjust to outside groups continued,
and in some places, the Romani element was dominant enough to assimilate
outsiders. In other places, the Romani element was too small to maintain
its discrete identity and it was lost, while contributing to the group
into which they were absorbed. The Romani population has grown differently
in different places, to the point that one group may deny the legitimacy
of another group. But all groups maintain to a greater or lesser degree
the barrier between who is Roma and who is not. Thus there are populations
of Romani who have incorporated a substantial foreign genetic element from
outside of India, but who remain in terms of their own self-perception
Roma, and who speak Romanes. In the course of time, as a result of having
interacted with various European populations, and being fragmented into
widely-separated groups, Roma have emerged as a collection of distinct
ethnic groups within the larger whole. There are many groups of Roma, including
(but not limited to) the Kalderash, Machavaya, Lovari, Churari, Romanichal,
Gitanoes, Kalo, Sinti, Rudari, Manush, Boyash, Ungaritza, Luri, Bashaldé,
Romungro, and Xoraxai.
Romani culture is diverse with many traditions and customs, and all
groups around the world have their own individual beliefs and tenets. There
is no universal culture per se, but there are attributes common to all
Roma, including: loyalty to family (extended and clan); 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 groups 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. 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 group that can call themselves the
one, "true" Roma.
Today, the following characteristics apply to the many Roma groups and
communities around the world:
Roma may be nomadic, semi-sedentary, or sedentary;
Roma speak many dialects of Romanes, and some Roma may not speak Romanes
Roma may live in rural or urban areas;
Some Roma groups are predominately illiterate, while other groups stress
at least a minimum of literacy in their host country's language for its
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 (Rrom, Rroma, Rromani), is preferred
in all official communications and legal documents. 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. Gypsies, although offensive to most Roma, is still a proper
name, and as such, must always be capitalized.
The Romani language is of Indo-Aryan origin and has many spoken dialects,
some of which are not mutually intelligible. The root language of Romani
is ancient Punjabi with loan words borrowed from the many countries the
migrations of the Roma have taken them. The spoken Romani language is varied,
but all dialects contain some common words in use by all Roma.
Integration and assimilation into gajikane society have always
threatened the preservation of Romani customs, traditions and language.
The Roma ability to adapt to new environments in order to survive has been
responsible for the loss of many customs forgotten with time. Understanding
these threats can prevent the further loss of a unique and ancient culture.
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 (in Romani meaning the Devouring).
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. Although the Roma originated from India, they have no homeland
they can call their own; therefore they have no government that will speak
for them and protect them.
The wheel-shaped, sixteen-spoked chakra, was adopted at the First
World Romani Congress in London in 1971 as the international Romani symbol.
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" was selected as the Romani anthem; and April
8 was proclaimed International Romani Day. There have been four World Romani
Congresses to date.
Today, Roma are using the Internet to display pride in culture, language
and solidarity with other Roma worldwide. The affordability and immediacy
of the Internet provides a voice for the Roma, a voice that attempts to
educate the public about a misunderstood and much maligned culture.
By Harold Joseph Fontenot, 20 June 1999. Thanks go to Marko Courbet and Ian Hancock for their contributions to this category description.
This category specifically is designated for websites pertaining to the history of the Roma people. I hope to have a large number of links that could help someone for any time period they are researching.
Sites listed here are for news services, newspapers, books, magazines and e-zines, and journals that are sources of information related to the cultural aspect of the ethnicity rather than the geographic area.