Roma People from Europe

Lilyana Kovacheva
(Bulgaria)
<lkovatcheva@mon.bg>

  Who are Roma?

Roma are the nomadic people who began migrating into Europe from India between 5th and 14th century. Roma or Gypsies can be found all over the world today and in 21st century they still live in much the san way as they did  hundreds of years ago,when they first made their appearance in Europe. The survival of  nomadic  Gypsies in urbanized, industrialized societies is a strange phenomenon. Most of them are illiterate, unadapted to the modern world. They move through the world keeping a vigorous sense called Gaje, meaning "foreigners".

Gypsies were mentioned in the European archives as early as 1322 in Greta, 1346 in Corfi and 1370 in the Peloponnesus. Their appearance is recorded in 1407 in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1416 in Kronstadt (now Brasov) in Transylvania, in 1417 Moldovia and Hungary, in 1422in Bologna, in 1427 in Paris, and 1447 in Barcelona.

According to Angus Frazier's The Gypsies, they spoke a branch of Hindi. Near the end of the nine century B.C.  and Indian King Shandul, sent 10,000 Dom to Persia (now Iran) as minstrel musicians. According to Jean Paul Clebert their remarkable story is  recorded in the Persian national epic, Shah Namah (Book of Kings) by poet Firdausi.. In the poem Bahram Gur, the Persian monarch, has declared that everyone in his kingdom should work only half a day and spend the other half listening to music, eating and drinking. He seeks flute players and other Indian to ease the hurdensome existence and tedium of work and requests the Indian King to send 10,000 musicians, which the Indian King did.

When the Persian monarch received his itinerant musicians (male and female), he attempted to turn them into farmers. He gave them wheat and cattle and necessary land to provide for their own sustenance while amusing his people. However, when the musicians failed to cultivate land for growing wheat or bread and consumed the stock instead, the King ordered them to pack their possessions on their asses and support themselves by traveling the countryside.

During this migratory period the Gypsies often claimed to be Christian pilgrims from "Little Egypt" cleverly evaluating the credulity of Europeans in that period., their chieftains rode on horseback and owned hunting dogs, which at that time in Europe were the exclusive privileged of the nobility. The various Gypsy-bands displayed conceivably fraudulent "letters of protection" from the Roman Catholic Pope and from Sigismund, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The names by which the Gypsies are called in various languages indicate the confusion that existed, and persists, about their origin. The English name Gypsy, the Spanish Gitano, the Greek Guphto, and the Albanian Evgit reflect a belief in their Egyptian descent. In French, besides Gitan, they are often called Bohemien, for it was popularly believed that they came from Bohemia. In the south of France they are referred  to  as Sarazin. They are Tattare in Scandinavia. Heidence or “Pagans” in Netherlands. In German Zigeuner, Tsygan in Russian, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia.

According to Marlens Sway’s Familiar Strangers, the name Gypsies is used to refer to them, ‘Rom’ originates from the Sanskrit (Indian) word Dom. Literally translated Dom means “a man of low caste who gains his livelihood by singing and dancing.”

Linguistic evidence indicates that after a hundred years or so of entertaining Persions in the tenth century the Dom began to roam far a field. They separated into two major  groups and lived as nomads. The first group wandered into Syria, Palestine and Egypt, eventually spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The second group traveled northward from Persia into Armenia, where they stayed for a long time, after passing through Byzantine Greece, the Northerners reached Eastern Europe. They traveled across Europe, often moving because of harsh treatment.

During the fifteenth century, nomadic descendants of the Dom spread throughout and beyond Europe. The migration widely dispersed the small groups, which lost contact with one another. According to Matt Salo the second wave of migrations went westward and northward from there. Crossing many political borders, Eastern European Gypsies began migrating to  Mexico, Central and South America, and to a lesser extent, countries in the Caribbean basin. Many of these gypsies or their descendants arrived in the United States via this Latin American route.

For long period Roma/Gypsies were the subject of persecutions. According to contemporary scholars, the “letters of protection” the Gypsies carried with them when they first appeared in the West caused them to be well received in most communities and generously assisted as pilgrims. However, their real or alleged riotous behavior, their begging, pilfering and practice of magic and fortune-telling led to their ostracism, followed by their expulsion from many kingdoms. Eventually, feeling against Gypsies brought on cruel persecution. In Germany, they were outlawed. In 1725, Frederic Williams-I of Prussia condemned all Gypsies over 18 years of age to be hanged without distinction of sex. The same year, by decree of Charles-VI of the holy Roman Empire, all Gypsies men were to be put to death, The women were to have the right ear severed in Bohemia, in Silesia and Moravia.

In Spain, repression against the Jews and Gypsies were began in 1492 under Ferdinand and Isabelle and continued to the reigns of Charles-I and Philip-II. In France the first known repressive measure date back to the reign of Frances-I. In 1561 the Parliament of Orleans decided to exterminate the Gypsies “by steel and fire”. Under Louis-XIII and Lous-XIV the persecutions continued from Venice, Milan and Parma. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) excluded them from access to the priesthood. In England the Tudor monarchs Henry-VIII and Queen Elizabeth-I were ruthless in pressing them. Attempts were made for forcible assimilation of the Gypsies in Hungary and Bohemia under Maria Teresa in 1761, under Josef-II of Austria and in Spain under Charles-III

In the 20th century of the Nazis Germany persecuted Gypsies as relentlessly as the Jews. They exterminated over half a million Gypsies as a national policy. In consequence, many Gypsies show how unsuccessful these attempts at repression, assimilation, or genocide proved to be.

The mystery of the Gypsies’ origins was partly dispelled as early as 1780 by two German philologists, Heinrich Moritz Grellman and Jacob Carl Chistoph Rudiger, who speculated in the linguistic relationship between the Gypsy dialect and Sanskrit. This relationship was later confirmed by the British linguist Jacob Bryant, by the German philologist August Friedrich Pott, and by the Greek scholar Alexandros Georgios Paspati, who was probably the only one of these writers to have firsthand acquaintance with the Gypsies.

These erudite speculations were further developed by the Austrian philologist Franz von Miklosic, who believed he had traced the Gypsies’ origin to the plains of the Hindu Kush, in northern India. In 1915, the British scholars Alfred C. Woolner postulated what he felt were important links with central India. Ralph L. Turner, the noted Sanskrit scholar and head of the School of oriental Studies of London University, who wrote The Position of romani in Indo-Aryan (1927), proposed the possibility of double parenthood. He suggested the likelihood that Gypsies had made a prolonged stay in plateaus of Afghanistan prior to the Islamic and Iranian invasions of the region.

For the time being all this remains speculations. There is a lack of adequate records, concerning the Gypsy history, tradition, culture, language and social organization. Further studies are needed to get a clearer picture.

The Roma are unique among nomadic groups. Often they are descendents of the original settlers, pushed back by later invaders. In the popular mind the Gypsies are easily confused with various other wandering groups such as Yenish of Germany, the Tinkers of Ireland, the Kramers of the Netherlands and Belgium, the Voyageurs of France, circus performers, seasonal workers etc. In many cases these people may speak what seems like an alien tongue, but in fact it is usually a specialized slang, called by such a name as Rotwelsh, Bargonssh or Argot.

The true Gypsy is a member of a distinct group, basically sharing a common language and particular ways of behavior and dress, and generally recognizable by physical characteristics. The Gypsies are a hardly and healthy people. Their skin is dark, They expressive dark eyes, exceptionally strong teeth and blue-black hair. The women wear long and braided hair. Their voices are often loud.

Gypsy women wear long, full skirts of bright-colour. Men and women love to wear abundant jewelery, preferably gold coins. There is a basic distinction between sedentary Gypsies and the purely nomadic ones.

In England, France, Germany, Poland and in parts of Hungary, the nomadic Gypsies until recently lived in what had been accepted in the world as their traditional caravans or covered wagons pulled by horses. They called wagons vurdon, which is an Armenian loadword. In other parts of the world, in Turkey and Afghanistan for example they live in tents. When they move they use four-wheeled carts pulled by bullocks. In Greece and Spain they often use donkey for transportation.

The food they cook is highly spiced. The system of rituals is very close to some Indian groups, but there is also a lot of changes.

Nobody knows exactly how many Gypsies are there today. It differs accordingly to different authors. However, there are approximately 20 millions of them in Europe.

As mentioned in Jean-Pierre Liegeois's book "Roma, Tsiganes, Voyageurs" - "The good and the bad, the truth and the fable in the saved pieces of Roma history were written by the others."

For centuries it was hard to describe the Roma history. The reason is not only the lack of state, territory and script. Another reason exists, which some researchers still do not understand. This is the Roma way of living, Roma culture, specification and historical events accompanying Roma people's life. The studies of such cultures and phenomena as Roma way of living became possible only in 19th and 20th century - when a quick development of the ethnography, folklore study and anthropology occurred. That is the reason for emotional rather than scientific appraisal for the Roma people occurring in the documents prior to 19th century.

Only at the end of 18th century the linguistics found that Romani language originates from Northwest India and has some Sanskrit roots. The migrations took place between 5th and 14th century on several stages. The different routes were traced using lexical and grammatical analysis of Roma dialects from different countries.

However serious scientific researches on Roma people exist. These books light the Roma history, which was very hard. Roma people are chased, humiliated and annihilated, even nowadays they are most underprivileged section of the society in every state. Such serious researches about Roma are : Jean-Pierry Liegeois's book "Roma, Tsiganes, Voyageurs:, "The Hetlerism and the Tsiganes" - Donald Kenrich, "The Time of the Gypsies: - Michael Stewart, "A History of the Gypsies" - David M. Crowe, "The Gypsies" - David M. Crowe, "A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia" and others. We could not miss to mention Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov' book - "The Roma/Gypsies in Bulgaria", which is translated into English. This book earned roma community's positive appraisal not only in Bulgaria but also in other European countries.

In many European countries exist and continue to be issued bibliographies with valuable literature about Roma. Also on Internet could be found a large informational space about Roma from the five continents.

It is another issue if all these researches are valuable. We should keep in mind that during the last ten years many international institutions, organizations and foundations financed various researches about Roma community and because of that many of the authors have unprofessional and not-ethic approach to the problematic. They just have the idea of finacial benefits, they do not know the subject of their researches, and they only rely on cursory contacts with some Roma community representatives. Frequently they are misled by the people who give them information. Unfortunately there are only few authors of Roma origin. There are not many books written in Romani language and the reasons for that situation are well-known.

It is true that the international institutions, organizations and foundations give large amount of funds for Roma people in Europe, but so called "Roma problem" solving is hard. The reason is that only cosmetic efforts are made for solving the problem. Frequently projects are launched just because there is some money for particular programme but the main thing is to look for community initiatives consistent with community's needs. The result is that non-Roma do not trust Rome people. The mistrust is obvious both in governmental and non-governmental sector.

The words lose their power and can not pass on the anziety and the pain. Roma people are brought into the barren promises' maelstrom again; they are pushed out of th political life's periphery.

I can say this to non-Roma who think and say that Roma people are in this situation because of doing nothing for themselves. I am addressing them now -  No! You are wrong sirs! Roma have intellectual potential, ambition, maturity, responsibility and everything needed to take their fate in their own hands. You are required to trust them - an attitude you have never had towards them. The nowadays Roma position is based on your "perpetual care" and your brother's hugs, which strangled them. Give them piece of air, let them show you their deeply human peacful life philophy - how to live in a day, to live in states without boundries, without wars and bloodshed. You also nneed a change though you try to change the Roma for centuries. Try to understand them. This is a wonderful thought, and I want to finish with it:
Roma do not ask for mercy, they insist on equality with the other citizens.

 
     
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