1 - Origin and History of Roma Population.

1.1 - Where do the Roma people come from?

Once upon a time, far away, a country named India had a very troubled history. Its people, divided into many groups (castes), had to face many hardships. Wars, diseases, the lack of resources, frequent changes in leadership and the internal battles made the people move quite often to find safer areas. Sometimes they even had to leave the Indian territory. These groups included the Roma people or gypsies. They left India more than a thousand years ago.

Then began a long exile that basically never ended. In search of a space that could offer safety and food, a long journey began that is known throughout history as migration. Thus, after leaving India, some historians say the Roma people headed towards Iran (Persia as it was known back then) and Arabia. According to other historians, the Roma headed to the Caucasus and the Byzantine Empire (known as Turkey today) and from there they reached Europe around the year 1250.

Slowly, the Roma spread across the entire continent of Europe. Almost 700 years ago, they were already present in the south of the Balkan Peninsula, in Bulgaria, then in Romania’s and Hungary’s current territories. From there, in the 1400s, they headed to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and even reached England. With the passing of the years, the Roma, on their travels, reached America and also Africa.

1 - Origin and History of Roma Population.

1.2 - How else are the Roma people called?

In the countries they have settled in, the Roma were given many names that were generally linked to how they were seen by the local population. Thus, because the locals initially thought the Roma came from Egypt, when they reached Europe, they were called gypsies. In German they were known as zigeuner, in French tsiganes, in Spanish Gitanos/Cingaros and in English Gypsies.

1 - Origin and History of Roma Population.

1.3 - How were the Roma welcomed and what was their lifestyle?

Generally, the Roma did not live in peace and harmony with the communities in which they stayed temporarily. Their nomadic lifestyle and their values came into conflict with those of the local inhabitants.

When they chose to stay in settlements they came across on their travels, they would mostly do temporary jobs or work in various crafts. In some areas, they were even made into slaves for the rich, like in Moldavia and Walachia  (today’s Romania), being set free a mere 150 years ago.

Most of the time they were driven away from settlements by the locals and they would camp on the outskirts of them, where they would improvise poorly built shelters that lacked many necessary day to day living materials. Because of this, they lead a very hard existence, relying on their traditional crafts (blacksmith, making jewels and household items, raising horses, palm reading) in order to get by.

The Roma kept living like this until today, having to face many other challenges during this time. Thus, they were even exiled from some countries and banned from entering others (like in Portugal, in the beginning).

Closer to the present day, during the Second World War, they suffered a great deal and many Roma were deported or even killed because they were thought to be inferior to other people by the Nazis. During the last 20 years, being able to move freely, the Roma began travelling again and now they can be found in most European countries.

2 - Geographical Distribution of Roma People.

2.1 - Where the Roma currently live and how many they are

As  has been said before, today, the Roma are scattered across Europe and, in smaller groups, in the USA.

In Europe there are thought to be between 8 and 12 million Roma. Most of them live in Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary. Large groups can also be found in Spain, Portugal, Russia, Great Britain, France, Ukraine or Turkey.

In Romania, the Roma represent one of the largest minorities and can generally be found in the south and in Transilvania.

In Bulgaria, they can be found throughout the country.

In Spain, most Roma live in the region of Andalucía and in Portugal the most important group is settled around the capital city of Lisbon.

In Great Britain, they are known as “Romanichals”, „Romanies” or “Gypsies”. Two other categories of nomadic people are the “Irish Travelles” and the “Scottish Travelles”.

2 - Geographical Distribution of Roma People.

2.2 - Roma Groups

Depending on the areas the Roma live in today, they are divided into 5 different groups :

  • Kaldarashi (Balkan area)
  • Gitanos or Cale (The Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and Southern France)
  • Manush or Sinti (Alsace from France)
  • Rominchal or Romanies (Great Britain and North America)
  • Frilides or Yerlii (Turkey and South-Eastern Europe)

According to the dialect they use, the Roma are divided into the following groups :

  • The Balkans, whose language has Turkish influences
  • The Vlachos, who use many Romanian words and rules
  • The Carpathians, which are more commonly found in The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, and who were influenced in their language by the Slavic languages (such as Czech, Polish or Russian)
  • The Northern Roma, whose speech borrowed rules and words from German

3 - Specific social organisation.

The Roma believe that their family and their values are the centre of their lives. Most of the time, with the Roma people, the family consists of more than one generation, many people related to one another. The father is the head of the family, the one that provides food and other things necessary for living; he is the one who makes the most important decisions and the one that protects the other family members. The mother takes care of the house and children. The grandparents and the elders are the most respected members of the family because of their age. Due to the fact that they have a greater life experience, they are thought to be the wisest because they can provide the young people with the best advice.

Many Roma families can be tied together by their common ancestors or leaders. To the Roma, the group they belong to is also important, like Kaldarashi, Lovari, Sinti, who share common history and customs and are tied together also by the language they speak. The leader of the Roma community is called bulibaşa.

The Roma have a strong connection to each other and they consider themselves different from other people that don’t belong to any of their groups, whom they call Gadže.

4 - Customs and traditions.

In their settlements, situated mostly on the outskirts of towns and villages, together with their traditional crafts, the Roma have kept and continued to practice their specific customs, passed on from father to son, known as the Romanipen.

A very important event in Roma families is the birth of a child. On this occasion the man is recognized as the head of the family and he is treated with more respect and is seen as a good householder.

Another important event is the baptism, the moment when the child is given his name. On this occasion all the family members come together. From this moment on, the godparents will support the child throughout his entire life.

A special moment in the Roma life is the wedding. Until not so long ago, it happened at very early ages: the boys would marry at 15-17 and the girls at 14-16. The newlyweds receive gifts and even money so that they can start a new life together.

The Roma communities have different traditions and customs for death and burials. One of the customs when someone in the family dies says that the dead person must take with him to the other side his personal belongings. In the case of the Muslim Roma, it is customary that when someone dies, the family be given a sum of money.

Within the Roma communities, justice is the responsibility of the Kris, a sort of Roma court. Those that belong to it are among the most respected and intelligent men in the Roma community. The Kris can give punishments or fines to those that are proven guilty.

5 - Roma culture and influence on local culture.

5.1 - Common aspects

The Roma culture is diverse but some aspects are common to all Roma:

  • loyalty to the family
  • belief in God (Del) and the Devil (Beng). Most of the Roma are Christians (Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant), while a part of those that live in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania are Muslim.
  • traditions are passed on orally (stories, legends, songs, proverbs, sayings and poems). Many of these have been lost with the passing of time, but those that remain are very beautiful.
  • Gypsy song and music. The Roma are very talented and use many different musical instruments: violin, flute, dulcimer, accordion, guitar, whistle, tambourine, clarinet, etc.
  • medicine made from herbs and remedies only they know about
  • the crafts they practice (trades). The Roma are blacksmiths, copper workers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, wood workers. Others are peddlars, they raise horses or dogs, florists, fiddlers or fortune tellers.

5 - Roma culture and influence on local culture.

5.2 - Personalities

The Roma made themselves known in many fields in the countries they settled in. Among the most famous Roma people are:

  • In Romania : Anton Pann (poet and music composer for the national anthem, fiddler), Zavaidoc (fiddler), Fănică Luca (pan-piper and fiddler), Grigoraş Dinicu (violinist and composer), Ionel Budişteanu (violinist and conductor).
  • In Portugal : the football player Quaresma.
  • In Spain : Juan de Dios Ramirez Heredia (the first Roma congressman), Jose Heredia Maya (Spanish teacher at the Granada University).
  • In Bulgaria : Atanas Dimitrov (philosopher), Ivan Kirilov (writer and judge), Serafim Todorov (boxer), Alexander Chirkov (cardiologist).
  • In Hungary : Janos Balasz (poet), Janos Bihari (violinist).
  • In Germany : Philomena Franz (the first woman to receive the Federal Cross distinction).
  • In England : Ian Hancock (savant, professor).
  • In France : Mateo Maximoff (writer).
  • In Sweden : Katarina Taikon (writer and journalist).

6 - Exercises.

6.1 - Questions

  • 1) From which country were the Roma initially thought to have come?
  • 2) Where do the Roma come from?
  • 3) How else are the Roma called?
  • 4) In what part of Spain do most of the Roma live?
  • 5) What is important to the Roma and considered the centre of their lives?
  • 6) What is the name of the Roma court?
  • 7) What/who is Del?
  • 8) What are the Roma traditions called?
  • 9) Who are the most respected people in a Roma family?
  • 10) What are the Balkan Roma called?

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6 - Exercises.

6.2 - True or False ?

  • 1) The Roma come from Egypt.
  • 2) The Roma were forbidden entrance to some cities.
  • 3) In Spain, most of the Roma live in Madrid.
  • 4) In Romania, the Roma represent one of the biggest minorities.
  • 5) The Kaldarashi live in the Balkan area.
  • 6) In Roma families, the woman is the head of the household.
  • 7) The elders are considered the wisest in the family.
  • 8) The men that make up the Kris are the most respected men from the Roma community.
  • 9) All Roma are Christians.
  • 10) The Roma are only known for their dances.

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6 - Exercises.

6.3 - Choose the correct answer

  • 1) In English, the Roma are named:
    a) Gitanos
    b) Gypsies
    c) Zigneur
  • 2) In Portugal, most Roma live in :
    a) Transilvania
    b) Lisbon
    c) Andalucia
  • 3) The Roma traditions are passed on :
    a) Through books
    b) Through official institutions
    c) From father to son
  • 4) Which are the important events in the life of the Roma   people?
    a) Birth, christening, wedding
    b) Christening, wedding
    c) Wedding, funeral
  • 5) In Romania, Anton Pann was:
    a) A poet and composer
    b) A judge
    c) A congressman
  • 6) The Roma court is called :
    a) Romanipen
    b) Beng
    c) Kris
  • 7) Between the instruments used by the Roma musicians we can find :
    a) The piano
    b) The violin
    c) The bassoon
  • 8) Romanichals is the name of the Roma that live in :
    a) Great Britain
    b) Portugal
    c) Bulgaria
  • 9) The Roma call strangers:
    a) Beng
    b) Sinti
    c) Gadze
  • 10) The Muslim Roma live in :
    a) Finland
    b) Albania
    c) Spain

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6 - Exercises.

6.4 - Match the sentences

Roma people belive in   Traditions
They are good at   Romani
Roma people speak   Del
Roma comunities keep   Bulibașa
The leader of the Roma comunity is called   Music

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