..."Call Us Roma, Not Gypsies"

The Romanies...this tribe of nomads began it's wandering more than a millennium ago. Misunderstood by society because of their diverse and exotic traditions, they kept unto themselves, and this banding together strengthened the hatred and controversy surrounding them.

Known as skillful story tellers, the Romany are also adept practictioners of palmistry, crystallomancy, and divination including Tarot Card reading (which they claim to have introduced in Europe in 1427). In the Victorian era they began traveling in ornate horse-drawn wagons, or caravans, known as "vardos".

The Roma, Romany, or Gypsies, still remain one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world, despite officially sanctioned renaissances of Gypsy culture like that endorsed by the Soviet government in the '20s. They have been the victims of both enslavement, for four hundred years in Wallachia and Moldavia (now part of contemporary Romania), and genocide. Following the Gypsy holocaust inflicted by the Nazis, some Eastern Bloc countries attempted to assimilate Roma by improving standards of housing and education, especially once the harsh antiethnic policies promoted by Stalinism had abated. Progress was made during the '60s, but the emergence of rabid nationalism following the collapse of the communist regimes between 1989 and 1991 has left Europe's growing Gypsy populations vulnerable to the threat of what is sometimes euphemistically described as "ethnic cleansing."

A nomadic lifestyle, distrust for outsiders, and the trade of fortune-telling all contributed to early dislike for Gypsies; however, a preference for fair skin seems to have sprouted in Westerners a long time back, as Kenrick & Puxon explains, "The conviction that blackness denotes inferiority and evil was already well-rooted in the western mind. The nearly black skins of many Gypsies marked them out to be victims of this prejudice." This prejudice continued on into the relatively recent times in the early 20th century: "They [Gypsies] were seen as asocial, a source of crime, culturally inferior, a foreign body within the nation. During the 1920s the police established special offices to keep the gypsies under constant surveillance." Speculation might conclude that an already present repulsion toward the Gypsy foreigners in Europe subdued any protest from those who witnessed the abuse of the Gypsies by the Third Reich of Nazi Germany.

Hitler's intention to bring to a halt the spreading of Gypsy blood reinvented itself in the mass sterilization of both men and women in the Gypsy concentration camps. Gypsy survivor Eichwald Rose has retold his story for the world to hear: "I had to sign a paper signifying that I submitted voluntarily to sterilization. If I had not done this they would have sent me back to a concentration camp." The sterilization of Gypsies was not merely painful and indecent: it also left the most enduring mark on the entire race, as thousands of survivors were left unable to have children, thereby left to die the cruelest death of all. Statistics regarding how many Gypsies were killed exactly during the awful years of WWII vary greatly from a quarter of a million to one million. Regardless, the number of deaths was large enough to tear apart the Gypsy society and leave them scattered, broken, and utterly powerless. Unable to wield enough strength to speak for themselves, the obliteration of the Gypsy race seemed to fade away into forgotten history, and only the victims themselves knew how many pieces were left to pick up.

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.

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) cultures 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.

Romany Rights

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