Society

The Romani People - Cultures of the World

The nomadic Romani have maintained their cultural identity despite centuries of persecution, assimilation pressures, and even attempted genocide.

5. Description

According to geneticists, the Romani people, also known as the Romany, the Roma, and the Roms, came from a single group of people who left northwestern India around 1,500 years ago. They reached the Balkans about 900 years ago and spread throughout Europe, and since the 19th Century have migrated into the Americas in numbers making them a notable minority group in some countries there. Their largest concentrations are to be seen in Europe, particularly Central and Eastern Europe. The Romani language is an Indo-Aryan Language, and is spoken by more than 2 million Roma in Europe and the Americas. Many Roma are native speakers of their country of residence, or of ‘Para Romani,’ a mixture of Roma and the indigenous language of their geographic homeland. They are also at time referred to as "gypsies" or "gipsies" in English, with other languages using similar words (such as "tzigane" in French and "czigány" in Hungarian), however these terms have increasingly been recognized as pejorative slurs, due to their association with the long-standing history of discrimination against Roma people across their diaspora.

4. Architecture

The Romani language has various distinct dialects reflecting the fact that the Roma are far from being a homogeneous group. Statistics on exactly where the Roma live in each country, whether predominantly in towns or rural areas, are very inexact. This problem has historically been compounded by the Romani tradition of nomadism, which is still present in some Roma subcultures. That being said, not all Roma are peripatetic and large numbers are settled. The caravans of wagons in which they traveled were often notable for their uses of bright reds, greens, and other brilliant colors. Those who have settled down, however, often live in homes similar to those of the dominant culture wherever they live.

3. Cuisine

Traditionally, like other nomadic groups dependent on livestock, meat has been a major dietary staple of the Roma, being most commonly paired with potatoes as a staple starch. As nomads, many also foraged, obtaining mushrooms, nuts, berries, and greens from the wild as they traveled to provide supplementary sustenance as well. Snail soup has also long been a popular, and unique, Romani dish. Today, many modern Roma say they eat what everyone else eats around them, such as Romanian Roma eating Romanian fare, Turkish Roma eating traditional Turkish foods, and so on.

2. Cultural Significance

The Roma people have so far made their greatest cultural impact in the world of music, as they have long been associated with minstrelsy and festive dancing. The great distances and countries they have traversed over the centuries have resulted in a variety of influences on their music, beginning with their Indian roots. From there, they have embraced elements of Greek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Slavic, German, Jewish, Romanian, French, and Latin musical forms alike. There is still a strong and vibrant tradition of Romani music in Slavic countries, particularly in Hungary, Romania, and the countries formed from Yugoslavia, especially in and around the Balkans. The quintessential Spanish flamenco dance owes a great debt to the Romani people of Andalusia, who were said to have invented it. Many Romani have been accomplished instrumentalists, especially on guitar, violin, and brass, though they are known for creating incredible beats and rhythms with their hands, feet, other body parts, and improvised objects such as spoons.

1. Threats

The Roma have endured a long history of discrimination, often even violent persecution, leading up to and including the present day. Persecution reached its peak at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, with the Roma people being subjected to violence, imprisonment, and even genocide in Nazi concentration camps. This Holocaust has come to be known as Porajmos in the Roma tongue. In Communist Czechoslovakia, Romani women underwent sterilization without their knowledge, a practice still allegedly continued into the new millennium in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Recent years have seen a renewal of oppressive measures against the Roma in some European countries, adding to the longstanding problem caused by outside pressures on them to assimilate.

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