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WE ARE: Musicantia(‘Musicians’ in the Romanes language)A Roma Community led group of professional musicians and accredited music teachers in partnership with indigenous Irish and other migrant community development workers. more

Old St.George's School

Hampton Street

Balbriggan,

Co.Dublin

email: info@musicantia.com

Office: 01 8414431

Charity Number: CHY 20970

Monday-Friday:

Saturday- Sunday:

9AM to 5:30PM

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The History and Culture of the Rroma Minority


The international emblem of Rroma minority is the spoked wheel, or chakra, adopted in 1971, at the First World Romani Congress. This is similar to Ashok Chakra, the wheel of India’s flag and represents the movement and creation of the world (as well as the link between Rroma minority and India). At the congress, the green and blue flag with the red, sixteen-spoked ,chakra was reaffirmed as the Romani flag. “Opre Rroma” was adopted as a motto and “Dzelem dzelem” as their anthem. 8th of April became the International Rroma Day. Since then, several world Romani congresses took place, all of them aiming to standardize the Romani language, to obtain compensations for those suffering during the Second World War, to improve the education, to claim the civil rights of Rroma people, to preserve the Romani culture and language and to strengthen the international recognition of Rroma minority as a national minority of Indian origin. Among the international organisations, The International Rroma Union has the status of consultant at the Social and Economic Council of ONU.


The word “rroma” has absolutely nothing to do with “Romanian” or “Romania”, but means “man” in Romani language.  It is recommended to not use the word “gypsy” because it is associated with pejorative and negative expressions.  


First Rroma Migration (from India)


The history of Rroma people is almost impossible to be determined exactly as Rroma people have not written anything until recently. Almost everything we know about the old history of Rroma people is due to linguistics.

Linguistic and cultural evidences prove clearly that Rroma people are of Indian origin, probably from the Northern region Punjab. It is estimated that their emigration from India took place at least 1,000 years ago. Some researchers believe there were several waves of migration from India. Nowadays, there are still nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in India, supporting the theory that Rroma people have been travellers since the beginnings. They left India during an invasion and have been pushed towards Europe by subsequent wars and invasions. Another theory considers Rroma people being a caste of warriors gathered to fight against the Muslim invaders, which emigrated from India afterwards.                                                           At the beginning of the 11th century, India was attacked by Muslim forces, but there were too many invasions in that period to affirm firmly which one caused the migration of Rroma people. Moreover, Persian sources mention the existence of an Indian origin people since the 9th century, which might be the Rroma people.


Romani language has important Persian and Armenian influences, which proves that Rroma people passed through these countries. It seems that from Armenia (probably due to the Turkish invasion), Rroma people split into three groups, moving towards the Northern Black Sea, towards South (by Egypt) and towards the Byzantine Empire in West.

The Rroma people who moved towards the Byzantine Empire are the ones who then spread all over Europe. The abundance of words from the Greek language suggest a relatively long presence of Rroma people in the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, the “gypsy” naming comes from the Greek “atsiganos”, the name of an heretical sect that has no connection with Rroma people, but with which they have been associated due to their foreign appearance. Probably because of the Turkish invasion (again), Rroma people entered the Balkans in the 14th century, and after the Balkans were conquered by the Ottoman forces, some of them came into Western Europe.


Second Migration (in Europe)


In Europe, the Rroma people were held in slavery in Balkans (especially in Moldavia and the Romanian Land) or they continued to travel, spreading all over Europe, from Spain (1425) to Finland (1597). In order to obtain crossing permits through the western countries, some Rroma people claimed to be Christians from Egypt coming in pilgrimage (and later, when they could not get them, they falsified the documents). Because of this and their foreign appearance, they were called  “gypsy” in English and “gitano” in Spanish. Only in the second half of the 18th century, Europeans realised that Romani language is very similar to Hindi, thereby establishing the Indian origin of Rroma people.


Generally, Roma people kept long their nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle in the middle of a sedentary society, which allowed them to preserve their identity as a nation. In Western Europe, much more advanced economically speaking, Roma people did not play a crucial role as craftsmen and generally, their presence has not been appreciated. Although initially welcomed with curiosity and enthusiasm, once the Europeans understood that “the pilgrims from Egypt” had the intention to permanently stay in their countries, they began to take several and various measures against them.

In East, Roma people had an important economic role as craftsmen, which explains the bigger number of Roma people living today in Eastern Europe compared to the Western Europe.

After the abolition of slavery in the Romanian Provinces in 1856, another big migration took place, from Romania towards West. A big number of the Roma people living today in Western Europe and the majority of those from America speak a dialect with Roman influences. After the abolition of the slavery, no measures were taken to support the economic and social rehabilitation of Roma people, so they continued to form a group at the edge of poverty, discriminated and excluded from the society.


The Modern Era


In the interwar period, Rroma people formed a heterogeneous group, speaking different native languages such as Romani, Romanian or Hungarian and being included in different social and economic levels. Generally, as a group, Roma people were rather marginalised or at best tolerated as a minority. Before the Modern Era, the social ascension of some Roma people was usually meaning the lost of their ethnic identity. During this period, Roma intellectuals formed organisations aiming to “emancipate and reawaken the Roma nation” and published newspapers such as “Roma People’s Voice” (1934-1941). These trends did not get the chance to consolidate because of the dictatorship’s installation and the beginning of the war. Inspired by the Nazi policy, Antonescu regime deported over 25.000 Roma people in Transnistria. It is estimated that over half of them died due to the difficult living conditions. Across Europe, the number of victims of Roma origin, in relation to the total population, may be compared with the number of Jewish victims. The communist regime installed after the Second War adopted an assimilation politics and Rroma people lost their status of ethnic minority. Despite the egalitarian communist doctrine, Rroma people continued to be discriminated, receiving houses on the periphery of towns and insignificant jobs.


Present


At present, Romania still faces discrimination and racism at all levels of society. The average income of a Roma person is far below that of the general society and the life expectancy is over 10 years lower. However, Roma community takes important steps towards becoming an ethnic minority in the modern sense, as members of the society and not only as a tolerated group. But integration entails the danger of assimilation, which means the loss of their ethnic and cultural identity. As several organizations representing Roma people are aware of this aspect, the programs which promote the Romania language and culture are the same important as those which aim to improve the social and economic conditions.


Unfortunately, the history of Roma people is little known in Romania. The schoolbooks do not even mention the Roma people or their history. Through knowing the history of Roma people, we get to understand more of the issues that this community needs to face at present.