Who are the Roma?

Who are the Roma?


The identity of the Romani people(s) is a complex issue with differences not only ranging from continent to continent and country to country but as magnified and particular as village to village.

Roma living in cities are different than Roma living in rural areas. Some villages have kept to themselves and don’t associate with outsiders while others are more open to strangers and the larger world. As with any people group in every country, there is no one-size-fits-all description.
We have a limited, outsider’s view of Roma history since it was transferred orally for centuries rather than written down. Roma believe in the importance of the family unit. Throughout history,their home has been their family, an idea that has only deepened as they’ve face resentment and hostility from the majority world.
Most scholars agree based on genetics and commonalities between Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali and Romani languages, that Roma migrated from Northern India around 800 to 1000 years ago. In Czechoslovakia, Rom probably appeared around the 14th century though some records place them as early as 1092.
Over time, Hungarian records note a growing migration of Roma through central Europe. At first,  Rom lived and moved through Europe peaceably. Most were free and worked as musicians, metal workers and craftsmen. Many Romani soldiers were an integral part of the military of Hungary and Slovakia, and Rom in Lithuania were seen as useful citizens.
However, with the threat of the Ottoman Empire and disturbances stemming from the Protestant Reformation, attitudes toward the Rom began to worsen. Europeans were mistrustful of Roma, seeing them as dark outsiders and associating them with Turkish spies.
An abusive slave trade developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Roma were treated not much better than cattle.  It became lawful to murder Roma without consequences; even women and children could be killed.
During the reign of Maria Theresa and the Hapsburg dynasty, there were efforts of forced assimilation including kidnapping children from their families and placing them in Christian foster homes. Roma were seen as criminals and unwanted guests.
When the Nazis came to power, discriminatory race laws were viewed as a continuation of policy that had been in place for decades. Romanies being treated as inferior beings was nothing new.
Mass transports of women, men and children were sent to work and concentration camps like Auschwitz and Lety. An order in 1942 sent 22,000 Romanies to the family camp in Auschwitz and 3000 were gassed in one night.
After the Communist takeover, the Roma were seen as a backwards social group and efforts were made to improve their conditions. However, the assimilation was aggressive and did not respect traditional values of family and language. Harsh practices including medical sterilization was used as late as the 1980s to deter population growth. Today, Roma are still seen as outsiders and discrimination and racism persists in Eastern and Western Europe.
Roma have contributed greatly to European society. They have influenced culture through music, theater, dance and craftsmanship. We owe the art of flamenco dancing to a blend of Romani, Arabian, Jewish and Byzantine influences. Romani art strives to beautify the mundane through painting, metalwork and songs.
Musicians were well-respected members of the community,and music has played an important part of Romani culture for centuries. Although there is no unified music culture, four basic regions exist including Spanish, Balkan, Russian and Hungarian Central and Eastern European.
Men were seen in Roma society as the bread winners and protected the prestige of the family when dealing with the outside, majority community. Women were in charge of the demanding requirements of putting food on the table, raising children and upholding the morality of the family inside the community.
Elderly people were treated with respect and revered for their wisdom. The nomadic wagon was the main means of early transport and home life, but families did eventually settle down and live in more permanent dwellings.
Information about Roma history and the search for the original homeland is continuous with new developments being investigated today.
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