Romani people

Not to be confused with Romanians, an unrelated ethnic group and nation, nor with modern or ancient Romans, also unrelated.
For other uses, see Romani (disambiguation).
"Gypsy" and "Gypsies" redirect here. For other uses, see Gypsy (disambiguation).

Romani people

Romani flag created in 1933 and accepted by the 1971 World Romani Congress
Total population
2–20 million[1][2][3][4]
Regions with significant populations
 United States 1,000,000 estimated with Romani heritage
(5,400 per 2000 census[5])[6]
 Brazil 800,000[7]
 Turkey 700,000–5,000,000[8]
 Spain 650,000–1,500,000[8][11][12][13]
 Romania 621,573–2,500,000[8][14][15]
 France 350,000–500,000[16][17]
 Bulgaria 325,343–800,000[18][19]
 Hungary 315,583–990,000[20][21]
 Greece 300,000–350,000[22]
 United Kingdom 90,000–300,000
 Russia 182,766–1,200,000[8][24]
 Serbia 147,604–500,000
 Italy 120,000–180,000[27]
 Germany 120,000–140,000[8][28]
 Slovakia 105,738–600,000[8][29][30]
 Macedonia 53,879[8][31]
 Sweden 50,000–100,000[32]
 Ukraine 47,587–400,000[8][33]
 Czech Republic 40,370 (Romani speakers)[34]–300,000[35]
 Argentina ~300, 000[36]
 Portugal 40,000–70,000[8][37]
 Kosovo 40,000[38]
 Netherlands 32,000–48,000[8]
 Poland 15,000–60,000[8][39]
 Moldova 12,778–200,000[8][40]
 Croatia 16,975–40,000[8][41]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 8,864–60,000[8][42]
 Albania 8,301–150,000[8][37][43]
 Canada 5,255–80,000[44][45]
 Finland 11,000–50,000
 Australia 5,000–25,000[46]
 Mexico 15,850[47]
 Colombia ~8,000[48]
 Slovenia 2,300[49]
 Lithuania <3,000[50]
Romani language, languages of native regions
Of the religious predominantly Christianity[51]
Related ethnic groups
Dom, Lom, Domba; other Indo-Aryans
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The Romani (also spelled Romany; /ˈrməni/, /ˈrɒ-/), or Roma, are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent,[52][53][54] presumably from where the states Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab exist today.[53][54] The Romani are widely known among English-speaking people by the exonym "Gypsies" (or "Gipsies"), which some people consider pejorative due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity.[55]

Romani are dispersed, with their concentrated populations in Europe  especially Central, Eastern and Southern Europe including Turkey, Spain and Southern France. They originated in Northern India and arrived in Mid-West Asia, then Europe, around 1,000 years ago,[56] either separating from the Dom people or, at least, having a similar history;[57] the ancestors of both the Romani and the Dom left North India sometime between the sixth and eleventh century.[56]

Since the 19th century, some Romani have also migrated to the Americas. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States;[6] and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the nineteenth century from eastern Europe. Brazil also includes some Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era.[58] In migrations since the late nineteenth century, Romani have also moved to other countries in South America and to Canada.[59]

In February 2016, during the International Roma Conference, the Indian Minister of External Affairs stated that the people of the Roma community were children of India. The conference ended with a recommendation to the Government of India to recognize the Roma community spread across 30 countries as a part of the Indian diaspora.[60]

The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which add up to an estimated number of speakers larger than two million.[61] The total number of Romani people is at least twice as large (several times as large according to high estimates). Many Romani are native speakers of the language current in their country of residence, or of mixed languages combining the two; those varieties are sometimes called Para-Romani.[62]




Romani usage

In the Romani language, Rom is a masculine noun, meaning 'man of the Roma ethnic group' or 'man, husband', with the plural Roma. The feminine of Rom in the Romani language is Romni. However, in most cases, in other languages Rom is now used for people of all genders.[66]

Romani is the feminine adjective, while Romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.[67]

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani. In this case rr is used to represent the phoneme /ʀ/ (also written as ř and rh), which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r. The rr spelling is common in certain institutions (such as the INALCO Institute in Paris), or used in certain countries, e.g., Romania, to distinguish from the endonym/homonym for Romanians (sg. român, pl. români).[68]

English usage

A Romani wagon pictured in 2009 in Grandborough (Grandborough Fields Road is a popular spot for travelling people)

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), Rom is a noun (with the plural Roma or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romani, the Romani, Romanies or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romani was initially spelled Rommany, then Romany, while today the Romani spelling is the most popular spelling. Occasionally, the double r spelling (e.g., Rroma, Rromani) mentioned above is also encountered in English texts.

The term Roma is increasingly encountered during recent decades,[69][70] as a generic term for the Romani people.[71][72][73]

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term became a noun for the entire ethnic group.[74] Today, the term Romani is used by some organizations  including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress.[68] However, the Council of Europe and other organizations consider that Roma is the correct term referring to all related groups, regardless of their country of origin, and recommend that Romani be restricted to the language and culture: Romani language, Romani culture.[66]

The standard assumption is that the demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same origin.[75][76]

Other designations

See also: Gypsy (term)
A Romani wagon in Germany in 1935

The English term Gypsy (or Gipsy) originates from the Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien. The Spanish term Gitano and French Gitan have similar etymologies. They are ultimately derived from the Greek Αἰγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi), meaning Egyptian, via Latin. This designation owes its existence to the belief, common in the Middle Ages, that the Romani, or some related group (such as the middle eastern Dom people), were itinerant Egyptians.[77][78] According to one narrative they were exiled from Egypt as punishment for allegedly harbouring the infant Jesus.[79] As described in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the medieval French referred to the Romanies as Egyptiens. The word Gypsy in English has become so pervasive that many Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names.

This exonym is sometimes written with capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[80] However, the word is sometimes considered derogatory because of its negative and stereotypical associations.[72][81][82][83] The Council of Europe consider that 'Gypsy' or equivalent terms, as well as administrative terms such as 'Gens du Voyage' (referring in fact to an ethnic group but not acknowledging ethnic identification) are not in line with European recommendations.[66] In North America, the word Gypsy is most commonly used as a reference to Romani ethnicity, though lifestyle and fashion are at times also referenced by using this word.[84]

Another common designation of the Romani people is Cingane (alt. Tsinganoi, Zigar, Zigeuner), which probably derives from Athinganoi, the name of a Christian sect with whom the Romani (or some related group) became associated in the Middle Ages.[78][85][86][87]

Population and subgroups

Romani population

Main article: Romani populations

For a variety of reasons, many Romanies choose not to register their ethnic identity in official censuses. There are an estimated four million Romani people in Europe (as of 2002),[88] although some high estimates by Romani organizations give numbers as high as 14 million.[89] Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkans, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. Several million more Romanies may live out of Europe, in particular in the Middle East and in the Americas.[90]

Romani subgroups

Like the Roma in general, many different ethnonyms are given to subgroups of Roma. Sometimes a subgroup uses more than one endonym, is commonly known by an exonym and/or erroneously by the endonym of another subgroup. The only name approaching an all-encompassing self-description is Rom.[91] Even when subgroups don't use the name, they all acknowledge a common origin and a dichotomy between themselves and Gadjo (non-Roma).[91] For instance, while the main group of Roma in German-speaking countries refer to themselves as Sinti, their name for their original language is Romanes.

Subgroups have been described as, in part, a result of the Hindu caste system, which the founding population of Rom almost certainly experienced in their South Asian urheimat.[91][92]

Debret, Jean-Baptiste (c. 1820), Interior of a gipsy's house in Brazil .
Volkers, Emil (c. 1905), Camping gypsies near Düsseldorf, Germany .
Gypsies camping. Welsh Romanies near Swansea, 1953

Many groups use names apparently derived from the Romani word kalo or calo, meaning "black or "absorbing all light".[93] This closely resembles words for "black" and/or "dark" in Indo-Aryan languages (e.g. Sanskrit काल kāla: "black", "of a dark colour").[91] Likewise the name of the Dom or Domba people of North India – to whom the Roma have genetic,[94] cultural and linguistic links – has come to imply "dark-skinned", in some Indian languages.[95] Hence names such as kale and calé may have originated as an exonym and/or euphemism for Roma.

Other endonyms for Romani include, for example:


Main article: Romani diaspora

The Roma people have a number of distinct populations, the largest being the Roma and the Iberian Calé or Caló, who reached Anatolia and the Balkans about the early 12th century, from a migration out of northwestern India beginning about 600 years earlier.[108][109] They settled in present-day Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary and Slovakia, by order of volume, and Spain. From the Balkans, they migrated throughout Europe and, in the nineteenth and later centuries, to the Americas. The Romani population in the United States is estimated at more than one million.[110]

There is no official or reliable count of the Romani populations worldwide.[111] Many Romani refuse to register their ethnic identity in official censuses for fear of discrimination.[112] Others are descendants of intermarriage with local populations and no longer identify only as Romani, or not at all.

As of the early 2000s, an estimated 3.8[113] to 9 million Romani people lived in Europe and Asia Minor.[114] although some Romani organizations estimate numbers as high as 14 million.[115] Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkan peninsula, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia, and Ukraine. The total number of Romani living outside Europe are primarily in the Middle East and North Africa and in the Americas, and are estimated in total at more than two million. Some countries do not collect data by ethnicity.

The Romani people identify as distinct ethnicities based in part on territorial, cultural and dialectal differences, and self-designation.[116][117][118][119]


Findings suggest an Indian origin for Roma.[108][109][120] Because Romani groups did not keep chronicles of their history or have oral accounts of it, most hypotheses about the Romani's migration early history are based on linguistic theory.[121] There is also no known record of a migration from India to Europe from medieval times that can be connected indisputably to Roma.[122]

Shahnameh legend

According to a legend reported in Shahnameh of Iran and repeated by several modern authors, the Sasanian king Bahrām V Gōr learned towards the end of his reign (421–39) that the poor could not afford to enjoy music, and he asked the king of India to send him ten thousand luris, men and women, lute playing experts. When the luris arrived, Bahrām gave each one an ox and a donkey and a donkey-load of wheat so that they could live on agriculture and play music for free for the poor. But the luris ate the oxen and the wheat and came back a year later with their cheeks hollowed with hunger. The king, angered with their having wasted what he had given them, ordered them to pack up their bags and go wandering around the world.[123]

Linguistic evidence

The linguistic evidence has indisputably shown that roots of Romani language lie in India: the language has grammatical characteristics of Indian languages and shares with them a large part of the basic lexicon, for example, regarding body parts or daily routines.[124]

More exactly, Romani shares the basic lexicon with Hindi and Punjabi. It shares many phonetic features with Marwari, while its grammar is closest to Bengali.[125]

Romani and Domari share some similarities: agglutination of postpositions of the second Layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, concord markers for the past tense, the neutralisation of gender marking in the plural, and the use of the oblique case as an accusative.[126] This has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages. Domari was once thought a "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the Indian subcontinent  but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (Hindustani) group of languages. The Dom and the Rom therefore likely descend from two different migration waves out of India, separated by several centuries.[57][127] Numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison.[128] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.

Hindi Romani Domari Lomavren Persian
1 ek ekh, jekh yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj lui du, do
3 tīn trin tærən tərin se
4 cār štar štar išdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž pandž pendž pandž
6 che šov šaš šeš šaš, šeš
7 sāt ifta xaut haft haft
8 āţh oxto xaišt hašt hašt
9 nau inja na nu nuh, noh
10 das deš des las dah
20 bīs biš wīs vist bist
100 sau šel saj saj sad

Genetic evidence

Two Gypsies in Spain, by Francisco Iturrino

Genetic findings in 2012 suggest the Romani originated in northwestern India and migrated as a group.[108][109][129] According to the study, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.[130] In December 2012, additional findings appeared to confirm the "Roma came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago."[109] They reached the Balkans about 900 years ago[108] and then spread throughout Europe. The team found that, despite some isolation, the Roma were "genetically similar to other Europeans."[108][109]

Genetic research published in European Journal of Human Genetics "has revealed that over 70% of males belong to a single lineage that appears unique to the Roma."[131]

Genetic evidence supports the mediaeval migration from India. The Romani have been described as "a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations,"[132] while a number of common Mendelian disorders among Romanies from all over Europe indicates "a common origin and founder effect."[132][133]

A study from 2001 by Gresham et al. suggests "a limited number of related founders, compatible with a small group of migrants splitting from a distinct caste or tribal group."[134] The same study found that "a single lineage… found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males."[134] A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romani population "was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago."[135]

Haplogroup H-M82 is a major lineage cluster in the Balkan Romani group, accounting for approximately 60% of the total.[136] Haplogroup H is uncommon in Europe but present in the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka.

A study of 444 people representing three different ethnic groups in the Republic of Macedonia found mtDNA haplogroups M5a1 and H7a1a were dominant in Romanies (13.7% and 10.3%, respectively).[137]

Y-DNA composition of Romani in the Republic of Macedonia, based on 57 samples:[138]

Y-DNA Haplogroup H1a occurs in Romani at frequencies 7–70%. Unlike ethnic Hungarians, among Hungarian and Slovakian Romani subpopulations, Haplogroup E-M78 and I1 usually occur above 10% and sometimes over 20%. While among Slovakian and Tiszavasvari Romani the dominant haplogroup is H1a, among Tokaj Romani is Haplogroup J2a (23%), while among Taktaharkány Romani is Haplogroup I2a (21%).[139] Five, rather consistent founder lineages throughout the subpopulations, were found among Romani – J-M67 and J-M92 (J2), H-M52 (H1a1), and I-P259 (I1?). Haplogroup I-P259 as H is not found at frequencies of over 3 percent among host populations, while haplogroups E and I are absent in South Asia. The lineages E-V13, I-P37 (I2a) and R-M17 (R1a) may represent gene flow from the host populations, excluding the Z93 branch of R1a, which is most frequent among Romani. Bulgarian, Romanian and Greek Romani are dominated by Haplogroup H-M82 (H1a1), while among Spanish Romani J2 is prevalent.[140] Among Kosovo and Belgrade Romani Haplogroup H prevails, while among Vojvodina Romani, H drops to 7% and E-V13 rises to a prevailing level.[141]

Among non-Roma Europeans Haplogroup H is extremely rare, peaking at 5% among Hungarians,[139] although the carriers might be of Romani origin.[140] H is found at 2% among Slovaks,[142] 2% among Croats,[143] 2% among Macedonians,[144] 1% among Serbs,[145] 1% among Bulgarians,[146] 1% among Austrians and Swiss,[147] 1% among Turks.[142] According to autosomal analyses, between 2%[148] and 4% of ethnic Romanians belong to South Asian genetics, which is apart from Middle Eastern and East Asian,[149] while Hungarians stood under 1%.

Possible migration route

They may have emerged from the modern Indian state of Rajasthan,[150] migrating to the northwest (the Punjab region, Sindh and Baluchistan of the Indian subcontinent) around 250 BC. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is now believed to have occurred beginning in about AD 500.[109] It has also been suggested that emigration from India may have taken place in the context of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazni.[151] As these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire. The 11th century terminus post quem is due to the Romani language showing unambiguous features of the Modern Indo-Aryan languages,[152] precluding an emigration during the Middle Indic period.

The migration of the Romanies through the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe


Arrival in Europe

Though according to a 2012 genomic study, the Romani reached the Balkans as early as the 12th century,[153] the first historical records of the Romani reaching south-eastern Europe are from the 14th century: in 1322, an Irish Franciscan monk, Symon Semeonis encountered a migrant group, "the descendants of Cain", outside the town of Heraklion (Candia), in Crete. Symon's account is probably the earliest surviving description by a Western chronicler of the Romani people in Europe. In 1350, Ludolphus of Sudheim mentioned a similar people with a unique language whom he called Mandapolos, a word some think derives from the Greek word mantes (meaning prophet or fortune teller).[154] Around 1360, a fiefdom, called the Feudum Acinganorum was established in Corfu, which mainly used Romani serfs and to which the Romani on the island were subservient.[155] By the 1440s, they were recorded in Germany;[156] and by the 16th century, Scotland and Sweden.[157] Some Romani migrated from Persia through North Africa, reaching the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. The two currents met in France.[158]

First arrival of the Romanies outside Bern in the 15th century, described by the chronicler as getoufte heiden ("baptized heathens") and drawn with dark skin and wearing Saracen-style clothing and weapons (Spiezer Schilling, p. 749)

Early Modern history

An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Romani slaves in Bucharest.

Their early history shows a mixed reception. Although 1385 marks the first recorded transaction for a Romani slave in Wallachia, they were issued safe conduct by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1417.[159] Romanies were ordered expelled from the Meissen region of Germany in 1416, Lucerne in 1471, Milan in 1493, France in 1504, Catalonia in 1512, Sweden in 1525, England in 1530 (see Egyptians Act 1530), and Denmark in 1536.[159] In 1510, any Romani found in Switzerland were ordered put to death, with similar rules established in England in 1554, and Denmark in 1589, whereas Portugal began deportations of Romanies to its colonies in 1538.[159]

A 1596 English statute, however, gave Romanies special privileges that other wanderers lacked; France passed a similar law in 1683. Catherine the Great of Russia declared the Romanies "crown slaves" (a status superior to serfs), but also kept them out of certain parts of the capital.[160] In 1595, Ştefan Răzvan overcame his birth into slavery, and became the Voivode (Prince) of Moldavia.[159]

Since a royal edict by Charles II in 1695, Spanish gypsies had been restricted to certain towns.[161] An official edict in 1717 restricted them to only 75 towns and districts, so that they would not be concentrated in any one region. In the Great Gypsy Round-up, Romani were arrested and imprisoned in the Spanish Monarchy in 1749.

Although some Romani could be kept as slaves in Wallachia and Moldavia until abolition in 1856, the majority traveled as free nomads with their wagons, as alluded to in the spoked wheel symbol in the Romanies flag.[162] Elsewhere in Europe, they were subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction of their children, and forced labor. In England, Romani were sometimes expelled from small communities or hanged; in France, they were branded and their heads were shaved; in Moravia and Bohemia, the women were marked by their ears being severed. As a result, large groups of the Romani moved to the East, toward Poland, which was more tolerant, and Russia, where the Romani were treated more fairly as long as they paid the annual taxes.[163]

Modern history

Romani began emigrating to North America in colonial times, with small groups recorded in Virginia and French Louisiana. Larger-scale Roma emigration to the United States began in the 1860s, with groups of Romanichal from Great Britain. The largest number immigrated in the early 1900s, mainly from the Vlax group of Kalderash. Many Romani also settled in South America.

Sinti and other Romani about to be deported from Germany, May 22, 1940.

World War II

Main article: Porajmos

During World War II, the Nazis embarked on a systematic genocide of the Romani, a process known in Romani as the Porajmos.[164] Romanies were marked for extermination and sentenced to forced labor and imprisonment in concentration camps.

They were often killed on sight, especially by the Einsatzgruppen (paramilitary death squads) on the Eastern Front.[165] The total number of victims has been variously estimated at between 220,000 and 1,500,000; even the lower figure would make the Porajmos one of the largest mass killings in history.[166]

The treatment of Romani in Nazi partner states differed markedly. In the Independent State of Croatia, the separatist Ustasa organization physically killed around 25,000 Roma, almost the entire Roma population. The concentration camp system of Jasenovac, run by the Ustasa militia and the Croat political police, were responsible for the deaths of between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma.[167]


In Czechoslovakia, they were labeled a "socially degraded stratum," and Romani women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population. This policy was implemented with large financial incentives, threats of denying future welfare payments, with misinformation, or after administering drugs.[168][169]

An official inquiry from the Czech Republic, resulting in a report (December 2005), concluded that the Communist authorities had practiced an assimilation policy towards Romanis, which "included efforts by social services to control the birth rate in the Romani community." "The problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic, either with improper motivation or illegally, exists," said the Czech Public Defender of Rights, recommending state compensation for women affected between 1973 and 1991.[170] New cases were revealed up until 2004, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland "all have histories of coercive sterilization of minorities and other groups."[171]

Society and traditional culture

Münster, Sebastian (1552), "A Gipsy Family", The Cosmographia (facsimile of a woodcut), Basle.

The traditional Romanies place a high value on the extended family. Virginity is essential in unmarried women. Both men and women often marry young; there has been controversy in several countries over the Romani practice of child marriage. Romani law establishes that the man's family must pay a bride price to the bride's parents, but only traditional families still follow this rule.

Once married, the woman joins the husband's family, where her main job is to tend to her husband's and her children's needs, as well as to take care of her in-laws. The power structure in the traditional Romani household has at its top the oldest man or grandfather, and men in general have more authority than women. Women gain respect and authority as they get older. Young wives begin gaining authority once they have children.

Romani social behavior is strictly regulated by Hindu purity laws[172] ("marime" or "marhime"), still respected by most Roma (and by most older generations of Sinti). This regulation affects many aspects of life, and is applied to actions, people and things: parts of the human body are considered impure: the genital organs (because they produce emissions), as well as the rest of the lower body. Clothes for the lower body, as well as the clothes of menstruating women, are washed separately. Items used for eating are also washed in a different place. Childbirth is considered impure, and must occur outside the dwelling place. The mother is considered impure for forty days after giving birth.

Death is considered impure, and affects the whole family of the dead, who remain impure for a period of time. In contrast to the practice of cremating the dead, Romani dead must be buried.[173] Cremation and burial are both known from the time of the Rigveda, and both are widely practiced in Hinduism today (although the tendency is for Hindus to practice cremation, while some communities in South India tend to bury their dead).[174] Some animals are also considered impure, for instance cats because they lick their hindquarters. Horses, in contrast, are not considered impure because they cannot do so.[175]

Belonging and exclusion

Main articles: Romanipen and Gadjo (non-Romani)

Romanipen (also romanypen, romanipe, romanype, romanimos, romaimos, romaniya) is a complicated term of Romani philosophy that means totality of the Romani spirit, Romani culture, Romani Law, being a Romani, a set of Romani strains.

An ethnic Romani is considered a Gadjo (non-Romani) in the Romani society if he has no Romanipen. Sometimes a non-Romani may be considered a Romani if he has Romanipen. Usually this is an adopted child. As a concept, Romanipen has been the subject of interest to numerous academic observers. It has been hypothesized that it owes more to a framework of culture rather than simply an adherence to historically received rules.[176]


Christian Romanies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in France, 1980s

Some Romani people are Christian, others Muslim, some retained their ancient faith of Hinduism from their original homeland of India, others have their own religion and political organization.[177]


The ancestors of modern-day Romani people were previously Hindu, but adopted Christianity or Islam depending on their respective regions they had migrated through.[178] Muslim Roma are found in Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Egypt, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, forming a very significant proportion of the Romani people. In neighboring countries such as Greece most of the Romani inhabitants follow the practice of Orthodoxy. It is likely that the adherence to differing religions prevented families from engaging in intermarriage.[179]

Deities and saints

Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla is considered a patron saint of the Romani people in Roman Catholicism.[180] Saint Sarah, or Sara e Kali, has also been venerated as a patron saint in the same manner as the Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla. Since the turn of the 21st century, Sara e Kali is understood to have been Kali an Indian deity brought from India by the refugee ancestors of the Roma people; as the Roma became Christianized, she was absorbed in a syncretic way and worshipped as a saint.[181]

Mother Goddess figurines have been found in the excavations of the Indus Valley Civilisation in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in the Sindh – Punjab – Haryana area [Some Romani claim Punjab is their original habitat], and Mata Kali [Mother Kali] is still worshipped in India. Therefore, Saint Sarah is now increasingly being considered as "a Romani Goddess, the Protectress of the Roma" and an "indisputable link with Mother India".[181][182]

Ceremonies and practices

Romanies often adopt the dominant religion of their host country in the event that a ceremony associated with a formal religious institution is necessary, such as a baptism or funeral (their particular belief systems and indigenous religion and worship remain preserved regardless of such adoption processes). The Roma continue to practice "Shaktism", a practice with origins in India, whereby a female consort is required for the worship of a god. Adherence to this practice means that for the Roma who worship the Christian God, prayer is conducted through the Virgin Mary, or her mother, Saint Anne  Shaktism continues over one thousand years after the people's separation from India.[183]

Besides the Roma elders, who serve as spiritual leaders, priests, churches, or bibles do not exist among the Romanies  the only exception is the Pentecostal Roma.[183]


Costume of a Romani woman (most likely Muslim Roma).

For the Roma communities that have resided in the Balkans for numerous centuries, often referred to as "Turkish Gypsies", the following histories apply for religious beliefs:

Muslim Romanies in Bosnia and Herzegovina (around 1900)

Other regions

In Ukraine and Russia the Roma populations are also Muslim as the families of Balkan migrants continue to live in these locations. Their ancestors settled on the Crimean peninsula during the 17th and 18th centuries, but then migrated to Ukraine, southern Russia and the Povolzhie (along the Volga River). Formally, Islam is the religion that these communities align themselves with and the people are recognized for their staunch preservation of the Romani language and identity.[185]

Most Eastern European Romanies are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Muslim.[187] Those in Western Europe and the United States are mostly Roman Catholic or Protestant  in southern Spain, many Romanies are Pentecostal, but this is a small minority that has emerged in contemporary times.[183] In Egypt, the Romanies are split into Christian and Muslim populations.[188]


Main article: Romani music
Young Hungarian Romani performing a traditional dance

Romani music plays an important role in Central and Eastern European countries such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania, and the style and performance practices of Romani musicians have influenced European classical composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. The lăutari who perform at traditional Romanian weddings are virtually all Romani.

Probably the most internationally prominent contemporary performers in the lăutari tradition are Taraful Haiducilor. Bulgaria's popular "wedding music", too, is almost exclusively performed by Romani musicians such as Ivo Papasov, a virtuoso clarinetist closely associated with this genre and Bulgarian pop-folk singer Azis.

Many famous classical musicians, such as the Hungarian pianist Georges Cziffra, are Romani, as are many prominent performers of manele. Zdob şi Zdub, one of the most prominent rock bands in Moldova, although not Romanies themselves, draw heavily on Romani music, as do Spitalul de Urgenţă in Romania, Shantel in Germany, Goran Bregović in Serbia, Darko Rundek in Croatia, Beirut and Gogol Bordello in the United States.

Another tradition of Romani music is the genre of the Romani brass band, with such notable practitioners as Boban Marković of Serbia, and the brass lăutari groups Fanfare Ciocărlia and Fanfare din Cozmesti of Romania.

Many musical instruments like violins and guitars are said to have originated from the Romani. Many dances such as the flamenco of Spain and Oriental dances of Egypt are also said to have originated from them.[189]

The distinctive sound of Romani music has also strongly influenced bolero, jazz, and flamenco (especially cante jondo) in Europe. European-style gypsy jazz ("jazz Manouche" or "Sinti jazz") is still widely practiced among the original creators (the Romanie People); one who acknowledged this artistic debt was guitarist Django Reinhardt. Contemporary artists in this tradition known internationally include Stochelo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, Jimmy Rosenberg, Paulus Schäfer and Tchavolo Schmitt.

The Romanies of Turkey have achieved musical acclaim from national and local audiences. Local performers usually perform for special holidays. Their music is usually performed on instruments such as the darbuka, gırnata and cümbüş.[190]

Contemporary art and culture

Romani contemporary art is art created by Romani people. It emerged at the climax of the process that began in Central and Eastern Europe in the late-1980s, when the interpretation of the cultural practice of minorities was enabled by a paradigm shift, commonly referred to in specialist literature as the Cultural turn. The idea of the "cultural turn" was introduced; and this was also the time when the notion of cultural democracy became crystallized in the debates carried on at various public forums. Civil society gained strength, and civil politics appeared, which is a prerequisite for cultural democracy. This shift of attitude in scholarly circles derived from concerns specific not only to ethnicity, but also to society, gender and class.[191]


Main article: Romani language

Most Romani speak one of several dialects of the Romani language,[192] an Indo-Aryan language, with roots in Sanskrit. They also often speak the languages of the countries they live in. Typically, they also incorporate loanwords and calques into Romani from the languages of those countries and especially words for terms that the Romani language does not have. Most of the Ciganos of Portugal, the Gitanos of Spain, the Romanichal of the UK, and Scandinavian Travellers have lost their knowledge of pure Romani, and respectively speak the mixed languages Caló,[193] Angloromany, and Scandoromani. Most of the speaker communities in these regions consist of later immigrants from eastern or central Europe.[194]

There are no concrete statistics for the number of Romani speakers, both in Europe and globally. However, a conservative estimation has been made at 3.5 million speakers in Europe and a further 500,000 elsewhere,[195] although the actual number may be considerably higher. This makes Romani the second largest minority language in Europe, behind Catalan.[194]

In relation to dialect diversity, Romani works in the same way as most other European languages.[196] Cross-dialect communication is dominated by the following features:


Main article: Antiziganism

Historical persecution

One of the most enduring persecutions against the Romani people was their being enslaved. Slavery was widely practiced in medieval Europe, including the territory of present-day Romania from before the founding of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in the 13th–14th century.[197] Legislation decreed that all the Romani living in these states, as well as any others who immigrated there, were classified as slaves.[198] Slavery was gradually abolished during the 1840s and 1850s.[199]

The exact origins of slavery in the Danubian Principalities are not known. There is some debate over whether the Romani people came to Wallachia and Moldavia as free men or were brought as slaves. Historian Nicolae Iorga associated the Roma people's arrival with the 1241 Mongol invasion of Europe and considered their slavery as a vestige of that era, in which the Romanians took the Roma as slaves from the Mongols and preserved their status to use their labor. Other historians believe that the Romani were enslaved, while captured during the battles, with the Tatars. The practice of enslaving war prisoners may also have been adopted from the Mongols.[197]

Some Romani may have been slaves or auxiliary troops of the Mongols or Tatars, but most of them migrated from south of the Danube at the end of the 14th century, some time after the foundation of Wallachia. By then, the institution of slavery was already established in Moldavia and possibly in both principalities. After the Roma migrated into the area, slavery became a widespread practice by the majority population. The Tatar slaves, smaller in numbers, were eventually merged into the Roma population.[200]

Some branches of the Romani people reached Western Europe in the 15th century, fleeing as refugees from the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.[201] Although the Romani were refugees from the conflicts in southeastern Europe, they were often suspected by certain populations in the West of being associated with the Ottoman invasion because of their physical features seemed related to the Turks. (The Imperial Diet at Landau and Freiburg in 1496–1498 declared that the Romani were spies of the Turks). In Western Europe, such suspicions and discrimination against a people who were a visible minority resulted in persecution, often violent, with efforts to achieve ethnic cleansing until the modern era. In times of social tension, the Romani suffered as scapegoats; for instance, they were accused of bringing the plague during times of epidemics.[202]

In 1749, Spain conducted The Great Roundup of Romani (Gitanos) in its territory. The Spanish Crown ordered a nationwide raid that led to the break-up of families as all able-bodied men were interned into forced labor camps in a half-hearted attempt at ethnic cleansing. The measure was eventually reversed and the Gypsies were freed as protests began to arise in different communities, sedentary gypsies being highly esteemed and protected in rural Spain.[203]

Later in the 19th century, Romani immigration was forbidden on a racial basis in areas outside Europe, mostly in the English-speaking world. (Argentina in 1880 prohibited immigration by Roma, as did the United States in 1885.)[202]

Deportation of Roma from Asperg, Germany, 1940 (photograph by the Rassenhygienische Forschungsstelle)

Forced assimilation

In the Habsburg Monarchy under Maria Theresa (1740–1780), a series of decrees tried to force the Romanies to permanently settle, removed rights to horse and wagon ownership (1754), renamed them as "New Citizens" and forced Romani boys into military service if they had no trade (1761), forced them to register with the local authorities (1767), and prohibited marriage between Romanies (1773). Her successor Josef II prohibited the wearing of traditional Romani clothing and the use of the Romani language, punishable by flogging.[204]

In Spain, attempts to assimilate the Gitanos were under way as early as 1619, when Gitanos were forcibly settled, the use of the Romani language was prohibited, Gitano men and women were sent to separate workhouses and their children sent to orphanages. King Charles III took on a more progressive attitude to Gitano assimilation, proclaiming their equal rights as Spanish citizens and ending official denigration based on their race. While he prohibited the nomadic lifestyle, the use of the Calo language, Romani clothing, their trade in horses and other itinerant trades, he also forbade any form of discrimination against them or barring them from the guilds. The use of the word gitano was also forbidden to further assimilation, substituted for "New Castilian", which was also applied to former Jews and Muslims.[205][206]

Most historians agree that Charles III pragmática failed due to three main reasons, ultimately derived from its implementation outside major cities and in marginal areas: The difficulty the Gitano community faced in changing its nomadic lifestyle, the marginal lifestyle in which the community had been driven by society and the serious difficulties of applying the pragmática in the fields of education and work. One author ascribes its failure to the overall rejection by the wider population of the integration of the Gitanos.[204][207]

Other examples of forced assimilation include Norway, where a law was passed in 1896 permitting the state to remove children from their parents and place them in state institutions.[208] This resulted in some 1,500 Romani children being taken from their parents in the 20th century.[209]


Main article: Porajmos

The persecution of the Romanies reached a peak during World War II in the Porajmos, the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1935, the Nuremberg laws stripped the Romani people living in Nazi Germany of their citizenship, after which they were subjected to violence, imprisonment in concentration camps and later genocide in extermination camps. The policy was extended in areas occupied by the Nazis during the war, and it was also applied by their allies, notably the Independent State of Croatia, Romania and Hungary.

Because no accurate pre-war census figures exist for the Romanis, it is impossible to accurately assess the actual number of victims. Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, proposes a figure of up to a million and a half, while an estimate of between 220,000 and 500,000 was made by Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.[lower-alpha 1] In Central Europe, the extermination in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became extinct.

Contemporary issues

Distribution of the Romani people in Europe (2007 Council of Europe "average estimates", totalling 9.8 million)[212]
Antiziganist protests in Sofia, 2011
Main article: Modern Antiziganism

In Europe, Romani people are associated with poverty, are accused of high rates of crime and behaviours that are perceived by the rest of the population as being antisocial or inappropriate.[213] Partly for this reason, discrimination against the Romani people has continued to the present day,[214][215] although efforts are being made to address them.[216] Amnesty International reports continued instances of Antizigan discrimination during the 20th Century, particularly in Romania, Serbia,[217] Slovakia,[218] Hungary,[219] Slovenia,[220] and Kosovo.[221] The European Union has recognized that discrimination against Romani must be addressed, and with the national Roma integration strategy they encourage member states to work towards greater Romani inclusion and upholding the rights of the Romani in the European union.[222]

*projections for Serbia also include up to 97.000 Roma IDPs in Serbia[223]

Roma estimate percentage of population in European countries[224]
Country Percent
Czech Republic

The Romanis of Kosovo have been severely persecuted by ethnic Albanians since the end of the Kosovo War, and the region's Romani community is, for the most part, annihilated.[225]

Czechoslovakia carried out a policy of sterilization of Romani women, starting in 1973.[226] The dissidents of the Charter 77 denounced it in 1977–78 as a genocide, but the practice continued through the Velvet Revolution of 1989.[227] A 2005 report by the Czech government's independent ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001, and called for criminal investigations and possible prosecution against several health care workers and administrators.[228]

In 2008, following the brutal rape and subsequent murder of an Italian woman in Rome at the hands of a young man from a local Romani encampment,[229] the Italian government declared that Italy's Romani population represented a national security risk and that swift action was required to address the emergenza nomadi (nomad emergency).[230] Specifically, officials in the Italian government accused the Romanies of being responsible for rising crime rates in urban areas.

The 2008 deaths of Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic, two Roma children who drowned while Italian beach-goers remained unperturbed, brought international attention to the relationship between Italians and the Roma people. Reviewing the state of play in 2012, one Belgian magazine observed:

On International Roma Day, which falls on 8 April, the significant proportion of Europe's 12 million Roma who live in deplorable conditions will not have much to celebrate. And poverty is not the only worry for the community. Ethnic tensions are on the rise. In 2008, Roma camps came under attack in Italy, intimidation by racist parliamentarians is the norm in Hungary. Speaking in 1993, Václav Havel prophetically remarked that "the treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for democracy": and democracy has been found wanting. The consequences of the transition to capitalism have been disastrous for the Roma. Under communism they had jobs, free housing and schooling. Now many are unemployed, many are losing their homes and racism is increasingly rewarded with impunity.[231]

Forced repatriation

In the summer of 2010 French authorities demolished at least 51 illegal Roma camps and began the process of repatriating their residents to their countries of origin.[232] This followed tensions between the French state and Roma communities, which had been heightened after French police opened fire and killed a traveller who drove through a police checkpoint, hitting an officer, and attempted to hit two more officers at another checkpoint. In retaliation a group of Roma, armed with hatchets and iron bars, attacked the police station of Saint-Aignan, toppled traffic lights and road signs and burned three cars.[233][234] The French government has been accused of perpetrating these actions to pursue its political agenda.[235] EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that the European Commission should take legal action against France over the issue, calling the deportations "a disgrace". Purportedly, a leaked file dated 5 August, sent from the Interior Ministry to regional police chiefs included the instruction: "Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority."[236]

Organizations and projects

Fictional representations

Many fictional depictions of Romani people in literature and art present romanticized narratives of their supposed mystical powers of fortune telling or their supposed irascible or passionate temper paired with an indomitable love of freedom and a habit of criminality. Particularly notable are classics like the story Carmen by Prosper Mérimée and the opera based on it by Georges Bizet, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Herge's The Castafiore Emerald and Miguel de Cervantes' La Gitanilla. The Romani were also depicted in A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Othello and The Tempest, all by William Shakespeare.

The Romani were also heavily romanticized in the Soviet Union, a classic example being the 1975 Tabor ukhodit v Nebo. A more realistic depiction of contemporary Romani in the Balkans, featuring Romani lay actors speaking in their native dialects, although still playing with established clichés of a Romani penchant for both magic and crime, was presented by Emir Kusturica in his Time of the Gypsies (1988) and Black Cat, White Cat (1998). The films of Tony Gatlif, a French director of Romani ethnicity, like Les Princes (1983), Latcho Drom (1993) and Gadjo Dilo (1997) also portray gypsy life.

See also



  1. Most estimates for numbers of Romani victims of the Holocaust fall between 200,000 and 500,000, although figures ranging between 90,000 and 4 million have been proposed. Lower estimates do not include those killed in all Axis-controlled countries. A detailed study by Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum gave a figure of at least a minimum of 220,000, probably higher, possibly closer to 500,000.[210] Ian Hancock, Director of the Program of Romani Studies and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, argues in favour of a higher figure of between 500,000 and 1,500,000.[211]


  1. Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World" (online) (16th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL. Retrieved 15 September 2010. Ian Hancock's 1987 estimate for 'all Gypsies in the world' was 6 to 11 million.
  2. "EU demands action to tackle Roma poverty". BBC News. 5 April 2011.
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  4. "Rom". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 15 September 2010. ... estimates of the total world Romani population range from two million to five million.
  5. "The Marginalization of Shadow Minorities (Roma) and Its Impact on Opportunities". p. 117. Retrieved 2016-07-27.
  6. 1 2 Kayla Webley (13 October 2010). "Hounded in Europe, Roma in the U.S. Keep a Low Profile". Time. Retrieved 3 October 2015. Today, estimates put the number of Roma in the U.S. at about one million.
  7. "Falta de políticas públicas para ciganos é desafio para o governo" [Lack of public policy for Romani is a challenge for the administration] (in Portuguese). R7. 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2012. The Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality estimates the number of "ciganos" (Romanis) in Brazil at 800,000 (2011). The 2010 IBGE Brazilian National Census encountered gypsy camps in 291 of Brazil's 5,565 municipalities.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Recent Migration of Roma in Europe, A study by Mr. Claude Cahn and Professor Elspeth Guild, page 87-8 (09.2010 figures)
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  10. "Türkiye'deki Çingene nüfusu tam bilinmiyor. 2, hatta 5 milyon gibi rakamlar dolaşıyor Çingenelerin arasında". Hurriyet (in Turkish). TR. 8 May 2005. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
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Further reading

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