Definitions and Groups
The term “Gypsy” is commonly used as designation for the people whose correct ethnic name is Roma. However, the same word is employed also to indicate different non-Roma groups whose lifestyle is apparently similar; like some “Travellers” and other itinerant people.
We are not dealing here with the derogatory implications that are ascribed to this term, but only with the respectful meaning of the word which may be acceptable as a popular term to define a community of people having distinguishable cultural features.
There are also other applications of this word which are not of our interest, as for example, in reference to people whose lifestyle is regarded as unconventional ‒ in a similar way as “Bohemian” ‒ or as it is applied mainly in America, to artists who have actually not any ethnic relationship with any Gypsy group, neither Romany nor non-Romany.
Therefore, we can say that there are ethnic Gypsies who are Roma, and other Gypsies who are not ethnically Roma. In this essay we intend to briefly expose about both: Romany and non-Romany Gypsies.
The Roma are a well defined ethnic community, composed by groups and sub-groups having a common origin and common cultural patterns ‒ that in many cases have been modified or adapted, according to the land of sojourn and other circumstances along history. There is a common Romany Law, which several groups do not keep any longer, but still recognizing that their ancestors have observed such complex of laws until not too long time ago.
It is not easy to classify the distinct Romany groups and sub-groups. There are different patterns to be considered in order to establish a relationship between them: for example, the language and the degree of observance of the “Zakono” (the Romany Law) are essential for the largest group of Roma worldwide, while many other groups do not speak Romany at all and take account of other facts in order to consider a person to be a true Rom/Romni or not. Obviously, the prevailing concepts should be those defined or accepted by the Romany community rather than those invented by the Gadje (non-Roma) in their attempt to classify the Roma groups (see: About Roma Group Denominations). It is clear that Roma do not hold any tradition or social feature related with a caste system, as some students suggest. It is not even appropriate their classification according to traditional professions, as such pattern may be applied only to a limited geographic area, namely Wallachia and Moldavia, in which Roma were subject to slavery and consequently had to develop a family profession that passed on from generation to generation. In fact, non-Romanian Roma usually do not call the other groups by their traditional work activity, but according to other cultural characteristics. Whenever it is possible, we will present here a classification considering the Romany self-definitions and the terms used within the Roma community to define the other groups. We will discard the artificial and arbitrary definitions established by Gadje.
Taking account of the geographic areas and the population, we can define three main blocks and some autonomous groups that cannot be included in any of them:
1. Eastern Roma, mainly represented (by number and geographic distribution) by Kalderaš/Čurari/Lovari-related groups;
2. Central European Roma: Sinti and Romanichel families;
3. Calé (Spanish and Portuguese Roma).
Other groups: Khoraxané, Boyaš, Carpathian Roma, Kaale, Southern-Italian Roma, Balkan Roma, Greek Roma, Armenian Lom, etc.
This first general classification refers to European Roma, who are the overwhelming majority (the communities in the American Continent and some other areas of the world descend from European Roma).
Not being possible to find a specific definition for this group besides the term “Rom” that they apply exclusively to themselves and excluding most of the other Roma groups, the most suitable way to call this block, the most numerous in the world, is just the geographic area of historical development, Eastern Europe (including the whole Russia, that is Asia). There is a term coined by some Gadje which is generally used in reference to the majority of this group, which is utterly unsuitable and must be abolished: that is the term "Rom Vlax", which is contradictory by itself, since Vlax or Vlach is the name of a non-Romany people and an equivalent to the Romany word “gažo”. In fact, there is not a single Rom in the whole universe that would recognize himself as a "Vlax Rom". The actual meaning of the term Vlach is "Walachian", "Romanian", historically "Latin-speaking Albanian". It is the national ethnic name of Romanians, which was turned into "Romanian" in the later 18th century c.e. for political reasons (see Vlach). The origin of the word Vlax/Vlach is very well-defined: it is the term by which the Germanic peoples referred to the Celts (and survives today in the English name of Wales). Since most of the Celtic tribes were Romanized, this denomination began to be applied to the Latin-speaking peoples (like the Belgian Walloons, to distinguish them from the Flemish-speaking Belgians). Subsequently, the term was taken by the Slavs and Hungarians with the meaning of Roman-like, Italian, French or Balkan Vlach (Romanian); hence the present-day Polish word for Italian, Włoch (a variation of Wołoch, Walachian) and the Hungarian word for Italian, Olasz (a variation of Olah, Walachian). The Sinti groups, historically dwelling in Germanic-speaking lands, later settled also in France, and they called that country Valči ‒ namely, Wallachia, or else, Gallia ‒ following the terminology applied by Germans to the Romanized Celts. To complete the paradox, the same term conveyed also the meaning of "shepherd", an occupation that has never been typical of European Roma people... Actually, such a term has no meaning at all for Roma, and does not even exist in Romany. Of course that it is not an easy task to make an appropriate classification of Roma groups, but at least we should try to find more suitable terms, that would be recognized also by Roma or with which they may in some way feel identified themselves. The first word to abolish is, of course, Vlax!
The upholders of this designation argue that these Roma were once under slavery in Wallachia and Moldavia, an assertion that is not true for the largest majority of them: in fact, Russian Kalderaša, Serbian Kalderaša, Polish-Baltic Roma, Czech-Slovakian Roma, Greek Roma, Hungarian Roma and Even historic Transylvanian Roma have never been under Romanian rule ‒ in the case of the last ones, they have been always under Hungary until the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Actually, none of the main sub-groups (Kalderaš, Čurarya, Lovarya) is numerous in Romania, while predominant or relevant by number in the above mentioned countries.
So, the members of this group call themselves simply “Rom”, and even the other communities refer to them in this way, for example, the Sinti call them “Sinti Rom” ‒ so as to distinguish them from the other “Sinti” groups, because they call Sinti to all Roma (see below).
These are the most conservative and exclusivist among Roma. Their strict patterns are strongly founded on Romany language and Romany Law, so that they do not consider Roma to the groups who do not speak Romanés or speak a dialect of it that is not intelligible for them (such as the Sinti dialects, Abruzzese Romany or British Gypsies' Romany), and establish differences between themselves according to the degree of observance of the Romany Law (in the same way as Jews consider the degree of kosher keeping). The most important indicators of such observance are the marimé laws (the Romany kashrut) and the women's clothing, closely related to these laws. They ae primarily defined according to dialectal patterns, and furtherly by “nationality”, meaning the country where they sojourned during the longest period, until the end of the 19th century c.e.
Of the Eastern Roma, we present here in a more detailed way the following groups: Kalderaš-Čurari, Lovari-Mačvaya, Ruska Roma, Servitka Roma and Gurbeti.
This community is the most numerous worldwide, being the largest Romany group in Serbia, Argentina and Mexico, and significant within Romany population in Russia, Transylvania, Sweden, France, Brazil, the United States and the whole American Continent, as well as in most European countries and Israel. In the lands where they emigrated, they usually are overnumbered only by the local Romany groups.
Kalderašitsko is the most complete Romany language, both gramatically and lexically, and it is also the tongue spoken by the largest number of Roma worldwide, so that it can be considered the official standard Romany, both for purity and diffusion.
Čurari Roma are usually regarded as a separate group from the Kalderaš Roma, although related to them. Actually, it is only an offshoot of the Kalderaš group, having the same language and following the same laws and traditions. Many families who are considered (also by themselves) as Čurari in one country are regarded as Kalderaš in another, as the examples we will see later about the nationalities. Contrary to what is usually stated, both these denominations have nothing to do with professions, as most scholars suggest attempting to find an etymology in Romanian language. One of the evidences is that both Kalderaš and Čurari practise the same business activities, share common ancestry traditions and, as already said, there are families who claim both ethnonyms. On the other side, the Čurari Roma are of Russian and Ukrainian “nationality”, often called simply “Rhusia” (Russians), and not from Romania or elsewhere in the Balkans. They have no memory of any ancestor having been in Romania in the remote past. The Kalderaša also are mainly from Slavic lands, and have held this designation since early times, maybe even before their entrance in Europe. It is very likely that the ethnonym Kalderaš has been an ancient synonym of Rom, and the abbreviated versions are the terms still used by other Romany groups such as Calé/Kalé (Spain), Kale (Wales) and Kaale (Finland), designations whose origin is still unknown ‒ and the geographic separation between these groups, now unrelated among them even sharing the same denomination, indicates that there was another way besides Rom to call themselves in an early period. A probable explanation of how these words became Romany ethnic names is found in the area of the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia, where Roma sojourned before reaching Europe through at least two ways ‒ one crossing the Bosphorus and the other going north across the Volga-Don Basin into Russia ‒ and where they were in the local peoples' view associated with the Magi, commonly known as “Kaldu” or “Kalyb” (“Chaldean”, original nation of the Middle East Magi). In those lands, Roma were as well identified with the Athinganoi (source of the terms Cigány, Tsigan, Zingaro, etc.). Even though these terms were applied to them by the Gadje, it is not unlikely that Roma adopted such names for themselves, as it happened later in countries like Spain, where Roma consider the word Gitano a self-designation, as well as Tsigan in Russia or Cigány in Hungary. Also the profession of blacksmith, widely practised by Roma in that period, has been associated with alchemy and magics, and by a linguistic coincidence, the name Kaldu has a resemblance with the word for "kettle-maker" in Latin-derived tongues such as Romanian, Italian or Spanish. It is also true that the term Kalderaš is often [mis]used by some Balkan Roma as a self-designation based on their inherited profession of coppersmiths, yet not being actually Kalderaš Roma.
On the other side, both Kalderaš and Čurari have not not only been traditionally blacksmiths but also horse-dealers (now recycled into automobile dealers) and their main vocation seems to be commercial trade rather than handicraft. By the way, of the alleged traditional activity of sieve-makers of the Čurarya it seems that there is no memory, and it is also difficult to explain a Romanian term within a group settled almost exclusively in Russia and Ukraine. The etymology of the word Čurari must be another one.
The fact that the Kalderaš and Čurari have kept the Romany Law and language noticeably better than all the other groups is also the consequence of having chosen to settle in lands where there was more freedom for them, and in comparison with Central and Western Europe, the Slavic territories were much more tolerant and suitable for the Romany lifestyle. This curiosity has an explanation, usually neglected, and it is that Roma reached Europe after a long exile in Scythian India (not in Aryan India!), and they found a better environment in Scythian Europe rather than in the "Aryan" Europe...
As it was said before, by “nationality” in a Romany context we intend the country of development of a certain group throughout a long period of their history, namely since their arrival in Europe until the end of the 19th century c.e. The Kalderaš-Čurari groups belong to three main nationalities: Rhusia, Srbiaya and the “Gábor” Roma of Transylvania. There is a fourth small community, the Kitaitska Roma, who were originally Rhusia.
Rhusia: This is the name by which the Roma coming from Russia and Ukraine are known, both as the accepted denomination by themselves as well as by the other Roma. They are the most conservative of all Roma, together with the Gábor sub-group. A large number of them emigrated during the critical period for Russia that followed the Crimean War. Their first mass destination were Sweden and France, where there is still a consistent community of them, but then a second wave of emigration led them to the American Continent, mainly Argentina and Brazil. In these countries they are split into two sub-groups, both claiming for themselves the ethnonym Kalderaš and the nationality Rhusia. However, they have internal patterns to define the other sub-group: one community self-applies the designations Kalderaš and Rhusia in an exclusive way, and for the other community they use the term “Moldovaya”, often taken as derogatory as these Roma did not come from Moldavia but from the territories that now are Ukraine and then belonged to Poland, and reject such denomination. This second community also self-applies in the first place the designation of Rhusia, and calls the other sub-group also Rhusia, but distinguish them as “Čurarya”, a term that is however accepted by the counterpart. Intermarriage between both parties are frequent, but are unusual with other Roma groups ‒ although they are becoming more common with the Srbiaya Roma. Both communities consist of extended families having close relatives in several countries, in Europe and the American Continent. Usually the same families, originated from a common ancestor in Russia, who are recognized as Kalderaš in the Americas are regarded as Čurari in Europe (mainly by the other European Kalderaša), and for instance the same habits and dialectal peculiarities typical of some Russian Kalderaš clans in South America are those of the Čurarya in Germany, Italy and France. Therefore, the distinction between Russian Kalderaša and Čurarya is very subtle, what is more, both terms are interchangeable.
Most of them are Evangelical Christian now. Some Russian Kalderaša are Jewish and settled in Israel.
Srbiaya: These are the Kalderaš Roma of Serbia and Montenegro, the most numerous and widespread sub-group in the world. The Serbian Kalderaša are present in almost every European country, and in the whole American Continent, as well as in Australia. They are the absolute majority of Roma in South America; the largest communities are in Argentina and Brazil. The Srbiaya are also conservative and keep the Romany Law; some communities are more traditional than the Rhusia concerning women's clothing, as they wear Romany garments since their childhood, that is the age of ritual purity and the clothing rules are not obligatory. They speak the same Romany spoken by the Rhusia, though with some slight variations: the words that are loans from Russian in the language of those, are taken from Serbian in the one of these, so they are completely intelligible to each other and usually both groups know the terms and expressions used by the other.
In South America, they are called “Grekuya” by the Rhusia communities, while they call themselves Srbiaya or just “Rom”, without further specification. Since they did not come from Greece, the reason by which such a denomination is applied to them is probably related with the Orthodox rite that in Serbia was closer to the Greek rather than the Russian tradition. Now a large number of them have become Evangelical Christian, mainly in the Americas.
The Srbiaya as well as the Rhusia, have no memory of any Romanian ancestor in the remote past, and it is evident that they have been in Serbia since many generations. Definitely, these groups cannot be classified as "Vlax". They distinguish Roma of Romanian stock very well, and try to keep separate from them.
Srbiaya Roma are also strongly endogamic, however, in the last decades intermarriage with other Romany communities, mainly with Rhusia, are becoming always more frequent.
Gábor: This is a Hungarian name (Gabriel) and the most common surname among a Transylvanian Romany community, an offshoot of the Kalderaš which is now often considered as an independent group. They seem to have received an important Jewish influence, and are like the “Orthodox” ‒ concerning Romany Law, not religion ‒ group among Roma. Also the Romany they speak seems to be older than the one generally spoken by most Kalderaša. They are economically at the highest position in Romany society; their homes are easily recognizable for their shining roofs and lordly aspect. The Gábor Roma consider themselves of Hungarian nationality; they speak Romany and their second language is Magyar. They do not emigrate, but may be seen in any European country for business or temporary stay.
The Gábor Roma hardly intermarry, and practise a Shabbath-keeping Christianity.
Šanxajci or Kitaitska Rom: Literally “Chinese Gypsies”, they are an offshoot of the Kalderaša who have settled back in Russia after a long sojourn in China. This historical fact has marked them with distinctive features so as to be considered a separate sub-group, although within the Russian Kalderaš family.
Argentinake Rom: Even though this is still not considered as a separate sub-group ‒ not yet ‒, the Argentinian Kalderaš Roma have developed their own identity, both the Rhusia and the Srbiaya, as well as a family of Kitaitska Rom that settled in Buenos Aires and reintegrated within the Rhusia. They have kept Romany language and culture more genuine than their counterparts in Europe; some terms used by Argentinian Roma are regarded as ″those used by the ancestors″ in Europe, as well as the observance of Romany Law is sometimes considered too strict or old fashioned by European Roma of the same stock. This is due to the sharp separation they established from Gadje, in spite of having enjoyed undoubtedly much more freedom than European Roma, and also because they did not follow the same evolution, being geographically separated. Argentinian Roma still like dwelling in large tents, even though all of them have now comfortable, huge houses with vaste parking places for their automobiles, which they buy and sell. They live only in important cities, but it is not unusual to see them camping in small towns and villages for a short term, for business reasons. It is also common to find them in other countries, mainly Spain, France and Mexico, where they keep separate from the other Roma. Families born and settled in the United States identify themselves as “Argentinuya”, no longer knowing if they were Rhusia or Srbiaya, and being quite difficult to know it, since they have adopted the “Romanynglish” accent and terminology.
An item that must be present in every Argentinian Romany home is the samovar.
In the same way as the Kalderaša developed their culture within the Slavic countries, the Lovarya are the Roma of the Hungarian realm. They are the dominant Eastern Romany group in those territories historically ruled by Hungary or under Hungarian influence, mainly Slovakia and Southern Poland (besides Hungary). They speak Romany, with an important number of Magyar terms and expressions, however, perfectly understood by the Kalderaš speakers. The etymology of their ethnonym is uncertain, and the alleged origin in the Hungarian term “ló”, meaning horse ‒ because Lovarya are traditionally horse dealers ‒ seems to be rather groundless. The most probable interpretation is found in Romany language itself: “lovari” means “money-maker”, and it is coherent with Romany pride that skilful businessmen had self-applied such attribute, which passed on to successive generations as their distinctive designation.The Lovarya have not emigrated massively as the Kalderaša had, however, they are present in most European countries and in the Americas, mainly the United States and Brazil. On the contrary, the Mačvaya, who are an offshoot of the Lovarya once dwelling in Vojvodina (a Serbian territory formerly under Hungarian rule), more precisely in the area of Mačva, have left for far away destinations: Brazil, United States and Canada gather almost all the people of this sub-group. They are usually rich traders, and there are also many university graduated. They use to intermarry with other Romany groups, mainly with Srbiaya.
Also called “Xaladitka Roma” (Gypsy soldiers), they are the most numerous group in Russia. These are probably the first Roma who settled in that land, likely coming from the Caucasus, and they speak an Old Romany language. They are widespread throughout Russia even up to the Kamchatka Peninsula and across the boundaries with China, as well as in Ukraine, and some of them beyond the western border, in Poland. The Ruska Roma are an endogamic group and keep the Romany Law. They are the main representatives of the Romany culture in Russia, with many families of famous artists, musicians, dancers, and having established their own folk style and artistic patterns (see “Famous Gypsies”). Horse trading is another of their ancestral professions. A distinctive characteristic of this group, which is unique among Roma, is that joining the army is not unusual among them, a tradition that they keep from the past, when ethnic Romany men were found among the Cossacks.
There are several sub-groups, mainly designed according to geographic patterns: Vešitka, Sibiryake, Litovska/Polska, Lotfika/Čuxny, Laloritke, Piterska, etc.
This group is the second largest by number in Russia and Ukraine. Initially settled by the Dniepr River, they arrived from Serbia, as their ethnonym indicates, in an early stage of the Romany Settlement in Europe. Their language is also Old Romany, although many of them have lost it and speak Ukrainian as their mother tongue. The Servitka Roma have been in many aspects assimilated into the Ruska Roma; having outstanding musicians and artists as well, and intermarriage between both groups is common. They should not be confused with the Servika Roma, a Carpathian sub-group.As well as Ruska Roma, many of them were Cossacks.
The Gurbeti are the group that is less related with the others in this Eastern Roma block. Being now present in the central and southern Republics of the former Yugoslavia, they are the only ones of this block that may in some way be called "Vlax", as they arrived from Wallachia and Moldavia in the 19th century c.e. after liberation from slavery in those lands. They share some cultural features with the Kalderaša, but also with other Balkan Roma like the Khoraxané. They speak their own Romany dialect, that is definitely different from Kalderašitsko, although both groups can understand each other. A dialectal sub-group is that of the Džambazi. The Gurbeti are partly assimilated into non-Romany social environment and do not follow many patterns of the Romany Law any longer. There are Gurbeti Roma who emigrated to other European countries, mainly Austria and Germany, and also to Brazil and North America.
Sinti and Romanichals: Central European Roma
The Sinti and Romanichal Gypsies can be classified as a single block, as they share many features which show that originally they came out from the same Romany branch. We can classify them as Central European Roma.so striclty as Eastern Roma do.
Their dialects, although having lost the grammar structure of Romany and having taken many loanwords from the local languages, keep a good deal of terms of the Old Romany. Indeed, some original Romany words that have been lost in Kalderašitsko Romanés, are still used in Sinti and British Romany dialects.
They also keep Romany Law in different degrees of observance, not
The “Sinti” may be also defined as “Germanic Roma”, as they were the first group that settled in the German-speaking lands, namely, the decadent "Roman Empire of the German Nation", and their historical and cultural development took place in the subsequent many small states that emerged from it, then gathered by Prussia and Austria, and ultimately, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This geographic distribution along centuries of relative isolation from the other Romany groups has defined their particular features, so much that they are often considered as a separate ethnic entity.″rom″ only with the meaning of married Sinti male (a meaning that is also given by all other Roma groups ‒ ″rom″ means married man of the Roma people). However, they call their language “Romanes” and apply the ethnonym “Sinti” to all Roma, therefore, recognizing themselves as members of the same people. So, as the designations of their own sub-groups are based on geographic distribution, they also call the other Roma “Hungarian Sinti”, “Serbian Sinti”, “Russian Sinti”, “Spanish Sinti”, etc.
This concept is reinforced by the fact that they do not call themselves “Rom” but Sinti, and use the term
In modern times, it has become politically correct to say “Roma and Sinti”, in order to meet the requirements of both parties, non-Sinti Roma that do not want to be called Sinti, and Sinti who do not want to be called Roma. This expression is also used mainly in Germany, Austria and other countries in order to distinguish the local Gypsies from the Eastern immigrant ones. However, it is like saying “British and English” or “North-Americans and Canadians”, as Sinti are a Roma group, not a different people. Their distinction is the result of a process that took place in Europe.
Concerning the etymology of the name Sinti, it is still unknown. The alleged association with the region of Sindh is rather a phonetic resemblance that has been discarded from the linguistic science. Actually, this term appears to be relatively recent, not used before the 18th century c.e., and it is unknown why did they adopt this designation for themselves. Apparently, their original ethnonym was “Manuš” (which is still the denomination of French Sinti, “Manouches”), a term that in Romany means ″human being″ ‒ even more general than ″rom″.
The Sinti people speak a Romany language that is not understood reciprocally with Kalderašitsko and related dialects, mainly because the Sinti's tongue has not the Romany grammar structure, and there is a relevant amount of Germanic terms. However, from the lexical point of view, there are some Old Romany words that have been lost by Eastern Roma which are still preserved by Sinti.
The Sinti sub-groups are defined by historic-geographic areas:
Gáčkane (Sinti-Romany name of Germany), also called Teyč (from ″deutsch″, German), are the Sinti of Germany, who are present also in all the neighbouring countries and in Italy. Their élite is represented by the Eftavagarya (the ″Seven Caravans″), the largest family clan, usually having by surname Reinhardt, to which belong outstanding musicians and artists .
Estraxarya (from “Éstraxa”, Österreich), are the Sinti inhabitants of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, still present in the same historic territories, namely Austria, Northern Italy, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Transylvania and Western Ukraine.
Lalere: The Czech Sinti; almost exterminated in the concentration camps during WWII, the few remaining moved to Germany after the war ended.
Válštike (“Roman”, meaning French), better known as Manuš or Manouches: they are the Sinti of France, actually an offshoot of the Gáčkane, that settled in France and eventually assimilated any Romany group that may have been already dwelling in that country. They are also great musicians, so that the Gypsy Jazz is also known as Jazz Manouche.
Piamontákeri: they are the Sinti of Northwestern Italy, who have developed their own identity as a Sinti sub-group, and are important keepers of the Old Piedmontese dialect, that is always less spoken by their native Italian speakers. In compensation, they have almost lost their own Sinti-Romany dialect. They are also present in Provence.
Sinti Lombardi and Veneti: An offshoot of the Estraxarya, the Sinti of North-Eastern Italy that once were under Austrian rule, have developed a separate identity and their dialect has adopted a Northern-Italian structure, so that it is not easy to be understood reciprocally with the other Sinti.
The Sinti dialects were undergoing a decadence within the young generations, but their recent affiliation to the Evangelical movements has produced a renewed need of the language in order to communicate with the Sinti communities in the different countries.
The Romanichals or Romanichels are the English and Scottish Roma; Kale is the designation of the Welsh Roma. Both groups arrived in Great Britain from France and their language shows Old Romany roots, having many lexical resemblances with Sinti dialects and also with Spanish Romanó. In spite of the harsh discriminatory laws against Gypsies in the United Kingdom, they have achieved a cultural and social development within British society through their ability in arts and crafts. Some of them have ever been knighted, either for having served the Crown or else for musical or artistic excellence. They have always professed Christian faith and many of them were even church pastors since early times of settlement, which has been a peculiarity of British Roma until recent times, when a large number of Roma worldwide have joined Evangelical movements.
Roma in Great Britain have been called in different ways, usually in reference to their professions or lifestyle, as “braziers”, “horse-dealers”, “tinkers”, “fortune-tellers”, “vagrants”, etc. In official documents, they were first called Egyptians, then Gypsies, a designation that they have accepted and adopted for themselves along with Romanichal. Their original language is almost lost; they speak rather what is called Anglo-Romany, a mixture of English and Romany. They are divided in three main sub-groups: English, Scottish and Welsh.
The English Gypsies are now distributed not only in England but also in the former British colonies, where they did not emigrate voluntarily, but were deported. Therefore, we can find them, or their descendants, in the United States, Canada, Australia and even in the Caribbean. Although also whole families were transferred, most of the exiled were only men, so that their ethnicity disappeared with intermarriage. In North America it became common that male Gypsies took female Natives as wives, since they were not allowed to mix with the "White" population. Some of their offspring is found among the Melungeon people.
Some contemporary actors and musicians are English Romanichel.
The Scottish Gypsies have an interesting history. Some researchers assert that the first Roma arrived in Scotland with the Knight Templars, who brought them from the Holy Land, where the Knights employed these “Egyptians” as metal-workers to manufacturate and keep maintenance of their weapons. It is well documented that a community of Gypsies dwelled in the Rosslyn Chapel area under protection of the Sinclair family, and many Roma even adopted this surname. The reason for such a privilege is said to be the decisive contribution of a Gypsy contingent to defeat the English in the Battle of Bannockburn (1314 c.e.). That Roma in Scotland had to do with nobility is confirmed also by the Kirk Yetholm Gypsies, who have been recognized as a respectable social group, having even their own Kings and Queens ‒ an oddity of Scottish Roma, because such titles do not exist in Romany society, but only in romantic literature or else for social or political convenience in the relationship with the Gadje society, but not recognized within Roma community.
The so-called Irish Gypsies are not Roma but Travellers. However, there are some ethnic Roma in Ireland, but they are Scottish Gypsies that settled or stay temporarily in Ireland.
The Welsh Gypsies or Kale: They speak a different dialect, better kept than the Romanichels' one. About their designation Kale, see above under Kalderaš. They have shared the same restrictive laws and social emargination undergone by English Gypsies, and like them, many have been deported to the former British colonies. There are notable artists and musicians, a dynasty founded by Abram Wood, who have contributed to the conservation of the Kale Romany dialect.
This Romany group has developed a strong identity, having kept isolated from the other European Roma for centuries. Caló is their common designation in Spain and Southern France (where their mother tongue is either Spanish or Catalan), while in Portugal their ethnonym is “Calon”.
The general hypothesis is that they reached the Iberian Peninsula through two ways: one from the north-east across the Pyrenees, and the other from the south across the Strait of Gibraltar. Nevertheless, only the first route has been verified, while the alleged southern road has still not found any documented confirmation. Indeed, their old language, called Romanó and no longer spoken ‒ different from the variety known as Caló, that is still used ‒ belongs to the same Old Romany branch of the Eastern Roma and shows that they very likely came from Russia. There is not only a noticeable lexical resemblance with the tongue of the Ruska Roma, but also some terms of evident Russian origin, as for example ″úlicha″ (street), which does not exist in Central European Romany, but is found in Eastern dialects like Kalderašitsko (vúlitsa/úlitsa). Other characteristic they have in common with the Ruska Roma is that both groups have traditionally held the very same main professions: horse trading and music. Both groups have developed a particular style of folk that became the most representative of the respective countries. They also behave in the same way regarding the fact that none of the two groups emigrate to lands where a different gažikanés language is spoken. This possible ″Russian connexion″ contributes also to support the hypothesis that the original meaning of the designation Calé may be as explained above.
The Spanish Roma have adopted for themselves the ethnonym Gitano, as well as Caló, and know the term ″rom″ only with the meaning of married man. About the term they use in reference to the other Roma groups, they behave in the same way as the Sinti: they call them “Gitanos Húngaros”, “Gitanos Rusos”, “Gitanos Alemanes”, etc.
Undoubtedly, they are well known worldwide more than anything as the best performers of Flamenco culture in every aspect, so that they are fully identified with it and consider it their own characteristic and original culture. Nevertheless, the fact that Flamenco is exclusive patrimony of Spanish Gypsies and not known by other Roma is a proof that they have found the roots of such expression in the Spanish soil. The oldest ″palos″ (sticks, name of the different styles) del ″cante jondo″ (the deep song) are a legacy that the Sephardim Jews left them after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 c.e., the expression of a discriminated people that was soon adopted by those who remained, the heirs of the persecution, the Gypsies. As it happened everywhere in Europe, the Roma took the houses left by the exiled Jews and dwelled in them, not just because they were empty and without owner, but because only the Jews' homes were considered suitably clean according to the laws of marimé, then observed by all Roma, as Roma did not come into Gadje's houses until recent times because they are considered ritually impure. From the original palos, Roma have developed the Flamenco culture in a varied and rich style and in an unique way, so that it can be considered now legitimate property of the Cultura Gitana.
The Calé sub-groups are defined by geographic areas:
The Andalusian are the most numerous and also those who have achieved a higher instruction level; most of university graduated Gitanos belong to this community. Also the most celebrated Flamenco players, singers and dancers are Andalusian.
The Extremeños are considered the most conservative, closer to the Portuguese Calons rather than to the other Spanish sub-groups.
The Catalanes are the second largest community, they are present not only in Spain but also in Southern France. Although Flamenco is the folk expression of all Calé Roma, the Catalanes have developed their own, softer style, the rumbas.
The Castilian sub-group is considered an offshoot of both Andalusian and Catalanes, established for many generations in the central-northern area of Spain.
The Basque Gypsies, a particular community that keeps a Romany dialect that is more complete than common Caló, although mixed with some Euskara terminology; it is called Errumantxela or Arromnichela ‒ a curious parallelism with British Gypsies: Caló/Arromnichela and Kale/Romanichal.
The Calon are the Portuguese Gypsies, a community socially more emarginated than their Spanish counterpart.
The Calé Roma have been almost surely the first Gypsies that arrived in the Americas; the Spanish rulers used to send to the colonies the people they did not want in Spain, and it is documented that several Roma were part of the crew that sailed with Columbus and the other conquest and colonization trips that followed. Of course, these male Roma had no chance to perpetuate their culture and married Native women, so that today we cannot know their descent. In modern times, some Calé families emigrated as many Europeans did, fleeing from the critical situation in search of a better life, and Calé communities were established mainly in Argentina and Mexico. Concerning the Calons, they have a similar history of early deportation in Brazil, and later immigration in the same country.
These Roma have also joined massively the Evangelical movements, which has led them to have a more fluent relationship with the international Romany community.
Other Romany Groups
Besides these well defined blocks, there are Romany groups and sub-groups that do not fit into any of them, and can be hardly gathered in a common classification, so that they have to be considered separately. As a logical consequence of history, the majority of these communities are geographically located in the Balkan area, while other groups settled in relative isolation and developed their own peculiarities.
The Khoraxané or Xoraxané are a Balkan group that settled in the area of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Southern Serbia, Macedonia and Albania during the Ottoman rule, probably coming from Anatolia, as their ethnonym seems to indicate. In fact, this term in Romany refers not only to present-day Turkey but also to the whole Middle East, Southern Asia, including India, and North Africa. Roughly translated as ″Arab″, the actual etymology should be found in the general term used by European Christians in reference to them: Saracenes. This word comes from the Greek Σαρακηνός, and this from the Aramean ″sarqiyin″, desert-dwellers. In some documents written in Romanó, the Moor is called ″Corochai″, which corresponds to the Eastern Romany Khoraxay, which is singular, being the plural Khoraxané or Khoraxá. Therefore, existing a general coincidence regarding every point between the Romany and the European words, the most likely exact translation of this term is Saracene. In fact, Roma use the same word for both Roma and Gadje who are Saracenes by culture.
The Khoraxané Roma speak an hybrid Romany, plenty of Turkish, Albanian and Slavic terminology, and a rough pronounciation. However, with a little effort, it can be understood by mainstream Romany speakers. They do not keep the Romany Law, but have adopted Turkish customs. Actually, they are ethnically a mixed people, in which the Romany element is a component along with Turk and other peoples. In the last decades, they are present in most European countries, not having been welcomed by the local Roma...
South American Khoraxané: By the beginning of the 20th century c.e., a massive immigration of Khoraxané Roma reached South America, in first place Brazil, and settled there. Many however went ahead in their journey and arrived in Chile. Since then, this enigmatic group is the absolute majority of Roma in Chile, and the only ″autochthonous″ Gypsy group in this country. So much that as in Europe the word Khoraxanó is equivalent to ″Saracene Gypsy″, in South America is translated as ″Gitano Chileno″.
Even though their dialect is in some way similar to that of the European Khoraxané, it is closer to mainstream Romany. This group is an enigma because, calling themselves ″Jorajané″ (according to the Spanish spelling), they keep the Romany Law and are Christians, and they already were when arrived in South America. They even have Christian Slavic surnames as Arestić, Nikolić, Pantić, or even an unusual one as California. Since some decades, a large group of them practise Shabbath keeping Christianity. Another characteristic they have is that red hair is very common among them.
Chilean Jorajané have also settled in Argentina and other South American countries, and many emigrated to Mexico and the United States. Intermarriage is becoming more common, with Kalderaša and Mačvaya.
Also called Banyaš, Bayaš or Beás, they are the only authentic ″Vlax″ Gypsies, who speak Old Romanian and have lost the Romany language, of which they keep only some few terms. They are commonly known by the other Romany groups as “Romanian Roma”. They apparently were forced to work in the mines, according to their ethnonym and also to that one given them in Bulgaria, Rudari. However, their traditional professions have nothing to do with mining. Their language is a 15th to 18th century Romanian, with many Hungarian, Serbian and Romany loanwords and expressions. Their area of distribution is Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia. The authentic Boyaš may be a definite group, however by extension, this designation is applied to all Roma who do no speak Romany but Romanian. Therefore, we will consider here the extensive concept, as the specific denominations are related with traditional professions and not with particular ethnic features.
The most numerous sub-group are the Ursari (bear-tamers), also called Maimunari (monkey-tamers), who are by number the second largest Gypsy community in the American Continent, where they emigrated mainly from Croatia and Bosnia (then Austro-Hungarian Empire) as well as from Serbia. They in fact have Slavic surnames, not Romanian. There they have developed their traditional activity but adapted to the social environemnt, becoming horse-trainers and performing tourist attraction activities. Many have even achieved in settling their own circus. The most numerous communities are in Brazil, Argentina and the United States. They have little relationship with Romany-speaking Roma, since these ones do not consider the Boyaš true Roma because of the language. The younger generations do not even speak Romanian any longer, but the national language of the country where they live.
In Europe the best known sub-group of Romanian-speaking Roma are the Lautari, who are musicians par excellence, mainly fiddlers, organized in bands that play Klezmer and Balkan folk in weddings and entertainment events as well as in theatres.
There are many other communities who are designed after their traditional profession, but actually there are not ethnical differences that may justify a classification as separate groups. These are not even castes, a concept that is completely alien to Romany culture, but work occupations that were them assigned by the slavery system to which Gypsies in Romania were submitted.
· Carpathian Roma
The Carpathian group is not homogeneous, but a complex of Romany communities sharing the same territory, culture and social environment. They are historically settled in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Southern Poland, Transylvania and Transcarpathian Ukraine. The most relevant sub-groups by population are Ungrika Roma, Servika Roma and Burgenland Roma.
The Ungrika Roma, namely “Hungarian Gypsies” are the most numerous community in Hungary. Most of them have lost their Romany language and speak only Magyar, while a minority of them settled in the east and in Slovakia, still speak a Carpathian dialect of Romany. They are also known as Romungri, and are by tradition musicians. They have given important contribution to the development of Hungarian folk music.
The Servika Roma (not directly related with the Servitka Roma), designation that now is being replaced by Slovak Roma, are Gypsies that emigrated from Serbia to Slovakia and Transcarpathian Ukraine in the 16th century. They speak a Carpathian Romany dialect that is different from that of the Ungrika Roma settled in the same area, although reciprocally comprehensible. There is an increasing migration to the Czech Republic, where they are known as Slovenska Roma. A related sub-group are the Bergitka Roma, settled along the Polish-Slovakian border.
The Burgenland Roma are one of the Gypsy groups that risked complete extinction during the WWII. They are the Romany sub-group historically settled in the Austria-Hungary border and in Slovenia. They speak Romany, a dialect that structurally belongs to the Carpathian group.
· KaaleTraveller Groups
Kaale is the self-designation of the Finnish Roma. They reached that Nordic land from Sweden, to which Finland has belonged for centuries, according to the family names they have and the amount od Swedish loanwords present in their Romany dialect. It is likely that they belonged to the same stock of the German Sinti, and that they were sent to Finland by Swedish authorities in order that they were not present in the ethnically Swedish land, or maybe with the hope that they would have crossed the borderline to join the Roma communities in Russia. Such gathering did not happen even when Finland passed to belong to Russia; Finnish Roma kept their own group identity. The Kaale keep up to an acceptable degree the Romany Law, and women's clothing is a visible signal of this observance. Ritual purity and blood feud are still considered very important cultural marks. On the contrary, knowledge of Romany language is in decadence among the young generations, who have either Finnish or Swedish as their primary tongue. Finnish Romany is simplified, with no gender and the consequent gender-derived inflections, and is reciprocally of difficult comprehension with other Romany speakers. Kaale's identity is strongly founded on ancestral cultural standards rather than on language conservation.
· Southern Italian Roma
The South of Italy is a complex of ethnic entities of prevailing Mediterranean culture, in which Romany communities have been settled for centuries, some of them mixed with the various local groups and reciprocally assimilated with them, some others keeping a Romany identity more or less defined. Roma arrived in Southern Italy in different migration waves and from different lands, sometimes together with other non-Roma people that still keep their ancestral identity, as well as that of being fully Italians.
This is a self-isolated Romany group, closed within their territorial environment, without establishing relationships with other Roma, not even with their neighbours in Italy. They are called after the historic-geographic regions in which they have settled: Abruzzesi, Molisani, Napoletani, Cilentani, Lucani, Pugliesi, Calabresi. Other groups as the Salentini, Siciliani and Isilesi have been completely assimilated and no longer identified as Gypsies.
The Abruzzesi are those who show their Romany identity in a more evident way; their women still wear traditional Romany clothing and follow the general patterns of behaviour established by Romany rules. Ancestral profession, now almost forgotten, was that of horse-dealers. They probably came from the Southern Balkan region, though the presence of some Germanic terms in their tongue shows that they reached from the north, not by the sea. They speak a Romany dialect that has evolved independently and is mutually incomprehensible with any other. It has Italian grammar and many loanwords and expressions from dialectal Italian. Many of the Abruzzesi Roma have settled in Rome.
Very similar to them are the Molisani, established mainly in the province of Foggia, and still known as horse-traders.
The Napoletani Roma, better known as “Zingari Napuletani”, may have probably come from Spain during the Spanish rule over that region; in such case, they should be of Calé origin. They speak Neapolitan language and are well adapted into the colourful social and cultural atmosphere of that city.
The Cilentani may have likely come from Greece, since they have settled in an area with a strong consciousness of ancient Greek culture, in the neighbourhood of Pæstum, and are well assembled in the social and cultural environment. They still practise metal manufacturing as their traditional activity.
The Lucani and Pugliesi Roma, traditionally horse-breeders and traders, are those who are best assimilated into the local economy, and many have reached high scolarization level.
The Calabresi Roma are by tradition metal-workers and horse-dealers, and still speak a jargon called “Ammasckante”, derived from local dialects. They very likely arrived in Italy with the Arberesh immigrants that fled from the Balkans during the Ottoman invasion of that region, as they are more numerous in the area in which also Arberesh settlements are present.
Of the same extraction should have been the three remaining and completely assimilated sub-groups: the Salentini, Siciliani and Isilesi. In that period, many Roma moved to the Venetian-ruled areas, and one of the most numerous settlements was in Corfu, from where many Greek, Albanian and Roma contingents reached the South-Eastern Italian coast. Today many cultural and musical traditions, as well as some dialectal words in Salento show that the local population has assimilated an important Romany element, that seemingly found a friendly environment so as to intermarry and become part of the local society (as it happens for example in Jerez, Andalusia). The same migratory wave was directed also to Sicily, and it is recorded that by that time Roma had almost monopolised the industry of metal-working. Old Sicilian culture has many points in common with Romany tradition, mainly regarding the wedding, birth and funeral rituals, by which complete assimilation was easier. From Sicily, it is likely that some Roma coppersmiths moved to Sardinia, precisely to the area of Isili, where it still survives a jargon called “Arromaniska” or also “Arbaresca”, which has some terms derived from Romany as well as from Old Albanian and shows some resemblances with that of Sicilian itinerant knife-sharpeners.
· Balkan Roma
There is a very heterogeneous Roma community in the Southern Balkan area, namely Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Southern Serbia. There are different groups and sub-groups that may not be included in any broad classification, but are rather autonomous and unrelated with the neighbouring Roma. Some of them even take similar names as other communities already mentioned, yet not having any direct connection with them. A large number of these Roma do not speak Romany any longer, having adopted the local language and often also intermarried with Gadje. As well as the Khoraxané, they are of mixed ethnicity, having mutually assimilated with the local population during the Ottoman rule.
We can roughly divide this group in two geographic areas: Eastern Balkan, (Bulgaria and European Turkey) and Western Balkan (Macedonia, Albania, Southern Serbia).
In the Eastern region, the most numerous community is that of the Yerlii or Erliya, by itself complex and involving noticeable differences within internal subdivisions. Some of them speak archaic Romany dialects mixed with Turkish and Bulgarian, others have adopted Turkish as their own tongue. They are roughly classified in two main distinct sub-groups: Horahané and Dasikané, denominations that are confusing and actually artificial. In fact, it is a religious division which has not an ethnic basis, that is the same one made by the above mentioned Khoraxané, having the same self-designation but not always related with them, and in the same way as these, they call all non-Khoraxané under the generic term ″Das″, meaning Christian. Actually, these ones do not self-identify as ″Dasikané″ (as well as Gadje do not apply themselves this name except when dealing with Roma), but according to their more specific identification. Some authors who speak about ″Dasikané Roma″ do not realize that they are not giving any real classification, but promoting the point of view of the Khoraxané/Horahané only. Both Yerlii sub-groups have internal designations based on traditional occupations. Another contradiction arises from the fact that some Horahané have adopted Christianity, but still keep this name.
Another fragment of the Yerlii are the Agupti, who keep a sharp separation from the rest of Roma but easily blend with Turkish or Bulgarian people and speak these languages rather than Romany, which is being forgotten by the young generations.
The Vlahički or Vlahorya, as their name indicates, came from Wallachia and are recognized according to their traditional professions. They are also Yerlii, but speak a Romany dialect closer to the mainstream language.
Very distinct from the Yerlii complex are the ″Kardaraši″, that many authors confuse with the Kalderaša, but actually different from them. In fact, it is a general name given them by the Yerlii, not by themselves (although they use this designation as well). Their dialects are related with mainstream Romany, and are divided in two main communities: the Laiaši and the Nyamtsi, namely, “Coppersmiths” and “Germans”, and several other subdivisions. They are endogamous and do not intermarry with the Yerlii.
Similar to them, but yet separate and close within their own clan, are the ″Thracian Kalaidzii″.
Concerning the Western region, in which the groups of the Eastern Roma block described above are the dominant Romany population by number, there are other communities that we may include in this complex and fragmentary Balkan group. They are mainly Albanian Roma, also present in Macedonia and Serbia. The Arlija, traditionally blacksmiths, speak a Romany dialect which is reciprocally understood with the Džambazi Roma, although belonging to a different branch. There are some Arlija that converted to Christianity and intermarried with Serbians; they are called Srpski Cigani (″Serbian Gypsies″), implying a negative meaning for the traditional Arlija.
Another Albanian sub-group are the Aškalija, who do not speak Romany and usually do not speak of themselves as Roma, having developed an independent identity. They are also blacksmiths by tradition.
There are still other minority designations, but it is not our purpose to mention all of them.
· Greek Roma
Roma in Greece are not an homogeneous group either, and some of the Balkan families are also found in this country. There are three main communities: the Yifti, who speak Greek and many of them have Greek identity, the Türk-Yifti, who speak Turkish and often prefer a Turkish identity, and the various Romany speaking tribes, with Romany identity although considering themselves part of the Hellenic civilization and culture. There are different dialects, some of them may be considered mainstream Romany, others are mutually understood with it, and others rather closer to the Balkan dialects. Roma in Greece call the Greeks ″Balamé″ instead of Gažé.
Armenian Roma call themselves “Lom”, and are the only non-European Gypsies that may be regarded as authentic Roma (except of course Gypsies in the American Continent, Israel, Australia and all other groups that are originated from European Roma). Their presence in the historic lands of Armenia, which were extended over a much larger territory than the present-day Republic of Armenia and included most of Eastern Anatolia, dates back to at least the 7th century c.e. In fact, there are several Armenian terms in Romany language, as Roma sojourned for a long time in the Armenian realm before having been pushed into Europe, probably by the Seldjuk invasions, in the 11th century c.e. However, the Lom have evolved in an independent way, as by paradox, the Lomavren, that is the Romany dialect they speak, even though plenty of Armenian loanwords, shares very few terms of Armenian etymology with the European Romany. Consequently, the Lom may descend mainly from a second immigration wave, that may have taken place contemporarily with the Roma's arrival in Russia through the Caucasus and in the Byzantine Europe through the Bosphorus.
The Lom have been strongly Armenized, notwithstanding, they have kept their Gypsy identity and perform the traditional Romany professions and practises, except fortune-telling. They belong to the Armenian Christianity and are present in Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Israel. They are no longer endogamous, and intermarriage with Armenians or Assyrians are common. They are well identified with the Armenian culture, and several Lom have been important personalities in Armenian history (an example here).
Romany Group Identity
This brief description of the various groups in which the Romany Nation may be roughly divided is not definitive. These designations are the result of a development along history, through situations and circumstances that have marked their distinctive character and identity, keeping common patterns on one side, and setting differences on the other. The lands of sojourn and the social environment have played essential roles in the process of self-designation. With the renewed migration waves, these references from the past history are no longer permanent but likely to change. For example, it is obvious that groups as the Srbiaya, the Servitka and the Servika were not called like that when they were still in Serbia centuries ago, but acquired this identity after they emigrated, an identity that may fade away after several generations, and be replaced by another. It is also evident that the country where most Roma have settled before moving somewhere else has been Serbia (just consider how many groups are named after this nation, and the population that they represent). Before WWII, the former States of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were home of the most numerous Romany communities in Europe and in the world. Serbia has been the major ″Gypsy-exporter″ to the American Continent, where Roma are building up new identities for the future, that may even transcend the present group divisions which have been kept as reminders of their ancestors' European homeland. Intermarriage between these communities are always more frequent, although in most cases within the same national, social and cultural environment. As it was exposed, Chilean Jorajané have their distinct and unique characteristics so well defined that they deserve being considered a separate group, no longer related with their European counterpart. Argentinian Roma are on the same way towards a national Romany identity. There are also new traditions, for example, it is common in Brazil that Roma join Freemasonry, and this peculiarity is not exclusive of one group, but is generalized. Brazilian Roma are also interested in achieving a high education level, and many of them are university graduated, doctors, lawyers, professionals of any kind. Two Roma reached the highest government position, that of President of the Republic, and one of them was also the founder of the new capital, Brasilia.
While some group distinctions are likely to disappear, others are becoming sharper, as it happens with the new mass migration of Romanian Roma to the West. There is almost no relationship between the long established Roma communities and them; both parties actually make little effort to interact with each other, mainly owing to cultural and language barriers. For example, in the specific case of Spain, Romanian Roma have a better approach with Spanish Gadje rather than with the Gitanos or the other Eastern Roma settled in that country. The same happens in Italy, Germany and France, where even though Romanian Roma are present since a longer period than in other European countries, they have no relationship neither with Sinti nor with other Roma.
Concerning the so-called Romany organizations, usually led by Gadje, they are not recognized by the overwhelming majority of Roma. Many of them hiddenly aim at assimilation. Even the ethnic Gypsies who participate in such institutions are seen by their own people with suspicion, as doing such work for their personal convenience ‒ actually, none of them has been ever chosen through democratic elections within Roma population, but are rather self-appointed as representatives of the Romany community. We cannot doubt of the good faith with which these people may have taken such commitment, but it is a fact that they have not any real support from the Roma themselves. In many cases, these activists belong to a minority group within the national Roma, or even to a group of recent immigration. Wealthy Roma communities as for example the Kalderaš, Čurari, Lovari and others are actually not interested in being represented through any Gadje-like institution.
For an increasing number of Roma worldwide, the main channel of contact with the external society and the local authorities passes through their Evangelical pastors and leaders. Also this massive conversion phenomenon is building up a new Romany identity beyond group designations, and keeping the Romany Law and culture.
There are some groups that cannot be considered Romany Gypsies, nor non-Romany either, because they are partially Roma or include a Romany sub-group within the same broad designation. Such is the specific case of the “American Gypsies”, as they are also called, namely, the “Melungeon”, “Chicanere” or “Black Dutch”.
There are some ethnic groups in the United States known under these names and other similar ones, whose origins have remained an enigma and many hypotheses have been framed in order to get a conclusion. Actually, these definitions are usually interchangeable, but they do not refer to a single, homogeneous community, but are applied to a complex of people who do not fit into any conventional classification. Historical facts, traditions and surnames reveal that part of this heterogeneous group are of Romany ancestry, and some of them still keep this identity as a family secret.
It is historically documented that a relevant number of Romanichals were deported in the 17th century c.e. from England to the Colonies, generally destined to work in the plantations in Virginia. About one century later, many Sinti families from the western regions of Germany, mainly Rheinland-Pfalz, reached the American land fleeing from persecution and poverty. Their dark complexion did not match with the fact thet they were Germans, and probably this is the origin of the term “Black Dutch” or the less common “Black German”; while “Chicanere” seems to be derived from ″Zigeuner″, the German word for Gypsy. Roma would have tried by all means to hide their identity, because of the stigmatization that being Gypsy implied, and so the term Black Dutch was considered a convenient designation. As a matter of fact, American Gypsies of German descent do still identify themselves in this way, and they do not apply this name to other people (even though the term Black Dutch is also used in reference to some other groups).
There are several evidences that this ethnonym was originally applied in America to the German Sinti. The descriptions given in some documents of that period, about their aspect and behaviour, cannot be suitable to any other people but Roma. Also their surnames are those which are common among Gypsies, and in addition to this, the fact that the related families used to give their children the same civil names (in order to make it difficult for the authorities to know who is who) and called them by other names within the community. Many Black Dutch married Romanichals and adopted their English surnames as well.
Yet, it was not possible to keep the Romany ethnicity in the same way as in Europe, because of the fact that the number of male Roma was overwhelmingly larger than that of the females. In America by those times (and even until recently, when Dr. Martin Luther King carried on his revolution for freedom and equal rights) there was a kind of ″apartheid″ system, and the possibilities for a dark-skinned man to get married were reduced to non-White and non-Black women... therefore, many Gypsies took Native women. Also concerning this fact, there are documents that attest the existence of communities composed by such kind of mixed couples. The Natives in any case, enjoyed a better social image than Gypsies as they were not considered innate criminals. Many Roma in the United States still today prefer to allege Native ancestry in order to avoid further enquiries about their ethnicity.
Another designation that is applied to them is Melungeons, although this term refers more specifically to a group of Appalachia, among which there are also Black Dutch, but not all Melungeons are Black Dutch. In fact, only few of them may be of genuine Romany ancestry, nevertheless, there are Melungeons who claim Gypsy origin. There are also some features among them which are typical of Romany culture, as for example, the sharp definition of the male and female roles, the endogasmous marriage system, the metal-working tradition, the frequent moving from place to place, the musical style, etc. Melungeons having typical Romanichal surnames or Anglicized German ones are to be regarded as Black Dutch, and consequently, of Sinti descent.
The most famous Black Dutch was Elvis Aaron Presley.
Non-Romany Gypsies are communities that are not related with Roma by origins and ethnicity and obviously do not know the Romany Law, which may be classified as follows:
1) Ethnic Groups: peoples having a defined history, culture, language, social structure and ethnic identity in the same way as Roma have;
2) Traveller Groups: peoples that are not true ethnic entities, but communities that have been called Gypsies because of apparent features, such as their wandering character, their lifestyle and their typical occupations, as well as the fact that they usually have encoded languages or jargons, which in many cases include Romany terms.
The Domari people are often referred to as the ″Middle Eastern Roma″. However, they are a different people. There is no contact between Roma and Domari, and actually, they are not considered in the statistics of estimative Romany world population. The Domari are known under several names, such as Náwwar, Gážar, Karači, Qorbat, etc., terms that often are used in a derogatory manner. They are present in a large geographic area, from Central Asia to the Maghreb. The closest resemblance between Domari and Roma is the language, both having the same roots, but definitely not being the same tongue. There is also no certainty about the historic period in which the Domari appeared in the lands where they live at present, apparently having migrated from the Indus Valley. There is also not any relationship between them and the Dom people of India, besides an ethnonym similarity. Actually, the term Dom in India is applied by the higher castes to different unrelated tribes of various origins, but none of them has never used this word as self-designation. Therefore, it is unlikely that groups that never employed the term Dom as a self-reference in their homeland would then identify themselves in this way after having emigrated.
As a matter of fact, the Domari are a people of Scythian stock, and as well as Roma, they were not autochthonous of India, but settled there in early times, with the establishment of Scythian tribes in the Indus Valley and Northwest India, where also Roma settled when exiled from their original homeland. In the same way as Roma, the reasons by which they left the Indus Valley and did never return back again there, should be understood as an attempt to come back to their ancient homeland in the Middle East. The Domari ethnonym might be related with Edom, a people of mixed Hurrian stock and whose language probably kept many Sanskrit words which pertained to the Hurrian language, widely spoken in the Middle East in the ancient age. Many “Romany” features such as the predisposition to wandering from place to place, the lack of interest in recording their own history and writing their own language, the particular attraction for gold, and many other characteristics are indeed typical of Scythian culture.
The Domari are a discriminated, stigmatised minority in the whole Muslim environment where they live, and the only community in the world that achieved in creating an association for having a voice in behalf of their people is the small settlement in Jerusalem, since this city is again in Israeli hands. The related community settled in Gaza enjoyed a decent life while this land strip was under Israeli control, but since the Arabs have took the rule, the Domari there have fallen in disgrace, impoverished and isolated.
There is not any brotherhood relationship between Israeli Roma and Domari, besides that of being neighbours like Jews and Arabs.
They are a people of Azerbaidjan who call themselves Dom, but they are a distinct group from the Domari dwelling in the same region, who self-designate also Dom, and are as well called Qarači by the Azeri. There is little research done about this group, that some consider to be an old offshoot of ″Central Asian Gypsies″ (Lyuli?). They were studied by the Armenian Rom scholar Kerope Patkanov, who stated that they spoke a language of the same root of Domari and Romany, but also Azeri and even Tat.
· Lyuli or Luli
The Luli are a group settled mainly in Tadjikistan, also present in all the Turkestan region and Russia. They call themselves Mughat, meaning ″fire-worshippers″, or also Ghurbat, ″exiled″. It is known that they arrived in Central Asia in the 13th century c.e. from the area of Multan, in the Indus Valley, by which they are also called Multani, besides Jughi and Lyuli. They have Asian features, so it is possible that they descend from Persian groups assimilated into the Turkic peoples that once ruled over India. They have not any Romany tradition, and the only reason by which they are called Gypsies is because of their nomadic lifestyle. Their social organization is based on clan divisions. In some areas of the Middle East, the term Luli is applied to the Domari people.
· Lambadi or Banjara (Ghor)
This is one of the several groups that are usually called ″Gypsies of India″, as well as others allegedly related with Roma. Actually, none of these communities in India may be ethnically or culturally linked with Roma; the apparent similarity is that these peoples are peripatetic and have no written language ‒ too little for establishing any relationship, besides the fact that their tongues are not intelligible with Romany. None of them has any self-designation term that may be related with the ethnonym Rom. The Lambadi are named in more than fifty ways; Banjara is the term used during the British rule, but they call themselves “Ghor”. They live in Central India, but apparently came from the North. They keep their own traditions, which are utterly different from those of Roma. Their main occupation is farming.
· Gadia Lohar
The Gadia Lohar or Gaduliya Lohar have been thought to be possible relatives of Roma people because they are traditionally blacksmiths and live in Rajasthan. Such is the criterion used by many scholars to establish the origin of peoples! They dwell in bullock carts, called gadia, and according to their tradition, they are nomadic in order to be loyal to a vow pronounced by their ancestors. Ethnically, they are a Rajput tribe.
Their name is related with jackal chasing. Also known as Kuruvikaran for another of their traditional activities, that is bird trapping. They are nomads and live in Southern India, but according to their language, called Vagriboli, they came from the north. There are no features in common with Roma, besides the nomadic life.
The Travellers are groups of nomadic people present mainly in Western European countries, whose origins remain unknown until now. They belong to the same ethnicity of the population of the countries where they live, but they are distinguished by their unconventional lifestyle and their rejection to social inclusion according to the established patterns.
· Yenish / Jenisch / Yeniche
The Yenish are often mistakenly considered a branch of the Roma. Actually, they are ethnic Germans whose origins seem to be a kind of association of wandering artisans that became a solidly endogamous group in the 17th century c.e. They speak a mixed language, composed by German dialects, mainly Alsatian, Rotwelsch, Yiddish and Romany. The presence of these two last elements is owing to the fact that their working activity enabled them to get in touch with other groups such as Jewish merchants and Romany traders, from whom they adopted some terms into their language.
The Yenish have Germanic features and are present in all German-speaking countries and in France. Their traditional occupations are metalsmiths and basket-makers. Their relationships with Roma are rather conflictive, so that both groups avoid meeting each other.
These are the so-called “Irish Gypsies”, who are Celtic by ethnicity. They are by tradition caravan-dwellers and metal-workers. Their origins are remote, very likely the ancestors of these Travellers were wandering blacksmiths already present in the island before the arrival of Roma in the British Isles, and this hypothesis would reasonably explain why Roma did not settle in Ireland.They are also known as Tinkers, a term that is also applied to other peripatetic people and is often derogatory.
They have their own dialect, called Shelta, Sheldru, Gammen or Pavee. It is an hybrid tongue, consisting in Old Irish vocabulary and English grammar, with many jargon expressions and also some Romany terms ‒ for instance, they call the settled population “Gadje”, even though the Travellers are not Roma. Their Irish designation is Lucht Siúil or Lucht Siúlta, the Walking People.
They are present in Ireland, Great Britain and the United States.
· Scottish Travellers
A nomadic group with distinctive cultural patterns since old times. They speak a Gaelic tongue with some Romany terms, commonly known as Cant (this name is also applied to Shelta). Besides the typical profession of metalsmiths, they have a rich oral tradition and are well-known as storytellers and singers. Some of them have emigrated to the United States and Canada.
Also known as Camminanti Siciliani or Camminanti di Noto, their origins are unknown. One of the hypotheses suggests that they may be the remnant of the above mentioned Sicilian Roma, thoroughly assimilated into Sicilian culture and no longer recognizable as Gypsies, but this possibility is remote: in the first place, because they do not acknowledge themselves as Gypsies, and then because of their physical traits, that are not those typical of Roma, but not those most common among Sicilians either. They have a higher rate of blond individuals than average Italians, what suggests a Nordic or Slavic origin. Sicily was under Norman rule for a period, by which a Scandinavian origin is plausible. They are resident in Southern Sicilian towns, mainly Noto, during the winter season, and travel throughout Italy during the warm period, working as grinders, tinkers, repairing items and selling automobile pieces. They eventually meet Sinti and there are some rare cases of intermarriage; however, Sinti try not to camp near them. They have also some Romany terms in their jargon, which is based on Sicilian dialect.
Quinquis is the abbreviated term for Quinquilleros, that means ″cheap metalware sellers″, one of their traditional occupations. They are also known by several other names as Cibiqueros, Mercheros, Languilleros, etc. This group is present in Spain, mainly in Castilla. There is the erroneous idea that they are the offspring of Gitanos and ″Payos″ (Gadje), because they do not look like Gypsies but have some apparent resemblances concerning their lifestyle. This is not the case, as Gitanos avoid any relationship with them. A better creditable hypothesis suggests that they descend from common citizens that around the 16th century c.e. were excluded or self-excluded from society by an unknown reason, and the only choice for survival was that of imitating Roma, who are able to cope with the most adverse situations. Other possibility is that they were tinkers who arrived in Spain from Central Europe during the Habsburg rule in Spain ‒ which suggests a possible connection with the Yenish ‒ because of the peculiarity that, as well as the Camminanti, there are many blond people among them, more than average Spaniards. They speak a jargon with some loanwords from Caló.
This is a Dutch term that means ″Caravan-dwellers″. They are ethnic Dutch people who descend from farmers and other workers that were displaced during the Industrial Revolution and began to wander in search of temporary jobs. They have continued this lifestyle for generations until now.
A nomadic group present in Greece, the Gourbetsya are ethnic Vlach people (Romanian).
One day Roma decided to put an end to their long exile in India, and headed towards the west in search of their original homeland, but their homeland was occupied by fierce, intolerant people. Roma avoided any contact with Arabs, so that not a single Arabic word was introduced into Romany language. They found a better environment in the land where Assyrians and Armenians dwelled, until they could no longer stay there as the invaders were approaching. Indeed, they were pushed into Europe by the Turks, so that not even their words were taken ‒ the few Turkish terms in Romany belong to Balkan dialects, adopted during the Ottoman rule, when Roma were already settled in Europe.
During their long exile in the Indus Valley, it is obvious that intermarriage with the local (Scythian) population took place, as it happened later in Europe. Also the Jews of India have a predominant Indian DNA and would be considered of “Aryan” stock, but this logical consequence of a long sojourn cannot deny their true origins. As a matter of fact, Roma have never had the intention of going back to their land of exile in India. Roma have inherited an ancestral, atavic feud, by which they cannot settle back in the Middle East either. Europe seems not to be the most welcoming place to live; maybe the American Continent would be a better land to settle for a people that lives still in exile.
In this essay we have presented different human communities whose unconventional patterns of social life have been criticized, stigmatised and harshly repressed by the establishment, once through persecution and attempts of annihilation, now through “politically correct” methods of assimilation. These peoples, commonly called Gypsies, be they Roma or not, are simply lovers of freedom.