Concerning the Origin of Peoples
The True Origin of Roma and Sinti
Many myths have been elaborated about the origin of that mysterious people present in every western country called by different names, usually known as Gypsies, Gitanos, Cigány, etc., whose correct ethnonym is Rom (or better Rhom) for most groups and Sinti for others. We will not expose here the universally recognized legends, but the last and most widespread myth that is still believed to be true: their alleged Indo-European ethnicity.
That Roma people reached Europe after a long journey that then began somewhere in India is a fact which does not imply that they came from their original homeland. Everybody must come from some place where his/her ancestors lived before, perhaps having arrived there from some other country.
The whole hypothesis regarding their alleged Indo-European ethnicity is founded on a sole thing: the Romany language. Such theory does not take account of other more important cultural facts and evidences that show that Roma have nothing in common with Indian peoples besides some linguistic elements. If we have to take seriously any hypothesis that considers only language to determine a people's origin, then we must assume that almost all North-Africans came from Arabia, that Ashkenazim Jews are a German tribe, that Sephardic Jews were Spaniards belonging to a religious minority but not a different people, and so on. Black American people do not even know what language their ancestors spoke, consequently they must be English. Definitely, language alone is not a sufficient basis to establish ethnic background, and all the other determinant facts are against the Indian origin of Roma - including also some clues in the Romany language itself. The most relevant elements that persist in any people since the most remote past are of spiritual nature, that are manifested in their inner feelings, typical behaviours, subconscious memory, namely, their atavic heritage.
In this essay, I begin by exposing the myth before presenting the facts and the consequent hypothesis about the true origin of Roma.
Many efforts have been done by scholars with the purpose of proving the Indian origin of Roma, and all of them failed one after another in providing convincing evidences. Some accounts taken as references, like the stories written by Firdawsi, are now discredited. Any people allegedly related to Roma, namely Dom, Luri, Gaduliya Lohar, Lambadi, Banjara, etc. have indeed no connection at all with Roma, and not even common origins. The only apparent similarity is the nomadic life and professions typical of any nomadic tribe, of any ethnic extraction. All these idle results are the natural consequence of a research done according to wrong patterns: they ignore the essence of Roma's culture, that is, the spiritual heritage, which is incompatible with any Indian people.
A recent theory that is having some success among the intellectual environment interested in the subject - and that is destined to be proven fallacious like all the preceding hypotheses - pretends to have discovered the original "city" from where Roma might have come: Kannauj, in Uttar Pradesh, India. The author has anyway reached some valuable conclusions that discredit all the previous theories, yet following the same trace, a purely linguistic hint, missing the target. Consequently, the author founds the entire argumentation on an alleged linguistic proof, that is quite insufficient to explain the Romany cultural features not related to language and that are undoubtedly much more relevant, and not any reliable evidence is given to support his theory.
In this essay, I will quote some assertions of the author, although replacing his strange and unsuitable way of writing Romany words with a more accurate and understandable transliteration - for example, the "rr" does not represent any Romany phoneme; the guttural "r" is better represented by "rh", though not all Romany dialects pronounce it, like the ethnonym "Rom" is uttered either "Rhom" or just "Rom". Yet, the "h" is conventionally used to mark a complementary sound to a preceding consonant, and therefore, if graphic accents, circumflexes or other additional signs should be avoided, the "h" is the best complementary letter in many cases. Personally, I would prefer the Slovenian alphabet with some slight changes to better transliterate Romany language, but as graphic signs may not always be shown through the internet, I use the alternative system.
In exposing the above mentioned theory, I begin with a statement of the author that I consider right and with which I agree:
"It is also known that there is no longer one people in India clearly related to the Roma. The various nomadic groups labelled 'gypsies' (with a small 'g') in India have no kinship or genetic connection to the Roma. They acquired the label 'gypsies' from the British colonial police who, in the nineteenth century, called them that by analogy with the 'Gypsies' of England. In addition, they applied to them the same discriminatory rules as to the English 'Gypsies'. Later on, most European researchers, convinced that nomadism or mobility is a basic feature of Romani identity, persisted in comparing the Roma with various nomadic tribes of India, without finding any real common features, because their research had been conditioned by their prejudices regarding nomadic groups".
This is true, researchers have taken pre-conceived patterns on which they founded their hypotheses. Nevertheless, the author is not exempt of having committed the same mistake. From his own declaration emerge the following questions: Why there is not any single people in India related to Roma? Why the whole Roma emigrated, without leaving the slightest trace of themselves or some relatives? There is only one possible answer: they were not Indians, their origins were not in that land and their culture was utterly incompatible with the Indian one. Only a religious minority may emigrate en-masse from a land in which most inhabitants are of their same ethnic stock. And a religious minority in those times meant an "imported" belief, not generated within the Indo-Aryan realm. The alleged exile in Khorassan presented by the author as the reason by which Roma left India is groundless and fails in giving an explanation concerning the Roma's most ancestral beliefs and traditions, which are neither Indian nor muslim (because Khorassan in those times was no longer Mazdeist), but I will deal with this topic later in this essay.
Anyway, the author unveils a myth in his following statement:
"As for the alleged similarities between Romani and one or another Indian language, usually Punjabi and Rajasthani, this is only a trick practised by those nationalists who are speakers of these languages and defenders of these nations: they merely attempt to artificially increase the number of their population".
This is exactly the case. I have by chance found in many Rajput/Jat discussion groups that they are (or say to be) convinced that Roma are Jats or a Rajput clan. Either they are in good faith or not, their claims are expressed within a nationalistic context and seem to have some political purpose. The main so-called proof they give is that Arabs called Roma "Zott", that means "Jat", since they supposedly appeared in the Middle East. Sincerely, the Arab historians' accounts are slightly more reliable than the "1001 Nights" concerning accuracy.
Having duly credited the author of the "Kannauj theory" for these important reflections, now I expose his assertions in which he failed to support the whole of his hypothesis:
"Contrary to what one can read in almost all publications, the first Roma to arrive in Europe were fully aware of their Indian origins. There is definite evidence of this in several documents dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is only later that a mythical Egyptian origin challenged accounts of the Roma' real origins in India. More prestigious, it would eventually help their integration into Europe. Indeed, the myth of the Roma' Egyptian origins was gradually accepted as authentic".
Before replying to this declaration, I would show a further statement in which the author contradicts himself:
"Among all the legends, one of the most persistent is the alleged Egyptian origin of the Romani people, which they themselves began to circulate as early as the sixteenth century. [...] In both cases, the prestige of Egypt, reflected in the Bible, and the stories of persecutions suffered by Christians in that country probably encouraged greater acceptance of the Egyptian legend than of the real Indian origin, and it probably helped them in obtaining safe-conducts and recommendation letters from princes, kings and even the pope".
(The space left between brackets will be reported later)
The first assertion is inaccurate, because there are older documents, dating back even to the twelfth century c.e., in which the "Egyptians" are mentioned, meaning Roma. Usually Roma were called by different names according to their immediate provenance, for example in Western Europe the first Roma were known as "Bohémiens", "Hungarians" (this denomination is still very common in many countries), etc., while Arabs called them "Zott", meaning "Jat", because they came from the Indus Valley. They have never been called "Indians" in Europe. Yet, having Roma entered Europe from Iran and Armenia through the Bosphorus, it is unlikely that they passed by Egypt - it was in their own historic memory that they were once in Egypt, from where their wandering began, and they declared their most ancient origin. By that time India was almost completely forgotten. Before reaching Byzantine territory, as the author himself admits, the Roma dwelled for a long period in muslim countries, and it is also known that whoever embraced Islam would hardly convert to Christianity. When Roma arrived in Byzantium, they were already Christians.
Now an interesting quest: How did Roma know THE BIBLE in muslim territory? This is something that the author cannot justify, since Roma did not know the Scriptures if not by hearsay until recent times! Surely in India, Persia and the Arab lands where they travelled before reaching Europe they could have never heard any comment of the Bible, and certainly not even in Byzantium or Europe, where the Scriptures were banished to common people and were not written in the current language. There is not any possibility that the Roma knew the Bible, if not because the very biblical history was deeply engraved in their collective memory. This memory was kept during their long exile in India, in such a strong way that they did not adopt even the slightest element of the hinduist culture or any other existing in India.
Most Roma read the Bible now, and all of them astonished exclaim: "All our laws and rules are written in the Bible!" - No other people in the world except Jews may say such a thing, no one in India, neither in any other land.
(This is the space left between brackets above)
"In any case, in Byzantium at a very early date, Gypsy soothsayers were called Aigyptissai, 'Egyptians', and the clergy forbade anyone to consult them for fortune-telling. On the basis of Ezekiel's book (30:23), the Roma are called Egyptians not only in the Balkans but also in Hungary, where in the past they were sometimes referred to as 'people of the Pharaoh' (Faraonépek), and in the West, where words originating from the Greek names of the Egyptians (Aigypt[an]oi, Gypsy and Gitano) are widely used to refer to the Atlantic branch of the Romani people".
There should be a reason by which in Byzantium they were called Egyptians, reason that is not explained by the author. That is because the Roma acknowledged themselves to have been in Egypt some time in the remote past. There is also another Greek word with which Roma have been identified in Byzantium: "Athinganoi", from which derive the terms Cigány, Tsigan, Zingaro, etc. The Byzantines knew very well who the Athinganoi were, and they identified Roma with them. Indeed, the little information we have about that group fits in many aspects with the description of the present-day Roma. There are not enough proofs to assert that the Athinganoi were Roma, but in the same way there are no evidences to assert that they were not. The only reason by which the possibility that the Athinganoi might be identified with the Roma has been discarded a priori is because they are mentioned about the beginning of the sixth century c.e., when, according to the inveterate "Indian-origin-supporters", Roma should not be in Anatolia by that time. The Athinganoi were given such name in connection with their ritual purity laws, that regarded impure any contact with other people, quite resembling the Romany law concerning "Gadje" (non-Roma). They practised magic, soothsaying, snake-charming, etc, and their belief was a kind of "reformed" Judaism mixed with Christianity (or with Zoroastrianism?), as they kept Shabat and other Torah rules, believed in the Oneness of God, but they did no longer practise circumcision and performed baptism (which is not exclusively Christian but also a common rite among fire-worshippers). Concerning the Athinganoi, the Jewish Encyclopaedia says "they may be regarded as Jews".
Another very significant fact is that Roma relate their wandering to the Pharaoh, something that is exclusive of the Hebrew people. The oldest records concerning the arrival of Roma in Europe report their declaration of having been slaves of the Egyptian Pharaoh; so there are two possibilities: either it was part of their historic memory or else it was something that they invented in order to find people's favour - the second possibility is very unlikely, since such declaration may identify them only with one people, which was exactly the most hated one in Europe, and not the most convenient identity to choose.
"Observing remnants of a former Egyptian migration to Asia Minor and the Balkans, they realised it would be profitable for them to pretend they were Christians from Egypt, chased out by muslims or sentenced to restless wandering to atone for their apostasy".
This was a "correction" they made after having realized that the original version of their Egyptian sojourn in slavery under the Pharaoh was self-defeating because they were labelled as Jews. This second corrected version is what the author regards as "the earliest mention of this legend in the sixteenth century c.e.", but the original account was much older. Roma have never said that they came from India until some Gadje in the 20th century c.e. told them that they have studied and that "science" establishes that they are Indians!
The author's conviction that Roma's original homeland was the city of Kannauj is based on a simple conjecture, gathering some weak elements that do not prove anything, and are easily disproved by other facts that I will expose afterwards. Now let us read his hypothesis:
"...a passage in the Kitab al-Yamini (Book of the Yamin) by the Arabic chronicler Abu Nasr Al-'Utbi (961-1040), reporting Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni's attack on the imperial city of Kannauj, which resulted in its plundering and destruction and the deportation of its inhabitants to Afghanistan in december 1018... However, depending on incomplete chronicles mentioning only a few forays into north-western India, they were never able fully to describe the mechanism of this exodus... it describes a raid perpetrated in the winter 1018-1019, that reached much further east, beyond Mathura, as far as the prestigious mediaeval city of Kannauj, 50 miles north-west of Kanpur... In the early eleventh century, Kannauj (the former Kanakubja of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana), spread out on four miles along the Ganges banks was still a major cultural and economic centre of northern India. Not only did the most learned brahmans of India claim to be from Kannauj (as they still do today), but it was also a town that attained a very high level of civilisation in terms of what we would now call democracy, tolerance, human rights, pacifism and even ecumenism. Yet, during the winter of 1018-19, a raiding force came from Ghazni (now in Afghanistan) and captured the population of Kannauj, subsequently selling them as slaves. It was not the Sultan's first raid, but the previous ones had reached only as far as Punjab and Rajasthan. This time he moved on to Kannauj, a major city of more than 50,000 inhabitants, and, on 20 December 1018, captured the entire population, 'rich and poor, light and dark [...] most of them 'notables, artists and craftsmen' to sell them, 'entire families', in Ghazni and Kabul (according to Al-'Utbi's text). Later, according to the same text, Khorassan and Iraq appeared to be 'full of this population'.
What is it that leads us to believe that Roma's origins lie in this razzia?"
Here the author shows that he does not care at all for the cultural elements of Roma, but is only interested in finding a possible origin in India, and nowhere else. Therefore, many important details have been ignored. Here I mention some:
•By that time, the city of Kannauj was ruled by the Pratihara dynasty, who were not Indo-Aryans but Gujjar, namely, Khazars. According to linguistic rules, the Indo-Aryan terms "Gujjar" and "Gujrati" are derived from the original name "Khazar" through the standard rules of phonetic change: Indo-Aryan languages, lacking the "kh" and the "z" phonemes, transcribe them respectively as "g" and "j". Consequently, if Roma were the inhabitants of Kannauj, they were not Indo-Aryans but closely related to the present-day Hungarians, Bulgarians, a small part of the Ashkenazi Jews, Bashkir, Chuvash and some other peoples of the Caucasus and the Volga Basin... The designation "Hungarians" by which they are commonly known in most western countries would not be so inaccurate after all - more exact than "Indian", anyway.
•If Roma have stayed always in India until the eleventh century c.e. as the author asserts, they would have certainly practised the most widespread religion in that area, or anyway they would have absorbed many cultural elements of brahmanism, especially if being a brahmin from Kannauj is a so prestigious pedigree. Yet, there is not the slightest trace of brahmanist tradition in Romany spirituality and culture; on the contrary, there is nothing farthest from "Romaimós" (Gypsyhood) than hinduism, jainism, sikhism or any other Indian-originated "-ism".
•The Sultan of Ghazni was undoubtedly muslim. The people he deported were relocated in Afghanistan, Khorassan and other areas of Iran. This would have not favoured the adoption of cultural elements from Mazdeism (that are quite evident in Romany culture), but on the contrary, would have contributed to avoid them, since the fire-worshippers were almost annihilated by muslims - certainly an exiled people would not adopt a banned religion to be exterminated definitively! Consequently, Roma were in Iranic lands long before the rise of Islam, when the fire-worship was still the dominant religion. Roma were in Iran before reaching India, and their culture was already fully defined when they arrived there. There is one people that had exactly the same characteristics: the Israelites of the Kingdom of Samaria exiled in Media, that kept their Mosaic heritage but adopted some practices of the Magi, and only one thing they did not keep: their original language (as also Southern Jews did not; Hebrew has not been spoken by Jews until the State of Israel was founded again in 1948 c.e.). Indian Jews speak Indian languages, yet, they are Jews, not Indo-Europeans.
Now, after having briefly established the weak points on which the Kannauj-origin theory lies, it is right to consider the author's reasons:
"Mainly the following points:
•The detail 'light and dark' would explain the diversity of skin colours which is encountered among the different groups of Roma, if the original population really was mixed. There were probably many Rajputs in Kannauj. These people were unrelated to the indigenous population, but had been raised to the dignity of Kshatrias on merit. Therefore they could have been the aforementioned 'dark' portion of the population."
This is such a naďve assertion for a scholar. It is well established that Roma have mixed with different peoples along their long journey. Exactly the same as Jews. It is enough to visit Israel to notice that there are black Jews, blonde Jews, tall Jews, short Jews, Jews looking like Indians, like Chinese, like Europeans, etc. The account mentioned by the author shows that the population of Kannauj was not homogeneous, not belonging to a single ethnicity! In fact, there were Rajputs as well as Gujratis and many others, if the city was so cosmopolitan as it appears. This does not prove that Roma were the people of Kannauj.
"•The fact that the captured slaves came from all walks of life and included high born individuals could explain how they were so easily introduced to important and influential people such as kings, emperors and popes when they reached Europe. This was because, among the Roma, there were descendants of 'notables' from Kannauj. The French indologist Louis Frédéric confirms that the population of Kannauj consisted mostly of 'notables', artists, craftsmen and warriors."
This is pure speculation. Roma usually ascribe themselves some notable title in order to gain favours, safe-conducts, etc. It was still practised by Roma arriving in South America only one century ago, that claimed to be "princes of Egypt" or notables from somewhere else. The authorities began to be suspicious after so many princes were arriving from strange countries. There is an important fact that the author has not taken into consideration: He has previously stated that Kannauj was a prestigious brahmanist centre: How is it possible that there is not any priestly caste among Roma? What happened with the presumed "Rom brahmins"? All Indo-Aryan peoples had a priestly caste, and many other peoples had, including Medo-Persians (the Magi) and also Semitic peoples, except one: The Northern Israelites - after their separation from Judah, they lost the Levites and therefore, no special Tribe was appointed for priesthood. There were notables, artists, craftsmen, warriors and every kind of social status among Israelites, but no priests. What is also interesting, Israelite notables were very appreciated in the heathen kings' courts, and as they had a particular prophetic gift, many Israelites became Magi in Persia, as well as soothsayers and enchanters. Not to forget that the most common magic practised by Roma is Tarot, of Hebrew invention.
"•This social diversity in the original deported population may also account for the continuing survival of the Romani language, nearly a thousand years after the exodus. As sociolinguistics has shown, the greater the degree to which an exiled population consists of mixed social backgrounds, the stronger and the longer it will carry on transmitting its original language."
This assertion supports nothing, and is quite questionable, as there are many examples of the contrary: history attests that Hebrews were taken into exile from every social status, and they lost their language in a relatively short time - a singular fact is that they kept the different languages they adopted in exile for long time instead of their original one, for example, Mizrachi Jews still speak Assyrian Aramaic; Sephardi Jews speak Ladino, a medieval Spanish that they keep after six centuries of having been expelled from Spain; Ashekenazi Jews speak Yiddisch, and Roma speak Romany, the language they adopted in exile.
Other examples of peoples from every social level taken in exile or emigrated in considerable number that have lost their language in a short time are American, Brazilian and Caribbean Black peoples, 2nd-3rd generation Italians in America, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, etc, 2nd-3rd generation Arabs in the same countries, etc. Other communities have a stronger link to their language, like Armenians, Roma or Jews. There is not an universal pattern as the author asserts.
"•The geographical unity of the place from which the Roma' ancestors left accounts also for the striking coherence of the Indian element in the Romani language, since the main differences between the dialects are not to be found in the Indian component of the language but in the vocabulary borrowed on European soil."
This fact does not imply that their origin was in the area of India. It is true that the Romany language was initially formed in an Indo-European context, but the same "Indian" words are common to other languages that existed outside the sub-continent, namely, in Mesopotamia. Hurritic tongues are the most likely background from which Indian languages emerged (just check the ancient Mitanni records to realize that Sanskrit originated in that region). Sanskrit-related tongues were spoken in a vast area of the Middle East, including Kanaan: the biblical Horites (Hurrites) dwelled in Negev, Yevusites and Hivvites, two Hurrian tribes, in the area of Judah and Galilea. Northern Israelites were initially relocated by Assyrians in "Hala, Havur, Guzana and the cities of the Medes" (2Kings 17:6) - that is exactly the land of Hurrites. After the fall of Nineveh under Babylon, most Hurrians, with part of the exiled Israelites, emigrated eastwards and founded Khwarezm, from where they furtherly colonized the Indus Valley and the upper Ganges region. It is interesting that some particular words in Romany language are ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, words that can have never been acquired in a later period on their way through the Middle East to Europe, but only in a very early stage of their history, before their arrival in India. A very important one and never considered by the "Indian-origin-theory" scholars is Roma's self-ethnonym: "Rom". There is no mention in any Sanskrit document of any Rom people. The word itself meaning "man", has only one reference: ancient Egyptian, rom=man. According to the Bible, Northern Israelites had some dialectal differences from Judahites, and were more attached to the Egyptian culture as well as to the Kanaanite environment. The Israelite religion after they split from Judah recalled the Egyptian one, the calf-worship. Therefore, it is not unlikely that the Egyptian word meaning man was still used by Northern Israelites even after the exile in Hanigalbat and Arrapkha, and afterwards.
Yet, as the origins should not be sought through the language, I shall not extend this topic here.
"•This argument completely undermines the theory that the Roma originated 'from a simple conglomeration of 'Dom tribes' (or whatever other groups). It is worth mentioning here that Sampson had already noticed that the Roma 'entered Persia as a single group, speaking one common language'."
I thoroughly agree with this concept; yet it is important to remark that the "Dom-theory" was the "official" one among scholars until recent times, and as this was discredited, also any other theory linked to an Indian origin is based on false patterns that lead to a never-ending contradictory research.
"•There could probably have been a great number of Dhomba artists in Kannauj, as in all the civilised cities of those times. As the main intellectual and spiritual urban centre in northern India, Kannauj doubtless attracted numerous artists, among whom were many Dhomba (perhaps, but not definitely, the ancestors of the present-day Dhombs). Now, when the Kannaujia population was scattered in Khorassan and neighbouring areas, the Dhomba artists most probably captured the imagination of the local population, more than the notables and craftsmen, which would explain the extension of the name Dhomba to refer to the entire group of Kannaujia aliens. These could have taken over this name later on to refer to themselves, as a term of self-designation (as opposed to the more general designation Sind[h]~, Pers. Hind~, Ionian Gr. Indh~ meaning 'Indian' - from which the name 'Sinto' perhaps arose, in spite of the paradoxical evolution of ~nd~ to ~nt~, which should be postulated in this case. In fact, some individual Romani dialects, mainly in Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, seem to present this evolution of ~nd~ to ~nt~ )."
Since the author does not find a feasible explanation for the term "Rom", he resorts to speculative subterfuges that are absolutely improbable. It is manifest in his own expressions: "could probably", "perhaps", "could have", "seem"... All the structure on which this theory is based falls down by the impossibility of explaining the cultural and spiritual features inherent to Rom and Sinti people, and substantially, this assertion that "might be that they adopted the Dhom designation for themselves" reveals itself to be completely fallacious. The author contradicts himself, as he previously asserted that "many of the Kannauji were notables", then he supposed that these same "notables" adopted for themselves the designation of a "lower caste" as the Dhomba artists were.
"•The fact that the proto-Romani population had come from an urban area, and were mainly notables, artists and craftsmen, might perhaps account for the very low number of Roma working in farming until now. Although 'the soil of the region was rich and fertile, the crops abundant and the climate warm', the Chinese pilgrim Xuán Zŕng (also romanised as Hsüan Tsang) notes that 'few of the inhabitants of the region were engaged in farming'. In reality, the land was cultivated chiefly for the production of perfume flowers since the antiquity (mainly for religious purpose)."
Also this assertion does not prove anything, but reinforces the hypothesis that they actually were not Indian: an accurate comparison with the Jewish people leads to the same result, as Jews were taken away from their land from every social status, yet, Jews have never been devoted to farming and have always dwelled in cities wherever they are in Diaspora. Jews became farmers only recently, in the State of Israel, because it was necessary for the development of the Nation. There are evidences in support of the fact that when Roma arrived in India, they were already people with the same characteristics they still have; as both Northern Assyrians as well as Babylonian Assyrians practised a selective deportation of both Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as we read: "And he (the king of Babylon) exiled all Jerusalem, and all the officers and all the mighty warriors - ten thousand people - and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. And he exiled Yehoyakin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and his wives, and his notables, and the leaders of the land, from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the warriors, and craftsmen and smiths..." (2Kings 24:14-16); "But the commander of the army left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers" (2Kings 25:12). The same thing did the Assyrian kings 120 years before with the Northern Kingdom, and those farmers that they left are the present-day Samaritans, while the largest number of Israelites still result "lost", and it is certain evidence that most of them migrated into India.
"•It seems that a small group fled from the razzia on the waters of the Ganges and moved towards Benares, from where, due to the hostility of the indigenous population, they left again, to settle in the Ranchee area. These people speak Sadri, a specific Indian language used mainly for intertribal communication. It is worth mentioning that Sadri seems to be the Indian language which allows the easiest communication between its speakers and speakers of Romani."
Again, the author relies on a speculative theory that links an Indian tribe with Roma only through some apparently common linguistic features, but nothing related to the Romany culture and spirituality, rules and traditions, and no historic proof. Languages are a relative reference point, and are often misleading, since they may be easily adopted by completely unrelated peoples. Perhaps the author does not know some enigmatic cases like the following one: there is a province in Argentina, Santiago del Estero, where a pre-colonization indigenous tongue is still spoken: Kechua, a dialect of the Incas' language; the particular fact is that almost all those who speak this language are not indigenous but Syrian-Lebanese Arabs settled in that province about one century ago! In a supposed future disastrous event in which no records of the Arab immigration remain, scholars of the 25th century would surely speculate that those Arabs are the last genuine survivors of the ancient Inca civilization... What they would not be able to explain is why those "Incas" had orthodox Christian traditions in a Roman catholic country, even though both traditions are by far much closer than Roma's culture to Indians' one.
Another similar example is given by Sinti themselves: in Northwestern Italy, the local Piedmontese dialect is always less spoken by Gadje, still practised mainly by senior individuals but is no longer the primary language of Piedmontese children, that speak Italian. The conservation of that dialect depends almost exclusively on the Sinti "Piemontesi", that have adopted it as their own "Romany" language and would likely be the only speakers of that tongue by the end of the present century. In an imaginary situation like the one supposed above, future scholars would reach the conclusion that the authentic Piedmontese people are the Sinti of that region...
"•Furthermore, Sadri speakers have the habit, during special ceremonies, of pouring a little drink on the floor before drinking, saying: 'to our brothers carried away by the cold wind beyond the mountains' (personal communication by Rézmuves Melinda). These 'brothers' could be Mahmud's prisoners. However, a more extensive study of the Sadri-speaking group is needed."
Another speculative conjecture based on no concrete facts. Deportations were frequent in those times, and to assert that they refer to Roma is more than hazardous. What is more significant in this Sadri tradition is that the "cold wind beyond the mountains" is hardly suitable for a westward beyond-the-rivers deportation, of course by a warm wind; it is rather referable to a deportation northwards beyond the Himalayas, where the cold wind blows.
"•The protecting goddess of Kannauj was Kali, a divinity who is still very popular among Romani people."
This is quite a strange assertion for somebody who intends to be a scholar in Romany culture, as indeed, Roma have no idea about the Indian goddess Kali, and no such "popularity" exists. I do not know if the author has inserted this false statement with the only purpose of reinforcing his theory, but I prefer to believe in his good faith. There is not any element in my family that may lead to think that such a tradition ever existed, and there is not in any of the numerous Roma and Sinti families I met worldwide, from Russia to Spain, from Sweden to Italy, from the United States to Tierra del Fuego (the southernmost land in Argentina), of every Romany branch, from Kalderasha/Churarya/Lovarya to Spanish Kalé, from Estraxharya/Eftavagarya Sinti to Finnish Kale, from Machwaya to South-American Khoraxhané. I challenge anybody to ask Roma who they think Kali was - their answer would be: "a black woman", because "kali" is the female gender of "kaló", that means black (not because they actually know that the Indian idol is also black). I know most of the very important Rom families worldwide, and I suggest the author to pay a visit to Roma in Argentina, where by some reason, Kalderash-related Romany culture is kept more authentic than anywhere else.
The devotion of some groups to "Sara kali" in Camargue is connected with Roman catholic tradition, not with the hinduist one. Indeed, there are "black virgins" in almost every Roman catholic country (including Poland!). Sara "kali" is called that way because is a black woman, who, by chance or not, has the name of the mother of the Hebrew people, and this may be the reason by which the catholic Roma have chosen her as their own saint.
"•Moreover, the former name of the city Kanakubja (also Kanogyza in Greek sources) meant 'hunchbacked, crippled maid (virgin)'. The origin of this surprising name is to be found in a passage of Valmiki's Ramajan: Kusmabha had founded a city called Mahodaja (Great Prosperity); he had one hundred beautiful daughters and one day, as they were playing in the royal garden, Vŕju, god of the wind, fell in love with them and wanted to marry them. Unfortunately he met with a refusal and out of angry he changed them to hunch back, what became the name of the city. In another version, Kana Kubja was the nickname of a disabled devotee of Krishna, to whom the god restored a beautiful and sound body in thanks for her fervently anointing his feet. In fact, 'hunchbacked maid' was one of the titles used to refer to Durga, the warrior goddess, another form of Kali. In other words, we can draw a parallel: kana kubja ('hunchbacked maiden') = Durga = Kali. Rajko Djuric has pointed out some similarities in the Roma's cult to Bibia or Kali Bibi and the Indian myth of Kali."
Another purely speculative argumentation that has no real support. Similar stories are very common in the Middle East (I recommend the author to read the "1001 Nights" for a better documentation). It is well known that Roma usually adopt tales from the lands where they dwelled, and adapt them to their own fantasy. It is also a fact that most "Romany" tales are labelled as "Jewish" tales as well, and both claim to be the original source. There are also some Persian, Armenian and even Arabic tales in the Romany oral literature.
I wonder why the author does not mention the popularity of Prophet Eliyah among many Roma groups... perhaps because he would not be able to explain the "Indian" origin of such tradition. Eliyah was a Prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
"•The time the Roma spent in Khorassan (one or more centuries) would also explain the number of Persian stems integrated in the Romani vocabulary (about 70 - beside 900 Indian stems, and 220 Greek), since Khorassan was a Persian-speaking region."
The same pattern is valid for their Indian sojourn. As such words do not prove a Persian origin, not even the Indian words prove an Indian origin, but only a long-lasting stay! The following exposition of the author is purely linguistic-oriented, and although is a valid reasoning, it still does not prove any Kannauj-origin, as we will see:
"Another striking element is the coincidence of three linguistic features linking Romani with the languages of the Kannauj area, and only or mainly with them, namely:
- among all modern Indo-Aryan languages, only Braj (also called Braj Bhakha, a language spoken by some 15 million users immediately to the west of Kannauj) and Romani distinguish two genders in the singular of the third person of the personal pronoun: jo or vo in Braj (probably o in ancient Braj) and ov, vov or jov 'he' in Romani for the masculine and ja or va in Braj and oj, voj or joj 'she' for the feminine, while all other Indo-Aryan languages have a unique form, usually yé, vé 'he, she' for both genders. These specific pronouns can be heard every day in the streets of Kannauj.
- among all modern Indo-Aryan languages, only the dialects of the Kannauj area, some of the Braj language and Nepali (Nepal is only sixty miles from Kannauj) have an ending of masculine nouns and adjectives in ~o (or ~au = ~o) identical to their Romani counterpart, which is also ~o: purano 'ancient, old' (other Indo-Aryan languages purana, Romani purano), taruno 'young [lit. in Hindi]' (other languages taruna, Sinto tarno, Romani terno). In fact the dialectal evolution of common ~a to ~o is submitted to rather complicated rules which are still to be elucidated.
- and, last but not least, among all modern Indo-Aryan languages, only Awadhi (a language spoken by some 20 millions users in a large area east of Kannauj) presents, just like Romani, an alternative long form for the possessive postposition. There is not only a strict parallel in the phenomenon itself but also the postpositions are identical in form: in addition to the short form (~ka, ~ki ~ke) which is common to all Indo-Aryan languages, Awadhi has a long variant ~kar(a), ~keri, ~kere, exactly like many of the most archaic Romani dialects, such as those of Macedonia, Bulgaria (~qoro, ~qiri and ~qere), Slovakia and Russia (~qero, ~qeri, ~qere); this form has been reduced in the Sinto dialects (~qro, ~qri, ~qre). In addition, a recent fieldwork mission in some villages of the Kannauj area has revealed traces of an unexplored vocabulary very similar to Romani (tikni 'small', daj 'mother' [common Hindi 'midwife'], ghoro 'jug', larika 'lad' [common Hindi larhka] etc...). All this justifies Professor Ian Hancock's statement that 'the language closest to Romani is Western Hindi', more commonly called Braj and sharing most of its features with modern Kannauji."
As I said before, the reasoning is interesting, yet it does not prove anything, for the following reasons:
•All the remarks that the author has listed show that Romany language is grammatically more complex than most tongues spoken in India nowadays, this means that, when Roma were sojourning in India, very likely there was a more homogeneous language still not evolved into the various tongues that by linguistic logic are easier from the grammatical viewpoint. This happened, for example, with Latin, that was once spoken in a vast area of Western Europe and that evolved into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalonian, Occitan, Romanian, etc, all of them having a much easier grammar.
•Consequently, as it is also remarked, all the Western Indian languages were once only one, from which Romany separated in an early stage of formation. Such a primitive stage of the language may very well imply the Hurrian period, before any Indian sojourn, but it is only an assumption. What emerges is that in any case, all the Western Hindi family, namely, the languages of the Indus Valley and Rajasthan, are direct descendants of that so-called "Kannauji" tongue, and this implies that Romany has not necessarily to be linked with the Kannauj area, but may very well be connected with the whole region, from Kashmir to Gujarat, from Sindh to Uttar Pradesh.
•It is also certain that the above mentioned area, from which Romany should have come, was then not related with Aryan Indians but with the Scytho-Sarmatic peoples that settled in the Indus Valley and Sakastan, including Kannauj (that was ruled by a Gujrati dynasty) and that have something in common: they all came from the West! There are overwhelming evidences that the Indus Valley peoples were Sakas and not Aryans, but this is not the subject of this essay.
•The fact that traces of that ancient language still exist in the Kannauj area does not imply at all that it is the original land, and in linguistic history there are many examples:
- once the Celtic language was widespread in almost the whole Europe, today it survives in some regions of the British Isles and in Brittany, that are not the Celts' homeland.
- taking again Latin as an example, the nearest language spoken today is not Italian but Romanian, far away from the land where Latin was born.
- once the whole Ukraine spoke Magyar and closely connected languages, for almost four centuries (between Attila and Árpád), and today there is no trace of Magyar in Ukraine, but is spoken in Hungary, Transylvania and some neighbouring regions.
- in the same way, Turkish has not been spoken in Asia Minor until the end of the Middle Ages, and it does no longer exist in its original homeland.
- it is proven that Bask language (Euskara) originated in the Caucasus, the opposite side of Europe from where Bask is now spoken and without any intermediate link, no traces of the long journey that ancient Basks performed, and no place in the Caucasus where Bask still exists, but only some related languages.
- the only people that are still able to read the Viking Sagas in the language they were written are Icelanders and Faeroese, while Swedes, Norse and Danes, where the Sagas were written, can hardly understand them.
- the ancient Sumerian language was possible to be deciphered only with the help of modern Hungarian, which shows how imprecise is to relate a tongue with the area where it is spoken at present.
There are many other examples like these, though these should be enough. Yet, there is still another quest that the author proposes:
"As far as the chronology of the exodus is concerned, it also fits with Mahmud's times, since it is clear it could not have occurred before the 10th century ce, seeing that Romani presents two main grammatical features which were constituted at the end of the first millennium, namely:
a) the formation of the postpositional system instead of the Old and Middle Indic flexions;
b) the loss of the neuter with ascription of the formerly neuter nouns to the masculine or the feminine gender. Since almost all these nouns have be ascribed in Romani to the same genders as in Hindi (Hancock, 2001:10), one can conclude that this phenomenon happened when Romani was still spoken on Indian soil. Accordingly, Romani split from other Indic languages only after these evolutions."
What the author does not realize is the following: there was not an unified Indic language, but a distinctive feature between the Scytho-Sarmatic region and the Aryan area, and that:
a) postposition is a feature very common among tongues spoken by Scytho-Sarmatic peoples;
b) only male and female gender existed in the Indus Valley variant of "Old Indic", before the brahmins achieved in unifying the whole India or most of it, consequently, also the language was unified in some way, and it is logical that both parties contributed, yet the easiest form prevailed, and the neuter gender disappeared from the Aryan variant. It was not necessary that Roma were still in India when the language was unified.
The remaining of the essay written by the author of the "Kannauj-origin theory" does not deal with the alleged Romany origin but with some historic aspects of Kannauj that are not relevant for this research, so I conclude here with the comments on his hypothesis, and begin with the exposition of other aspects of Romany culture that are certainly more important than language and demonstrate that Roma have nothing in common with any Indian people, neither at present nor in the past. The aspects that I shall present here cannot be explained by the supporters of the Indian-origin theory.
The cultural and spiritual aspects of Roma people may be classified into two main categories:
1) Hebrew-related beliefs, laws, rules and practices; very important within the Roma community life;
2) Fire-worship-related practices and some elements connected with belief; mostly regulating the relationship with the non-Roma environment.
Before exposing these aspects, it is convenient to give a brief historic outline in order to enable the reader to understand how and why Roma were in India at a certain time and why they must not be originated in that land. Roma's "prehistory" began in Mesopotamia, in the lower Euphrates Valley; their "proto-history", in the lower Nile Valley and Canaan...
During the Semitic expansion in the Middle East, an Akkadian family moved from Sumer to Canaan and later to Egypt, where it increased in number and importance within Egyptian society, so much that they were hated and submitted to slavery, until their deliverance time arrived and left the country to settle in Canaan. By that time they were constituted of thirteen Tribes, one of which appointed to priesthood, so the other twelve were the "people", called Israel. That nation had a peculiarity that distinguished them from every other nation in that time: they believed in only One God. They received a set of laws, rules and articles of faith to be observed, concerning every social aspect and their strict separation from any other people, laws regarding ritual purity and impurity, and other characteristics that made of them a peculiar people, different from any other in the world. They had a common memory, that they were in exile in Egypt, and a common legacy, that set of precepts that established that if they would have not observed them, their destiny would be exile again, not in Egypt, but in every land.
Nevertheless, as soon as they conquered their territory, the divergences between the leading Tribe and the others began to be more and more evident, until their Kingdom split into two: the Northern Tribes were more attached to their Egyptian past and as a sign of separation, they elected the Egyptian idol shaped like a calf to represent the One God (eventually worshipped also lower divinities), and rejected the priestly Tribe, that joined the Southern Kingdom, Judah. That Northern Kingdom allowed some forbidden practices related to magic, soothsaying and divination. In 722 b.c.e., the Assyrians invaded their country and sent into exile almost the whole population, leaving only the peasants, and relocated them in another country that the Assyrians had already conquered: the former kingdom of Hanigalbat-Mitanni, a land where a language very close to Romany was spoken, and whose main divinities were Indra and Varuna. That land was not in India, but in the upper Mesopotamia. The people of the land are known in history as Hurrians. Here I make a parenthesis to give a brief description of that nation, before going on with the history of our people:
The Hurrians, original Indians
The earliest evidence for an Indic language is found not in India but in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, ca. 1600 b.c.e. Here was the empire of Mitanni, extending from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Zagros mountains, in conflict with the Hittites in the west and with the Egyptians in the southwest for the control of the Euphrates river. The language of Mitanni was Hurrian; there is a clear evidence of the use of Indic vocabulary in the Mitanni documents:
ila-ni mi-it-ra as'-s'i-il ila-ni u-ru wa.na-as's'i-el (in another text a.ru-na-as'.s'i-il) in.dar (other text: in-da.ra) ila-ni na-s'a-at-ti-ya-an-na (cf. Winckler, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft No. 35, 1907, p. 51, s. Boghazkoi-Studien VIII, Leipzig 1923, pp. 32 f., 54 f.)
All the four treaty gods are mentioned in one hymn of the Rigveda (RV. 10.125.1). P. Thieme demonstrated that the gods of the Mitanni treaties are specifically vedic gods, Varun.a and Mitra, Indra and N-satyau, with these forms of their names, can be traced only in the veda. Yet, they appeared in the Hurrian records!
In the treaty between the Hittites and Mitanni, the Mitanni king swears by: Mi-it-ra (Indic Mitra), Aru-na (Varun.a), In-da-ra (Indra) and Na-sa-at-tiya (Nasatya or As'wins). A Hittite text on horse-training and chariotry, written by Kikkuli (a Mitanni) uses Indic numerals to indicate the number of turns made by a chariot on a track: aika (Indic eka 'one'), tera (tri 'three'), panza (panca 'five'), satta (sapta 'seven') and na (nava 'nine').
Another Hurrian text from Nuzi uses Indic words to describe the colour of the horses, for example, babru (Indic babhru 'brown'), parita (palita 'grey') and pinkara (pingala 'reddish'). The Mitanni charioteer is called "marya" (Indic-Vedic marya 'warrior, young man'). Added to these are a series of names of the noblemen or aristocracy of Mitanni which are clearly Indic.
It is now generally agreed by most authorities on the subject that the Aryan linguistic vestiges in the Near East are to be connected specifically with Indo-Aryan, and not with Iranian, and also that they do not represent a third, independent Aryan group, and are not to be ascribed to the hypothetically reconstructed Proto-Aryan. This conclusion is incorporated in the title of M. Mayrhofer's bibliography of the subject, Die Indo-Arier im Alten Vorderasien (Wiesbaden, 1966), and it can now be taken as the commonly accepted view. It is based on the fact that where there is divergence between Iranian and Indo-Aryan, and where such elements appear in the Near Eastern record, the latter always agrees with Indo-Aryan.
The division of Proto-Aryan into two branches, Indo-Aryan and Iranian, must have taken place before those languages were established in their eventual homes, and not merely be due to developments which took place within each of the two groups after the Indo-Aryans had settled in India and the Iranians in Iran. This conclusion could only be shown to be wrong if it could be shown that the Vedic Indians, having migrated all the way to the Punjab from their earlier home, had then retraced their steps and undertaken yet another migration in the direction of the Near East. There is no evidence for it, and it seems that a theory involving such complication can be safely ignored... A further conclusion from this is that the date of the Proto-Aryan period must be pushed back further than has often been thought, and probably it cannot be brought down below 2000 b.c.e., at the latest.
Sarasvati is in the first place the Proto-Indoaryan name of the river in Iran, which after the migration was transferred to the river in India. The Iranian name, Haraxvaiti is a loan word from Proto-Indoaryan, with a substitution of h- for s-, occurring also in Hind/Sindhu. Another case is the river name Sarayu, which was transferred from Iran (Haraiva-/Haro-yu) to a river in Northwest India, and then again from there to a tributary of the Ganges in Eastern India.
Hurrians may be presumed to have been in the Near East from early times on the basis of the old Sumerian craft-word ta/ibira, 'copper worker', for which convincing proof of a Hurrian source can be adduced (Otten 1984, Wilhelm 1988). Atal-s'en describes himself as the son of one S'atar-mat, otherwise unknown, whose name is also Hurrian. The rule of Atal-s'en cannot be dated with certainty, but probably belongs to the end of the Gutian period (ca. 2090-2048 b.c.e.), or into the first decades of the Ur III period (2047-1940 b.c.e.). Records from the Ur III period reveal that the mountain areas to the east and north of Tigris and Euphrates valley were at this time occupied by Hurrian-speaking peoples, who had meanwhile also penetrated the eastern Tigris country to the north of the Diya-la. As a result of S'ulgi's wars (2029-1982 b.c.e.), large numbers of Hurrian prisoners found themselves in Sumer, where they were employed as a labour force. This why so many people with Hurrian names can be traced in Southern Mesopotamia in the Ur III period. The etymology of some names is certainly or most probably Indo-Aryan, for example Artatama = Vedic r.ta-dha-man 'whose abode is r.ta', Tus'ratta (Tuis'eratta) = Vedic tves.a-ratha 'whose chariot surges forward violently', Sattiwaza = Old Indo-Aryan sa_ti-va_ja 'acquiring booty', Vedic va-ja-sa-ti 'acquisition of booty' (Mayrhofer 1974: 23-25). The Hurrian language was in use in the 14th century b.c.e. at least as far away as Central Syria (Qatna, also probably Qadesh), and this expansion probably results from the population shifts during the rise of Mitanni. Among the gods who were still being honoured in the late 14th century by the kings of Mitanni, we find Mitra-, Varun.a-, Indra-, and the Na-satya-twins, who are known to us from the vedas, the oldest Indian poems.
The long journey to India
Back to our people's history, the above described is the land where we find them in 722 b.c.e. This was the beginning of their newly acquired language evolution, and the beginning of their oblivion as the people that once they were, except for their consciousness of being different, a peculiar people that cannot get mixed with the "Goyim" (later Gadje). They have certain rules to which they will not renounce, the purity laws and the belief in One God, that One Who promised and fulfilled: they will be again in exile, perhaps forever... They will no longer be called "Israel", now they are just "men", that their forefathers in the Egyptian exile called "Rom".
After the Assyrian rule, Babylonians deported also their Southern brothers, but they kept their identity, their social structure and their priestly Tribe, and 70 years later, they returned back to Canaan, being now recognized as "Jews". In their relatively short exile, they achieved in bringing back to them part of their Northern brothers, but the largest number remained in exile.
Babylon fell under a new rising power, Medo-Persia, a non-Semitic people, but rather linked to the Hurrian/Mitanni. They had a particular religion that involved fire-worship and magic, indeed, their priestly caste were called Magi. The exiled people, formerly Israelites and now simply "men", Rom, were very gifted in such arts, and understood that practising them was profitable, so these elements were adopted into their own culture, but mainly concerning their behaviour towards the others, the Gadje. The Persian Empire was vast, and extended up to Sakastan, beyond the Sindh. That was a very desirable country, and would have also helped them to forget their exile in Assyria, the right land to settle and begin a new life...
Now, in these last years, a Jewish International organization called "Kulanu" ("All of us") that primarily aims at finding the lost Tribes of ancient Israel, is achieving in this task, and there is a particular area of the world where many of them have been finally found: India. There are descendants of the Israelites exiled by Assyrians in every part of India, from Kashmir to Kerala, from Assam to Afghanistan. They are being identified, not through their language, that is Indic, but through other cultural features - yet, none of them gathers as many Hebrew elements as Roma!
As a matter of fact, concerning the place where the commonly known as lost Tribes of Israel migrated, overwhelming evidences show that the largest number resettled in India during the Persian and Macedonian rule, and most of them preferred the Scytho-Sarmatic area, namely, the Indus Valley, Kashmir, Rajasthan and the upper Ganges region. Of course they were no longer one homogeneous mass, as they migrated in separate groups to different lands and generated new distinct ethnic entities, this means, that Roma are only one of several Israelite groups that no longer know their origin - the difference is that Roma returned back to the west, and caught the attention of Europeans, while the others remained in the east and are still ignored, and perhaps have lost most of the features that allow to identify them, characteristics that Roma have kept up to an acceptable degree.
What scholars do not take in consideration when they study the Roma origin topic is the ethnic complexity of India in that period and assume that it was an almost mono-ethnic, monolithic Aryan people, what is a fallacious assumption and definitely misleading for their research. Indeed, the strictly Aryan region was south-east from Uttar Pradesh and east from Rajasthan-Gujarat, while these regions and the lands to the west of them were inhabited by Scytho-Sarmatic, Iranic and even Greek peoples, plus the Israelite exiles. A general research on the peoples and tribes dwelling from the northwestern area of the Indian subcontinent to the Iranic region reveals that almost all of them, if not all, keep in their traditions the belief that they came from the west, usually relating their immigration either with the exiled Israelites or the contingents brought into that area by Alexander the Great. Some Pashtun clans, as well as most Kashmiri tribes claim Israelite ancestry and even trace their family origin to King Shaul; a similar tradition exists among the Kalash of Nuristan, that in many aspects recall the Roma people. The Assyrian-Hebrew exiles found a major tolerance within Scytho-Sarmatic peoples than among any other, and their countries were preferred to those of the much more intolerant Aryans. The same happened to their Jewish brothers. It is a significant fact that the largest number of both, Jews and Roma, found a safe haven in the Scytho-Sarmatic Europe for many centuries: indeed, the centre of both cultures has been Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, and Russia. Romany language would have virtually disappeared if Roma would have not dwelled in those countries, as it is a proven fact, Romany grammar and a considerable part of the original Romany terms have been lost in Central and Western Europe, due to persecutions and banishment of the open expression of Romany culture, in the same way as Jews were forbidden to practise their own Jewishness - without forgetting what would imply for Roma to be labelled as "Aryan" after the Shoah/Porhaymós... The sojourn of both peoples in Eastern Europe has even determined some characteristics concerning clothing, in fact, the present-day typical suit and hat worn by the most Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews belongs to the Polish and Baltic notables of the late Middle Ages and the subsequent period, and is not so different from the suit and hat worn by men of the most "orthodox" Roma groups. Besides clothing, Roma men usually have sideburns, an acceptable substitute of the Jewish "pe'ot".
Premises for an hypothesis:
•Romany spiritual and cultural features coincide exclusively with ancient Hebrew characteristics;
•Fire-worship elements present in the Romany society imply that Roma sojourned in Persia enough time to adopt them, and necessarily before the Islamic rule, that means, before they arrived in India;
•Remains of some early Scytho-Sarmatic rudiments in Romany customs are the only vestiges of their stay in India (besides language) and reveal that they settled in the non-Aryan region of India; such elements belong to that period and not later, because Scytho-Sarmatic culture had been largely absorbed by Slavic and Magyar civilizations when Roma arrived in Eastern Europe;
•Concerning language, it is very likely that Roma already spoke an Indic tongue before they reached the subcontinent and that such language was Hurrian, adopted during their first centuries of exile in the land of Mitanni.
There are unquestionable facts that regard the Roma people, which provide the key for discovering their true origin and allow to elaborate a feasible historic course. Here I intend to expose some of them.
Roma's belief shows the following characteristics:
•Strict monotheism, without the slightest trace of any alleged past polytheistic or pantheistic religion.
•The very personal character of God, Who is accessible and with Whom it is possible to have an argument (Hebrew conception) - not unapproachable like Allah and not even relatively accessible like in the Christian faith, that usually needs a Mediator for a personal contact with Him.
•The existence of a spiritual world, consisting in pure and impure spirits (Hebrew conception) representing good and evil who fight each other - this is also originally Hebrew, but with a marked Zoroastric influence that is typical result of the Assyrian/Babylonian/Persian exile and developed in the same way as Kabbalistic Judaism, showing a contemporaneous evolution of Roma spirituality and Mystic Judaism, within the same environment.
•The belief in death as a definitive passage to the spiritual world (Hebrew). Not the slightest trace of any idea of reincarnation.
•The dead person is impure during his/her journey to the realm of the souls (Hebrew concept), and all the items connected with his/her death are impure, as well as his/her relatives during the period of mourning (Hebrew concept). Further details under the next topic, "marimé".
•Roma's destiny after death is Paradise, while Gadje are redeemed and deserve Paradise only if they have been good towards Roma - identical to the Jewish concept of "righteous among the Goyim".
These belief patterns go beyond any "official" religion the Roma may confess. There are usually additional features and rituals that belong to their adopted faith, and which they express in a picturesque way and observe with great respect, as for example the "pomana", an orthodox practice, or other ceremonies. There are also other complementary elements of a rather superstitious nature, all of them linked with the fire-worship of ancient Persia. Some of them are considered valid for their own society, like having lighted fire in the house permanently, day and night, winter and summer (a tradition that is still kept by the most conservative families, while in general is evolving into a "symbolic" fire like the TV set, always switched on though nobody actually watching). Other customs are only practised outwardly, like fortune-telling, palmistry, tarot, etc. in whose powerful qualities Roma do not believe but use them to take some profit from the Gadje. This has been learnt from the ancient Persian Magi and alchemists.
There are founded reasons to presume that Roma were Christians since the first century c.e., that is, before they arrived in India or during the first period of their sojourn there, and that is why they did not adopt any hinduist element in their religious conception. It appears that Roma were very well aware of what Christianity consisted in when they entered Europe, even though they had no possibility of having ever read the Bible. There is something mysterious in Romany spirituality that in the last decades led them to a genuine approach to the Evangelical movements (the form of Christianity closer to Judaism, without saints and image-worship) and lately a further step to Messianic Judaism. There is no other people in the world having experimented such a massive number of conversions in such a short time. The interesting fact is that this phenomenon is not the result of missionary work but of spontaneous, autonomous will (indeed, Gadje would have hardly dared to evangelize "Gypsies", devoted to occult arts and witchcraft, according to their prejudiced views). Against all odds, Roma from different countries in roughly the same time, without connection to each other, experimented conversions and began to read the Bible. Now the missionary work among Roma and Sinti is carried on by themselves. This may be explained by understanding that there is an atavic legacy that is unique feature of Romany spirituality. Most Roma are now abandoning the ancestral fire-worship elements and the practices forbidden by Torah, like pomana, divination and other things related to it.
A feasible conjecture (remark: a conjecture) is that their first approach to the Christian faith might be connected with the biblical Magi that worshipped the child Yeshua of Natzaret; evidently, they were not just Persian fire-worshippers, but people that hoped in the promise of a Messiah for Israel, therefore, Israelites of the Northern Kingdom that at that time were fully immersed in the Zoroastrian cult, yet waiting for the redemption of their people. Historic accounts report that in the first century c.e., massive conversions took place in Assyria, where the Apostles went to rescue the "lost sheep" of the House of Israel, as many were still in that region. Some of the Apostles reached India in search of them. A curious fact is that the recently discovered Israelites of India were almost all Christian, not Hindu or other. The complete absence of Hindu elements in Romany spirituality must have some meaning.
The ritual purity laws, "marimé"
The Romany concept of "marimé" is equal to the negative form of the Jewish concept of "kosher", the first indicates ritual impurity, while the second refers to ritual purity. Besides this viewpoint difference, the essence is the same (it is like saying if the cup is half-empty or half-full). What is marimé for a Rom, is not kosher for a Jew, so both of them will take the necessary measures in order not to be defiled with such things, or if they are a necessary, unavoidable contamination, they both will follow certain rules to be purified. In the same way as Jewish kashrut, the rules that regulate marimé are a fundamental value in Romany society that set the behavioural boundaries within their social and spiritual realm and condition their relationship with the external world (the Gadje society).
Roma classify everything into two categories: "vuzhó" (=kosher, pure) or "marimé" (impure). Such classification regards primarily the human body, but is extended to the spiritual realm, the house or camp, animals and things.
•The human body: the rules concerning the parts of the human body to be considered impure are exactly the same ones that we find in the Mosaic Torah (Leviticus, chapter 15). In the first place, the genital organs, since they convey impure discharge out of the inner body, and the lower part of the body, because it is below the genitals. The upper external part of the body is pure, and the mouth in the first place. The hands are transitional, since they have to perform both pure and impure acts, therefore they must be washed in a particular way, for instance if one has to eat after having put on one's shoes or woken up from bed (the bed is impure since it is in contact with the lower body). When the hands have been defiled, they should be washed with a separate soap and dryed with a separate towel to render them pure. Different soaps and towels are always used for the upper and lower bodies, and they cannot be exchanged.
•Clothes: they are accurately distinguished since they must be washed separately, in separate recipients assigned for each category. Impure clothes must always be washed in the marimé basin, and pure clothes are still separated from the tablecloth and the napkins, which have their own washing recipient. Upper body clothes and children's clothes are washed in the vuzhó basin, lower body clothes in the marimé one. All the woman's clothes are impure during her menstruations and washed with the marimé items. The only people that apply these washing rules besides Roma are Jews.
•The camp: before the recent forced urbanization, the Romany home was the camp rather than the house. The camp enjoys the status of territorial purity, by which the physiological "business" are performed outside its proximity (or eventually the hygienic services are placed outside the camp), this is a Jewish law (Deuteronomy 23:12). Also garbage should be thrown at an acceptable distance from the camp.
•Birth: the childbirth is an impure event and should take place in an isolated tent right outside the camp, when possible. After the child is born, the mother is considered impure for forty days, mainly the first week: this rule is unique of the Mosaic Torah - Leviticus 12:2-4 -. During this period, the woman cannot get in touch with pure items or perform any common activity like cooking or even appear in public, mainly in presence of the elders; she cannot attend any religious service. Special dishes, cups and tableware are assigned to her, which are thrown away after the 40 days of her purification are over, the clothes she wore and her bed are burnt, as well as the tent or caravan where she lodged during those 40 days. This law is unknown to any people except Roma and Jews.
•Death: as well as in Judaic Law, somebody's death conveys impurity to everybody and everything that was related to that person in that moment. All the food present in the house of the dead should be thrown away, and the whole family is impure for three days. Particular rules are to be observed during those three days, like washing oneself with water only in order not to make foam; to comb or shave is interdict, as well as sweeping, making holes, writing or painting, taking photographs, and many other things. Mirrors are covered. The camp where the death occurred is abandoned and transferred to another place, or the house is sold. The soul of the dead is believed to wander during three days of purification before reaching the final abode: this is not written in the Hebrew Scriptures, but is anyway a common idea within some Judaic mystic currents. The concept that contact with a dead body attaches impurity is not found in any ancient tradition except in the Jewish Bible (Leviticus 21:1). As the Jewish Law establishes, also among Roma the dead should be buried and cannot be burnt.
•Things: they can be marimé by nature or by use, or be defiled by accidental circumstances. Whatever is touched by the lower body is impure, like shoes, chairs, etc. while tables are pure. The rules that concern these laws are described in Leviticus 15 and other Hebrew Scriptures.
•Animals: Roma consider that animals are either pure or impure, even though the patterns by which they are classified are different from the Jewish ones. For instance, dogs and cats are marimé because they lick themselves, horses, donkeys and any animal used for riding is impure because people sit on them, and so on. Impure animals cannot be eaten.
•Spirits: the evil spirits are marimé, which is also a Jewish concept.
Romany betrothal and marriage are celebrated in the same way as they were in ancient Israel. Both partners' parents play an essential role in arranging the bride's dowry and the celebration is performed within the Roma community, without any participation of Gadje's institutions. In case that the girl runs away with her fiancé without the consent of her parents, they are regarded as a married couple, but the husband's family must pay a compensation to the wife's parents, usually equivalent to twice the dowry amount; that compensation is called "kepara", a word that has the same meaning of the Hebrew term "kfar" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). The payment of the dowry by the male partner's family to the female's parents is a biblical rule, exactly the opposite to Indian peoples, in which it is the bride's family that pays to the husband's one.
There is a particular precept that must be observed to consolidate the marriage, the "virginity proof cloth", that should be shown to the whole community after the first sexual relationship - this is a rule found in Torah, Deuteronomy 22:15-17. Of course, in the case of runaway couples such rule is meaningless and consequently not observed.
Like Jews, Roma assume different behaviour standards for the relationships with their own people and for the interaction with the outsiders, so that we can state with certainty that the opposition Roma/Gadje and Jews/Goyim are regulated in a quite similar way, maybe identical in almost all details.
Since the Gadje do not know the laws regulating marimé, they are suspected of being impure or just assumed that they are, consequently, Roma would not lodge at Gadje homes and would not eat with Gadje; some Roma do not even enter a gadje house - the same custom is found in ancient Israel, and still practised by Orthodox Jews. Gadje who become Roma's friends are admitted once they are aware of the main rules they should observe in order not to offend the community, and after having passed some "tests" of reliability. Otherwise, gadje institutions are used as a "free-trade area", where impure activities may be performed with safety - a typical example is the hospital, that allows to avoid setting up a special tent for childbirth.
Courtesy, respect and hospitality are obligatory within Roma. When they greet each other should ask for each other's family wishing all members good and blessing, even though they meet the first time and do not know the respective families. Self-introduction includes one's parents names, grandparents and as many generations as they remember - civil name and surname are irrelevant; Roma are called like in ancient Israel, A son of B, son of C, of the family of the D's. This is however, a common feature of many eastern peoples, but the way Roma formulate these terms are quite biblical.
Judicial causes among Roma are presented to the elders' assembly, right according to the Mosaic Law. The Romany elders' assembly is called "kris", and is a true Court of Justice, whose sentences should be obeyed, otherwise the disobedient party would be banished from the Romany community. Cases are usually not so serious as not to be solved by a payment of an amend, as regulated by Torah (Exodus 21:22; 22:9; Deuteronomy 22:16-19).
There are many other aspects that may be of a secondary importance, which anyway recall the ancient Israelite customs and rules. Unfortunately, such details are being lost with new generations (as many have been lost among Jews as well) because of modern society systems that restrict individual and "exotic" communities freedom. Yet, the Romany feelings and tendencies are to be taken into consideration, as they correspond to an ancestral psychological heritage transferred from generation to generation, in an unconscious manner but recalling the true origins. For example, Roma do not feel any attraction at all towards Indian culture or music (what is more, Roma women have a low-pitch voice, in contrast with the Indian singers, a detail that may be insignificant, but maybe not), while they have always preferred Middle Eastern music. In Eastern Europe, most of the folk expressions are either Jewish or Romany, and many times the same work is attributed to either one or the other of these two traditions. "Klezmorim" bands were often composed by Roma together with Jews, and the European Jazz style has been cultivated by Roma as well as by Jews. Flamenco is probably originated among Sephardic Jews before they were expelled from Spain, and later developed by Roma that remained in that country. In other aspects, Roma have a great commercial skill (and if they have to work in partnership Jews are preferred) and those who choose a professional insertion in the gadje society usually prefer the same careers chosen by Jews (perhaps connected with the purity laws, that do not allow to perform every kind of work). Last but not least, Roma make a distinction between common "Gadje" and Jews, who are not considered fully Gadje but an intermediate category that observes the purity laws and consequently not subject to marimé suspicion.
See also: Romany Law.
This brief essay intends to set the principles on which a new, accurate and serious research about the origins of Roma and Sinti should be founded, instead of the insistence in going on with an only-linguistic and misleading trend. The presented facts do not exclude that Roma might have been actually dwelling in Kannauj or somewhere else in India, although the Indus Valley seems to be the most appropriate land for their sojourn in the subcontinent, but show that however Roma do not belong to the Indic (and not at all to the Aryan) background, but to a Semitic and more precisely Hebrew origin. Israelite groups were numerous throughout India, and it has been possible to rediscover some of them by setting aside the linguistic trace (because all of them spoke Indian languages) and concentrating the research on some cultural hints that revealed the true origin, such hints are up to now less relevant than those we may find now in Romany culture, yet they have been enough to determine the Israelite ancestry.
An accurate research on the historic development of the facts shows that the Kannauj origin theory is untenable. The accounts of the Ghaznavid conquest attest of incredible numbers of prisoners and cruelty beyond imagination: once that all soldiers captured in Kannauj were killed, hundreds of thousands of captives were bound, weakened, humiliated, forced to convert and sold in the slave markets. It is not the case of giving detailed description of those terror campaigns in this essay. Some theorizers speculate that the origin of Roma may be found in these mass deportations: it is rather difficult to imagine that those prisoners, who were sold as slaves, scattered throughout the empire and forced to become muslim may have ever found the way to flee as an organized group composed by people sharing the same language and culture, without any trace of islamization and with a well defined goal: to reach the Christian lands in the West. Such an hypothesis sounds rather impossible, considering the systematic annihilation of personality performed on the captives by the Ghaznavid oppressors.
The correct sequence of the ethnic, social, cultural and religious features that succeeded along the centuries considered in the Indus Valley chronology provide a key for understanding the origin of this people and the reasons of their exodus towards the West. We have enough elements to support the hypothesis that the causes for the Romany exodus were mainly of religious nature, not after the muslim invasions, but at the rise of hinduist hegemony during the Rajput era. The early accounts of the arrival of Roma in Europe are indeed related with religious identity, rather than ethnic: either alleged or true, the various reasons given by Roma for being granted permit to pass the frontiers were pilgrimage, persecution or other similar claims, and they have always identified themselves, since the very beginning, as Christians.
The Nazarene faith arrived in the Indus Valley during the 1st century c.e. According to the scarce documents that survived, this faith was first adopted by the exiled Israelites that were present in India since at least the 4th century bce. Although some traditions should not be taken seriously as true facts until the events they assert are historically proven, once they are verified the account deserves to be credited at least up to the degree provided by evidences. One of the ancient literary texts that was regarded as a legend is the apocryphal book of the Acts of Thomas, which in chapter 17 records that the Apostle Toma visited the court of King Gondapharna in Pundjab. The historian Eusebius of Caesarea, in Historia Ecclesiastica, III.1, mentions Toma as the Apostle sent to the Kingdom of the Parthians. Gondapharna has been considered only a legendary figure by historians, until his existence was verified in 1872, and the period in which he reigned was established thanks to an inscription dated at his 26th regnal year, which was the year 47 c.e. According to this discovery and further research, it is unavoidable to acknowledge that the author of the Acts of Thomas was well acquainted with contemporary sources, as the king's name could not have been known by writers of a later period.
After this first approach of the early Christianity to the Indus Valley, Assyrian missionaries held an extensive evangelization work throughout the continent, as well as other emissaries who transmitted the epistles written in Greek, which became the common language of Christians in all the lands formerly reached by Alexander's army and widely used by Hellenized peoples.
At this point, we can resort to Romany language in search for a clue to recognize the early religious belief of Roma, when they were still exiled in the Indus Valley. One of the terms that no scholar has been able to explain in a satisfactory manner is the very ethnonym of this people: "Rom". Some speculative theories have been formulated in order to find any Sanskrit origin of this word, but without any convincing result. Instead of an ethnic designation, this term may have been a religious identity: Ρωμαίοι (Romaioi), namely, Christian.
A second important Romany word leading to the same conclusion is khangheri, today translated as church. Indeed, such term indicates specifically either a synagogue or a Christian temple, not any other. Why does Romany language have this word for worship place, and not any Sanskrit term meaning either hinduist temple or buddhist stupa? Why there is not even any Romany term meaning mosque?
The scenery in which the Romany exodus took place is better understandable if we consider the beginning of brahmanic oppression and forced inclusion into the caste system as the reason for an organized group of people, with a distinct culture, laws and religious patterns, to emigrate towards a defined direction: the Christian kingdoms in the West.
It is also reasonable to place this migration before the muslim invasions: it was almost impossible that people who were enslaved and forced to convert may have managed to escape within a brief period, so that they did not even keep any Arab nor Turk term in their language, nor any custom or other cultural feature either (Turk influence in the Balkan Romany groups occurred after they were already in Europe, during the Ottoman rule, since the Balkans and Anatolia were Roman-Byzantine domain when Roma arrived in Europe). Roma stayed in Armenia as long as the region was under Christian rule, before entering Europe.
When Roma decided to leave the land in which they had dwelled for centuries, they had a defined goal: the Christian realm in the West. They departed hastily and hurried to reach the lands they were directed to, without staying for long time in the countries they found on their way. The unique characteristics of the Romany Law provide many keys to know the reasons for such exodus. They were a different people, having an ancient Semitic tradition, deeply influenced by Zoroastrian mysticism and by Scythian lifestyle ‒ they had probably also a certain degree of intermarriage with their Scythian neighbours.