Famous Gypsies

Previous page: Artists, Writers, Actors & Actresses, Musicians & Singers.
In this page: Scientists, Nobel Prizes, Pioneers & Adventurers, Presidents of the Republic, Parliament Members, Preachers, War Heroes, Journalists, Fashion Designer.
Additional category: Fictional Characters.
Order by countries here.

Scientists

Armenia

 
Kerope Petrovich Patkanov (Patkanyan)
(Naxičevan-na-Donu, Russian Empire, 4[16]/5/1833 - Sankt-Petersburg, 2[14]/4/1889)
 

Scientist and orientalist, he belonged to the Armenian Roma people. He studied at the Lazarevsky Institute of Eastern Languages and became an expert in Armenian history, culture, language and literature. In 1863 he graduated as Master in Eastern Literature for his studies on the Sassanid history and in 1864 as Doctor in Literature for his work on the composition of the Armenian language. In 1871 he was appointed professor at the University of Sankt-Petersburg. He translated into Russian some works of Armenian writers and performed a research on the languages and culture of Caucasian Gypsies and other nomadic groups, and wrote articles on geography and history for encyclopaedic publications.

 
 

Russia

 
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya
(Moscow, 15/1/1850 - Stockholm, 10/2/1891)
 

Born Sofia Krukovskaya in a well-educated Romany family that belonged to the Russian nobility, she was a genius in mathematics since her childhood. She was able to explain algebraic formulae which she had not studied before, following a method corresponding to the historical development of algebra. In 1869 she moved to Germany with the purpose of studying natural sciences but women were not admitted in the university; nevertheless, she was allowed to attend lectures. However, in 1874 she achieved in getting her doctorate, with the highest qualification. In 1884, she was appointed as professor at the University of Stockholm, Sweden, a chair that was officialized five years later, becoming the first female university professor in Scandinavia and the third in Europe (after two Italian women).

 
 
Natalya Pankova and Lyubov Pankova

Two sisters, the daughters of Rom writer Nikolay Aleksandrovich Pankov.
 
Natalya Nikolayevna Pankova
(Moscow, 1924 - 1991)
 

She graduated in Chemistry and worked at the Institute of Organic Subproducts and Dyes as Research Assistant. During her professional activity, she was acknowledged for the invention of thirty advanced processes of cyanide dyes, for which she obtained the certificates of authorship. Natalya Pankova was not only an outstanding scientist, she was also a gifted artist, singer, dancer and painter.

 
Lyubov Nikolayevna Pankova
(Moscow, 1925)
 

She is a PhD in Biology and Senior Research Assistant at the Central Institute of Labour Capacity and Labour Organization for the Disabled. She wrote many specialized books and carried on more than fifty scientific works dealing with human and animal physiology, clinical, anatomical and nervous characteristics of children and youngsters, and other scientific topics. She has also written her life experience, in which important facts of the national history are recorded.

 
 
See also: Schack August Steenberg Krogh, under Nobel Prizes

Nobel Prizes

Denmark

 
Schack August Steenberg Krogh
(Grenĺ, Danmark, 5/11/1874 - Křbenhavn, 13/9/1949)
 

Known as Dr. August Krogh, this scientist was a Danish Rom, professor at the University of Copenhagen between 1916 and 1945. He achieved several important discoveries in zoophysiology, exposed in his books Respiratory Exchange in Animals and Man (1916), Osmotic Regulation (1939) and Comparative Physiology of Respiratory Mechanisms (1941). Awarded with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1920 for his discovery of the regulation of the capillaries during muscular work, studies which were published in his book The Anatomy and Physiology of the Capillaries (1922).


Pioneers & Adventurers

British Empire  

Augustine Bearce
(Great Britain, 1618 - Barnstable, Massachusetts, between 1686 and 1687)
 

Augustine Bearce was a Romanichel deported by the British authorities to the colonies in America in 1638 because he was a Gypsy. He was registered among the passengers of the “Confidence” being 20 years old. Probably arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, he moved to Cape Cod in 1639 and married the Wampanoag princess Little Dove Hyannos, the granddaughter of the Great Sachem Highyannough and of the princess of the Nanhigganeuck tribe. Augustine Bearce is remembered as a zealous believer in God, keeper of Shabbath and the Ten Commandments. He has illustrious descendants throughout the history of the United States. He is the best known Gypsy that married a Native woman, however, such marriages should have been rather frequent, as most of the deported Roma were male and it was much easier to find wives among Natives, being both peoples excluded from active participation in the White society. Such phenomenon was more evident in Appalachia, the land of the Melungeons.
* Augustine Bearce and Little Dove's descent includes two presidents of the United States, however, the Romany-Wampanoag heritage vanished after several generations of marriages within the Anglo-Saxon population, and these presidents cannot be regarded as Romanichel or Native Americans, of course. (This information is only a genealogical curiosity).

 
 

James Squire  
(Kingston-Upon-Thames, England, 1754 - Sydney, Australia, 16/5/1822)
 

James Squire belonged to a Romany family which was widely known in England. In 1788, he was deported on the First Fleet to Australia, where his life turned into a sequence of successful activities. He achieved in the cultivation of hops, the first one in Australia, and was also the founder of the first brewery in the continent, in 1798. He became also a district authority. His funeral was the largest one ever held in the colony.
His grandson, James Squire Farnell, was the first Premier of New South Wales born in Australia.

 
 

Germany

 
Walter Balthazzar Reinhardt
(Trier/Trčves, 1720 ? - Sardhana, India, 1778)
 

This adventurer, libelled by western historians (who cannot even assert whether he was born in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland or Austria) is also known by his nickname “Samru”, an Indic adaptation from the French “Sombre”, name given to him probably because of his dark skin. After a quarrel with his brother Jakob, he was enrolled in the French East India Company as a sailor and landed in India in 1754. He apparently passed to the British in Bengal and returned back to the French in Chandarnagar (There is another version, that he was first in the British army and then passed to the French). Whichever version is right, it is a fact that he knew very well both the French and the British war schools. Subsequently, he left the European colonizers for the Indian rulers, having his own army composed by Indian warriors and also European soldiers, mainly deserters from the British. Since history has been written by the winners -that were defeated by him-, he is slandered as the responsible for the slaughter of the British in Patna, an event that took place after he repeatedly called on the British to surrender. On the other side, if he indeed was a bloody warrior, he was not worse than the British and French officers, who certainly were neither missionaries nor Médecins Sans Frontičres. His army was the only in India that fought the British with success, and was undefeated during all his career. As a reward for his services, the Indian Emperor gave Samru Reinhardt the principality of Sardhana as his own property and realm; he married an Indian lady, Begum Yohanna Samru, that succeeded him after his death as the leader of his army.

 


 

Presidents of the Republic

Brazil

 
Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira
(Diamantina, Minas Gerais, 12/9/1902 - Resende, Rio de Janeiro, 22/7/1976)
 

President of Brazil (31/1/1956-31/1/1961), for the Social Democratic Party (moderate left). His grandfather was a Czech Rom, Jan Kubíček, born in Třeboň, Bohemia. During his government there were not prisoners of conscience. JK (as he is usually known) transformed Brazil into an industrial power, founded the automotive industry and developed the construction of roads throughout the nation. His best known achievement was the foundation of Brasília, the new capital, on April 21st 1960. President Kubitschek publicly acknowledged his Romany origin, and he often invited Roma representatives to dinner at the Presidential Residence.

 
 
Washington Luís Pereira de Souza
(Macaé, Rio de Janeiro, 26/10/1869 - Săo Paulo, 4/8/1957)
 

President of Brazil (15/11/1926-24/10/1930), was the last democratic president of the Old Republic. He belonged to a family of Calon Gypsies. Released the prisoners of conscience and stopped the curfew that was in force when he assumed government. He was writer and historian, and after his return from exile he was elected member of the Brazilian Academy of Literature. He was also a well known philanderer.

 
 

France

 
Not a President of the Republic, but the First Lady (from 16/5/2007 to 15/10/2007)
Cécilia María Sara Isabel Ciganer Albéniz
(Boulogne-Billancourt, 12/12/1957)
 

Cécilia Ciganer cannot be considered Romany according to her lifestyle or cultural patterns, notwithstanding, her Gypsy bloodline comes directly from her Jewish Rom father, Aron Chouganov, then named André Ciganer, with reference to his ethnicity, at his arrival in France from Russia. Cécilia Ciganer was for five months the First Lady of France as long as she was the controversial wife of Nicolas Sarközy, the first President of the French Republic of Hungarian origin. After her divorce, she married the Jewish producer Richard Attias.
Her brother Patrick Ciganer, now American citizen, is Program Executive Officer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

 

Parliament Members

Hungary

 
Lívia Járóka
(Tata, 6/10/1974)

Lívia Járóka comes from a family of musicians, is a journalist and has two university degrees. She was elected Member of the European Parliament when Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, for the Fidesz-Magyar Polgári Szövetség, group of the European People's Party. She is the first CEU graduated at the European Parliament and the second of Romany ethnicity. She is as well member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, and of the SAARC.

 
 
Viktória Bernáthné Mohácsi
(Berettyóújfalu, 1/4/1975)
 

Viktória Mohácsi is the second Romany woman who became a Member of the European Parliament when Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, for the Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége, replacing her party colleague Gábor Demszky.

 
 
Ágnes Osztolykán
(Csengersima, 3/11/1974)
 

Ágnes Osztolykán is a member of the National Assembly of Hungary since 2010, for the Lehet Más a Politika, the party of which she is also Parliament group leader since 2012. She is deputy chair of the Education Committee. In 2011 she received from the United States Department of State the International Women of Courage Award.

 
 

Spain

 
Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia y Montoya
(Puerto Real, Cádiz, 29/6/1942)
 

Journalist and writer, Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia was the first Gypsy member of the European Parliament (1994-1999), for the Socialist Party. In 1995 he was appointed Honorary Member for life of the Council of Europe, having been Member of the Parliament Assembly since 1983. In 1996 he founded the Unión Romaní, that is the main Gypsy association in Spain. He is author of several publications dealing with social issues as well as Romany language and grammar.

 

Preachers

United Kingdom

 
John Bunyan
(Elstow, Harrowden, Bedfordshire, 28/11/1628 - Snow Hill, London, 31/8/1688)

John Bunyan was the author of the most popular classic of Christian literature: “The Pilgrim's Progress”. He is widely considered by historians as a “Tinker”, a name given in Great Britain and Ireland not only to Gypsies but also to other Traveller groups. However, there is strong evidence that the Bunyans were Romanichals, whose traditional occupation is that of brazier. In his autobiographic work “Grace Abounding”, Bunyan wrote some statements about his descent as the most despised of all the families of the land, and considered that his particular lineage may be that of the lost Israelites ‒ such a thought in Britain in those times was exclusive of Roma. Bunyan clearly refers to his family as belonging to a non common kindred and a discriminated minority. Parish registers of the 16th century remark of the Bunyans (and similar spellings of this surname) as belonging to the “Egyptians” as well as other qualifications like “braziers”, “horse-dealers”, “fortune-tellers”, “vagrants”, etc., all of them pointing out to the Roma people. Wedding annals confirm the Bunyans having married full-blood Romanichels for generations, and in those times Roma did not marry non-Roma people. Also the area of Elstow, where he was born, has been for centuries a Gypsy settlement. John Bunyan was immersed in the river in 1653 and was a member of the Baptist Church. He became soon a successful preacher and was imprisoned for preaching without license. Many of the phrases that he wrote in his masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress, have become common expressions in English language.

 
 
Rodney “Gypsy” Smith
(Mill Plain, Epping Forest, Essex, 31/3/1860 - Atlantic Ocean, on the “Queen Mary”, 4/8/1947)
 
 

Rodney “Gipsy” Smith was undoubtedly one of the greatest international evangelists of all times, and the best loved one. He was born in a tent and did never attend a school class; nevertheless, his ministry reached the crowds in every English-speaking nation and also wrote several books and hymns that he used to sing during his sermons. Since 1899 until his death, he travelled many times to preach in America, Australia, South Africa and Europe, and wherever he was the crowds came to listen to him. King George VI honored him with the Order of the British Empire.

 
 

Norway

 
Ludvig Valentin Karlsen
(Furua, Ullensaker, 10/12/1935 - Oslo, 21/3/2004)
 

Ludvig Karlsen is considered Norway's most loved preacher. He was born in a large and humble Romany family and spent his childhood in Gypsy settlements. With only few years of primary education, he never attended neither Bible school nor seminary before he started preaching the Gospel. Through his ministry, Norwegian Gypsies have achieved a degree of dignity and respect which was them denied before. Ludvig Karlsen's message was directed not only to his people, but to the general audience, and his social work to the poor and the outcast. In 1983 he founded the Norwegian Gospel Centers, an institution for rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug-addicts, which is today one of the most important social help activites in the country. He has also edited a dictionary of the Romany language.

 

War Heroes

Roma are peaceful people. War is not part of Romany feelings, and is avoided whenever it is possible. However, when there is no choice, Roma are ready to serve the State to which they belong. Here we present some Romany heroes, who have been loyal to their country. We should consider the persons and their service to their fellow citizens, their efforts to help them taking advantage of their position, beyond the fact that the official policy of that country may be censurable according to some democratic patterns.

 

Russia

 
Aleksandr Baurov
(Sankt-Petersburg, 23/3/1906 - 18/2/1972)
 

Aleksandr Baurov was born into a family of Romany artists, musicians and singers, and he himself was to keep their tradition, having taken guitar lessons and performing in choirs in his youth. Yet, the October Revolution changed the course of his life, and he had to find a new profession. He graduated at the College of Electromechanic Communication and worked as laboratory assistant. However, he still played in an ensemble. When the Soviet Union entered the WWII, he was sent to the front in 1941, and he took his guitar to play for his fellow soldiers when there was rest moments. Owing to his skills, he was appointed as officer, as Commander of Communication Support, then as Commander of the 1st Aeronautic Division. He was awarded with an Order of the Red Star and an Order of the Battle Red Banner. He also received an Order of Alexandr Nevsky (a very rare and honourable one) for the forced crossing of Oder river, and a Polish Cross of Valor. He participated in the defeat of Nazism, in the victorious conquest of Leipzig. From 1949 to 1955, having the degree of Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineering Corps, he took part in creating and launching of the first Soviet rockets.

 
 
Pavel Yakovlevich Fedrovi
(17/2/1902 - 1984)
 

First class pilot, engineer, general-major of the Soviet Air Forces, verifier of the Scientific Research Institute of the Air Forces. He has been awarded with medals and orders for his service in the WWII. In 1943 he also established a flying speed record.

 
 
Other Gypsy Heroes of Russia
 

Roma have given thousands other heroes to Russia, many of them lost their lives fighting against Nazi armies, others have seen the victory of the Allies at the end of WWII. They all deserve an honorable memory, but we do not know all their names, so we can just mention some of them as representatives of all.
Piotr Amidzhanovich, Abdisha Olyevich, Montii Olyevich and Sejdamet Olyevich, of the Kazybeyevikh Crimean Roma family, were awarded with war condecorations.
Mikhail Dmitriev, fought all the war and entered with the triumphant Soviet army in Berlin.
Grigori Petrovich Kuznetzov, participated in the liberation of Poland and Czechoslovakia, medal for courage.
Vasily Alekseyevich Mushtakov, fought for the liberation of Budapest, awarded with medal.
Vasily Vasilkov, pilot, died in the battle of Stalingrad.
Zaikin Vasily Zakharovich, participated in the Finnish War, then died on battle field against Germans.
There were also Romany women who played an important role during the war, as Anna Belozerova, Elena Kolpakova and Aleksandra Shlykova, medical assistants, died in war.
In this category we can also list the scientist sisters Natalya Pankova and Lyubov Pankova, mentioned above, who left aside their careers and voluntarily worked hard in a plant, making shells for rocket projectors, as their patriotic conscience led them to help their country to fight the Nazi invaders.
An heroe not of WWII, but of modern times, was Jan Aleksandrovich Sergunin (Reshetnikov), Lieutenant-General and Lawyer, restored the Civil Law in the Chechen Republic, trying by all means the diplomatic way making the law to prevail over weapons; promoted the creation of rehabilitation centres in Kazakhstan; provided for free legal advisory to citizens against illegal procedures. He was also a writer in Romany language.

 

Journalists

Bosnia & Herzegovina

 
Hedina Sijerčić
(Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia, 11/11/1960)
 

Hedina Sijerčić is a journalist, reporter, broadcaster, writer, producer, editor, translator. She belongs to the Gurbeti Romany group. She was the first Romany journalist in the history of television in Sarajevo, and has also worked with refugees and immigrants in Germany and Canada.

 
 

Czech

 
Jarmila Balážová
(Brno, Moravia, 5/1/1972)
 

Jarmila Balážová is a Romany journalist working for Czech radio and television. In 1992 she founded the Romany language broadcasting, then she engaged herself in producing TV shows for children. She also writes for magazines and is the editor of a Romany monthly publication. She is a member of the Czech Government's Council for National Minorities.

 
 
 
Ondrej Gina
(Rokycany, Bohemia, 22/2/1971)
 

Ondrej Gina is the son of an aknowledged Rom activist and the first Gypsy moderator of the news journal on Czech television. Formerly correspondent for the International Romany Agency “Romnews” and reporter for the radio journal, he was requested by the television in 1999 and became moderator.

 
 

United Kingdom

 
Jake Bowers
(Haslemere, Surrey, 28/5/1972)
 

Jake Bowers is a self-made journalist born in a Romanichel family with his 17 siblings. Committed to the social rights of his people, has founded the Gypsy Media Company. He has worked for BBC television and radio, for the Guardian and the Independent and many other publications. At present he is in the process of starting internet based Romany radio in the United Kingdom.

 
 
George Bramwell Evens
(Hull, 1884 - Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1943)
 

George Bramwell Evens was a very popular BBC journalist, better known as “Romany”. His broadcastings about nature and life in the countryside were the first ones dealing with such matters. He hosted also programmes for children, in which he reproduced the sounds of nature in studio with the effect as if they were outdoors, and described the Gypsy life and his travels in caravan. He has also written books on natural history.

 

Fashion Designer

Spain

 

Juana Martín Manzano
(Córdoba, 1974)
 

Juana Martín Manzano is the first fashion designer of Romany ethnicity (Gitana). She is well known in Spain since she won the Andalusian Fashion Contest in Estepona in 2000. Then she has been awarded in several fashion contests of national and international importance, and has exposed her collection in the Pasarela Cibeles, the leading fashion showcase in Madrid.

Juana Martín's website


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Fictional Characters in Literature and Theatre

The following ones are not real people but fictional characters, yet we include them here as they are also famous Gypsies.
The Romany life style has inspired romantic authors, most of them actually unfamiliar with Romany culture, who have portrayed the Gypsies' intensely passional character in a stereotyped manner, mainly the sensuality of Romany women and their mysterious power of seduction and enchantment, as well as the Romany concept of freedom which is unconventional and incomprehensible for the established social standards.
Here they are ordered by nationality of the authors.

France
* Esméralda, the Gypsy dacer, female protagonist of the novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), by Victor Hugo.
* Carmen, of the homonymous novel (1845), by Prosper Mérimée, then adapted into opera by Georges Bizet.
Russia
* Zemfira, female protagonist of the narrative poem Tzygany [The Gypsies] (1824), by Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin.
* Grushenka, of the story Enchanted Wanderer, by Nikolay Semyonovich Leskov.
* Loiko Zabar and Radda, the main characters of the story Makar Chudra (1892), by Alexei Maksimovich Peshkov, better known as Gorkii, that inspired the film “Tabor ukhodit v nebo” [The Gypsy Camp Goes To Heaven], by Emil Loteanu, 1976.
* Masha, of the play Living Elusive Perfection, by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (around 1900).
* Olessya, of the homonymous novel (1909), by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin.
Spain
* Candela, the female protagonist of the story El Amor Brujo [Spell-bound Love] (1914), by Manuel de Falla.
* The Bride, the Bridegroom and Leonardo, of the tragic poem Bodas de Sangre [Blood Wedding] (1932), by Federico García Lorca.
Ukraine
* Tzyganka Aza, story by Mikhail Startits.
United Kingdom
* Heathcliff, the male protagonist of the novel Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Jane Brontë; it was her only literary work.

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Next page:
Famous Gypsies ‒ Flamenco Artists

See also:
The True Origin of Gypsies
Roma and “Gypsies”

 

This webpage has been designed and realized by Avraham Sándor, as a personal research.
Thanks for sources to: Alfred Schachter (Israel), Irka Cederberg (Sweden), Joăo Romano Filho (Brazil), Federico Hoffmann Reinhardt (Costa Rica), Jamie Hanley (California), Nikolay Bessonov (Russia) and the Muńoz brothers (Spain).

Notice: The personalities listed here have been included after an accurate research of sources. There are others that, being their Romany ancestry uncertain and lacking reliable sources, have been excluded.