Gypsies are ‘travelers’ which by definition means they are likely to be found all around the world. This means that European gypsies are of course a common sight too, and in fact gypsies have a long history with Europe.
One of the most common types of European gypsies are called the ‘Romani’ who are also known as ‘Romane, Rromane, Romany, Romanies, Roms and other version of the word. Though their origins can be traced back to the Indian Subcontinent, the Romani of course originate in some ways from Rome, and they still have their largest concentrations in Europe. In 1932 an Irish Franciscan monk named ‘Symon Semeonis’ met the migrant group known as the ‘descendants of Cain’ outside the town of Heraklion in Crete. This is the first account of the Romani people in Europe. A fiefdom called the Feudum Acinganorum was established in Corgu in 1360, and many Romani serfs used this before moving Germany by 1424 and to Scotland and Sweden by the 16th century. Though Europe was initially curious of these European gypsies, that curiosity soon turned to hostility and for five centuries the Romani were enslaved in Wallachia and Moldavia until 1856. These European Gypsies have also been subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction and forced labor in Europe. Some European gypsies have received better treatment throughout Europe however, such as in England in 1596 when a statute gave them privileges and rights over other nomads. European gypsies were also responsible for inspiring some movements and the culture has also inspired many works of art – such as the Opera ‘Carmen’.
Today the European country with the highest concentration of Romani people is Bulgaria with 4.67% of the population being Romani. Following close behind is the Republic of Macedonia with 2.85% and Romania with 2.46%.
The term ‘Gypsy’ meanwhile is an English term which comes from the Greek word for Egyptian. This comes from the false belief that the Romani people and some other Gypsies came from Egypt. However many Romani’s find the term to be derogatory.
Romani culture places a lot of importance on family, and is a patriachal society that considers virginity as essential for unmarried women. Their practice of ‘child marriage’ is highly controversial as is the practice of ‘bride kidnapping’ where girls are kidnapped from as young as 12 to be married to teenage boys. This occurs in Ireland, England, Bulgaria and other European countries (though these practices are not universally accepted by all Romani people). Some evidence of Indian heritage remains among these European gypsies including some Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary. Traditionally the Romani occupations mainly focused on singing and dancing as well as jeweler arts. Romanis often adopt the religion of the ‘host’ country, but historically are of Hindu faith.
While the Romani people are widespread across Europe, there are other European gypsies too such as the Irish Travelers of Irish origin found in Ireland and the UK. Their culture is different though it holds some similarities with the Romani people. Often they are highly Catholic and to follow a strict ethos known as the ‘travelers’ code’. Often they will live in caravans and grow up outside of the local educational systems resulting in widespread illiteracy. Like Romani European gypsies, Irish travelers also tend to marry young. Their settlements are very controversial and while some people argue for their right to travel as they please, others see them as a drain on resources who don’t give back to the communities in which they settle. Recently councils in England have been using means of force to remove Gypsies from their property such as in the case of Dale farm. As throughout history, European gypsies remain a source of controversy, but nevertheless add to the colorful history and ethnic diversity of the continent.
This post was written by admin on November 2011