Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gypsies Are From India

Historians generally argue that Gypsies originate on the Indian subcontinent. It appears that Northwest India is indubitably the universal Gypsy homeland. While there are dozens of verifiably legitimate Gypsy groups around the world who speak Romani or other Gypsy languages and continue to live the Gypsy dream, there is no type of united Gypsy consciousness about their origins. While there are currently more Gypsies in India than in any other country, it is not frequently acknowledged that all of these authentic Gypsy groups actually descend from the same original Gypsy stock that lived around what is now Rajasthan, Punjab, and northern Pakistan sometime around a millennium ago. Yet, recent genetic evidence showing the prevalence of yDNA haplogroup M among Gypsies confirms their common origins in South Asia.

Number of Gypsies in the Diaspora

Overall, it is thought that there are around 12-15 million Gypsies in the world. It is believed that Indian has the largest number of Roma people, with around 2.2 million. Romania and Turkey have rather sizable Gypsy populations, both somewhere around 1.5 million, although these figures are estimates. The numbers are basically all guesses, since many Gypsies do not self-identify as such for fear of persecution by authorities. Official stats on Gypsy populations are generally not reliable. The U.S. apparently has about 1 million Gypsies, with Spain, Egypt, and Brazil both at around 750,000. While most people believe that Gypsies are limited to the Euro-sphere, Gypsies can be found in Palestine, Iran, Iraq, and even Kazakhstan. Gypsies have many different regional categories, the most numerous being Kalderash, Sinti, Gitano, Romnichal, and Romani. In much of the Middle East, they are known as Domari. They are known as Nawar and Ghajar in Arabic, Tzo'ani in Hebrew, and in India - Banjara, Wanjara, Lambadi, Lambani - as well as many other names.

Reasons for Departure from India

There are several hypotheses for why the Roma people left South Asia around a thousand years ago, traveling through Iran to the Middle East, and then the Mediterranean Basin and the Balkans. One theory posits that they were commissioned to fight against invading Muslim armies and never returned to their homeland. Another theory holds that they were low-caste Hindu musicians hired by royal courts. Yet others posit that they were taken captive and transported westward. Perhaps it is most likely the the ancestors of today's Roma people departed for many of these reasons - at different times. Ian Hancock, today's premier scholar in the nascent field of Romani Studies, suggests that the Dom may have even left India about four centuries prior to the Roma. It seems most likely that the westward migrations occurred with a few different groups who spoke similar Indo-Aryan dialects and who ultimately mixed ethnically, religiously, and culturally to a limited degree with other local populations but who preserved many basic elements of the Roma nation.

Occupations & Hustles

Most European Roma groups are known for particular skills, such as bear-training, fortune-telling, coppersmithery, music, and a few more unsavory roles. Perhaps Gypsy music has been the most permanent influence of Gypsy culture on other non-Roma societies. Flamenco owes most of its magic to Gitano traditions. Liszt and Brahms incorporated Gypsy themes into their compositions. Django Reinhardt left a lasting mark on the world of jazz. Today's most notable Gypsy musicians include Goran Bregovic (Serbia), Boban Markovic (Serbia), Fanfare Ciocarlia (Romania), Taraf de Haidouks (Romania), and Beirut (non-Gypsy Americans who play Gypsy music). The Gypsy brass band plays on, without a motherland to call home...

Europe's Other Other & Antiziganism

In most European societies, Gypsies seem to be considered still the most socially and economically backward group, and they fall prey to labor discrimination, residential segregation (both urban Gypsy ghettos and rural Gypsy camps), and general miseducation. Porajmos is the Romani term used to describe the Holocaust, during which about a quarter of a million Gypsies were killed. Europe generally has not been the most tolerant place for Gypsies, one of Europe's largest ethnic minority groups. Borat's choice of a Romani village in Romania to simulate his mythical nation of Kazakhstan is reflective of the plight of many predominantly Roma towns in Europe. While there is some humor in their marginalization and ignorance, there is not much development going on in the Gypsy populations of Europe. Perhaps this is indicative of a reluctance to join the mainstream and could thus be considered a positive thing. While certain pursuits bring the Gypsies considerable infamy the world around, there is undeniable charm in their nomadic, mystical, and largely unWestern existence. Perhaps we should be thankful that the Gypsy diaspora has generally not assimilated into surrounding cultures.

Rajasthani Repatriation

There are a host of reasons why the establishment of a Gypsy nation in the Roma homeland would be a just, desirable, and fruitful event. First, the most numerous Gypsy population on earth today is already in India. The Banjara/Lambani people are spread throughout Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and other states. They were previously known to provide crucial trade links via their caravans in northern India, prior to the arrival of the British. They retain many cultural similarities with groups still living in the Rajasthani homeland from where they originally migrated. The creation of the sovereign state of Romanistan and the reclamation of their ancestral Hinduism would be an unlikely historical outcome, but it is something worth imagining.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is an accurate description of my family, and we're white Americans. Are there genuine Gypsies in America?

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