©Ronald Lee, 2009, all rights reserved
“Until lions have historians,
Stories of the hunt
Shall always glorify the hunters.’’
– African proverb
The Mystery People and the Pseudo-Egyptians
For almost five-hundred years after we Romani people appeared in Europe in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, Europeans were asking where we had come from. By then, we ourselves had forgotten our origins in North-Central India although in 1422 some Romani newcomers did tell Italians in Forli, Italy, who asked them where they had come from, that their original homeland was in India. (Muratori, 1731, Vol X1X: 890) This remained buried in the archives until recently (Informaciako Lil 7-9, 1992). Our Indian origin only started to become known in the latter 18th century among a select group of scholars such as pioneer Heinrich Grellman.
© Alexandra Oprea, July 2004, all rights reserved. Originally published in the Essex Human Rights Review (EHRR) Vol. 1 No. 1., p. 29-39. The article is available in pdf format from the Directory of Open Source Journals .
This paper centres on the exclusion of Romani women from mainstream feminist and antiracist discourses in Europe. This exclusion is explained through the lens of intersectionalism and problematic identity politics. It discusses their invisibility as perpetuated by programmes and reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It explains the absence of Romani women from Romani and feminist discourses, the uncritical view of Romani culture, and the vulnerability of Romanian Romani women to domestic violence. It emphasizes that analyses of social problems must be performed from the bottom up, looking at the experiences of those who are multi-burdened, such as poor Romani women. The paper concludes by discussing the value of recognizing privilege as the foundation for inclusive scholarship and discourse.
©Ian Hancock, 1997, all rights reserved. Originally published in T.A. Acton and A. Mundy (eds.), Romani culture and Gypsy identity (University of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield, 1997), pp. 180–7.
Language is essentially the control of thought. It becomes impossible for us to direct our future until we control our language. The sense of language is in precision of vocabulary and structure for a particular social context. (Asante, 1988: 31).
The manipulation by societies in power of the identities of subordinate groups is achieved in many ways. One such way is through discriminatory legislation, such as that enacted against the Romani people in almost every land, including the US. Another is through media representation, both factual and fictional. This last category, the portrayal of ‘Gypsies’ in poetry, film and novels, is the most effective in establishing such negative feelings because they are absorbed subliminally by children, at a time when they are most susceptible to acquiring the attitudes of mainstream society. Apart from descriptions of Romani people and their life, which are legion, the Romani language has also been the target of comment, invariably worded as fact rather than supposition. In his Tales of the Real Gypsy, Paul Kester gives his readers those ‘real’ facts about it (1897: 305):
©Hedina Sijercic, 2007, all rights reserved. This was a speech given by Hedina Sijercic at a conference during the Festival Tzigane Romani Yag / Romani Yag Gypsy Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on October 14, 2007.
Aven saste thaj baxtale, Romnjale, Romalen, Chavalen! My name is Hedina Sijercic and I am a journalist, teacher and writer. I am Romani, Canadian, born in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now living in Germany.
For 15 years now, I have lived between three cultures: Balkan, Western European ‚ and North American. My life experience as a Romni (Romani woman) living between those three worlds has been very rich. I have met Roma from countries all over the world – both domestic and refugees.
I have met our Romnije (Romani women) all over the world, and especially our Romnije living in Bosnia, Germany, France, Italy and Belgium. The lives of all Romnije are the same – it doesn’t matter where they live. Our tradition and culture are too heavy and too powerful to change the suffering faced by our women throughout the history of our people.
I am here to talk about Roma women from Bosnia and Herzegovina, about their problems and their situation in their families and in the larger society. But I cannot talk about this without informing you at the same time about the whole Roma situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and their position there which is ultimately reflected on the women.
©Ronald Lee, 2002, all rights reserved. Published in Terre Sospese – Suspended Worlds: A Photo Essay of Romani Refugee Camps in Italy. Stefano Montesi. Prospettiva Edizioni Srl. Rome. 2002.
The North-American Vlach-Roma believe there is a place between earth and Heaven, called Kalisferia in Romani, where the souls of unbaptised children, suicide victims and those who have committed crimes against God are condemned to exist in limbo. This is a dismal, fearful region of total darkness inhabited by fearsome creatures that torment those condemned to live there until they receive Grace from God to enter Raiyo, the Romani concept of Heaven. When I entered Camp Casilino 900, a Romani-refugee shanty town of shacks and trailers close to Rome, I found Kalisferia on earth!
© Valeriu Nicolae, 2002, all rights reserved. Published in The Romani Diaspora in Canada: History, Culture & Equity Issues, Editor, Ronald Lee et al., 2003, Canadian Scholars Institute Press, Toronto, Canada. Required Course Reading for Spring Seminar, NEW 343H1, University of Toronto.
How long before we kick the whole lot out? ran the headline of a 2000 article in the UK paper The Sun, on the topic of Romanian Gypsy beggars in London. Romania is the country with the largest Gypsy population in Europe. An unbelievable 84% of Romanians declare adversity towards Gypsies in polls conducted by the European Union.
A few days ago an EU politician asked me what more could Europe do to solve the “Gypsy problem”. I answered with the following joke, to point out that so far Europe has done almost nothing to solve the problem:
© Ronald Lee, 2003, all rights reserved
Much has been written about Flamenco music and what contribution the Roma have made to its development and continuity. In the past, many authorities whose knowledge of Romani history and that of Spain was peripheral have stated that Flamenco is a mixture of various elements, Spanish, Moorish, Jewish and Romani and that Flamenco evolved through a mixing of these musical traditions over a long period of time. When examined in the light of recorded history, this theory seems to be total mythology as far as the Roma are concerned.
©Ronald Lee, 2002, all rights reserved
While there are many Black Virgins and Black Madonnas in the Christian countries of the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the black statue worshipped by the Roma. at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Camargue in the South of France stands out as something of an enigma. The actual origin of this statue is lost in antiquity and there is no doubt that a Black Goddess must have existed there long before Christianity. According to some authorities the village now known as Les Saintes Maries de la Mer was originally known as Ratis, which means raft in Latin, and later, the church itself , which is shaped like a boat, and dates back at least to the 12th century, was for some time known as Notre Dame de Ratis (Our Lady of the Raft). There is also evidence that in the first century AD, Artemis, Cybele, Isis and the Celtic Triple Goddess, Matres had temples there (1).
© Alexandra Oprea, March 17 2003, all rights reserved. Published on www.eumap.org
The conceptualization of race and gender as separate and even unrelated categories has perpetuated the marginalization of Romani women in the collection of statistical data. Inherent flaws in the exclusive categories in data collection processes underscore the invisibility of Romani women. Race and gender do not exist in isolation. Minority women often experience multiple forms of discrimination as a result of race and gender (1). The marginalization of Romani women must therefore be understood in the context of both racism and sexism (2). Ethnic statistics are necessary, but must be collected in such a way as to reflect the intersection of race and gender. A multi-dimensional approach to the collection of data is an important facet to designing policies and programs to combat institutional discrimination against Romani women.
©Valeriu Nicolae, 2002, all rights reserved. Published in The Romani Diaspora in Canada: History, Culture & Equity Issues, Editor Ronald Lee et al., 2003, Canadian Scholars Institute Press, Toronto, Canada. Required Course Reading for Spring Seminar, NEW 343HI, University of Toronto.
This is what real life is about for the majority of Romanian Roma, a life most of our politicians don’t care or don’t know about.
Where ever I go people ask me where I am from. The answer is always complicated because I have to explain that although I am from Romania I am a Gypsy (Roma doesn’t say anything to most of them). In Europe, when I give this answer, people look at me like I am crazy. Gypsies are the people no one wants around: the thieves and the beggars who cheat everybody and live rich and carefree lives. But I was the manager of a respectable company with partners all over the continent. I did not prominently display any big gold rings or chains; in fact, I seemed to be absolutely normal. In North America the reaction when I say I am a Gypsy is usually “cool!” They think I must be a free spirit with some mystical ability to read their future in their palms, even though I work as a programmer. None of them know or want to know that life for the majority of Roma in Romania is a daily struggle for survival and nothing else.