To many of us the term Gypsy congers a romantic image of spiritual travellers quietly moving from town to town, across lush green countryside in brightly decorated vardo's. We imagine campfires surrounded by music and dance, and many happy children. We imagine town's people seeking spiritual guidance from the 'Gypsy Fortune Tellers' and natural healing therapies, and we even hold romantic notions of being 'conned' by the worldly Gypsies.
Sadly, the reality of the life of many Gypsies or Rroma, which is the correct terminology, is very different from our romantic image. The term Gypsy is regarded as an insult and offensive to many Romani people. The reality for many Romani people or Rroma today is life in internment and refugee camps, because even in the twenty first century, and after more than a millennia or persecution,
Europe's nomads, the Romani people remain unwelcome
From Middle English Gipcyan, Gypcyan (Gyptian), from Old French gyptien. Short for Egyptian, from Latin aegyptius, because when they first appeared in England in the sixteenth century they were wrongly believed to have come from Egypt. The Albanian term Evgit, Greek γύφτος (gýftos) and Spanish gitano have the same origin.
An exonym (external name) based on the mistaken belief that the Romani people came from Egypt, the term Gypsy is loaded with negative connotations. Careful speakers and most international organizations therefore use Romani, Roma or Rom as designations for the people, although narrowly speaking, the last two designate a subgroup. Rrom and Rroma (spellings which represent a trilled ‘r’) also find occasional use.
However, Gypsy is more common in informal speech than Romani, and is the term used by some British laws and court decisions, such as the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and the 1989 decision in the case of the Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton. This is because its offensiveness is not always understood by non-Romani, whose use of it is often not intended to cause offense. Further, some Romani organizations use "Gypsy" as a self-designation.
The Romani are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe and the Americas. Romani are widely known in the English-speaking world by the exonym "Gypsies" (or Gipsies) and also as Romany, Romanies, Romanis, Roma or Roms; in their language, Romani, they are known collectively as Romane or Rromane (depending on the dialect).
Romani are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe, especially the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe and Anatolia, followed by the Kale of Iberia and Southern France. They originated from India and arrived in the Middle East first and then in Europe by the 14th century, either separating from the Dom people or, at least, having a similar history; the ancestors of both the Romani and the Dom left North India sometime between the 6th and 11th century.
Since the 19th century, some Romani have also migrated to the Americas. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States; and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the nineteenth century from eastern Europe. Brazil also includes Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era. In migrations since the late nineteenth century, Romani have also moved to Canada and countries in South America.
The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which add up to an estimated number of speakers larger than two million. The total number of Romani people is at least twice as large (several times as large according to high estimates). Many Romani are native speakers of the language current in their country of residence, or of mixed languages combining the two; those varieties are sometimes called Para-Romani.
The Romani genocide or Romani Holocaust, also known as the Porajmos, was the attempt made by Nazi Germany and its allies to exterminate the Romani people of Europe during World War II. Under Hitler's rule, both Roma and Jews were defined as "enemies of the race-based state" by the Nuremberg laws; the two groups were targeted by similar policies and persecution, culminating in the near annihilation of both populations within Nazi-occupied countries.
Estimates of the death toll of Romanies in World War II range from 220,000 to 1,500,000. West Germany formally recognised the genocide of the Roma in 1982.