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The Romani are an ethnic group found mainly in Europe. They are also known as Roma or Roms. In English they are also widely known by the name Gypsies, but the Roma consider "gypsy" a slur. They are a nomadic people that originally came from the Indian subcontinent. They migrated northwest into Europe via the Middle East. Today there are populations of Romanis found all over Europe, although the largest populations are in Eastern Europe.
Individual groups can be classified into big groups of groups: the Roma of East European birth; the Sinti in Germany and Manouches in France and Catalonia; the Kaló in Spain, Ciganos in Portugal and Gitans of southern France; and the Romanichals of Britain.
The Roma language is made official by many countries of Europe under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
The 18th-century idea about the Indian birth of the Roma is based on the likeness between Romani and languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent and is now supported by genetic evidence. The origins of the Roms were not known until 1763, when a theology student named Stefan Vali met Indian medical students. He noticed that they were physically similar to the Roms he saw in Hungary. He also noticed that they were using similar words.
It is believed to have been around the 11th century that Roms left India to go northwest, through Persia and the Middle East. Around the 15th century, the Roma reached the Balkans. From there, they dispersed through Europe. The first arrivals were well accepted. European people thought they were Christian pilgrims. The local people of Europe were fascinated by their nomadic way of life and their new sciences. The Roms were often recruited as mercenaries, horse trainers and circus artists. Roms were crossing Europe aboard large caravans which contained their luggage.
Roms also left a great musical heritage. Guitars and violins are part of their traditions. They influenced a lot of musical styles in Europe, such as flamenco, rumba, jazz, etc. During the World War II, Roma people suffered from the Nazis' discriminative policies. Statistics show that about 500,000 Roms died in Nazi concentration camps.
Even though they have been recognised, they still suffer from discrimination. Some countries still apply discriminative attitudes towards Roms, especially in workplaces and schools, where they are not accepted. The main reason why they are not accepted is that they kept their nomadic lifestyle, which is against the law in some countries like France. Their squatting communities irritate locals. The Romani created an association in 1978 to defend their rights.
- Morar B et al. 2004. Mutation History of the Roma/Gypsies. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 75:596–609.
- Kalaydjieva L, Gresham D, and Calafell F. 2001. BMC Medical Genetics , 2:5doi:10.1186/1471-2350-2-5
- Patrin: A Brief History of the Roma
- Patrin glossary