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The Romani (or Roma) people are a nomadic people group found mostly throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. However, you may know them by their more colloquial name, gypsies. For many, the word “gypsies” conjures up specific images and characteristics. Most of these perceptions, unfortunately, are generally negative. In this article, we’ll disregard preconceived notions about the Romani people and give a brief history to understand them better.


Where do gypsies come from and where are they now?


The Romani people are a nomadic people group that is known for moving from place to place. However, they can trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent. They hail from provinces along the border of modern-day India and Pakistan. The diaspora of the gypsies from the Indian subcontinent began approximately 1,500 years ago. It’s hard to know how many gypsies there are in the world, as many choose not to identify themselves as such. This practice is for several reasons, with the obvious one being the fear of discrimination. Also, those of mixed ancestry no longer choose to identify with their gypsy heritage. Estimates, however, put the number anywhere between 2-20 million gypsies living throughout the world.

The countries with the highest estimated Romani population are Egypt, the United States, Brazil, Spain, and France. However, when looking at them as a percentage of the total population, the countries are entirely different. The Balkan countries, such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania, tend to have close to 10% of their population being of Roma descent. The gypsies living in the Americas arrived there initially through their respective European colonial powers and eventually through immigration.


What is the Gypsy culture like?


Keep in mind that the Romani people have been nomadic for the past 1,500 years. They are also dispersed throughout the world in many different countries. As a result, there’s no single Romani culture. However, as they do share a common lineage, certain aspects are constant among Roma from all over.

For one thing, their language and culture is a mix of Indian culture and that of the country in which they currently inhabit. The Romani language has been studied and found to be similar to Sanskrit. Also, they tend to engage in many Hindu practices, though very few are practicing Hindus. Religiously, most Romani tend to identify as Christian or Muslim. Again, this differs based on the country which they inhabit. Some have even gone and created their religions. They also have a caste system similar to their ancestral homeland of India. The structure of the caste system differs, however.

Family (including extended family) is vital to the Roma. They often marry at a young age for both men and women. The familial structure tends to be quite traditional as well. The male is usually the breadwinner, and the female spends most of her time performing household tasks and caring for children. She must also care for her in-laws as well. However, as a woman ages, she begins to gain more respect and authority. Having children is a significant stepping stone to become more respected.


What is the History of Gypsies like?


To say that gypsies have had a turbulent history would be a gross understatement. Since their arrival in the Middle East and Europe, they have endured tremendous amounts of discrimination. Many today have negative stereotypes and preconceived notions about the Roma from their behavior. These perceptions are due to the high numbers of illicit and antisocial activity within the community. However, many are unaware of the centuries of oppression they have endured.

The first recorded Roma arrived in Europe in the early 12th century. They migrated out of South Asia in two waves – one that entered Europe through Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), and another that proceeded through North Africa and to the Iberian Peninsula. Many countries ordered immediate expulsion of the Roma, while others used them as serfs or slaves. Portugal even deported them to its colonies, hence the large amount in Brazil. Other than blatant racism, many kingdoms also cited discomfort with their wandering nature as means for expulsion.

The Roma did start to gain better treatment in England and France in the 1500s and 1600s. However, that was unfortunately not the case elsewhere. As vagrants, they were the target of forced military service by both the French and the Dutch during the Franco-Dutch war. After the war, the Dutch went so far as to eradicate them. The Spanish restricted them to certain towns in specified amounts. The residents of the Balkans continued to hold the Roma as slaves well into the 1800s. Elsewhere, they were the target of ethnic cleansing, branding, and forced labor. The Polish and Russians, however, were much more tolerant of the Roma.


Modern and Contemporary History of Gypsies


It was around the late 1800s when the Roma began to emigrate to North America, particularly those in Great Britain. Persecution continued through the Nazi era in Germany, where they sent the Roma to concentration camps and often killed them on sight. After World War II, the Czechoslovak government created a policy to sterilize their women to reduce their population.

Today, many continue to live in poverty and oppression. As mentioned, the inhabitants of the countries with significant Roma population perceive them in a negative light, citing their illicit behavior. However, this is the vicious cycle of any continuously oppressed group. As long as societies oppress them, they will continue to live in poverty and rely on crime to survive. Because of this behavior, the oppressors will label them negatively, continuing the downward spiral. This cycle will endure until people are genuinely exposed to their plight.

If you want to learn more about gypsies, check out their Wikipedia page. Most of the information in this article was sourced from this page.

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  1. Hello. I was wondering if you could please send me the links or places that you got this information from. I need it for a public speaking speech. This would be very much appreciated or else I can not use your source. Thanks!

    • Hi Lana,

      Thank you for reaching out. I did source a lot of it from Wikipedia ( and my own personal experience while traveling. Wikipedia has its list of sources at the bottom and I made sure to double-check these facts and make sure those sources were valid as well.


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