Gypsies, Roma, Travellers: An Animated History

The Roma are a people like any other, dispersed across many lands and territories over time and circumstance.
Editor’s note: The terms Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers are broad titles which describe diverse and different communities and are used in this article and film as general descriptors for the purpose of clarity. For a fuller discussion of these terms see the comments section below and Roma explainer at right.

Europe is home to 10–12 million Roma and Travellers, yet many Europeans are unable to answer the basic question, “Who are the Roma?” Even fewer can answer questions about their history.

It is a complex and highly contested narrative, partly because the “Roma” are not a single, homogeneous group of people. They can include Romanichals in England; Kalé in Wales and Finland; Travellers in Ireland (who are not Roma), Scotland, Sweden, and Norway; Manouche from France; Gitano from Spain; Sinti from Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy; Ashakli from Kosovo; Egyptians from Albania; Beyash from Croatia; Romanlar from Turkey; Domari from Palestine and Egypt; Lom from Armenia, and many others. It is also partly because many of these groups have differing narratives of their history and ethnogenesis (their origins as an ethnic group).

The Roma do not follow a single faith, but are Catholic Manouche, Mercheros, and Sinti; Muslim Ashkali and Romanlar; Pentecostal Kalderash and Lovari; Protestant Travellers; Anglican Gypsies; and Baptist Roma. There are variations in practises associated with birth, marriages and death, yet also linked cultures that display subtle but distinctive patterns or, as a Roma preacher once described it, “many stars scattered in the sight of God.”

Yet there is much that is shared between different groups of Roma. Roma have a common lexicon in differing dialects of Rromanës, the Romani language. There are common notions around cleanliness codes and behaviors regarding what is Rromano (to behave with dignity and respect as a Roma person) and what can be seen as part of Rromanipé or the “Romani world view.”

Roma groups often have similar occupations, drawing upon traditions of peripatetic and mobile economies that exploit niche markets, such as peddling and trading certain livestock (horses, dogs, and small birds). Roma artisans have also made livings from repairing items deemed “uneconomic” to mend, such as pocket watches, tea-pots, and porcelain dishes—the originators of what is now described as the circular economy. Many Roma, Gypsies, and Travellers are engaged in recycling and have been for centuries, long before major environmental concerns. We were also healers and herbalists for the “country people.”

Mobility has, for many Roma, been part and parcel of identity. It’s “not all wagons and horses,” though, and Roma have been engaged with agriculture (as they still are in many places), artisan skills and automobiles trading, road repairs and roofing. Metal work of all kinds has always been part of the Roma economy, as has craft production (baskets and bamboo furniture, knives’ handles, carved and decorated wagons, fairground signs). Many groups’ names actually stem from occupations—the Balkan Sepetçiler are basket-makers (from the Turkish term for woven baskets) and represent a commercial skill that was used as the basis for organizing taxable communities in the past. Diversity in and amongst Roma groups has its origins in occupational identity, as much as in any other distinctions of culture.

What “binds” or unites the communities in all this rich diversity? The idea of a common heritage of exclusion certainly contributes to the sense of shared “pasts”—the notion of always being the “outsider,” the “other.” There are connections too in the languages; the important words for water, bread, road, blessings, luck, greetings, and farewells can be common to Rromanës dialects. Terms for horses, tools, numbers, and others are sometimes close enough in many cases that one Roma person can “trade” them with another—a favorite game in many communities, as language holds the “key” to our past in its core and “loan words,” gathered over time and migration routes. Language experts have identified these commonalities and drawn from this heritage to illuminate this shared past and heritage.

The notion of the historical journey, the narrative of “the long road of the Roma” over 1,000 years since leaving the Indian lands, is also strong in many Roma groups as a component of identity, with good evidence to support this. Just as not all Italians are descended from Romans and Etruscans, not all Roma groups are direct descendants of Hindus from the Punjab or Ganges basin. However, the point of the “imagined community” is not that it is literally a fiction, but rather that it is symbolically meaningful and has a purpose in bringing together individuals around common ideas of heritage and belonging to which broadly, we can subscribe. The Roma, in this sense, are a people like any other, dispersed across many lands and territories over time and circumstance.

The remarkable thing is that (as a famous historian of the Gypsies once noted), unlike many other peoples in this context, we have no one priesthood, no single holy book, no promised land to return to and yet we not only endure and survive, we truly live in the world. The need is to go beyond this and to flourish, to achieve equality and emancipation from poverty, exclusion, and misery, to become full citizens in the lands we inhabit and to achieve the kind of potential that the creative genius of our existence so far, clearly suggests we can reach.

69 Comments

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The animated history and text "Who are the Roma?" are very informative and dynamic. Great work!!! This will be particularly useful for young adult viewers and will work well to dispel myths and stereotypes.

Excellent piece of work, and it will definitely be useful for spreading the word, particularly amongst young people

"Travellers in Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Norway"--- The Travellers are NOT Roma.

Thanks for your comment Leo - no, the Travellers in Ireland and Scotland are not Roma and we would not wish to create the idea that they are. The 'Travellers' in the title refers to those Travellers that are (such as the Swedish Resande-Romer, who have arrive in Sweden in the early 16th century or the Tattare in Norway who also enter via Denmark). The diversity of the communities of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (including the Irish and Scottish Travellers) who do share common experiences of prejudice, exclusion and marginalization need to be recognised, in the face of continuing attempts to provide uniform solutions for complex and highly differentiated communities, as I wrote in my text.

Your Youtube-Animation is really excellent for showing in a very short time the history of Roma, Sinti and other kindred groups. But - for example - the Yenish people is well since 1978 in cooperation with the Roma part of the IRU and, like the Irish and Scottish Travellers, of the ERTF (European Roma & Traveller Forum). But they still are themselves as Not-Roma-Gypsies. Therefore: the Video is great for the history of ROMA - but PLEASE delete "Travellers" from the head.... the story of NON-Roma-Travellers is a separate thing on the "to do list"

O filmó ” Kon si le řom” si jekh anda le maj šukár bučá. Kado filmo si but informatívno amaré ternemacénge. But ánda le řom žanén ke si but informácia pa aménde kaj naj čačó.
Kadja informácia trubúl te avél phirdó pe sa le řomané internetóske rigá.
But Bax thaj sastimós le řoménge katár o Švédo

Comment translated from Rromanës by Thomas Acton

The film "Who is the Rom" is one of the most beautiful works [I have seen]. This film is very informative to our youth. Many among the Rom know that much 'information' given out about us is not true. This information should be widely distributed throughout the Romani internet. From Sweden we wish good fortune and health to all Roma everywhere.

Thank you so much for this article! Where can I learn more?

Thanks Pat, please have a look at the other pieces on the OSF web pages about Roma, including the explainer. Then I would suggest taking a look at some general texts by Angus Fraser (The Gypsies: Peoples of Europe, Basil Blackwell, 2002), Jean-Pierre Liégeois (Gypsies: An Illustrated History, Saqi Books, 2005), Bo Hazell (Resandefolket: från tartare till traveller, Ordfront 2011 [Swedish]), and many of the titles from the University of Hertfordshire Press (http://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/our-structure/subsidiary-companies/uh-pr...) as a starting point. Websites from the Roma Education Fund (http://www.romaeducationfund.hu), the European Roma Rights Centre (http://www.errc.org), Pavee Point (the link is in the article), will also give you a lot of information about specific campaigns and issues. The Council of Europe has a number of useful pages too (http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/romatravellers/default_en.asp) and information about Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month can be found at the Romani Culture and Arts Company (http://romaniarts.co.uk/tag/grthm/) and here (http://grthm.natt.org.uk).

i full heartily like the cartoon for more than one reason like others that have commented on this page, link how did they get on this page in the first place. i am a Scottish traveller now. i must have put in the word traveller at some point to get here so by doing so yes i did like the info and if possible i would like to try the same format cartoon about Scottish travellers. all the best.

My father was Manouche and my mother was French. They weren't married and she gave me up for adoption. I recently found out my "roots" and have been learning ever since!

Czeresnia, thank you for your comment and even more for posting the link to this deceptively simple and very moving animated film - it is something that should be shared very widely as a resource when teaching children and young people about the Romani Holocaust. It's a really good piece!

Great writing and I second the following if I may;

"...who do share common experiences of prejudice, exclusion and marginalization need to be recognised, in the face of continuing attempts to provide uniform solutions for complex and highly differentiated communities, as I wrote in my text."

Thanks,
www.amirhedayatvaziri.wordpress.com

Ashkali are not the Roma of Kosovo and they despise to be put together in one bag with other Kosovan minorities (wich happens a lot in th case of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians). Ashkali are a distinct ethnic group in Kosovo next to Roma and Egyptians (and many other minorities).

Thanks for your comment Paulina. The Early Childhood Programme recognises the distinct identity of the Ashkali community in Kosovo and supports two Ashkali NGO's in Mitrovica south, in partnership with Save the Children in Kosovo (P-RAM and GA-GA). The piece above and my additional comments stress the importance of recognising the rights to recognition of all the communities whilst also emphasising the common challenges of prejudice, exclusion and discrimination that impact upon Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo. The work to support the Ashkali communities in Mitrovica is part of that broader work to eradicate discrimination and ensure that all of our children have the opportunity to flourish and grow, achieving real equality, through improving access to quality early childhood development services and provision.

Travellers, Tinkers, Pavee, Quinkee, Ashkali, Egyptians, Jenische ... are not a ethnic group like the Roma. The Roma are a european minority. Roma form historically established minorities in their respective countries of nationality and call themselves Kale, Sinti or Roma.

Stop compare Roma with social groups!!!!!!!!!!!!! It hurts their dignity.

James, the question of recognition of ethnic groups is one that cannot be decided by one group about others - this is part of the process of achieving equality for all groups, to recognise the rights of others to claims of authenticity and legitimacy. The groups you mention are equally historical in their claims of identity and the common experiences of racism, marginalization and persecution have affected all of these groups over time in common with Romani communities. The definition of them as 'social groups' (such a definition has also been used about the Roma in many countries in the past, in order to deny them rights and recognition), and the privileging of one group over others encourages the continuing of the old story of the 'true' Romani and the 'counterfeit' or 'false' Gypsies - a story that has been used against us since the 16th century. What hurts the dignity of Romani people is the continuing violence, denial of basic rights as citizens, segregation of education and housing, suppression of Romani languages, refusal to recognise Romani history in many countries and the lack of any long term progress in health, employment, education and housing outcomes.

@James Hostetler: Yes, we (the Yenish people) and others you mentioned, are different to Roma. We live in similar circumstances and, as political-/ethnic Representation, our organisations collaborate with the Roma-NGOs. Notwithstanding each group and its members are rightly pride on the own origin.
It is absolutely wrong to mention Travellers in the head of this animation about Roma. But otherwise it is Racial discrimination to call all the non-Roma-Groups as "social groups". For though "open society" wrote a small mistake in the head, are not those hurting the dignity of Romas but you are hurting the dignity of all the since centuries in Europe living non-Roma-cultures.

Verein, whilst I wholly support your insistence upon the distinctive identity of the Yenische as different but equal, I cannot help but stress again that there are Traveller groups of Romani origins - the Swedish Resande are a good example, the Scottish Gypsy-Travellers would be another. To mention Travellers at the head of this piece is to recognise the diversity of communities with similar historical experiences, to point towards to much richer diversity amongst Roma, Gypsies, Travellers (from Romani origins) and Travellers (non-Romani origins), Sinti, Manouche, Kalé, Gitano and many others. the point, I would like to reiterate is about the commonality of prejudice, exclusion and marginalisation, the depriving of our history through attempted extermination, the continuing segregation, socially and educationally and the need for a broad coalition of independent groups that are 'lumped' together through ignorance and willful disregard in the minds of majority populations, to challenge racism and achieve equality for all.

LOL, health, work and education. Yeah right ...

I hate when UK citizens forget about their bloody history (and even present) and speak with superiority about other nations. Why isn't this present in the video? - "During the early colonial period, The Scots and the English, along with other western European nations, dealt with their "Gypsy problem" by transporting them as slaves in large numbers to North America and the Caribbean. Cromwell shipped Romanichal Gypsies as slaves to the southern plantations and there is documentation of Gypsies being owned by former black slaves in Jamaica." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_British_Isles
- "In England, the Egyptians Act 1530 banned Romanies from entering the country and required those living in the country to leave within 16 days. Failure to do so could result in confiscation of property, imprisonment and deportation(...)those who failed to adhere to a sedentary existence the Privy council interpreted the act to permit execution of non-complying Romanies 'as a warning to others' " https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiziganism
How do you want to create an open society if you repeat the same bullshit that mainstream media is presenting and not offering a broader view?

Thank you so much. Excellent film and very useful film for shedding some light on the Roma to a wider audience.

A great short. Clear, to the point, informative and great graphics.

Congratulations!

Merci pour les commentaires mais nous (Ass TERNIKANO BERNO) préparons une diffusion en 2014 d'explication approuvé sur l'histoire des Rroms et aussi diffusé par la chaîne SUTKA-CITY.

Hi! I have watched the cartoon and must say it is a great idea to advocate about the Roma, explain who they are and teach a bit of their history in a quick, fun way. As you can imagine, I have immediatly shared the link to the video on my facebook page. The only problem is that those contacts who should see it the most (because they know close to zero about the Roma, because they do believe those stereotypes that mainstream media contribute to spread, etc) do not speak English, so they won't be able to get much of the video aside from the drawings. I do my best to advocate for the Roma - I try to convince people to read reports I contribute to, and get replies such as "those are your views" (so much for scientific research). People are too lazy to even read, but they may make the effort to watch a video and read its subtitles. So, my question is: is there any way that the video could be produced with Italian subtitles? The majority of Italians do not speak English, but a video in Italian could be even aired on national tv so that "the average Italian" could be fed with it. I can volunteer to translate the text, if needed. Really, this would help a lot achieving your purpose. Let me know!

Claudia, thanks very much for your comment and for sharing the film with a wider audience. We have five other languages available at present: Hungarian, Rumanian, Welsh, Czech and Bulgarian, as these countries have populations large enough (in addition to the English speaking Romani and Traveller communities that the film will currently reach) that this kind of advocacy will make an impact, we hope. There are plans to produce versions for all the European languages in the coming months and with support from other European institutions. Eventually of course, we would like to see this in as many languages as possible and will work towards achieving this in the coming months. We already have a version with subtitles in English for those with hearing difficulties, so perhaps that might be a basis for some dissemination in Italy?

This is a terrific video and a great introduction to a widely misunderstood and abused people. It should be shown in every school! Claudia Tavani's comment is also spot on. At this short length it wouldn't be too difficult to translate.

Very good...pedagogical, updated, smart, modern....
we will not succeed a full socio economical and intelectual emancipation without this kind of material. We, Roma and Travelers, we have to re appropriate our common and idiosyncratic history/ies and de colonize the knowledge about ourself...

Lacho (kushti) filmo ersnos kerat. Anda Svedikko-them voltrar vorsnos chi jinnas tjakkes Roma Gypsy. Duj vavre manosh ninna savrige drom an jibben. Kava randrepa kaj honkar Svedikko dinglar romani chib ta honkar chi savrige tjakkes Roma Gypsy chib. Pansh, desh % honkar savrige lav. Sass randrepa kaj honkar randrat pre Svedikko dinglar romani chib. Chi jek lav pre Svedikko-them chib ))
Translation:
Good film you have done. In Sweden we travellers dont wount to be counted as Roma Gypsy. Two different kind of people but with the same way of life. This writing is Swedish travellers romani language and is not the same as Roma Gypsy language. Only five, ten % are same words. All writing here is in Swedish travellers romani language. Not a single Swedish word ))

I'm a Irish Traveller and very proud of my heritage and cultural way of life , we are indigenous group to Ireland and while we have a lot in common with other nomadic groups throughout Europe we are not Roma and have never claimed to be Roma .Our culture and way of life has being denied by the Irish state ,past government policies have sought to assimilate Travellers and eradicate and write Travellers from the history books for ever, we are a resilient people ,we have retained and preserved our culture and identity over centuries in face of external pressure seeking us to conform,We have sought our rightful place in Ireland and European as ethnic group and are recognised as such but no in our homeland. We are named in all government policies all but recognising ethnic status . When we travel to northern Ireland our status is recognised as we are entering into united kingdom. There is a deep rooted hatred towards Travellers that can not be found towards any other groups, people say we live on the fringes, I can tell you we are pushed to out to fringes of society as we are despised and frowned upon for holding unto our culture, so anything that educates and brings about changed is welcomed so well done

Bernard, thanks for your comments and the clear case you make about the Irish Travellers; the Irish Republic's National Integration Strategy 2014-20 offers nothing new to Travellers (or Roma in the Republic) in terms of addressing these issues, and especially a lack of political will to implement existing measures and strategies and make genuine improvements, in terms of access to services and provision, reducing the endemic discrimination and prejudice, and ensuring Irish Travellers enjoy the same rights as other Irish and European citizens. Irish Traveller culture and identity is indeed distinct and resilient over the centuries and has survived, despite the attempts to eradicate the community. Much more about the history of the Irish Travellers would educate non-Travellers and other Romani groups alike.

Interesting video. How do Roma fit into the ideas of verzuiling? Or do they? Isn't the marginalization of "others" the dialectic implication of any group trying to establish identity and solidarity? How can this fundamental dilemma be meaningfully addressed in the Open society?

It’s a pity that I can’t see YOUTUBE in China, but just this article is useful for me, it’s very informative. The explanation about “What “binds” or unites the communities in all this rich diversity?” has enlightened me. People who want to help Roma should understand them. Variant people always have variant opinions, the only thing you can do is to persist in what you persist, I think the spirit of persistence is inherently needed for Open Society.

Being part Roma myself; also an educated and of course widely travelled woman, I find it interesting that people instinctively know you are different, There are no hiding places even for a lone Roma.

We need this to be translated in many languages!!!

But šukar bući! Sastimasa!
Andaro Saraj,

Hedina Tahirovic Sijercic

THE "ROMA" - PEOPLE ARE NOT "GYPSIES", THE "ROMA" - PEOPLE ARE THOSE WHO LEFT "INDIA" IN THE DISTANT PAST, UNDER SOME HARD AND HARSH HISTORICAL CONDITIONS TOWARDS THE WESTEREN ALIEN - COUNTRIES !!!

UNDER THE NAME OF "GYPSIES" ALL THE "TRAVELLERS" OF THE "WORLD" COME UNDER IT, BUT UNDER THE NAME OF "ROMA" ONLY THOSE TRAVELLERS COME WHO LEFT "North - INDIA" IN THE DISTANT PAST AND THEY ARE LINGUISTICALLY, CULTURALLY, AND ALSO BY BLOOD CONNECTED WITH "INDIAN - PEOPLE".

Congratulations, Adrian, for this wonderful animation and article!

God Bless you
PALIKERAV VAS ADA VIDEO.
Thanks for this video.

Adrian, you tried the impossible and provided for many a good starting point. Congratulation. One little mistake (unavoidable with all these different classification): the Beyash are from Romania, not Croatia. I have put it on the NET and many liked it. It is very useful for those who want to know more about their own history and their place in the larger mozaic.

Irena, thank you for your comments. I was citing a list of groups that might be included in a general list of distinct groups and as such, the Croatian Beyash communities in Medjumurje County and other parts of the country are substantial. I recognise that historically they originate in Rumanian lands (Wallachia and Moldavia) and speak an ethnolect related to Old Rumanian - as of course you know - and in the case of the Croatian communities are in the process of developing language learning materials, as part of the work that OSF and Step-by-Step Croatia supports. I hadn't meant to imply that these groups originate in Croatia, just that they are there in numbers. The tragedy of the Croatian Roma communities and their destruction during the 1937-1945 period is another example of 'forgotten' Romani histories...

Te aves baxtalo sass romano manush.
An belven vorsnos kamar gildo )))

Cheers everyone
Party tonight)))

This is an excellent production. Very educational and so simple. Well done to all involved . Can we put a link on our website. (Irish Traveller Movement in Britain) Any plans for the open society do do one for Travellers.

Warm Wishes Yvonne

Thank you Yvonne and please do put a link to the film on your website. I would be interested in a proposal to support a short video (animated or otherwise) about Irish Travellers, perhaps as a partnership between ITMB and Pavee Point? The Programme has supported the launch of an Irish Traveller and Romani Early Years Network (see http://reyn.blog.issa.nl/irish-travellers/ and http://reyn.blog.issa.nl/traveller-and-romani-early-years-network-launch... for news about this) for Travellers working in the early years and those working with Traveller families. Please join the T-REYN network at http://edenn.org/?page_id=266

The term "Traveller" is confusing to many people, including to some Gypsies. The term "Traveller" covers many different, unrelated groups of people in Western Europe. "English Travellers" ARE Romani Gypsies, but Irish Travellers are NOT Romani/Gypsy. Norwegian Travellers ARE Romani/Gypsy, but the Yenish are not etc. etc. Some populations refer to themselves as "Traveller" because nomadism is an important part of their culture, but they might still be ROMANI/GYPSY.

The term "ROMA" commonly refers to the Eastern European wing of the Romani people. The original Western European Romani populations do NOT identify as ROMA. My father is an English Romani/Gypsy, my mother is a German Gypsy (Sinti). We would agree that we are ROMANI, but we do not call ourselves ROMA. That word means, to us, simply our distant cousins from Eastern Europe, the Roma people. All Roma are Romani, but all Romani are not Roma. All Englishmen are British, but all British people are not English.

George, thanks for drawing this important distinction and I thoroughly agree with you about the definition of 'Romani' and 'Roma' - it is a distinction that needs to be made, in the light of merging all groups under the heading 'Roma', which actually further marginalises Sinti, Manouche, Romanichals, Irish Travellers, Resande, Tattare, Beyash, Yenische and others. It doesn't detract, I think, front he common challenges and the experience of racism and exclusion that all groups of Romani and Traveller people face in increasingly fatal degrees, in most of Europe today. On this we should be united to fight against racism and exclusion…

America is not perfect, yet we have some areas designated for those who travel and stay in tents or mobile homes (but they are not usually free). My understanding has been that most of these people have a P.O. Box "somewhere". Let's face this one fact. Everyone has got to pay taxes somewhere. Being able to pick your country, state, city etc. may be the beginning of the "equal status quo".

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