Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

Chilean Gitano Origins by Gaston Salamanca

After receiving writen permission by Gastón Salamanca, a Chilean professor from the Universidad de Concepción, I translated a few pages from his now closed website on Chilean Gitanos he had authored. It is a pity the website was closed because it provided such useful information specifically about Chilean Gitanos; about the language, origins, occupations, various tribes, etc. So that the precious information Gastón Salamanca wrote may not be lost, I have provided my English translation of the webpage regarding the Origins of Chilean Gitanos. Here is the transcript:

Origins (Gitano Origins in Chile) by Gaston Salamanca

Numerous linguistic and historical studies have revealed that the gitanos migrated from the north of India around 1000 AD (Tong, 1983; Vaux de F., 1984; Hancock, 1993). However, very few Chilean gitanos indicate that this is the country which the migration started from. A relatively widespread idea amongst the Chilean gitanos is that they originated from one of the twelve Israelite tribes. Chabela Nicolich suggests: “We are from Jerusalem. From the Holy Land the first Roma came from…”.

In Chile, as far as we know, no academic publications exist that indicate the date or from what country the first gitanos began to arrive to Chile. The scarce information we have been able to find come from various newspaper articles. They all coincide in indicating Serbia as the place from where the majority of the first gitano families came from. Russia and Romania are also mentioned as countries from where the first gitanos immigrated from (Sotomayor, 1993; Contreras, 1994).

From outside our frontiers, a recent article was published by Elsie Dunin Serbian Gitanos in Chile: Immigration Data. In this publication Dunin points out:

“Although not conclusive… I speculate that the current Chilean Gypsy population may be exclusively from the pre-World War I Serbia and Bosnia. Except for the two non-Slavic names…all the reviewed names were of South Slavic origin, principally from Serbia” (Dunin, 1989: 110).

In respects to the date of arrival and the route utilised to arrive to Chile, Dunin points out:

“Earliest entry into Chile [of 48 Roma] was listed as 1900…; twenty-five arrived between 1900 and 1913 (prior to World War One); nine during the war years 1914-1917; five listed 1920-1928; five had no date of entry noted.

Entry into Chile was mostly by land. Twenty-eight came from across the Andes; nine indicated maritime entries via Magallanes (at the southern tip of Chile), Valparaiso, Arica or Panama (meaning a maritime route from the north)” (Dunin, 1989: 109).

The vocation stories that we recollect reveal the idea that the gitanos romá of Chile originate mainly from certain regions in de ex-Yugoslavia. Manine California, for example, ends a story (paramichi) saying, “…it is true, it occurred in Serbia.”

Her husband Carlos gave us more details of the arrival of their ancestors to Chile:

“By the year 1900 there was a war in Yugoslavia similar to the one happening now. So the few gitanos who had money (over there the majority of the gitanos are poor and have to dance to gain a living) caught a boat and they came to America. The majority stayed in Brasil and later parted to Chile and to the rest of [South] America. It was because of the war that the gitanos came from Yugoslavia. Some gitanos over there cut off their fingers so that they wouldn’t go to war. This is what my father and grandfather told me. Because of too much war and too much poverty the gitanos came to Chile…”

It is calcutated that there are between 5 – 8 thousand gitanos residing in Chile today (Sotomayor, 1993; Cárdenas, 1994).

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