Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

Origins of Chilean Romani Gitanos

The academic world has been attempting to rationalise the origins of Roma for many decades. There is a general consensus, that is based on both linguistic and DNA sciences, that Roma originated from northern India. This, supposed, Indian origins for Romany people was seen as a breakthrough for anthropologists. Why? Because for hundreds of years the Roma people have been an extremely reclusive people, so much so that they have been considered as a group “that don’t want in… as far as traditional anthropological categories are concerned” (Macmillan Library Reference, 1999, s.v. “Peripatetics”).

There is some confusion for students of Romany origins because; on one hand, Roma have traditionally claimed to have originated in Egypt and Palestine; and on the other hand, Western academia have systematically denied Roma of these origins and have instead imposed Indian origins. Many Western influenced Roma believe in the pseudo-scientific hypothesis of Indian origins.

Should we be surprised that many Western influenced Roma believe in the imposed Indian origins? It would be worthwhile to observe that Roma who originally settled in Western Europe suffered a political approach from European governments which “aimed at the annihilation of the Gypsies” (Macmillan Library Reference, 1999, s.v. “Peripatetics”), which included cultural genocide. Those knowledgeable on the principles of cultural genocide understand that the typical modus operandi is to substitute the ethnic groups culture with a more “rational” (albeit, Western influenced) culture. Which is, by all appearances, what has occurred with the traditional Egyptian and Palestinian beliefs of Roma origins and the now, Western imposed origins based in India.

For a deeper reading on the European influence on Romany people, please refer to my essay, Eurocentrism and Gypsies.

Having been born in Chile, I was very interested in my research to learn what Chilean Roma (Gypsies) believed their origins were. I came across a now closed website authored by author and professor, Gaston Salamanca who allowed me to translate his website into English. Here is an excerpt of the page I translated into English.

Origins (Gitano Origins to 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).

I strongly feel an affinity with Gaston Salamanca’s research on the origins of Chilean Roma. Firstly, as my mother pointed out to me, she also believes we come from Palestine. Secondly, having both Romani and Sephardic Jewish ancestry, I also feel a connection with the twelve-tribes of Israel. Whether these evidences are right or wrong to the reader is not as important to me as the fact that they are truth for my ancestors. I believe that the Roma are one of the most diverse ethnic groups in the world, and to place us in a clinical and academically defined box would limit the very essence we exude.

For further reading on the relatedness of Roma and Jewish people, please refer to:

  1. Myths and Traditions of the Roma
  2. The True Origin of Roma and Sinti
  3. Comparison of Romany Law with Israelite Law and Indo-Aryan Traditions

Special credit goes to the author of Im Nin’alu book, also author of the above three links, and all the work and effort that has been put there to share traditional views of the Roma.

Note: If you wish to read Gastón Salamanca’s full translation on the Chilean Gitano Origins in Chile,  follow this link

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