Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

Who Is the Most Romani of Us All?

The internet is expanding at incredible rates. With the onset of globalisation we have the world uniting in ways that are both beneficial in numerous ways, but also deceitful in subtle ways. The benefits of the internet are apparent to all:

  • We have information at our fingertips
  • We can access services that make our lives easier, eg. internet banking, pay bills online, etc.
  • We can keep connected with long distance family and friends
  • We can use emails and other digital services that cut the production of paper
  • So much more!

The internet has its downside, however. One that is subtly deceitful, and one that I want to speak about. The internet makes the vast majority of people believe that what you see on the internet is the reality of the real world. Another way to put it is: People believe that because something is repeated and is popular on the internet, it must mean that it’s the truth of the real world.

Allow me to focus on how these matters affect Roma (Gypsies) across the world.

Internet Growth

When I first got online in 1997, only 1.7% of the world was estimated to have been connected online. I rarely came across anyone from my culture during this time.  In 2007, 17% of the world (source) was estimated to have been connected online. In that ten year gap, much had changed, including a much larger Romani presence online, and a much higher general interest on Romani people.

In 2007, I began to look around the internet and it became apparent to me that the vast majority of information about Romani people came from two main sources, the Patrin Web Journal and Dr. Ian Hancock’s research on Roma. Both the Patrin Web Journal and Dr. Ian Hancock have done an immensely good service for Roma across the world by bringing light into the world of the Romany people. I personally have huge gratitude to their work.

However, one fact remains that needs to be brought to the light. And that is, what the Patrin Web Journal and Dr. Ian Hancock’s research say only reveals one side of the story about Roma. And that is their own picture of who the Roma are; including, their own view of the Romani history and origins.

Their own picture is not wrong. But it is only one jigsaw piece in the whole puzzle! I cannot stress how diverse the Romani people are. Our origins, our history, our preferred languages and so on, are very diverse. And the Romani people cannot be put into a single box. One of the elements that makes Roma so diverse is that the all Romani people have never, ever, travelled in one combined group. Instead, Roma have travelled in groups. What unique racial mixtures, histories, languages, each group has picked up along the way is very different in each state, more different in each country, and immensely different across the world! Consider the uniqueness between Cale Roma (Spanish Gypsies) and Kalderash Roma (Gypsies from the Balkans). I’ve even encountered animosity between the Cale and Kalderash, where the Cale claimed to be more Gypsy!

The problem arises not when we have Roma sharing their personal and specific beliefs about their history and origins. The real problem is when one Romani group begins to state that their view of their history and origins is correct and all others is wrong.

The main issue that I have seen between Romani groups concerns our origins. When I first started sharing my Romany origins, being originally from Ancient Egypt, it was a shock to find many Roma attacking me for my beliefs. I was prepared for attacks from Gadje (non-Roma), but to find it coming from my own ethnic group, that was a real surprise. The line of argument from the Roma who attacked me consisted of, “We believe we are originally from India because of genetics and linguistic research, therefore your beliefs about us originating from Egypt is totally wrong, and therefore, you are not a true Rom [Gypsy].” I didn’t mind that we believed differently, but I was slightly vexed at having my Romani heritage determined for me by strangers who never gave birth to me. So, instead of futile debating about my heritage and origins, I drew a picture that I believe addressed my concerns:

Mirror Mirror

And with the drawing of that picture I left the group of quarrellers behind and moved on, not caring what they thought of me for not “defending” my beliefs. Those who know me can vouch that I hardly ever defend my beliefs in the face of adversity. It is not a constructive setting to defend ones beliefs in a slanderous environment.

It’s 2010 and Roma continue to flock to the internet. The trends shown in the Internet Growth table above, continue on with more people (both Roma and Gadje) being interested about Gypsies. And with more Roma accessing the internet we are hearing other views of our history. The Indian/Punjabi origins are still being upheld in Wikipedia and other popular Romani related sites, but we are also seeing a high influx of individual Roma who are addressing Egyptian origins and Jewish connections. I find this new wave of information very interesting as it related specifically to my Sephardic and Romani roots.

From what I can see, there are two main beliefs being scrutinised at the moment:

Two Current Romani Origin Beliefs
  • Indian/Punjabi origins
  • Indian connections
  • Around a 1000 year history
  • Jewish origins
  • Egyptian connections
  • Very long ancient history

Both groups are claiming genetic and linguistic evidence. So which group is correct? Which group holds the key to unlock the mystery of the Romani origins? I think that we have to wait for many more years before we have sure answers. As the trend continues, as more and more Roma begin to use the internet, only time will tell what other developments will arise.

My Message

No one is more Romani than the other group because we have different beliefs about our origins. Roma have to first unite together, despite our differences, if we are to expect Gadje (non-Roma) to accept us. We cannot be so hypocritical to want the world to accept us when we don’t accept each other.

Imagine! Here we are, expecting the world to accept us who have been enshrouded in mystery for so long, and we cannot accept each other because we don’t understand each other’s different beliefs in our origins.

So, let the bickering and quarrelling continue on the internet, if that is what individuals want to do. As for myself and my family, we will continue believing what we have always believed and continue observing the internet trends as they come and go over the span of time. Again, as for myself and my family, we will always have our doors open for both Roma and Gadje, I hold all equal. Afterall, we are all children of God and this spiritual heritage is more important to us than Egyptian or Indian origins.

So my question from this journal’s title stands. Who is the most Romani of us all? I guess it would be the one with the biggest head! (jokes)

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