When it comes to the most misunderstood and mythologized individuals in the world, the Romani are at the top of the list, and it has been that way for hundreds of years. There have been many rumors about bands of gypsies sweeping into lowly towns and seducing both men and women. They would steal everything in sight, including children from their homes. There are also many mysterious surrounding the fortune tellers, lustrous women and caravans.
Aside from all of the misconceptions about gypsies, the Romani are some of the most fascinating people in the world. Here are some of the reasons why we are all so bewildered by their presence.
No One Really Knows Where They Came From
The origins of the gypsies are very mysterious. In the early days of their travels, it seemed as if they would magically appear out of nowhere. That could have been one of the main reasons why so many Europeans feared the Romani.
Professors would theorize about it and many have said that the Romani made a large exodus from India during the 5th century. The theory that supports their flight was due to the spread of Islam, which the Romani desperately wanted to escape from in an effort to protect their religious freedom.
This same theory has them moving from one location to another such as India, Anatolia and Europe. Some historians say that the Romani split up into three branches, the Domari, the Lomavren and the Romani during their escape.
Ian Hancock, a professor and Romani activist, does not support this theory. He believes that there were as many as three separate migrations over a span of many centuries.
The Term “Gypsy” or “Gypsie” is considered an Ethnic Slur to the Romani
For most of us, the term “gypsy” means someone who is nomadic and isn’t necessarily considered to be a racial slur. But for the Romani, the word has sinister overtones. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “gypped” was derived from gypsie and “gypped” refers to a criminal act.
The Romani, who were often referred to as gypsies, were seen as outsiders and thieves. Many of them had the word “gypsy” tattooed or branded on them during the Nazi regime. Hancock has mentioned that the word “gypsy” is seen as label applied to ethic people who were considered to be outsiders.
They are Not Magical
While this may not come as a big surprise, the Romani are not any more magical than the rest of us. There are many myths that surround the Romani, and one is that they possess magic that is centuries old which has been passed down through generations and training. The myth seems to stem from the tarot card readings, crystal balls and fortune telling tents that often go along with other Romani stereotypes.
Modern literature has not helped to put an end to this type of stereotypical labeling. It is filled with references to the Romani people and their magical arts. In Jane Eyre, the Romani visit Thornfield as fortune-tellers. And in Stephen King’s novel Thinner, the main character is cursed by the Romani after killing an elderly woman.
In addition, there have also been several movies made depicting the Romani’s fictional magic. But many historians and other experts have attributed this supposed magic to be simply a misconception.
They Have No Formal Religion
According to European folklore, the Romani made a temple out of cream cheese. Supposedly, they ate it when they got hungry during a period of severe famine. This left them without a church or religion. While that is probably not the case, it is true that the Romani do not have an official religion. They usually join the church that is most relevant in the country where they live. But there are plenty of Romani beliefs and traditions, yet they may not be practiced as part of a religion.
Ian Hancock has debunked the previous beliefs that the Romani had no formal religion before or after the exodus. In his research and writings, he points out that there are many connections between the Romani and Hinduism.
They are Modest in Every Way
Do not believe everything you see on TV, for the Romani, modesty is traditionally important. While belly dancing is most often associated with Romani women, many of them do not belly dance. Instead they choose to perform traditional dances that use only their bellies, but not their hips. Because using their hips would be considered immodest. And the long. Flowing skirts that are so commonly worn by Romani women are not worn so that they can use them in seductive dances, but they are worn to help keep their legs completely covered.