From Where Did Gypsies Originate?
Gypsies are bands of traveling
peoples. They do not settle down in a place or spread roots in
one region. The word refers to a member of a dark Caucasoid
Gypsiologists of various regions have said that because of the
nomadic nature of the Gypsies, and a proper classification with
other nomadic groups, estimating their total number has proved
to be difficult. A rough estimate of the total population of
gypsies would be in the range of 2,000,000 to 3,000,000. A
majority of them is said to be in Europe.
It is generally believed that gypsies originated from North India.
They are believed to have originated somewhere around tenth century
and migrated to Persia in the eleventh century. From there, they are
said to have migrated to Greek islands in the fourteenth century,
reaching Britain in the 1500s. By the second half of the twentieth
century, they had spread to the two Americas and to far-flung
The gypsies had their own customs and spoke their own language,
Romany (a language closely related to modern Indo-European languages
of north India). Because they were different from every other tribe
or people, the gypsies were disliked wherever they went. They did
not enjoy good relations with the officials in the regions they
settled and were frequently forced to move from place to place. The
advantage for the gypsies here was that they could keep to
themselves and preserve their traditional custom, which they might
have lost to mixed tradition, for an incredibly long time. The
gypsies could be quite adaptive and they quickly learnt the local
language of the region that they settled in.
There were two tribes of gypsies - the Hungarian tziganes and
the Spanish gitanos. However, true-blood gypsies refer to
themselves by their generic name Rom, which means "man" or
husband". They look down on non-gypsies, referring to them as
gadj, which means "bumpkin" or "barbarian".
All nomadic gypsies migrate seasonally, along patterned routes that
ignore national boundaries. They also follow along a chain of kin or
tribal links. They generally travel in caravans of cars, trucks and
Gypsies have always preferred occupations that allowed them to
continue their nomadic way of life. While the gypsy men chose being
animal trainers, metal smiths, livestock traders and exhibitors, the
gypsy women sold potions and told fortunes.
In today's world, traveling circuses provide employment for the
gypsies as animal trainers and handlers and fortune-tellers. Some
gypsies also find employment as car mechanics. Others dabble in
selling second hand cars and trailers.
Family life and marriage
Family life among the gypsies is quite similar to the Indian way of
living. A typical family would consist of parents and their
children. When the oldest son married, he would continue to live
with his parents, during which time, his wife would learn the ways
and customs of the family. Once she has imbibed everything, the
couple would move out to live separately. By this time, the younger
son would be married and his wife would take over the task of
learning, imbibing and carrying on the family traditions.
Until the twentieth century, marriages were mainly arranged by the
parents and other elders in the family. An interesting feature of a
gypsy marriage was the practice of the bridegroom's parents paying a
bride price to her parents. The chieftain or the voivode as
he was known, handled finances and administrative issues including
the pattern of migration, and interacted with the local authorities.
The gypsies have a rich oral tradition; they have contributed very
little to written literature. Gypsy music glorified familial and
ethnic loyalty and it helped to preserve their customs, traditions
and beliefs. However, towards the second half of the twentieth
century, the gypsies had to face erosions of their lifestyle by
urban society. Integrated housing, marriage with non-gypsies and
other social changes began to erode the conservatism, which they had
treasured for centuries.