First, it should be noted that not even the Gypsies know much of
anything about their origins. I have a rare book written in Romanian
by an educated Gypsy entitled, “Origin of the Gypsies.” The
author says, in short, that no one knows much about where the Gypsies
came from except that they came from India 500 to 700 years ago.
What their status was in India and why they left is unknown. In
order to fill up the book, since he had nothing else to say, the
author includes a dictionary of Gypsy-Romanian.
I checked the Encyclopedia Britannica and discovered that the learned
authors do not know either. Therefore, I have developed my own
theory which has been
received with some interest and enthusiasm by the Gypsies.
First, what we do know about them is this: they originated as a dark skinned
tribe of people in northern India. Their language to this day, though it
has separated into many dialects, still remains Hindi and Sanskrit roots.
to Nepal, who spoke Nepalese, told me he could understand much of the Gypsy
The Gypsies call themselves Rom or Romi (sometimes spelled Rromi). In Hindu
the word “Rom” simply means “man.” When they first
arrived in Europe, the fair-skinned Europeans inquired where these dark-skinned
people came from. Some gypsies had migrated up from Egypt so the word spread
that they were Egyptians, or “Gyptians,” which became our present
Whatever the skills the Gypsies may have originally had are slowly
being lost. They have no knowledge of farming or even gardening
but this may be the result
of centuries of nomadic living. They retain a knowledge of metalworking
and, in Romania, have a kind of monopoly on making rain gutters,
drain pipes and
ornamental metalwork for buildings. Often one will see them standing by
the side of the road selling metal funnels.
They are also noted for music and seem, originally, to have been musicians
I have knowledge only of the Gypsies in Romania. When I first arrived in
Romania in 1993, Gypsies could still be found traveling the highways in
or camped by the roadsides. They were a clannish people and avoided contact
with the Romanian population unless necessary for some gain. They were
so clannish and resistant to attempts to organize them that the communists
know what to do with them and left them pretty much alone.
There was a large ethnic German population in the Transylvanian region
of Romania (the northwest) that had been there since the year 1180
when they arrived upon
the appeal of the Hungarians to help resist the invasion of Europe by the
Muslim Turks. After WW II, and during the Communist era, the Germans
so atrociously that, when the fall of communism came in 1989, the German
government offered citizenship to all ethnic Germans; and about
95% of them returned to
Germany after an 800-year absence.
What this did was leave hundreds of houses in farming communities vacant.
The Gypsies, always ready to take advantage of anything, moved in. As
many as four
families of Gypsies would take over a four room house-sometimes more.
This virtually put an end to their nomadic existence. It provided
housing but left them with no marketable skills. To this day, most live
from hand to
mouth in dire poverty. Those knowing metalwork fare better, as do those
who provide the music at weddings and funerals.
There is a small strata of wealthy Gypsies in the cities who make their
money by trading on a large scale and through business with gold
and jewelry. The
wealthy Gypsies have nothing to do with their poor cousins.
Now let us return to India. The question remains, why did the Gypsies leave
and why did they migrate west? I have developed my theory, not on the basis
of what they did, but on the basis of what they didn’t do.
Five hundred years ago, as now, Hinduism was a powerful social as well
as religious force in India. It controlled every aspect of the people’s lives with
powerful customs. The question is then, why weren’t the Gypsies Hindus?
It is clear that when they live in India they were not Hindus, for if they
had been, something of Hinduism would have stayed with them-even some small
custom, some god, some idol, some expression, some religious idea; but there
And when they arrived in Europe, whenever they came into contact with
what was called Christianity, for the most part they rejected organized
to the extent that idols and icons were involved. At least the Romanian
Gypsies did - a strong aversion to idolatry that is remarkable.
Evangelical Christianity is fairly new on the scene of Romania. It was
suppressed under communism but it is now spreading from western Romania
to the eastern
part. At the same time, the Gypsies, who rejected the Orthodox Church and
Roman Catholicism, are now accepting the Bible-based, evangelical doctrine
by the thousands with no resistance. They still have centuries of “baggage” to
shed because they have had to live by their wits, which includes being con-artists;
yet the move toward God is intense.