ONE HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THE GYPSIES
BY A ROMANIAN MISSIONARY

THE ORIGIN OF THE GYPSIES
by John M. Kachelmyer


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. A missionary to Nepal, who spoke Nepalese, told me he could understand much of the Gypsy language.
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 word, Gypsy.


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 and entertainers.
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 colorful caravans 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 didn’t 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 were treated 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 them with 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 is nothing!


And when they arrived in Europe, whenever they came into contact with what was called Christianity, for the most part they rejected organized religion 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 eagerly 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.


Therefore, I surmise that the tribe of the “Romi” of India had once known the true and only God; or, if not, they knew of Him. They utterly rejected everything to do with Hinduism and the pagan gods. Perhaps they were evangelized even in apostolic times - and not later because of their aversion to the organized church which developed after apostolic times. With Hinduism pressing on them from all sides, and with a spark of knowledge that they had once come from the West (or that the evangelists came from the West) they decided as an entire tribe to leave India and head west to search for the true God. Only now, after many centuries of wandering, have they finally found the object of their yearning.


This is my opinion and, so far, no one has countered it.

John M. Kachelmyer
Targu Mures, Romania
June 2003