The content below is from Episode #147 The Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • This week I recommend something a bit out of the ordinary.
    • Instead of recommending a book, show, or movie title, I recommend you get yourself a white noise maker. They are pretty cheap, you can even download an app on your smartpone if you prefer to do it that way.
    • If you have kids, pets, or any other living thing in your home that could possibly make noise or be woken up by noise that you make…. you will benefit from some white noise to smooth that all out.
    • I’m a light sleeper and our noise maker stays on all night long. Tis a game changer.


  • What is a gypsy?
    • Well, they were called “Gypsies” because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt. But Gypsies are actually an ethnic group called Roma (Romani or Romany), NOT to be confused with Romanians or the ancient Romans.
      • Throughout this episode, I will be referring to them as Gypsies AND Roma/Romani because some tribes prefer to be referred to as Roma and other Gypsies.
    • Geneticists have shown that the Roma descended from a single group of people from the Punjab region of NorthWestern India around 1,500 years ago. Around the 8th and 10th Centuries, large numbers of the Romanies entered Europe. By the 19th Century (the 1800s), they had made their way to the Americas.
    • Today you can find Romanies (Gypsies) in just about every continent on the planet (minus antarctica because its too cold for people). They speak their own language conveniently referred to as Romani. Just how there are many different nations and tribes of Romani people, there are many different variations of Romani language, but they all originated from the ancient Sanskrit language and sound a lot like India’s Hindi language.
    • Gypsies don’t have a 1 overall religion either. The majority are Christians or Muslims, but like their language, there are lots of different religions amongst their people. They are nomadic people and tend to adopt the religion that is most popular for the region they currently find themselves.
  • I mentioned the word Gypsy comes from Europeans mistakenly thinking the Roma came from Egypt.
    • This term started around the 16th century and since has taken on a negative connotation. The word Gypsy is often used to describe someone as a cheat or thief rather than their ethnic background. To “gyp” someone out of a deal comes from Gypsy.
  • When the Romani people first came to Europe it was likely hard on them.
    • Historians think they would have been shunned and looked down upon because their nomadic way of life was so different from that of a European farmer always staying in the same place.
    • Gypsy customs and language would have been completely different from the Europeans. They believe the Roma had their own religion until, over time, that religion faded away.
  • From (Delores Smyth August 2019)
    • Europeans have long portrayed the Roma/Gypsies as cunning outsiders who steal from local residents before moving on to the next town.
    • Because of this distrust, European nations over the centuries have enslaved, expelled, imprisoned, and executed Romani people. Other European nations used their legal system to oppress the Roma, passing laws prohibiting Romanies from buying land or securing stable professions.
    • Some believe that these legal restrictions placed on the Roma necessitated the continuation of their itinerant lifestyle, forcing Romanies to live on the perimeters of settled society for centuries. These nomadic Roma (gypsies) traveled in horse-drawn, brightly-colored wagons and sought jobs conducive to a transient lifestyle. Such jobs included working as livestock traders, animal trainers and exhibitors, entertainers, fortune tellers, and metalsmiths.
  • Gypsies were victims of the Holocaust
    • according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
      • Most of the Roma View This Term in the Glossary in Germany and the countries occupied by Germany during World War II belonged to the Sinti and Roma family groupings. Both groups spoke dialects of a common language called Romani, based on Sanskrit (the classical language of India). The term “Roma” has come to include both the Sinti and Roma groupings, though some Roma prefer being known as “Gypsies.” Some Roma are Christian and some are Muslim, having converted during the course of their migrations through Persia, Asia Minor, and the Balkans.
        • For centuries, Roma View This Term in the Glossary were scorned and persecuted across Europe. Zigeuner, the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning untouchable.
        • Many Roma View This Term in the Glossary traditionally worked as craftsmen and were blacksmiths, cobblers, tinsmiths, horse dealers, and toolmakers. Others were performers such as musicians, circus animal trainers, and dancers. By the 1920s, there were also a number of Romani shopkeepers. Some Roma, such as those employed in the German postal service, were civil servants. The number of truly nomadic Roma was on the decline in many places by the early 1900s, although many so-called sedentary Roma often moved seasonally, depending on their occupations.
        • In 1939, about 1 to 1.5 million Roma View This Term in the Glossary lived in Europe. About half of all European Roma lived in eastern Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and Romania. Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria also had large Romani communities. In prewar Germany there were at most 35,000 Roma, most of whom held German citizenship. In Austria, there were approximately 11,000 Roma. Relatively few Roma lived in western Europe.
    • Until recently, the Romani were the unseen victims in the Nazi persecutions. The Nazi regime pursued and captured the Romani, putting tens of thousands to death by claiming that they were ethnically inferior.
      • Even today, the Romani are persecuted. Lately, many human rights organizations have begun to protest the treatment received by the Romani, whether it is forced expulsion or the denial of social services.
  • A lot of Gypsy/Roma history comes from oral tradition
    • Because they were often shunned from town and always on the move, the Roma rarely attended school and so their population is widely illiterate. Their history is almost entirely passed down through the spoken word.
  • They don’t take well to governments or any outsider telling them what to do. ( I mean, most people don’t, but the gypsies have their own system to govern themselves).
    • Being shunned and disconnected from the rest of the world in some way, the Romani people focus on themselves. They put an emphasis on the family and self-governance.
    • Those of the Gypsy nations/tribes that still remain nomadic, travel in bands of 10 to several hundred extended families. They move about in those caravans of wagons. Each band picks a male leader that keeps everyone in line and a female leader that governs the women and children.
    • Bands throw weddings, christenings, funerals, and other rites of passage. When one of these parties are thrown it is expected that EVERYONE attend. Not attending one of these community bonding parties can result in alienation.
  • Gypsy weddings can be a bit old school.
    • Firstly, they expect all women to only wear dresses once they hit puberty. Some groups still do arranged marriages, expect grooms to pay bride prices, and teen weddings are common place.
  • What if someone gets out of line?
    • The whole self-governance thing applies to punishment as well. If a member of the band commits what his/her fellow band members consider misconduct, they are usually subject to go before the community leaders (elders usually). They can lose their reputation or be kicked out of the band all together.
  • How’s life for a gypsy now? (European Gypsies)
    • Well most gypsies live in Europe. Around 10 to 12 million gypsies live in Europe today with the majority in impoverished eastern European countries. Some of them are still nomadic living in caravans and RVs.
    • The majority of gypsies have settled down though, but this hasn’t helped their socioeconomic standing. A whopping 80% of Romanies are below the poverty line as of 2016.
    • Many European nations have official policies regarding immigration, housing, education, and employment that are directed specifically towards Romani people and they aren’t policies that benefit the Roma community.
      • In recent years, there have been alarming reports of anti-Roma discrimination in Europe, including the systematic demolishing of Roma camps and deportation of thousands of Roma at a time in France, and the horrific forced sterilization of Romani women in countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
      • In addition, in March of 2019, Amnesty International filed a complaint before the European Committee of Social Rights against the Italian government, alleging international violations against Romanies in Italy, including “widespread forced evictions…use of segregated camps featuring substandard housing and lack of equal access to social housing.” 
      • The plight of the Romanies is also a major concern of the children’s rights organization UNICEF, which is currently working to increase literacy among Romani children in Europe through home-visitation programs that connect new parents with child education and social services.
    • In recent decades European nations have elected leaders with strict policies against gypsies.
      • In Eforie, Romania, after a 6 day notice, authorities forcibly removed 100 people from their homes that they had been living in for 30 years. They demolished their homes so they couldn’t return and left the families in a wasteland to fend for themselves. Amnesty International deemed this a violation of human rights.
  • The American Gypsy
    • Estimates say about 1 million Roma live in the US of A. Like a lot of us, the Gypsies first came to the Americas from all sorts of countries with different cultures and languages.
    • The U.S. has played a role in discrimination against Romanies in the past, as some states have on their books repealed laws that limited where Romanies could rent property, where they could entertain, and what goods they could sell.
      • Although those laws are in the past, the US hasn’t had the best recent track record with immigration.
    • Plus, there isn’t much knowledge on Roma history in the US.
      • America didn’t study Roma people, didn’t ask about Roma heritage on censuses, and didn’t really care. It is also thought that Gypsy culture was kept a secret in the US to avoid being discriminated against.
      • Most Americans don’t even know about Gypsies being a real culture and people. If you ask the average American about a gypsy there is a decent chance they will tell you it is a Halloween costume or a mythical creature.
    • In an effort to remedy the lack of statistics on American Romanies, Harvard University has recently launched a study to assess the structural, social, and economic status of American Romani communities.
  • The Romani are known as nomadic and free spirited people, but they are known as nomadic because they have no country of their own. They have been kicked out of every area they settle upon.
    • The statelessness of the Romani was not fixed by the 1977 creation of the International Romani Union. In 2000, the Romani were officially declared a non-territorial nation.
      • This statelessness makes the Romani legally invisible. Without access to health-care services, they often lack verifiable citizenship or birth certificates. That leads to many of the same issues faced by “legally invisible” people across the world.
      • They cannot access education, health care, and other social services. They can’t even get passports, which makes traveling difficult or impossible.
    • The Romani were an enslaved people in Europe, most notably in Romani, from the 14th to the 19th centuries. They were bartered and sold and considered to be less than human.
      • In the 1700s, Maria Theresa, sovereign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, made the Romani people, dress, and occupations illegal. This was done to force the Romani to integrate into society.
  • They are an artistic people
    • From early on, the Romani have been connected solidly with singing, dancing, and acting. They have carried that tradition throughout the centuries to leave behind a legacy of massive proportions. Many Romani have assimilated into the world, leaving legacies of their talents and culture.
    • The list of famed musicians with Romani backgrounds includes Kesha, Neon Hitch, Cher Lloyd, Jerry Mason, and Django Reinhardt. Famed LGBT author Mikey Walsh and Pilgrim’s Progress author John Bunyan are two of the many Romani who have given us memorable books.
    • In addition, many famous dancers come from Romani backgrounds. These artists include Carmen Amaya, who is widely hailed as the greatest flamenco dancer of all time.
  • The Romani are sometimes seen as magical and having their own religion.
    • But they are no more magical than the rest of us.
    • They are people just trying to live their lives like you and I.


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