Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The "Gypsy" Trail...

Some years ago (sometime between 1999-2001), when I discovered Flamenco, I became quite intrigued with "Gypsies" and carried out a year-long research on the Roma, their origins, their trail, and their status and lives in the countries they inhabit today.

The Roma, commonly referred to as Gypsies, Gitanos (here in Spain), Tzigane, Sinti, Dom, Manush (man in Sanskrit and Romani), Kale (black in Sanskrit and Romani; name they called each other as a reference to their skin colour, perhaps) and many other names, are today united as Roma and like to be known by their collective identity - Romani. We know that they left India as a group of nomads around 900 AD, reached Persia in 950, and were in Egypt by 1230. Their arrival into Europe began in the mid 14th century. Today there are about 12 million Roma, and mainly inhabit Eastern and Western Europe, with some minor populations said to have migrated to the Americas. It is important to note that in the Second WW, along with 6 million Jews, 1.5 million Roma or Gypsies were killed in concentration camps (a fact that remains largely unspoken and somewhat taboo). Migrant Romani populations have usually adopted the dominant religion of their country of residence, while often preserving aspects of older belief systems and forms of worship (such as Goddess /Saint Kali Sara's worship in France).

The Romani language is a verbally transmitted language which traces its roots back to Sanskrit. As a Hindi speaker, when I watched the movie "Black Cat, White Cat," years ago, majority in Romani (filmed in in Eastern Europe), I was able to trace several words that sounded familiar to my ears, pronounced differently.

Modern day Spanish is rich with several words, expressions and connotations from Caló, the Romani language of Spain. Caló blends native Romani vocabulary with Spanish grammar, as Spanish Romanies lost the full use of their ancestral language. Gitanos used Caló to communicate discreetely in their internal dealings. When I read a sampling of Caló, I'm often amused by the several words I do understand.

The Romani flag, which is blue and green with a red coloured Ashoka Chakra in the center, denoting their common roots in the Indian subcontinent, united in its largest form under Ashoka the Great. Their slogan is "Opre Roma!" meaning Rise Roma.
"Linguistic and genetic evidence indicates the Romanies originated from the Indian subcontinent, emigrating from India towards the northwest no earlier than the 11th century. The Romani are generally believed to have originated in central India, possibly in the modern Indian state of Rajasthan, migrating to northwest India (the Punjab region) around 250 B.C. In the centuries spent here, there may have been close interaction with such established groups as the Rajputs and the Jats. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is believed to have occurred between 500 A.D. and 1000 A.D. Contemporary populations sometimes suggested as sharing a close relationship to the Romani are the Dom people of Central Asia and the Banjara of India."
While the Romani people have remained marginalized and discriminated against for centuries, they have established a name for themselves in the Arts and Music. Last weekend I went to see one such Gitano in concert, who's carved a name for himself in Flamenco Fusion dance. His name is Joaquín Cortés. I personally do not much appreciate his style as I'm a fan of pure Flamenco. But the concert itself was worth seeing. His current tour "Calé" (meaning black or Gypsy) is a resumé of his previous works, now that he has reached 40 and may not continue dancing for very much longer. It was sprinkled with Gitano references, and at the end he made a little speech saying, "20 years ago, Gypsies did not identify themselves as such; but I always said I was one. Today, we Gitanos are proud to say we are Gitanos." And there was a standing ovation and cheering.

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