- Describing the early history of the Gypsies is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when some of the pieces are missing and parts of another puzzle have been put into the box. The Gypsies suddenly appeared in Europe speaking an Indian language, yet there is no sure trace of their passage across the Middle East. But their language is the key to the route of their travels as they borrowed words from the various peoples they met as they journeyed west.The Gypsies, or Romanies, are an ethnic group that arrived in Europe around the 14th century. Scholars argue about when and how they left India, but it is generally accepted that they did emigrate from northern India sometime between the 6th and 11th centuries, then crossed the Middle East and came into Europe. Some stayed in the Middle East. The Nawwar in particular are mentioned in the dictionary. Their language (closely related to European Romani) also belongs to the North Indian group, alongside Hindi and Punjabi.The word Gypsy is an abbreviation of "Egyptian," the name by which the Romany immigrants were first called in western Europe because it was believed they came from Egypt. The French word gitan and Spanish gitano also come from this etymology. The German word Zigeuner and Slav tsigan or cigan have a different source. They come from the Greek word athinganos, meaning "heathen." This term was originally used of a heretical sect in Byzantium and, because the Gypsies who arrived in Europe were not Christians, they were given the name of this sect.The Gypsies' name for themselves is Rom (with the plural Roma in most dialects). This is generally considered to be cognate with the Indian word dom, whose original meaning was "man." Even groups (such as the Sinti) that do not call themselves Rom still preserve this word in their dialect in the sense of "husband."Some six million Gypsies or Romanies live in Europe, and they form a substantial minority in many countries. The vast majority have been settled for generations. Most still speak the Romani language. As the Romanies are an ethnic group and not a class, individuals pursue various professions; some are rich and others poor. It is only in western Europe that Gypsies are seen as a nomadic people and that the term Gypsy is loosely used for industrial nomads who are not of Indian origin.EARLY HISTORYThe ancestors of the Gypsies of Europe began to leave India from the sixth century onward. Some left voluntarily to serve the rich courts of the Persian and later Arab dynasties in the Middle East. Others were brought as captives. A third, smaller group, who were nomadic, found that their way back to India had been cut off by conflict and instead moved westward.The first Gypsy migration into Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries included farmworkers, blacksmiths, and mercenary soldiers, as well as musicians, fortune-tellers, and entertainers. They were generally welcome at first as an interesting diversion in the dull everyday life of that period. Soon, however, they attracted the antagonism of the three powers of the time: the state, the church, and the guilds. The civil authorities wanted everyone to settle legally at a permanent address, to have a fixed name, and to pay taxes. The church was worried about the heresy of fortune-telling, while the guilds did not like to see their prices undercut by these newcomers who worked all hours of the day and night, with wives and children helping, trading from tents or carts.Other factors also led to feelings of mistrust toward the newcomers. They were dark-skinned, itself a negative feature in Europe, and were suspected in some countries of being spies for the Turks because they had come from the east. Some problems were also caused by small groups of Gypsies who claimed-with some justification-to be Christians fleeing from Muslim invaders from Turkey and lived mainly by asking for alms.It was not long before these feelings of antagonism and mistrust led to a reaction. As early as 1482, the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire passed laws to banish the Gypsies from its territory. Spain introduced similar legislation 10 years later, and other countries soon followed. The punishment for remaining was often death. There was some migration to Poland, mirroring that of the Jews. The policy of expulsion failed in most cases, however, as the countries to which they were deported often returned them quietly over the borders. Only the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands managed to efface all visible trace of Gypsies for over two centuries. Most governments finally had to try a new policy-enforced integration or assimilation.In Spain in 1499 and in Hungary in 1758, new laws required Gypsies to settle down or leave the country. They had to become land workers or be apprenticed to learn a craft. But they also had to be assimilated into the native population. Everywhere laws forbade Gypsies to wear their distinctive colorful clothes, to speak their language, to marry other Gypsies, or to ply their traditional trades. As a result of these policies, today large populations of long-settled Gypsies can be found in Spain and Hungary, while in Romania Gypsy land workers and craftspeople were reduced to a status below that of serfs, to virtual slavery.The latter part of the 19th century saw a new migration westward as Romania released its Gypsies from bondage. Many thousands emigrated, some as far as America, Australia, or South Africa. Well over a million Gypsies live in North and South America today, with the Kalderash clan forming the majority.The nomadic Gypsies, however, have survived as a distinctive group until the present day. The reason for this was partly the inefficiency of local constabularies but also that the Gypsies developed as a fine art the practice of living on the border of two countries or districts and slipping over the border when the forces of law and order approached. Also, the nobility and large landowners throughout Europe protected the Gypsies. They encouraged seminomadic families to stay on their land and were able to employ the men as seasonal laborers. The women could serve in the house or sing and dance when guests came.In the 19th and 20th centuries in western Europe, Gypsies encountered problems finding stopping places. Camping on the side of the main roads was made difficult by laws such as the UK Highways Act of 1835. Large shantytown settlements developed on wasteland, but then the authorities stepped in and evicted the families. Such incidents occurred in England, starting with the Epping Forest eviction of 1894 and continuing until the 1960s. In this way, many families who would have settled down were forced back into nomadism.Discriminatory laws (on language and dress) fell into abeyance, but laws against nomadism remained a threat, in both western and eastern Europe, to those Gypsies practicing traditional crafts. Studies from all over the world have shown that sedentary peoples have an inherent fear of the nomad, even when the latter performs useful services. The policy of banning nomadism without helping the nomads to settle proved a failure throughout Europe, and Gypsy nomadism continued unchecked until World War II.THE HOLOCAUSTWhen the Nationalist Socialist Party came to power in Germany in 1933, the nomadic Gypsies were already subject to restrictions. But the Nazis regarded Gypsies as a race and made both nomads and seden-taries subject to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. These forbade marriages between Gypsies and "Aryan" Germans. Adolf Hitler's Germany saw the Gypsies as no less a danger to the purity of the German race than the Jews and set about their isolation and eventually their destruction.This policy of exclusion was a contrast to the assimilationist policies practiced in the past. Gypsies were now not allowed to practice music as a profession, and boxers were similarly barred from competition. Next, Gypsy children were excluded from school. Camps were set up for nomads on the edge of towns. They were guarded, and the inmates were not allowed to practice their traditional trades but were put into labor gangs. Even sedentary Gypsies were removed from their houses and placed in these internment camps.In 1939 it was decided to send all 30,000 Gypsies from Germany and Austria to Poland. In May 1940 the first steps in this program were taken with the expulsion of more than 3,000. The deportations were stopped largely because of a shortage of transport. In 1942 Hein-rich Himmler, the head of the Schutzstaffel (Storm Troopers) (SS), signed the so-called Auschwitz Decree, and in the following year some 10,000 German Gypsies were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A sterilization campaign was undertaken both within and outside the camps. The slave labor of the Gypsies was needed, for ex-
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.