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Origins of Gypsies

By | on November 4, 2016 | 0 Comment

gypsy-migrationGypsies also known as Roma originated in the Punjab region of the Northern India, present day Pakistan, as a nomadic people and entered Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries C.E. They were called “Gypsies” because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt.

Various DNA analysis have discovered that Romani populations carried large frequencies of particular chromosomes which match with those of the people from the South Asia. In fact, in one study it was found that more than 47% of Romani men carry Y Chromosomes H-M82 which is rare outside the South Asia.

There are various theories about their entry into Europe. According to Iranian literary masterpiece, Shahnama, the Sasanian king Bahrām V Gōr (421-39 CE) requested the Indian king of that time to send him 10.000 lute playing experts so that the poor Iranians who could not afford to enjoy music, be provided this facility free of charge. When the experts, known as Luris arrived, Bahrām gave each one an ox and a donkey and a donkey-load of wheat so that they could live on agriculture and play music for free for the poor.

But the Luris, as the legend goes, ate the oxen and the wheat and came back a year later with their cheeks hollowed with hunger. The king, angered with their having wasted what he had given them, ordered them to pack up their bags and go wandering around the world.

According to another legend, these were the soldiers who were defeated by Mahmud Gazanvi in his 17 raids into India in as many years. As these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire.

However, to me the most plausible reason seems to be the periodic migration of these wandering people took place in the face of common famines in India. The word “Luris” looks like a derivation of a Punjabi word “Lur” meaning travelling aimlessly.

It is also confirmed by the fact that most of the Roma spoke dialects of a common language called Romani which is based on Punjabi but has absorbed a large number of words from other languages spoken in those countries where they stayed en route to Europe. While going through their origins I looked at the dictionary of Romani language-(http://www2.arnes.si/~eusmith/Romany/glossary.html andI was astonished to see dozens of Potohari words still used by these nomads even after 500 years of leaving their homeland. Some of the words which I could easily identify are as follows;

Romani Meaning Potohari
Ret blood ret
Loon Salt Loon
Kan Ear Kan
Bal Hair ball
Mass meat mass
Amaro ours Mara
mom wax mom

Cheiz        Dowery      Jheze

Chor         Thief        Chor

Dad  Father Dada(grand father)

Dand         Tooth             Dand

Dikh          See                 Dikh

Mahala     Locality     Mohallah

Nak            Nose               Nak

Me               I                    main

Gelo           Gone                Gelo

Sheranda   pillow   serhanda

 

Raya       Landowner        Raja

Baro           Big                         Bara

Bengalo        Devil      Bengali

Sero             Head                Sar

Bhen        Sister       Bhen

Bol          mouth         bul

Bokh       hunger       Bhok

Chao        Tea              Chai

Cheeb        Tongue     Jeeb

Pani            water         pani

Kon           who               Kon

Djan         To know     Jaan

Gadjo      Non-Gyps

Sor           to sleep        so

Tu              you              tu

Yak             eye              aak

Za                go                  jaa

Zor              strength        zor

 

 

Three words really fascinated me. First was Raya, meaning landlord. It has very close resemblance with Raja.

Secondly, Bengalo meaning devil. In the Subcontinent, Bengal is considered to be a land of magic and anyone wanting to earn his living through magic has to show that he has learned it from Bengal or from someone who was from Bengal. Roma think that every Bengali is a devil!

Third word is Gadjo meaning non-gypsy. It seems to be from Gazar (Gujjar) who migrated from central Asia and were known for their ferocity. Over a period of time they settled, started agriculture and livestock.

For centuries, Roma were scorned and persecuted across Europe. “Zigeuner,” the German word for Gypsy, derives from a Greek root meaning “untouchable.” Although the first image about a Roma is his being a musician, circus animal trainer or a dancer, it is not true. Many Roma traditionally worked as craftsmen and were blacksmiths, cobblers, tinsmiths, horse dealers, and toolmakers. Before the WW2 in 1939, about a million Roma lived in Europe about half of which lived in eastern Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and Romania. Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria also had large Romani communities.

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