Giving Memory A Future
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History and Origins

Roma family ursari, Oltenia (Romania). © Stefano Pasta

The history of the Romani groups is a multitude of histories:
very little is known of their origins. Many scholars agree that they first came from India.

The lack of a written tradition is the main reason why it so hard to piece together a clear picture of the history of the Romani population. Its history is either handed down orally by the elders to younger members in the form of fables and legends, or it has been written by people who are non-Roma.
Many scholars agree that the Roma originally came from India. In the absence of reliable historical documents, it was glottologists who identified the Roma and Sinti people as a group originating from Central India, as they have linguistic and physical traits that are similar to those of the population in the area where Hindi and Punjabi are currently spoken. Until recently, the Romani populations that arrived in Europe were believed to belong to a single group that had left India for the West en masse. Nowadays, scholars are more inclined to believe that over a long period of time those Indian migrants, belonging to a variety of tribes, moved to Persia between 250 and 650 A.D.

Since the early 15th century a number of different groups began to penetrate Europe from the Balkans. This migration involved numerically larger groups, which spread out through the whole all of Europe.

Since then, the history of these populations has been characterised by episodes of intolerance and discrimination (anti-Gypsyism).
At that time European society was engaged in a constant process of definition and redefinition of its own borders, and so it implemented a blaming mechanism, by which it placed blame and responsibilities onto the shoulders of the most vulnerable elements of society in order to justify controlling and regulating them. Repressive legislation was developed against the Romani populations, excluding and marginalising them by means of bans, edicts, civil decrees and condemnations by religious authorities. The Romani people were sometimes accused of witchcraft, other times of vagrancy or espionage. More recently, a more sophisticated control policy was adopted in an attempt to obliterate the Romani identity by means of forced assimilation.

In spite of all that, a study of the various ways in which Gypsy groups have integrated in urban and rural society over the centuries shows that some of them are well integrated in the local societies of Europe.