Roma – glimpse of a people.

The Roma population of Romania have come to take much attention in Danish Balkan Missions work. It is a people without land and not even UN-recognized, hated by many, affixed to a variety of prejudices. It is worth to provide information on them. They are also a nation without general access to education (only 42% complete primary education), health, work and housing.

To the right is the Roma flag – forest bottom, the sky at the top and a wheel similar to the wheel in India’s flag which expresses life’s stages.

Name, language and origin

The Roma name is translated slightly different across Europe. In the Balkans the local form (tsigani = gypsy) primarily means “don’t-touch” as an indication that they are dirty / unworthy. In Spain and southern France the local name means “the black”. This corresponds very well to the way many treat Roma at present – as dirty, outcasts – almost lepers.

Part of the Romas speak the Romani language. The language is very similar to the North Indian Punjabi that might confirm the DNA comparison studies which points to North India as origin of the Romas. There are also loanwords from Persian, Armenian and Greek in their language – perhaps picked up from the period between 500 to 700 AD when they moved to Europe. The Romani language exists in several dialects around Europe, but the biggest language group is called “Balkan Romani” and there the language is spoken by about 1 million. people.

Slaves in Europe

For many Romas the clan-life have been the way to ensure their identity under slave conditions. Girls were married off early, to avoid the Lord’s claim to being the first man in slave girls’ lives. By the clan arranging marriages, where girls were engaged to 10-year-old and married before they were 14, the clan remained clean from outside interference.

From 1300-1800, Roma people were enslaved around Europe. In the 1500s this was the situation in England, Spain and Russia. In England they were forced into slavery for two years, but if they tried to escape, it would become their lifetime status. There were Romas as slaves on Columbus’ ships to the Caribbean, some were forced to work as slaves in their own country of origin, India, and by the end of slavery in Romania around the year 1860 there were approximately 600,000 Romas released from slavery. During the second World War, Romas were again mistreated. Many were shot by Nazi “killing units” (who at motorcycles drove from Roma village to Roma village) and up to 500,000 Roma were killed in the Holocaust. Actually it was even until 1982 before it was recognized that Roma were subjected to genocide in WW2, so no one were convicted of murder of Roma in the Nuremberg Trials.

Recent rejections

Since WW2, the Roma have been subjected to forced sterilization in Czechoslovakia and Hungary (up to the
2008), expulsions from France and chased into bad temporary housing since the war in Kosovo. In 2009 a political party promised in the Czech Republic that they would find an “Endlösung” solution (Final Solution) on the Roma problem – and in 2010 a politician from Romania said that Roma are genetically predisposed to be criminals. Roma language is suppressed, so schools in Roma areas in the Balkans have only teachers with the national language without an interpreter into Romani. Much points to the fact that Roma despite some tolerated inclusiveness in societies yet easy again are ejected and lightning rod for discontent.

Roma live scattered across Europe. Most reside in South-Eastern Europe, but also France and Spain has a large Roma population.

Cultural color

Romas have been widely used as a coloring – as formulaic mysterious element in stories and movies – as a subdivision to the entertainment business in Europe. It happens in Victor Hugos “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with the mysterious seductive Roma girl Esmaralda that distort the head of the storys many men. Similarly, the itinerant Roma thieves in Tintin story of “The enigmatic jewel theft”.
In Johann Strauss’ “The Gypsy Baron” they turn up, and as the title character in George Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is caracterized as both dancing flamengo and as prophetess. This has led to Roma people often experience that they are counted as easy living in both sexual relations and to the gravity of life – whether it really is the case.

Religious life

The religious life of the Roma is marked by the people with whom they live among as a kind of adaptation. They do not wish to be a part of people’s church or culture, as their own culture and religion is important (as Muslim and Christian Romas, they can celebrate religious feasts together). Therefore, they are also rejected by the official churches and organizations like the wicked, outlaws – and some say “to baptize them would be throwing pearls before swine”. Some Roma will be into the Evangelical Charismatic churches where there is room for their culture and that they express their spiritual experiences.

In parallel with the adaptation many Roma also have a belief in presence of the deceased, a belief in a balance between good and evil in the world and a belief in clean and unclean. Eg. some Roma have two washing machines – one for each sex. Meanwhile, their purity rules perhaps have helped them against epidemics.

Roma clans


When peoples are formed, they are often divided in clans. These tribes often exists also after the states are formed and can then cause various conflicts (eg. the bloody conflict in southern Sudan). Roma people across Europe are also divided into different clans. These clans have different characteristics in language and way of life – which in turn have reinforced in the prejudices of the neighboring tribes and the neighboring people.

At the Roma people, these clan divisions are not based on being a “race” as a particular family. Instead, it is a form of mutual etiquette / characteristic which the Roma themselves use. The clan is based on the traditional employment in the clan, on the way, they have organized their villages, on their family traditions and the celebrations they have. In the Communist era, many of these characteristics, however, were suppressed, and the subsequent openness in Europe has loosened some of the ties that clans have had on each other. However, these characteristics are still normal.

The main Roma groups are:

Silversmiths, which as the name indicates, is working with silver and gold jewelry artisans. Their language is mainly Romany language (ie Roma language).

Florar clan, also known as florists. They have traditionally made artificial flowers decorations for the “crowns” and garnish. They deal today with flowers and carries out other commerce. They also speak mainly Romani language.

Căldărari clan, which is also called the coppersmiths because they tradtionelt has been committed to making kettles, pots, trays and other brass and copper. They also speak Romany language. With industrialization in Europe their business has dwindled, so some of them were industrial workers while others make copper kettles for brandy and make money on other shady manner.

Ursarerne has been known as a bear-/ bear drivers (Usari = bear) training bears to dance on the squares as a small circus. Since it is no longer a permitted occupation, many of them have been forging or legs strippers (which processes the horns and bones for use objects). Some processes the skins of animals to use for objects and others have been fiddlers. They speak Romany language.

Gaborerne are primarily a Hungarian Roma group. They speak Hungarian and Romany and are often horse dealers. It were typically gabor-Roma who in the past visited Western European regions as family groups. They have been notorious known for using the knife as a hidden weapon and be thieves. Gabor Roma have in many places been affected by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the 7th Days Adventists.

Romungre is also a Hungarian Roma group who speaks Hungarian and is deeply influenced by Hungarian culture.

The Turkish Roma who have become Muslims speak Turkish (and Romany language). They have very much adopted Turkish culture and are primarily residing in the region of Dobrogea.

Tin-smiths have special traditions to deal with tin and other similar metals. They speak Romani language.

Lautari clan is consisting of musicians, primarily flautists, but also some who play violin and a lute-like stringed instrument. They live mostly in northeastern Romania and speak Romany language.

Rudarers live in the villages where DBM work. Most have lost their Romani language and their Roma culture. They live to process wood material for cookware and small appliances, brooms and furniture. They are marked by Romanian culture while they are still considered outside. They do not speak Romany language.

Blacksmith-Roma have been characterized by their work as smiths. They have been locksmiths, toolmakers been horseshoe-smiths and repaired carriages. They do not speak Romany language and has lost much Roma culture by adapting to the surrounding community.

Roma or gypsy

In Romanian society there is still a strong divisive against the Roma population. Some refuse to use the term Roma because it can be confused with Romanian. Some are still highly critical of giving the Roma part in publicly funded health care (how sparse it is). Others criticize that Roma are give positive attitude in coverage by the public press. It is still the case that Roma generally seeks to avoid tax payments. They live with a grey economy” and “grey laws” outside of society. It can be difficult to assess how much is culture or tradition in the choices and opportunities.

Help for soul and body

Whatever our attitude – each Roma is a man who is loved by God and for whom the Son of God died to save. Each Roma is also a man who has value and therefore also need the humanitarian help which can handed to them. It has been DBMs vocation and mission since 2006 to stand in the task.


Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority, by Malene Fenger Grøndahl

Wikipedia pages on romaer, gipsies,

by Knud W. Skov,