Romany correct term for Gypsy

Although better known as "gypsies" this people group speaks a language known as Romani, which is based on ancient Sanskrit, and is still related to other languages of their original homeland of northern India.

The correct and less offensive term for this ethno-linguistic group is Romany.

The Romany began migrating north and west from what is now Pakistan around the 10th century. This dark Caucasoid people continued its repeated migrations, reaching Persia by the 11th century; southeast Europe by the 15th century; and North America, South America and Australia by the 20th century.

Although they are spread throughout the world and belong to a variety of tribes, the gypsies still cling to their Romany language and culture. Many maintain their heritage by their outstanding characteristics of steadfastness, creativity, self-consciousness and love for freedom. There is a strong sense of group solidarity and exclusiveness, keeping the Gypsy traditions sacred.

History of persecution continues to this day

They were persecuted from the beginning. The Ottoman Empire used them as slaves. During World War II, the Nazis exterminated a half-million Romany people as undesirable aliens. Many European countries exported them. Even the church was hostile to them because they practiced magic.

Today, there is an alarming trend of violence and discrimination against the Romany people in Central and Eastern Europe. From citizenship restrictions to mob violence, the gypsies continue to be a scapegoat minority.

Nomads no more

The nomadic or semi-nomadic culture of the Romanies is slowly giving way to more permanent residences. In the past, the Romanies migrated along patterned routes which usually ignored national boundaries, using familial contacts and links.

Even those who have settled continue to live on the fringes of society, still considered outcasts. Many pursue what are considered traditional occupations for gypsies, working as musicians, acrobats, fair and circus artists, horse riders and traders, fortune-tellers, peddlers and craftsmen.

High unemployment, illiteracy and death rates are common among the Romany, who are often the poorest of the poor.

  Population: +\- 30 million to 40 million (estimates vary a great deal, because many Romany are not counted in any census.)
Religion: Tend to adopt predominant religion where they live
Language: Romani; languages of countries live in
Geographical location/s: India (23.5 million); large concentrations in the Balkans, central Europe, Russia and other former republics of the USSR; smaller numbers in Western Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the Americas.

Profile: Opening doors through language

Gypsies are open to the gospel when it is communicated in their own language and adapted to their culture. One of CBF's Global Missions field personnel discovered this to be true when he visited a Gypsy section of a small town in Albania. Here is his account of the experience:

"I spoke to the first person I saw, using my limited Romani language. The woman, who was sitting in front of her home, was surprised to hear a "gadjo" or non-Gypsy using her native tongue. With a smile she invited me into her home for coffee and a chat. Soon her small living room was overflowing with 10 or so other Gypsies who wanted to talk to this strange foreigner.

"After the normal greetings and questions, I went through a list of 30 or so common Romani words. This technique enables me to determine which tribe a particular group is from and what dialect they speak. We discovered that all but two of the words are used by this group and thus we were speaking basically the same language and dialect.

"During our preliminary conversation, I had learned that these Gypsies were nominal Muslims. I had been warned to be careful in such circumstances. While going through the list of words, I asked them to use "parno" (white) and "kalo" (black) in a phrase. They answered: ŒYou are white and we are black.' Almost without thinking I responded that this was not true. I said that in God's eyes we are all one color: the color of His children.

"To this their eyes widened and their faces broke out into smiles as they asked to know more about this God."

Resource Note:
Use this form to order bulletin inserts, posters and videos about CBF missions or call the CBF Store at 800-352-8741

Related Links:
Project Ruth. A CBF partnership missions project among Romany children in Bucharest, Romania.

CBF Gypsy Ministries Blog

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