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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Romani Gypsy (2015) by Yaron Matras

Path of the Gypsy Romani migration out of India
Book Review
The Romani Gypsy (2015)
 by Yaron Matras

   It is really, really difficult to get reliable information about the Romani Gypsy because their language is unwritten.  They have suffered from all the indignities that minority populations have suffered in the 20th century.  Their entrance into Europe was largely as slaves in what is present day Romania. In recent centuries, isolate populations in western Europe have lost their language entirely and are placed in a situation similar to that of Native American tribes in the United States, trying to resurrect a language few speak fluently.

  The most useful parts of The Romani Gypsy are just the straight forward, historical facts that he lays out about their history and culture.  The Rom/Romani/Gypsy trace their roots back to western India.  They speak a language that is akin to contemporary Hindi or Urdu.  In India, they were a caste of craftsman and maybe travelling entertainers.  They left India at some point, and probably spent time in Central Asia under Turkic rule.  Matras is a linguist, and he uses hisorical-linguistic arguments in a way similar to the methods employed by Indo European linguists.

  After that, the Rom spent centuries in the Byzantine empire, where Greek entered the Rom language in a big way.  The fall of the Byzantine Empire was disruptive to the Rom, and many entered into Southeastern Europe with the Ottoman Empire  Their entrance into Western Europe and the consciousness of the West was in the 15th century, where Rom coming from Romania and southeastern Europe arrived in larger kin groups, often bearing letters of recommendation describing themselves as "Egyptians."

  Once they arrived in Western Europe, they attracted local camp followers.  In places like Germany, England and Spain local "traveler" groups developed semi-independently of the eastern European Rom. Besides laying out the true history of the Gypsy Romani migration into the West, he also does an excellent job describing hitherto undescribed beliefs of the Romani civilization.  These are practices common to both Rom and Traveler groups, and provide the strongest evidence besides shared vocabulary/language that they are all part of one ethnicity.

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