Roma Roots

The Roma (Romani) are an ethnic group that can be found almost worldwide. The Roma are originally from India and Pakistan. They began to migrate in the 5th century, reaching Byzantine Empire in the 9th century and then southeastern and central Europe, including Moldova, during the 10-14th centuries.

Today, Roma people sometimes define themselves as a nation without a state, or a non-territorial European nation. Yet Roma intellectuals suggest that their nation is currently undergoing a renaissance. The largest Roma communities in Europe can be found in Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Spain, Serbia and Moldova.

In 2004, a census in Moldova indicated more than 12,000 Roma people lived in the country. Other estimates place the Roma population between 15,000 and 20,000 people. Some Roma leaders claim that as many as 140,000 Roma live in Moldova but do not identify with Roma ethnicity.

The largest Roma communities in Moldova can be found in Soroca, Otaci, Vulcanesti, and Huzun (Straseni). Soroca has the largest community and is also home to the regional Gypsy king, a friendly and charismatic leader, who proudly shares his community’s culture and traditions with others.

Although the Roma people have integrated into Moldovan society, the majority being Orthodox Christians and able to speak Romanian and Russia, the Roma have retained their unique cultural identify and language. The Romani language is still the home-language of more than 60% of the Roma people.

Fortune telling/ Guessing. The Roma have always had a mysterious aura, since their arrival in Europe. Once associated with the mysterious world of magic, guessing fit them perfectly. Also, guessing was an easy way to earn money.

Music playing. Another vocation was singing. The Roma are probably best known because of their music. There are many historical sources that mention Roma people as musicians playing for kings and emperors. Also, throughout Eastern Europe, the Roma have always been called to sing at events like weddings or holidays. In many instances, the valuable musicians’ status allowed them to have privileges difficult to obtain otherwise.

Merchants and horsemen. Horses have always been an important economic factor in their lives, essential for the nomadic lifestyle, being cared for and treated as such. Moreover, they were appreciated also by the non-Roma people for their ability to treat diseases of horses. Once, in Romanian villages when a cow fell ill people went with it to the veterinarian, but when a horse fell ill, they went to a skilled gypsy. Often, the Roma used to buy an ill horse at a very low price, took care of him, and when it was back to good condition, they were selling it at a much higher price. From here comes another vocation, trading. Their main advantage is to haggle over the price.

Roma’s culture today:

Music. The Roma have a rich oral tradition but they have contributed very little to written literature. Gypsy music glorified familial and ethnic loyalty and it helped to preserve their customs, traditions and beliefs.

Romani music plays an important role in older Europe and the style and performance practices of Romani musicians have influenced European classical composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. Many famous classical musicians are Romani,

Zdob si Zdub, one of the most prominent rock bands in Moldova, although not Roma themselves, draw heavily on Romani music, as do Goran Bregoviж in Serbia and others.

Costumes.  Usually, there is no traditional clothing for men. On special occasions, Roma men use to wear a good suit, often brightly colored.

The typical Roma woman wears a long skirt of several layers and rich colored, large earrings, long braided hair and sometimes with a flower in it. The Roma tradition says that the woman's legs should not be seen. The Roma people wear often red because this color is considered lucky.

The married women should wear a head scarf in order to show their marital status. Usually, they wear valuable jewelry. Jewels are not only beautiful but also practical: the nomadic Roma had no safe place in which to hold their wealth, so it was safest to wear them all the time. Also, many Roma wear lucky amulets.

Houses. The Romani neighborhood from Soroca, Republic of Moldova, is considered the “unofficial capital of the Roma community”. The tourists are delighted with the views of Roma houses. The vast majority of palaces' owners have gone abroad.

 

These houses, if they can be called so, represent real imposing fortresses, with two, three or even more floors. They are made from granite, marble, expensive imported materials and are guarded by huge statues representing wild animals’ imitations. At each entry, cylindrical columns with bas-reliefs support the balconies from the upper floors. Similar Romani houses can be seen also in other cities of Moldova (Otaci, Orhei etc.) However, a large proportion of Roma people in the rest of the country have an average standard of living or below.

 

Things to see:

Soroca. The Romani of Moldova had always been a curiosity for visitors due to their culture and lifestyle. One of the most interesting "points of tourist attraction" that may visit any Romascani passionate, walking on hiking trails, is be the famous "Gypsy Hill" from Soroca. Upon the only significant elevation in the city, the Roma have managed to raise in just a few years, a megalith of buildings typical to this ethnic group, sharply contrasting with everything is around, including the fortress of Stefan cel Mare.

Otaci. Tomb of the gypsy baron, decorated with marble and glass, worth of 50 000 Euros. According to Gypsy tradition, in the tomb were placed expensive drinks and products for personal use. These can be seen through the glass floor (armored).

roma roots

Things to do:

Meet the Gypsy King to know Roma culture in person. Mr. Arthur Cerari is the leader of Moldova Roma community and promotes its culture. He is ready to meet tourists and share with them the roma values, traditions and plans. He speaks Romanian, Russian and French.  Please contact the Roma National Centre to arrange the meeting: Tel: (+373 22) 227099, Web: www.roma.md

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