Religion & Culture of The Rroma

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Religion & Culture of The Rroma

Rroma History
Originally Rroma people originally lived in northwest India & migrated to Persia from 224AD to 642 AD. They lived under Arab rule in the Middle East from 642AD to 900AD, and eventually arrived in Constantinople.  Historical data shows that there were multiple migrations at later times. By the 14th & 15th Centuries, the Rroma had migrated as far as the areas of western Europe. Some emigrated from Europe to the US & Canada in the 19th & early 20th Centuries. Following World War II & recently since the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, an additional westward migration has been noted.

Rroma prefer settle down in a single location and have their clan, tribal associates & friends living close to them. It is known that a mere 5% of European Rroma are truly nomadic.

There are 3 language/dialect groups found within the Rroma:
        *Domari in the Middle East & Eastern Europe
        *Lomarvren in Central Europe
        *Romani of Western Europe

Within these groups, the Rroma are organized into 4 main & about 10 smaller tribes or nations with multiple clans included in them.

Rromani Names
Many names have been used to refer to the Rroma people, including: Cigano, Gypsies, Gipsies, Rom, Roma, Romani, Tsigani, Tzigane, Zigeuner & some others. Most Rroma identify themselves either by their tribal name or by one of the names beginning with the prefix “Rom“. Frequently, a prefix with a double “R” is used, as in “Rrom“. “…the Council of Europe has approved the use of “Rroma (Gypsies)” in its official documents (CLRAE Recommendation 11 – June 1995)”  Propagated by centuries of hatred, the appellation  “Gypsy” has become a “derogatory, pejorative & offensive” designation. It was invented by Europeans, who ignorantly believed that the Rroma had their origin in Egypt.

Rroma Persecution & Oppression
Rroma have suffered heavy & severe persecution, bias & bigotry throughout their history, most especially in Europe.

    *Rumors were spread in medieval times that the Rroma were descended from a sexual encounter between a Rroma woman & Satan.

    *Christians believed that a conspiracy of blacksmiths, wizards & women had been organized to attack the Church. Because many Roma were blacksmiths, a conspiracy theory expanded to involve the Rroma & the crucifixion of Jesus. This particular belief was that it was a Rroma who forged the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

   *Rroma countered with the legend that it was a Rroma who attempted to steal the nails so that Christ could not be crucified, but was only managed to steal one nail.

    *Christian genocide against Witches during the late Middle Ages & through the Renaissance was also directed against the Rroma. Courts, secular & Church seized & imprisoned them in Witches’ prisons, usually without recording their names. Their property was seized, pillaged & added to the riches of the local magistrates or bishops.

    *The  Diet of Augsburg ruled that Christians could legally kill Rroma with no sin derived from such an act. Additionally, the courts, secular & Church,  were closed to the Rroma who were injured by Christians.

    *In 1721, Emperor Karl VI of what is now Germany ordered total genocide of all Rroma within his lands. “Gypsy Hunts” were organized to track down and exterminate them.

    *Rroma were rounded up & imprisoned in Spain in 1749. It was because they were considered a danger to society. A pardon was granted to the Rroma in 1763 & the Roma were released in 1765 but no other reparations were amde to them.

    *In 1792, 45 Rroma were tortured & executed for the murder of some Hungarians, who were in fact alive and observed the executions.

    *It is believed that approximately half of all Rroma in Europe were enslaved, from the 14th. Century until Rroma slavery was abolished in the mid-19th Century.

    *During the 1920′s, during the Weimar Republic, the Rroma were seriously oppressed. They were forbidden to use parks or public baths. Rroma were all registered with the police. Many were sent to work camps “for reasons of public security.” When the Nazis took power, the Rroma were further persecuted under the “Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor” In 1937, Heinrich Himmler issued a decree “The Struggle Against the Gypsy Plague,” which increased police monitoring & persecution of German-based Rroma.

    *During the Nazi rule, at the time of the Holocaust, they were declared to be “subhumans“. In 1941-JULY, the Einsatzkommandos were instructed to “kill all Jews, Gypsies & mental patients.” A few months later, Himmler ordered that all Rroma be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination. Sybil Milton, a former Senior Historian of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 500,000 Roma & Sinti persons were exterminated. This number is supported by the Romas & Sinti Center in Heidelberg.

    *There are about 5,000 Roma survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Rroma have not been allowed to share in the 100′s of millions of dollars given to other survivors of the Holocaust.

    *The hatred, bigotry & physical attacks that are currently directed against the Rroma within the former Soviet & Eastern-Bloc nations of eastern Europe have been noted to be more intensified in the last few years. Rroma are heavily discriminated against in the public service areas of education, employment, health care, social services & other socio-economic services. Rroma are prime targets of neo-Nazis & skinheads because the authorities turn a blind eye to their persecution. These  governments do little or nothing to guarantee them basic human rights.

    *The situation in Bulgaria in recent years is probably the most typical of the fate of the Rroma in eastern Europe. During the Soviet regime, Rroma culture was suppressed by the government. Their newspapers & clubs were closed. Rroma languages was banned. This situation has greatly worsened since the demise of Communism. Rroma unemployment rates are many times the national average in each country. A poll conducted of ethnic Bulgarian adults shows that discrimination & bigotry is rampant & widespread: 91% believe that the Roma are predisposed to criminal behavior; 83 that the are “lazy and irresponsible.” 59% would not live in the same locale as the Roma; 94% said they would not marry a Roma; 69% would not have a Roma as a friend. It is the latter 2 numbers that have shown to be increased by 5% since 1992.

    *The situation is similar in Romania & Moldova.

    *The situation in Serbia is particularly critical. During the 1990′s, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim religious groups fueled racial and religious hatred as a means of promoting their own status. The Gypsies have no affinity with any of the political-religious groups. They were attacked by all. Since mid-1997, neo-Nazi skinhead street gangs have been active in the cities. Random beatings and killing of Roma men, women and children have become common. Dragan Stankovic, leader of the Rroma community in Belgrade said:

    “The discrimination begins as soon as our children enter school. Gypsy kids are made to sit in the back rows or sent to special-education classes. Many are tossed out of school. They are frequently ostracized and insulted by other children and teachers. Our young people cannot find jobs and our complaints to the police are ignored. We have always lived as second-class citizens, but we are not willing now to die because we are second-class citizens.”

Rroma in Kosovo perhaps arguably the most oppressed. They appear to be hated by both the Albanian/Muslim majority as well as the Serbian/Christian minority. A series of articles about the Rroma in Kosovo has been published by an anti-cult organization. Their web site claims that the Rroma totaled at least 10% of the population of Kosovo, yet they are essentially invisible & are not been included in any census or population demographics either official or unofficial.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe describe the Roma as “the poorest, least healthy, least educated and most discriminated sector of…society.”
In 1997-MAY, President Clinton decided to not reappoint a Rroma representative to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.  Effectively, the many 100′s of thousands of Rroma exterminated during the Holocaust have been killed twice: once by the Nazis using poison gas & secondly by subsequent generations in the West, who allowed the memory of the Rroma victims to fade into oblivion.

There are believed to be about 12 million Rroma scattered throughout the world’s nations. This figure is impossible to estimate with kind of accuracy since many governments do not keep records of Rroma people in their census & other demographic figures. Additionally, many Roma conceal their ethnic origin out of fear of discrimination, bigotry & persecution.

Rroma Beliefs & Practices
Many centuries in the past, Rroma were some of the last Earth Goddess-worshipers in Europe. Their Goddess, Kali, was viewed as a trinity. Her symbol was a triangle. A male Horned God also played a prominent role. The similarities between ancient Rroma belief and that of Wicca are obvious. These beliefs have long been abandoned.

Today there is no sole Rroma culture. There is no general agreement even on who is qualified to be called a Rroma. Rroma groups around the world hold on to different traditions, customs, norms & beliefs. Groups that have settled in one location generally adsorb some of the gajikan? (non-Roma) local culture. Many Rroma have converted the religions of their host countries, typically Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism & even Islam. Their formal religious affiliation is often supplemented by Roma traditional beliefs:

    *the existence of Del (God)
    *the existence of Beng (Satan)
    *the existence of bibaxt (bad luck) & mul? (supernatural spirits or ghosts).
    *the power of good luck charms, amulets & talismans
    *the power of curses & spells
    *the power of healing rituals
    *Marim? is a state of impurity brought on a person by the violation of a purity taboo. It also means a “sentence of expulsion imposed for violation of purity rules or any behavior disruptive to the Roma community.” Some Roma consider the part of a woman’s body below the waist to be dirty or polluted, because it is associated with menstruation. In many Rroma clans, women wear long skirts, the bottoms of which must not touch any man except than her husband.

    *A pregnant woman is considered unclean. She must not give birth in the family home because it would cause it to become an impure place. Sometimes ritually tied knots are ritually untied as the birth approaches. This follows a belief that it keep the umbilical cord from tangled. After birth, anything that the new mother touches is later destroyed. This quarantine continues until the baptism of the baby.

    *Newborn infants are baptized, in running water, when they are 3-4 weeks of age. Usually infant is massaged with olive oil to make the baby strong.

    *Rroma traditionally have 3names. The 1st. is known only by the mother. It is given at the time of birth. Its purpose is to confuse evil spirits by keeping the real name of the child secret from them. The 2nd. name is conferred at the time of baptism & is the commonly used name within the tribe. The 3rd. name is given when the child is re-baptized in a Christian church. It has little importance, except when dealing with non-Rroma.

    *In the past, Rroma traditionally married between the ages of 9-14. This tradition has changed in most tribes due to the influence of the surrounding cultures. Pre-marital sex is strictly forbidden. Marriages to outsiders, gaijin are heavily frowned upon & usually forbidden. The Rroma wedding ceremony is simple. In some tribes, the bride & groom join hands in front of the chief or the oldest elder then promise to be true to each other. In ancient times, they used be married by jumping over a broomstick in presence of their families.

    *When a death occurs, relatives & friends gather around to ask seek forgiveness for all bad deeds that they have done to that person. Their concern is that if such wrongs are not settled, the dead person might return as an evil spirit or malicious ghost to cause trouble. In times past, a widow might commit suicide so that she could accompany her deceased husband through the afterlife. Oftentimes, the deceased person’s nostrils were plugged with wax so that evil spirits could not enter & occupy the body. Clothing, tools, eating utensils, jewelry & money were placed in the coffin so as to facilitate the deceased’s journey into the next world. The deceased’s possessions are destroyed or sold to non-Rroma.

    *Many Rroma rules of behavior relate to the use of water. They normally wash in running water, as in a shower. Baths are not used. Women’s and men’s clothes are washed separately, because of the impurities of a woman’s body. Clothes of a pregnant or menstruating woman are washed furthest downstream from the camp, to avoid contamination.

    *Women must not expose their legs. They wear long, multi-colored skirts.

    *Out of respect for the importance of the horse in assuring Roma mobility, the eating of horsemeat is prohibited in some tribes.
    *Many Roma women, called drabardi, practice fortune telling. These fortunes are only read for non-Rromas.

    *Other women are drabarni or drabengi and practice natural healing techniques.

Rroma Today
“On January 8, 1998, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed into law Assembly Bill 2654, repealing that state’s anti-Roma law adopted in 1917. Governor Whitman’s signature effectively repealed the last anti-Roma law on the books” of any U.S. state.

A movement to adopt Christianity within the Rroma of North America started in the late 1970′s. It has replaced most of the original Rroma beliefs & rituals. A Rroma/Christian church opened up in Los Angeles, CA in 1997. Since then more than 50 of these churches have been established in the USA. At least one such church is in every major city in the U.S. As of 2000-MAY, 10 of these congregations have their own web sites.

The Western Canadian Rroma Alliance held a symposium in Vancouver in 1998-MAY. Ronald Lee reported: “It is significant, that the Rroma people who left India almost one thousand years ago have finally come as far west as they can in their westward migration. The Pacific Ocean in western Canada is the limit. It is also significant that Saint Sara, originally the Indian Goddess Kali/Durga/Sara worshipped by the ancestors of the Rroma in India, has finally been brought to Canada & immersed in the Pacific Ocean by Rroma who fled the persecution in Eastern Europe to find freedom in Canada. The Rroma people can go no further. In Canada, they must stand & proclaim who they are & demand the respect they are entitled to Under the United Nations Charter of Human Rights as an historic & original people. Many of the Rroma who took part in the events were initially afraid to reveal their identity as Rroma because of the stigma attached to the stereotypical’ gypsy.’ In Vancouver, they came forward & identified themselves as part of the new Pan-Rroma movement which advocates that Rroma of all backgrounds are 1 people with a common origin, history, persecution and ethnic destiny.
On 2004-MAY-01, 10 nations joined the enlarged European Union. Some 4 million Rroma have become citizens of the EU with the right to live & work throughout union without oppression, persecution &  the protection guaranteed to all EU citizens by law.


   1. B.G. Walker, “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets“, Harper & Row, New York, NY, (1983), Pages 360 – 363

   2. The Association of Gypsies/Romani International, Inc.” has as its goals the giving of “glory to GOD, [and] of preserving, maintaining, promoting our Gypsy race, culture, ethnicity, pride and integrity.” Their home page is at:

   3. “Gypsy Collections at the University of Liverpool” (UK) have a web site at:

   4. Barbara Haynes, “Roma, Romani, Gypsies, Travelers, Forced Migrants

   5. The Patrin is a “learning resource and information center about Romani culture and social issues of today. Their home page is at: Patrin They have an extensive series of essays on the Nazi Holocaust at:

   6. Tom Giles, “Gypsies: Tramps and Thieves?“, School of International & Public Affairs. An article at:

   7. Ian Hancoc, “Roma: Genocide of [sic] in the Holocaust“. A brief excerpt appears in:

   8. A description of Roma religious beliefs is at:

   9. The Romani Rights Web is billed as “a compendium of Gypsy resources on the Internet”. See:

  10. Diane Huie Balay of the United Methodist Committee on Relief describes the plight of the Roma in Romania at:

  11. Private Email from the Historians’ Office, Research Institute, US Holocaust Memorial Museum on 1997-AUG-25

  12. Chris Hedges, “Gypsies in Servia targest of pervasive racism, assaults“, New York Times Service, 1997-OCT-22.

  13. “Patrin – Romani rights” at:

  14. God’s Gypsy Christian Church has a web site at:

  15. “Collateral lives: The exile of the Kosovo Roma,” at

  16. “No third country: Roma – people are fleeing from Kosovo who were never mentioned before,” at:

  17. Donald Kenrick, “Gypsies: from the Ganges to the Thames. (Interface Collection, Volume 3),” University of Hertfordshire Press, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  18. Antonio Gomez Alfaro, “The Great Gypsy Roundup. (Interface Collection, Volume 2),” See:

  19. Ronald Lee, “The Western Canadian Romani Alliance and the Vancouver Symposium,” 1998, Roma Community & Advocacy Centre, at:

Copyright © 2006-2013 Donald R Houston, PhD. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

About the Author ()

Viet Nam vet with the usual baggage but mine is now packed away. Public health specialist & medical anthropologist have worked all over the globe, most recent work since 1988 in the former Soviet Union (now the CIS/NIS) & based out of Flo

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