The ancient story of the Romani people

Written by Amber

The absence of a written history has meant that the ancient story of the Romani people is still a mystery, however there are theories. One theory is that of linguistic evidence (the language that the Romani people use), this theory suggests that the Romani people are descendants of the Rajasthani people, that emigrated from India towards the northwest in the 11th century but this evidence is not proven as language alone can’t be used to determine a people’s origin.

gypMany scholars have attempted to prove the Indian origin of Romani people, but all failed to provide conclusive evidence.

Another theory dating to the 16th Century suggests the Romani people, also known as the Roma, were called “Gypsies”, and were believed to have originated from Egypt.

When the Romani people arrived in Europe in the 1300s, many Europeans believed because of their dark skin colour and unusual dialect that they were the advanced troops of an Ottoman invasion. This would probably account for why the Romani people did not settle in a permanent settlement but chose to move remain on the move. Gradually, their wandering developed into a way of life.

The ancient story of the Romani people indicates that as a people on the move, the opportunity for these people to build libraries, attend school and to learn to read and write were very limited and for most non-existent.

papusza romani poet There is a similarity to the ancient Greeks whom have also maintained an oral tradition, in which poets and singers tell of the Romani lifestyle and culture. Bronislawa Wajs born 17th August 1908, is one of the greatest Romani poets of the 20th century. Bronislawa Wajs was known as Papusza which translated in Romani language means doll.

Papusza grew up in the 1920s she lived a nomadic lifestyle with her family in Poland. She learnt to read and write from the Polish villagers she would steal Chickens for. She was married in a traditional ceremony at 15 to a much older and revered harpist named Dionizy Wajs, her marriage was not a happy one, so she found happiness in her poetry and songs.

Her amazing gifts to the world were her ballads – long poems which were partly sung and partly recited. She used Romani improvisational storytelling to help her compose, Papusza focused mainly on the hard life of the Roma, travelling the “lungo drom” this translates as the endless journey with no final destination.

With more than 30 collections to her name, Papusza was a source of strength and hope for the Roma during the war. Her works were published by Julian Tuwim, Jerzy Ficowski, and others.

Written by Amber

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