Our roots

«All the works on the universal Rromani history have been elaborated through the prism of a temporality characteristic of the Eurocentric and Western historiography (Alochronic)»


O Rromano Them, the Gypsy People, Indian of origin, European of concretion and transnational in its projection[1] is the most numerous ethnic minority[2] of the European continent and, according to all the statistics, the most vulnerable, excluded[3] and the one that endures higher levels of racism[4], is to say, the most rejected human group. These situations of exclusion are more serious in the case of Romani women[5].

The European Roma population faces severe levels of extreme poverty and deep social exclusion: 42% (more than 5 million people!) of the European Roma population live in conditions of severe deprivation, that is, they do not have access to running water and/or connection to the sewer system and/or electricity. In the case of Romani women, extreme poverty and exclusion reinforce the disadvantages and, therefore, impose an additional burden on us. This can not be forgotten. For this reason, Romani feminism has to be a socio-community development tool: combating absolute poverty and guaranteeing housing conditions and adequate basic infrastructure is crucial to survive. If we do not survive, we will not be able to empower Romani women.

Today, we are overwhelmed by the accelerated development of the most virulent anti-Roma public manifestations that have occurred since the dawn of the Second World War[6]: openly xenophobic and racist campaigns carried out by renowned European politicians; mistreatment, harassment and police controls; collective lynchings; mass expulsions for ethnic reasons; murders attacks on political headquarters; forced sterilization of more than one hundred women... To the point that the European Parliament has approved the report prepared by the Romani feminist MEP Soraya Post on how to combat anti-Gypsyism[7].

A special mention deserves the terrible damages caused by the generalized journalistic irresponsibility in the treatment of the news related to our People, and of the indiscriminate perpetuation of the traditionally stigmatizing images and unjustly associated to our culture in the television programs.

Hasta el momento, a causa de los estereotipos y prejuicios arcaicos que en torno a la rica cosmovisión romaní pululan en el alma psicosocial dominante, nuestra manera de latir en el mundo ha sido desechada por los grandes poderes. No obstante, aquí estamos, y eso es, precisamente, lo que nos ha mantenido con vida: nuestro amor por la vida (biofilia), nuestra resiliencia, nuestro sentido del apoyo mutuo y la no agresión colectiva[8].

The historiography has projected its anti-romani look to show an history that is not ours, an history where the protagonists are the powerful Gadje (non-romani) who have always persecuted us and where Roma, men and women, appear as mere decoration, characters of comparsa and, of course, always guilty.


In Romani historiography (almost always written by Gadje men) there are some assumptions, facts considered irrefutable, that have been imposed without much control or verification and ranging from the widespread belief that nomadism was a way of life until the no less widespread belief that there has been no inter-ethnic coexistence or miscegenation[9].


The version of Roma history that has been imposed is really the story of the anti-Gypsy persecution. As stated by N. Jiménez (2017), «most of the classic historiographical studies have focused on the listing of anti-Gypsy laws and have only taken into account documents produced by Gadje».


It is the story of how Gadje men have looked at Romani people, always with a murky look with some honorable exceptions of accurate descriptions coming mainly from literature or art, together with a conscious look[10].

For this reason, we intend to carry out a critical feminist review of the history of the Romani People. However, we must warn that this purpose goes far beyond the scope of this material and, therefore, what we offer here is our small grain of sand for the construction of a new story of our history in which we find ourselves and with which we can be inspired to build our present and fight for our future.

Terminology note: Romani is the plural of Rrom (1.- adult man; 2.- husband). This ethnonym was adopted as a suitable denomination to refer to the whole of the gypsy population at the first World Gypsy Congress. (London, 1971). The feminine plural is Rromnǎ.


In both Spain and Portugal we use the equivalent exonyms gipsy/ciganv, gitanos/ciganos resignifying them and giving them their correct value. We also have the endonyms calís/calin, calós/calõn. On the other hand, in Romania the appropriate denomination is Rroma since ţigan has become synonymous with slave and is therefore rejected by our sisters.

The Romani People: Origins

According to the findings of linguistics, cultural anthropology, the science of history and, in more recent years, population genetics the Indian origin of the Roma population is considered a fact. That is to say, there is no place for speculation in this regard. Especially when those speculations only continue perpetuating the exoticism of the mystery of a wandering people, without a country.


We want from now to dispel these clichés and affirm that:

1º) The remote origin of the gypsy population is India.

2º) It is known that there is no longer a specific population ethnically related to o Rromano Them/romani people in India today.

3º) The multiple nomadic groups baptized in India as Gypsies have no kinship or genetic or ethnic or historical relationship with the Romani/gypsies. Their name comes from the English colonial policy that called them Gypsies in the nineteenth century by analogy with the Romani (Gypsies) of Great Britain.

4º) The Romani families have been settled in European territory since at least the eleventh century.

5º) Already in the sixteenth century there are Romani populations in all the countries of Europe.

Contrary to what most of the existing publications claim, the first Roma people who came to Europe remembered their Indian origin well: «Eodem millesimo venerunt Forlivium quedam gentes misse ab imperatore, cupientes recipere fidem nostram, et fuerunt in Forlivio die VII Augusti. Et, ut audivi aliqui dicebant, quod erant de India[11]».

Así mismo, queremos destacar un dato que ha venido siendo invisibilizado: en el Imperio Bizantino las adivinadoras gitanas fueron llamadas “egipcias”. Ese hecho y su vestimenta hicieron que la gente las relacionase con Egipto lo que vino a generar la leyenda de nuestro supuesto origen egipcio que ha dado a su vez origen a las diversas denominaciones que hemos recibido en los diferentes países.

Settlement in Europe

First mentions of the presence of Roma, men and women, in Europe go back to key moments in the modern construction of Western societies, both in a first modernity and in its definitive crystallization according to classical historiography: the economic transformation of those societies is beginning agricultural and livestock towards the capitalist industrial societies in which they have become; in the political order, we are facing the conformation of the Nation-States as well as their borders and the monopolization of the licit exercise of violence; the heteropatriarchy is based on the binary coding of the gender-specific roles and their spheres of social development (female private / male public) that is reinforced in this era in which sexualities will be disciplined around the capitalist logic of production/ reproduction; and, in the cultural order, the process of displacement of the traditional ways of apprehending the world, of generating and projecting knowledge, towards the emergence of the rational and academic subject begins.


Roma, men and women, break into Europe in the middle of the Middle Ages. The emergence and construction of European nation-states will take them full. And this modern form of organization, the State, requires, in order to be possible, a homogenization of its populations that will take over the course of several centuries the ethnic and religious diversity that medieval Europe housed.

There is no doubt that we are facing a moment of vital importance with regard to the conformation of the European colonial identity that is based on the negation of otherness through the realization of the following genocides and epistemicides: Muslim women and Muslims in the conquest of Al-Andalus; that of beans and Jews in the name of "purity of blood"; that of the indigenous peoples in the American continent; that of the aboriginal peoples in Asia; that of Africans and Africans with the captive trade and its enslavement in the American continent; that of women who practiced and transmitted ancestral knowledge, who were burned alive accused of witches; and, to this list of genocides that according to Grosfoguel[12] make up the European imperial being, to be complete it is missing the genocide and epistemicide attempt of the Romani People.


The diversity, the difference, the otherness of the Romani people is still used today as a counter-example of the desirable social order. That is to say, the State and its institutions have instrumentalized throughout history and nowadays our bodies and our culture so that the Gadjo[13] citizenship understands how it should not be and that to be held by a "correct" citizen or a "good" person should avoid being Romani or behaving as such. So that being a Romani person represents in the social imaginary, culturally constructed and supported by the omnipotent power of the State, just the opposite, what should not be to be part of society. Hence, that eagerness to "integrate" which is nothing other than submitting and forcing us to stop being Romanies.

The Romani People in Spain

Officially[14] the Spanish Romani population is estimated at around 725,000 and 750,000 people, of which the usual demographic descriptors are unknown since the figures used are estimates based on partial studies, limited spatially and temporally, and focused on marginality[15]. The Romani People in Spain remains the great unknown, not to say ignored, both by the public and by the scientific and academic community. As a result of this ignorance, the Romani People perceive themselves as a community that has no history, language or culture; The Romani People does not exist or it is just an unstructured, marginalized community with no identitary substrate with consistency from which only the problems generated by its social exclusion to non-Roma citizens are perceived. Therefore, all the solutions offered by the Power are aimed at solving the problems that Gadje have in relation to Roma. The Romani population in Spain is currently in a situation of socio-economic and political stagnation. Despite years of generic or specific policies aimed at improving their situation, neither the levels of education nor health, housing or employment, have managed to approach those of the rest of the population. What is more serious, the social position of Romani people, our visibility and our political influence are still weak, subject to stereotypes and with a variable game of inclusion / exclusion that does not allow us to enjoy full citizenship and real participation in social goods. These are some data that contribute to demystify the supposed privileged situation of the Spanish Roma in relation to our sisters in other countries: According to the VII FOESA Report, Romani people in social exclusion account for 72.3%[16]. In the field of education, the most recent data come from an investigation carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)[17] according to which more than 90% of the Spanish Romani population has not completed compulsory secondary education; 45% of girls and boys who drop out of school do so for work; 35% of people over 45 years of age are recognized as illiterate; 10% of Spanish gypsy students attend segregated schools; and women show worse educational levels. The Spanish Constitution does not recognize the Romani population as a minority; Romani culture is absent from the educational curriculum at all levels of education, without being mentioned or explained in textbooks or classes[18]; Romani traditional marriage is not legal in Spain, which especially harms Romani women, since they do not recognize the right to a widow's pension. It also affects our daughters and sons because it violates the right of filiation and the right of transmission and inheritance; Romani language has no legal status.

The Romani People in Romania

According to the results of the official population and housing census conducted in 2011[19] the number of self-declared Roma was 621,573 (3.2% of the total population of Romania). Other numbers of Romanian citizens belonging to the Romani minority reach 10% of the Romanian population[20]. This implies a large number of people who do not wish to self-register as “Rroma” to avoid the social stigma that it entails[21].


The majority (63%) of the self-declared Roma population lives in rural areas.

De las personas que declararon su etnia como Romani en dicho censo, el 39,3% declaró que su lengua materna era el romanó.

Illiteracy affects into more than 30% of adult Romani people[22].


In this sense, in the labor market, it should be noted that the Romani population has a lower level of education than the majority population that limits their access to the labor market. Unemployment rates triple those of the general population[23].


Officially[24] the risk of infant mortality is four times higher among Romani girls and boys, and almost half of Romani girls and boys do not benefit from the Ministry of Health's free vaccination.


According to Romania's National Strategy for the Inclusion of the Romani Population, maternal mortality among Romani patients is 15 times higher than the national average.


Unlike any other region of Europe, the Romani and the Rromnǎ in the old Wallachia and Moldavia —origin of present-day Romania— have lived in slavery for five hundred years[25].


The oldest mentions of the presence of the Roma in the territories date back to the 14th century. Upon their arrival they were well received for their skills, as it was an agricultural land and under the domain of the Ottoman Empire. To permanently preserve the essential economic factor that represents the Romani, the authorities and the Church soon prevented them from traveling[26].


Over time, Romani people became the property of the State, the Church or the boyars, large landowners, and became slaves. Those who belonged to individuals, to the boyar landowners, always had a more difficult position[27].


The emancipation of the Romani was the result of several laws: the Organic Regulation of 1831, the laws of 1843 and 1844 supposed the liberation of the slaves belonging to the State; the law of 1847 freed the slaves owned by the Church; and the laws of 1855 and 1856 served to emancipate those who were owned by individuals (boyards) which, in the height of injustice, were compensated for their losses at the rate of 8 pieces of gold for each slave person freed.


Once slavery was abolished, a large number of Romani families left the country and migrated to Central and Western Europe as well as to America. This second wave of Romani migration had an impact on local populations that have not yet sufficiently investigated. We do know that the arrival of these Romani peoples impacted on the generation of a series of new anti-Roma stereotypes.

The Romani People in Portugal

In 2009, the Parliamentary Commission on Ethics, Society and Culture[28] acknowledged the lack of information regarding Romani communities, in particular regarding their size, distribution, economic and social situation, among others, which makes it impossible to obtain a clear perception and real situation in which these communities live.


It is very possible that the arrival of the Roma population in Portuguese territory occurred in the middle of the 15th century, with the Portuguese anti-roma legislation being initiated with the Decree of 13 March 1526, issued by King João III, by which we were denied entry to the Portuguese territory and the expulsion of those who were already in the territory was determined[29].


Portugal historically dealt with the Romani issue in a similar way to other Western European countries but with a peculiarity: it deported Romani men and women to its colonies in Africa and America.
The official figure[30] put the Romani population resident in Portugal between 40 and 60 thousand people distributed throughout the country.


In Portugal, the lack of a solid knowledge base on this issue is notorious and parallel to the lack of visibility in the public policy agenda. In fact, there is no quality sociographic study that allows a detailed characterization of the Romani population, although it is the oldest ethnic minority in the country. The existing data are the result of some monographic studies that have been conducted and allow only approximations to reality.


Half of the Portuguese Romani population in 2010 was a beneficiary of social inclusion income[31] , which gives us an idea of the level of social exclusion that they suffer.


The Portuguese Romani population still remains a group that is ignored by the majority society and not recognized neither as a national minority nor as an ethnic minority[32]. The lack of recognition of the Romani People and their incorrect knowledge are reflected in limiting images, deformed, inferiority and contempt, negatively affecting and restricting the lives of these people, which is configured as a form of oppression[33].


The current situation of the Romani People throughout Europe is marked by antigipsyism.

Antigipsyism is the specific form of racism suffered by the Romani population. It is an ideology based on racial superiority. It is a form of institutional racism fueled by historical discrimination. It is particularly persistent, violent, recurrent and banalized. It is the main cause of the inequalities suffered by the Romani population[34].


Antigipsyism is an old ideology shared by broad layers of the European majority society that leads to a specific and particular form of racism and discrimination directed towards populations defined as Roma and which stigmatizes our identity and affects the totality of the people who make up the European Romani community independent of social or cultural class and gender.


According to the most extensive study[35] to date on the perception of discrimination, around half of the Romani peoples surveyed had suffered discrimination in the last 12 months due to their ethnic origin.

The structural machismo of society intersects with antigipsyism and generates a multiplying effect that makes Romani women more vulnerable.


Let us give some examples that serve us to make visible what is really and how the antigipsyism is concreted:

School failure is widespread and there is no educational policy specifically designed to overcome it in any of the government departments of the different Member States dedicated to education[36].


90% of the European Roma population lives in conditions of poverty (FRA, 2012)

The practice of ethnic profiling is widespread throughout the EU and particularly affects Romani people[37].

The health status of Romani peoples is worse than that of the general population[38].

Extreme poverty and social exclusion reinforce the disadvantages suffered by Roma women throughout Europe[39].

Sources of material

[1] Jiménez, N (2006) El reto de la democracia: la integración del Pueblo Gitano. I Tchatchipen, 55, 48-50

[2] Desde hace décadas se dice que en Europa vivimos unos 12 millones de personas gitanas

[8] Jiménez, N (2002) Retrato socio-antropológico del Pueblo Rom. I Tchatchipen, 38, 16-23

[11] En el mismo tiempo vinieron a Forli ciertas gentes mandadas por un general, deseosas de recibir nuestra fe, y llegaron a Forli el 7 de Agosto. Y, como oí decir a alguno, que eran de India. Chronicon fratris Hieronymi de Forlivio: ab anno 1397 usque ad annum 1433/ a cura di Adamo Pasini Bologna: N. Zanichelli, 1931.

[13] Gachí (del romanó gaȝi): no gitana.

[15] Laparra, M (coord.) (2007): Informe sobre la situación social y tendencias de cambio en la población gitana. Una primera aproximación. Madrid: Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales

[18] García Fernández, J. A. (Coord) (2017) La cultura del pueblo gitano en el currículo de la educación obligatoria, a través de su presencia, ausencia y percepción en los libros de texto. Madrid: MECD

[20] Olivera, M (2009) Introduction aux formes et raisons de la diversité Rom roumaine. Etudes Tsiganes, (2) 38, 10-41

[21] Cace, S & Lazar, C (2003) Discrimination Against Roma in Criminal Justice and Prison Systems in Romania. Bucarest: PRI

[25] Achim, V (2004) The Roma in Romanian History. Budapest: Central European University Press

[26] Necula, C (2012) The cost of Roma slavery. Perspective Politice, V(2), 33-45

[27] Hancock, I (1987) The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers

[33] Mendes, M M (2015) Nos interstícios das sociedades plurais e desigualitárias: a situação social dos ciganos. En Martins, E et al (Coord) Modelos e projetos de inclusão social. Viseu: Escola Superior de Educação