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Airdate: Jan 07, 2011
Scientist: Carol Silverman

Roma - Origins

Roma - Origins
Scholars are demystifying the origins of the Roma/gypsy culture.

Roma - Origins

Music; Ambience: Gypsy girl singing, father accompanies on accordion

JM: The origin of the Roma people is one of Europe's oldest mysteries. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We're in Shutka, Macedonia -- one of the largest "Roma" or gypsy communities in eastern Europe -- listening to Roma street performers. Carol Silverman studies Roma culture and folklore, and teaches at the University of Oregon. She says that the history of the Roma language offers some clues to their past.

CS: We have evidence that somewhere around the year eleven hundred twelve hundred, Roma began to migrate out of India. Now, the the newest scholarship actually thinks that the Roma were maybe a military group of people that came from different tribal groups and came together in a massive campaign that was organized by some rulers from India who were fighting incoming Muslims.

JM: Although the outcome of that ancient conflict is unknown, historical records show that by the thirteen hundreds Roma were firmly rooted in eastern Europe. But even then, they were considered outcasts, and they were forbidden to practice most mainstream occupations.

CS: By the year thirteen fifty, in all the major cities in the Balkans, we had South Asian people who began to be referred to as various misnomers, so gypsy, for example, comes from believing these people are from Egypt. So we know from about the thirteen hundreds that Roma had specific economic niches in Eastern Europe, including metal-smithing, selling of horses, being involved in fortune telling, and music. Music is documented way, way back.

JM: Our thanks to street singer, Juksel Kamil. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.