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Who are the Romani?

Romani dancers in Mociu, RomaniaThe Romani (also called Romany or Roma) are a group of nomadic peoples living across Europe and Asia—and the Americas, to where their ancestors emigrated in the 19th century. Around 10 and 12 million Romani live in Europe, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, and in Turkey. They are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. There are a number of different groups who describe themselves as Romani. They include the Kale in Finland and Wales, the Sinti in Austria, Germany, Poland and Italy, and the Manouche in France. Many (but not all) Romani dislike the term “gypsy” or "tzigane", because it is seen as dismissive of their lifestyle and culture. A long history of persecution has meant that many Romani communities are still not represented properly in the countries where they live, and some are still struggling to escape poverty.



A 15th century illustration of Romani people arriving outside the Swiss city of Bern

History

The ancestors of the Romani came from India. They were a people who travelled to Europe about 1000 years ago. No one knows exactly why the Romani left India, but the most likely explanation is that they began their migration as Hindu refugees from war. It is thought that they left their original homeland in northwest India to help fight a war in the Punjab—possibly against the invading forces of Mahmud of Ghazni, a Muslim emperor, in the 11th century. After the war, Islam became the main religion in this region, and Hindus were forced out. The Romani fled westwards towards the Middle East and Europe.

Romani comes from the word "rom" in the Romani language, meaning "man". “Roma” means “people”. It is unconnected to Romania, despite the fact many Romani live in that country.

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