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1. The Importance of Knowing the Culture and History of the Roma in the Mentoring Activity


This part of the methodology aims to answer the question: “Why is it important for a mentor to know the culture and history of the Roma”. This was a very commonly asked question. Even in the cases where the mentors were Roma, our firm response was that Roma history and culture is a key factor in this type of activity. Only by knowing the history and culture of a people and understanding their specifics can we truly adapt to the needs of that group. In this way we demonstrate that we respect those we work with, both as individuals and the culture they come from. In most cases, economic and social needs are intertwined with cultural ones, and by taking into account certain cultural specificities, a number of situations can be solved. Two concrete examples from the experiences of the projects show us the importance of knowledge, on one hand, and the consideration of cultural specificity, on the other hand, when a mentor tries to find solutions to various situations.


A first example is the one in which, in order to solve a request in which two Roma families wanted to live together, two apartments were joined together. This demonstrates that an important cultural aspect has been taken into account, through which Roma families express a desire to live with their extended family. Another example is the one that took into account the need of some Roma families to respect their cultural principle of pure – impure dichotomy. Put in the situation of washing the laundry together, Roma families refused to do so because they violated an important aspect of Roma culture. The solution found together with the people involved from the outside was to buy washing machines for each family. Thus, the practical and economical need was met, but also, just as important, the cultural one.

The risk of not knowing the cultural specifics of the community one works with leads to misunderstanding and misbehaviour in certain situations, and a lack of necessary and appropriate support for that community. In education, there are multiple examples in this regard, the most common being that in which the child knows only the Romani language. At school, this is perceived by teachers as an inability of the student to understand and assimilate the content taught in class, when the actual issue is the language barrier. Thus, due to the lack of knowledge of the student’s cultural specificity, the teacher does not correctly identify his need as a linguistic one and cannot provide adequate support. Mostly, in this type of situations, the student abandons the school, because he/she feels misunderstood and abandoned by the school.


In summary, it is important to know the cultural and historical specifics of the Roma in the mentoring activity, for the following reasons:

  • create better relationships with the people;
  • better understand their way of thinking and the way they live;
  • have a better connection with the people; who in turn
  • feel valued and important for themselves and for society;

2. Roma vs. Gypsy


The first and most important thing we need to know about Roma, when working with them, is the distinction between Roma and Gypsy. In Romani, the word gypsy does not exist. The origin of the word is the term athinganos which in the Greek language meant untouchable, pagan, heretical, impure, and referred to a group considered heretical by the official clerical structures of the time in which it was attested. The Roma received this name in the medieval period when they arrived in the Byzantine Empire, being considered a group of heretics, nomads, star readers and wizards whom Christians were advised to avoid.


In the Romanian Medieval Lands, since the first attestation of the Roma reported in 1385, they were identified by the term ațigan, who later became țigan (gypsy), designating rather a social status, that of the slave and not the ethnicity. Once spread, this word brought with it many negative consequences for this ethnic group that led to the stigmatization and association of an entire ethnic group with the negative values of the society. In addition, it affected the self-esteem of many generations, and other members of the community did not want to be identified as Roma, but rather with the negative name of gypsy.


Later, the word gypsy kept in the Romanian collective mentality and language a deeply pejorative meaning; the term gypsy became a nickname of mockery and a label for all those who promoted negative aspects in society. The term Roma is an old word in the Romani language used for at least a millennium by the Roma to address each other. According to the hypothesis issued by Donald Kenrick, (Kenrick, 1993) the term Roma comes from the prakrit word “dom” (with voiced /d/), which means “man” and referred, on one hand, to Indian immigrants from various ethnic groups, who mixed and performed mixed marriages in Persia, forming a people and afterwards moving to Europe, and on the other hand, to an ethnic subgroup in India, which still exists today.


The Roma address each other in the Romani language when they ask each other about their Roma ethnicity with the following formula: “Tu san rom? – trad. Are you Roma?”, because the term Roma has the meaning of a man belonging to the Roma ethnic group, in the Romani language. Therefore, for a good communication in the work of mentors with people within the Roma community, it is important to address the term Roma, both because it best captures the culture and identity of the community, but also because in this way we show respect to the community and we value a central aspect of Roma culture.

3. Roma Origins 



If in the Middle Ages it was believed that the Roma were “Egyptians” and almost nothing was known about how they arrived in the Balkans and implicitly in Romania, linguistics was the only discipline that could elucidate the unknowns of Roma history. Thanks to linguistics, it is known today that the Romani language is of Indian origin, and there is approximate data about the road travelled by Roma ancestors from India to the Balkans and about the formation of the Romani language today. The first linguistic finding that the Romani language is of Indian origin belongs to the Hungarian student Istvan Wali, who in 1776 during his studies in the Netherlands together with three Malabrian students compiled a vocabulary of 1000 words proving the belonging of the Romani language to the Indian languages.


Below is a table with some words that show the similarity of the two languages:

English word Romani Hindi
Rain Briśind Bāriś
Ear Kan kān,
house Kher Ghar
Earth Phuv Puthvī
Water Pani Pānī
Milk Thud Dudh
Red Lolo Lāl
Black Kalo Kālā
Big Baro Barā
Good Laćho Accā
New Nevo Nayā
Old Purano Phuranā
Beautiful Śukar Sundar
Tight Tang Tãg
One Jekh Ek
Two Duj Do
Three Trin Tīn
For Śtar Cār
Five Panӡ Pãj
Six Śov Chah
Ten Deś Das
To bring Anel Anā
To give Del Denā
To see Dihkel Dekhnā
To fall Perel paṛnā
To drink Piel Pinā
To walk Ӡal Calnā

* Table made by Alexandru Zamfir, graduate of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature, University of Bucharest, Romanian-Hindi section, in his bachelor’s thesis that approaches the similarities between Romanian and Hindi.

4. Roma Migration from Indian Territories

Linguistics also managed to elucidate and reconstruct the path taken by Roma ancestors from India to Europe. By analysing the Roma lexicon, Miklosich (Miklosich apud ,,Romii, India si Europa”, Gheorghe Sarau) identified in the Romani language ancient elements from the Afghan, Persian, Armenian, Turkish, and Slavic languages, which led to the identification of the geographical areas travelled by the Roma ancestors and the peoples with whom they came into contact. Thus, it seems that after leaving the Indian space in about the II-VIII centuries AD, the ancestors of the Roma crossed the present territories of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran within several hundred years, and then by the end of the X century they had reached northern Mesopotamia.


According to Miklosich’s theory, (Miklosich apud ,,Romii, India si Europa”, Gheorghe Sarau)   the main branches of migrant peoples were:

  1. Lom or Northern Branch – They continued on their way to today’s territories of Armenia and Georgia and reached the Balkans through Caucasus and then they arrived in Eastern, Central and Western Europe.
  2. Dom or SouthwesternBranch – had as directions Syria, Palestine, North African countries, crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Spain.
  3. Rrom or Western Branch – It is the ancestors of the Roma who continued their journey through the Byzantine Empire, where they remained for several centuries, and from there they went on to Central and Western Europe.

This distribution of migrant peoples of Roma origin is relevant precisely to demonstrate that the Roma people are present internationally and have a long history.


The following are the main aspects arising from the origin and migration of Roma from India:

  • Due to linguistics,we know today that the Romani language is of Indian origin and we have approximate data about the journey of Roma ancestors from India to today’s Europe
  • By analysing the Roma lexicon, Miklosich (Miklosich apud ,,Romii, India si Europa”, Gheorghe Sarau) identified in the Romani language ancient elements from the Afghan, Persian, Armenian, Turkish, and Slavic languages, which led to the identification of the geographical areas travelled by the Roma ancestors and the peoples with whom they came into contact.
  • Lom or Northern branch – They continued their way on today’s territories of Armenia and Georgia and reached the Balkans through the Caucasus, and then they arrivedin Eastern, Central and Western Europe.
  • Dom or SouthwesternBranch – had as directions Syria, Palestine, North African countries, crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Spain.
  • Rrom or Western Branch– They are the ancestors of the Roma who continued their journey through the Byzantine Empire, where they remained for several centuries, and from there they went on to Central and Western Europe.
  • The first documentary attestation of the Roma ancestors appears in a manuscript from Mount Athos, in 1054, under the name of athinganoy. Later, they are mentioned under different names (cingari, țigani, zingari, tsiganes…)

5.  Roma Slavery in Romania

The first attestation of the Roma in Romania took place in 1385, when Dan I, the ruler of Wallachia, donated to Tismana Monastery the possessions that had previously belonged to Vodiţa Monastery between 1370 and 1371, donating 40 Gypsy dwellings (Petcuț 2015). The origin of Roma slavery and the means by which they were enslaved with their arrival in the Romanian Lands are two issues that are difficult to reconstruct due to the lack of a sufficient amount of historical information on this topic. Historiography presents two hypotheses. The first belongs to the historian Viorel Achim and claims that the Romanians took over the institution of slavery from the Tatars who used to turn their prisoners of war into slaves. He states that the Roma were the slaves of the Tartars, and what actually happened was the change of masters for the Roma slaves when they arrived in the Romanian territories (Achim, 1998).


The second hypothesis is supported by the historian Petre Petcuț. He states that when they came to Romania, the Roma had the status of free people, a fact confirmed by documents issued in Moldavia in 1414 and their status as free people in Transylvania (Gypsy chiefs were called princes). Petre Petcuț states that there is a possibility that the enslavement of the Roma on the Romanian territories occurred due to the custom of the land according to which the free peasants became serfs after 12 years spent on the estate of a boyar. This may have been transposed to the Roma as well, given their peaceful nature as opposed to the warrior character of other migrants (Petcuț, 2015).


Categories of slaves – Depending on the masters to whom they belonged, slaves were divided into 3 broad categories:


Royal slaves – included all slaves in the country who did not belong to monasteries or boyars and were slaves of the ruler and his wife. They had specific names, by profession: aurari (goldsmiths), cărămidari (bricksmiths), spoitori (tinsmiths), geambași (copers), lăutari (Romani folk musicians), florari (flower-sellers), etc. They had the right to move freely around the country in order to be able to exercise their trades by paying a donation to the state. However, they could also be given by the ruler to boyars (nobles) or monasteries, and then they lost their right to move freely and were forced to work only for their master.

Monastic slaves – took care of the work around the monastery and that of its estates. Their number was the highest, with the monasteries having the most slaves, due to the gifts they received from the ruler and the boyars.

Boyar slaves – they were “court gypsies” and “field gypsies”. The field slaves worked on the estates of the boyars and the court ones had occupations such as maids, house boys, cooks, laundresses, coachman, among many others. There was another category, that of the caretakers who took care of the yard and the raising of the animals. The boyar slaves were led by a vataf (administrator), who was accountable to the master for the duties of the slaves.


The legal status of the slaves – As Petre Petcuț claims, Roma people, during the period of slavery, did not benefit from a legal status that would give them minimum rights and protect them in court. Slaves were assimilated to the properties of the master (Petcuț, 2015). In the following, we present some excerpts from the legislation of the time for a clearer picture of the status of slaves:


The Gypsy or his woman, or the child, who would steal once or twice, even three times, a chicken, a goose or other little thing, shall be forgiven; if they would steal a bigger thing, they shall be punished for stealing; (The Guide book of Law 1652, apud. ,,Roma Slavery in Wallachia. Fragments of Social History”, Furtună Adrian-Nicolae, 2019, p.19).


[…]We order you that from now you cannot disobey the three things mentioned here[…]. If a Romanian man wish to marry a Gypsy Women, or a Gypsy man to marry a Romanian women, you are not allowed to wed them, because people would get indignant and many quarrels will arise especially because the free people might fall into slavery. (Ecclesiastic Laws, Antim Ivireanu’s Fragments of orders 1714 apud. ,,Roma Slavery in Wallachia. Fragments of Social History”, Furtună Adrian-Nicolae, 2019, p.20).


  1. All the slaves are somebody’s property. This is the status of Gypsies in Wallachia;
  2. All people born from slaves shall remain slaves;
  3. All born from a slave mother shall be slaves;
  4. A Gypsy’s master has no power over his life;
  5. A Gypsy’s master is free to sell or donate him;
  6. All Gypsies in Wallachia who cannot prove who their master is, belong to the Royal Court.  
  7. He who deliberately keep hold of a Gypsy man or women, shall return him/her to the their master (paying 40 tl. by year for a skilled Gypsy, and 20 tl. by year for an unskilled Gypsy, 30 tl. a year for a skilled Gypsy women, and 15 tl. for an unskilled one); the one who keep hold of them unconsciously shall return them to their master;   
  8. He who would wed a Gypsy with a stranger Gypsy women consciously, or against their master’s will, shall lose that Gypsy man or women and their children into possession of their master. And if he would wed them unconsciously, an exchange shall be made, always the Gypsy women following her husband. If the stranger was skilled, shall be exchanged with another skilled one; and if this cannot be fulfilled, than the talent of the skilled person shall be appreciated and paid;

If the Gypsies get married without their master’s consent or knowledge and if it happens to have children, the boys shall remain to the master of the Gypsy man, while the girls shall belong to the women’s master subjected to exchange;

  1. Gypsies belonging to the Royal Court who would marry obeying the law can ask their masters in Court to change the rule aforementioned and go after their wives or husbands;
  2. The Gypsy who would marry a free women or the free man who would marry a Gypsy women without the knowledge of their masters, shall be separated. However, if their master allows them to get marry, then shall remain together as free people and their master shall be impaired.

(Caragea Law, 1818, Chapter VII For Slaves and Gypsies, apud. ,,Roma Slavery in Wallachia. Fragments of Social History”, Furtună Adrian-Nicolae, 2019, p.21).


The liberation of the Roma in the Romanian Lands – In both Principalities, slavery as an institution was abolished by a series of laws adopted between 1843-1856, that targeted firstly the slaves of the state, then of the monasteries, and finally the slaves of the nobles.


Selective chronology of liberation laws

1843 – Wallachia, the liberation of state slaves

1844 – Moldova, the liberation of the Ruler’s slaves

1844 – Moldova, the liberation of state slaves

1847 – Wallachia, the liberation of the Ruler’s slaves

1855 – Moldova, the abolition of slavery

1856 – Wallachia, the abolition of slavery

(Chronology taken from the Roma Teaching Auxiliary Manual in Romania: Identity and Otherness)

In summary, the following is the most important data about Slavery in the Romanian Lands:

  • The first documentary attestation of the Roma in Romania dates from 1385;
  • The ruler of Wallachia, Dan I, gives to the Tismana Monastery the possessions that had previously belonged to the Vodiţa Monastery;
  • Among these goods, movable and immovable, there were 40 gypsy dwellings;
  • In both Principalities, slavery as an institution was abolished by a series of laws, adopted between 1843-1856, that targeted in turn the slaves of the state, then of the monasteries, and finally of the nobles;
  • The liberation of the Roma was made without developing policies for their inclusion in the Romanian society, economy and culture.

6. Roma Holocaust

The deportations of Roma from Germany and Austria to German-occupied Poland began in 1940. They were placed in ghettos with the Jews. The first deportation took place in May 1940. The extermination of the Roma during World War II was not only in concentration camps, but also in the communities where they lived. A large part of the Roma living in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany was the victim of SS troop shootings of the whole community or individuals. Subsequently, they were buried in forests. The exact number of Roma killed in this way is unknown, but it is estimated that there are 180 places where Roma were shot in Ukraine, Belarus, Yugoslavia and Poland. (Slawomir, K.  Martyniak M. ,  Talewicz-Kwiatkowska J., 2011).

The Gypsy Camp in Auschwitz was established in February 1943, and Roma were brought there from all over Europe, mostly from Germany and Austria. By the end of 1943, 18,736 people lived in the gypsy camp and 2,207 were gassed on the night of May 16, 1944. Of these, 9,500 were children under the age of 4 and 380 were born there. (Ibidem)

About 21,000 Roma from 12 countries died in Auschwitz. Other Roma in Europe from other concentration camps suffered the same fate. Unfortunately, it is not possible to estimate the exact number of the Roma Holocaust victims during World War II, especially since mass executions took place outside the concentration camps. However, there is a consensus among several researchers that approximately half a million Roma from all over Europe were exterminated during this period.

During the Second World War, approximately 25,000 ethnic Roma were deported from Romania to Transnistria for racial reasons, as it was the case in Germany. These people were exploited, abused, and ultimately destroyed both physically and spiritually. 11,000 Roma died in Transnistria.

Below are excerpts from interviews with Roma Holocaust survivors in Europe:

At the end of September 1942, I was loaded onto a train. After travelling for a few hours, the train stopped. Someone opened the door with a bang and a moment later I heard loud shouts: Raus! Raus! Raus! I was one of the first to jump off the train and the SS officer immediately hit me in the stomach with the head of the rifle. After a while, I realized that in addition to the German soldiers armed with rifles, there were also many people dressed strangely in striped clothes holding wooden sticks in their hands. After a moment of general confusion, these people (I later found out that they were Kapos prisoners) lined us up in rows of 5 and we were escorted by SS officers. After about 5 minutes we were standing in front of a gate with the inscription “Arbeit macht frei” and then I saw the barbed wire fence.

I had to give my name, date and place of birth, occupation, parents’ names and my mother’s maiden name. The man who wrote all this down gave me a card with the number 66485 and my brother received the following number, 66486. Then, the same man told us that we were prisoners in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

I remember being beaten often because I couldn’t learn my prisoner number in German fast enough. (Edward Paczkowski, former Polish Roma prisoner number 66485, deported to Auschwitz before the construction of the Gypsy Camp)

After travelling for 4 or maybe 5 days I arrived at Auschwitz. The door of our wagon was suddenly opened. In front of us on the ramp, there stood the SS officers with their weapons ready to fire. However, they lowered them when they saw children in front of them. After registering our name and tattooing the camp number on our arm, we went to the Gypsy Camp in Birkenaw. All the children brought from Mulfingen remained together in block 16 for the next 14 days. Then, they separated us. Children over the age of 14 remained there and the youngest were taken to the children’s block, called the orphanage block. We, the older ones, were made to build roads. I visited my other brothers as often as I could … One day, in the summer of 1944, the guard shot two Roma boys from the orphanage near the barbed wire fence. All he wanted to do was bring back some water he had collected from the ditch near the fence. One of the boys died on the spot and the other was seriously injured. He was carried around the camp as a means of intimidation. None of the boys was more than 11 or 12 years old.

(Excerpt from the testimony of Amelie Schaich who was deported to Auschwitz as a child in May 1943. Amelia was born into a Roma family but in 1938, at the age of 9, she was separated from her parents and placed in an orphanage with her brothers. Her parents were taken prisoners in a concentration camp. Amelie was one of the children studied by Dr. Robert Ritter and Eva Justin at the Institute of Racial Hygiene)

On March 12, 1943, around 4 in the morning, the Gestapo took us from our house: my parents, my sister Anni, my brother Willi Karl … I was on the road two days and two nights, and finally, we arrived by train in Birkenaw … The doors suddenly opened and we had to get off. The whole family, we were taken to block 28…. The SS physicist, dr. Josef Mengele found me in the camp hospital and I had to work for him as a messenger…. I was there when Mengele looked for twins for his experiments. I had to take them to him, and then give them some special numbers. I was not allowed to be present when he was experimenting; he always sent me somewhere else. However, I once happened to be in the room when Mengele was experimenting. I saw him put drops of some kind of liquid in the children’s eyes, after which they started to have very dilated pupils. A few days later, I saw the bodies of those children at the morgue.

(Excerpt from the testimony of Helmut Clemens, a former Roma prisoner at Auschwitz)

… I remember this very precisely: I was in a suit, wearing white shoes, a hat and a tie. We had to get into some kind of room where they took everything from us. I protested; I was immediately beaten for the first time. We had to undress and then they cut our hair. I was in the BIIe camp, the so-called Gypsy Camp. (…) We’re going to Kapo to work in Buchenwald. There was supposed to be more food there. My mother cried when we were separated and told me to take care of myself. I never saw her afterwards. She was gassed in the night of August 2, the night of the liquidation of the camp.

(Excerpt from the testimony of Franz Rosenbach, born into a settled Roma family in Austria, deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1943)

These fragments of interviews were taken from Slawomir, K.  Martyniak M. ,  Talewicz-Kwiatkowska J. (2011) Voices of Memory 7. Roma in Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

… They picked us up from Suroaia, thirty carts, because my father was a Roma-head (bulibasă). He had thirty carts under his command, and we had to walk for three months. Village after village, and when we got to another village, we were escorted by another police officer. And so on. We drove our carts continuously for three months until we crossed the border.

(Dănilă Mimi, Romanian Roma, 79 years old, interviewed in 2009 by Adrian Nicolae Furtuna. The interview was published in Furtună A.N. Grigore D. Neacșu M. (2010) De ce nu plang?…… Holocaustul Rromilor şi povestea lui adevarată, Centrul Rromilor ,,Amare Rromentza’’, Bucureşti).

They said that they were giving us land and other things, but we understood the matter. Others told us that they were making a cardboard ship and putting us all in there and sending us across the water. But it wasn’t. That’s what others said. Still, they took us to kill us. Then, a herd of gypsy carts from Sinaia passed by and the Queen saw them. “Where are you taking them? Who are they? Gypsies. But where are you taking them? We are taking them to Transnistria. Why? To kill them. Are you crazy? Put them to work in agriculture, don’t kill anyone! Put them to work in agriculture!” See? That was it! Here came the order not to kill anyone. Now, many died of cold, and hunger, but to kill them, to shoot them, no! They never did it anymore.

(Kaizer Stănescu, 94 years old, Iveşti, Galaţi County, Roma Kalderash, interviewed in May 2016 by Maria Luiza Medeleanu).


For example, after about 3 or 4 months, because of the dirt, the lack of food and water, an epidemic of typhoid fever began – a contagious disease. It could be transmitted. This disease was very dangerous because people no longer had any clothes, as what they had when they left was worn out, destroyed and they were left naked, barefoot, and unwashed. Therefore, this epidemic disease appeared. And they died. For example, when these gendarmes came to pick them up and to take them to work in the field, the ones who they found dead, they came with a cart, threw them in, and took them to the trenches that remained after the war. They threw them into the trenches and covered them with earth.

(Constantin Brăilă, 85 years old, Bucharest, born in Alexandria, Roma silversmith, interviewed by Luiza Medeleanu and Adrian Nicolae Furtuna in May 2016).


In summary, the main aspects of the Roma Holocaust in Europe are:

  • In 1940 began the deportations of the Roma from Germany and Austria to German-occupied Poland, where they were placed in ghettos with the Jews;
  • About 21,000 Roma from 12 countries died in Auschwitz;
  • Other Roma in Europe had the same fate in other concentration camps;
  • Unfortunately, it is not possible to estimate the exact number of the Roma

Holocaust victims during World War II; however, there is a consensus among several researchers that approximately half a million Roma from all over Europe were exterminated during this period.

7. The Consequences of History on Roma Culture and Interethnic Relations

When discussing the Roma slavery and Holocaust, it is also important to emphasise that these two major events still have a visible impact in the Roma community from today. As Gaspar Gyorgy argues in his work The Invisible Child, we carry in our genes the feelings and experiences of our ancestors. Therefore, each generation has the opportunity to heal its traumas and leave to future generations a smooth path on which to build their life story. Gaspar explains that over time there is an exchange of energy and a flow of information between people and implicitly between generations. For example, a life situation involving a trauma that had not been properly processed and integrated can reach future generations, and the lives and feelings of the descendants may be influenced by what happened in the past (Gyory, 2016, p.78).


Gaspar also claims that we can extend this logic to the system of information transmission that occurs at higher levels, such as the national or cultural one. The cultural context and the events from the past influence both our feelings and our whole life, if this past has not been reconciled and integrated. However, when a life experience is integrated and accepted, the legacy passed on to the descendants is harmonious. This process does not involve the loss of identity, but it refers to accepting differences and sustaining the existing connection (Gyory Gaspar, 2016, ibid).

The same applies for the Roma, as their enslavement in the Romanian Lands lasted for about 500 years, which affected both adults and children, who were separated from their families, exchanged with other slaves or even animals, donated or sold, in accordance with their masters’ interests. Slavery placed them on the fringes of the society and excluded them from the condition of human beings. As seen in the law extracts presented above, Roma people were considered “moving goods”, which meant that they could be sold whenever their masters decided. Neither their liberation nor the modification of their name in the official documents from slaves to “emancipated Romanians” changed their status in the society. History shows this change was limited only to a legal emancipation and sometimes a forced sedentism of the Roma without developing policies for their inclusion in the Romanian society, economy and culture.

As a result, the consequences of slavery persist even today in the collective mind of Roma and non-Roma, influencing their self-esteem and implicitly their relationships with others. The study carried out in 2013 by the Association “Amare Rromentza” analyses the discourse of the Roma regarding their relations with others and with themselves. Features of the identity stigma were present in the speech of those interviewed: What do you want from me? I’m a gypsy. Do you think I’ll be the boss? That’s how we gypsies are… more backward. I have four years of school, too much for a gypsy. Have you seen somewhere a gypsy priest? (Grigore, Neascu, and Furtuna, 2013 p.51).

The other event that continued to affect the Roma community both culturally and socially was the Holocaust of the Second World War. Due to this tragic history, the Roma have developed a culture of survival, and not one of memory, as remembering the suffering can lead to the repetition of suffering (Grigore, Neacșu, Furtună, 2013, p.25).

The failure to assume their ethnic identity as Roma is another consequence of the Holocaust even nowadays. Fearing persecution and discrimination, Roma avoid assuming their ethnic identity in public, especially since they do not feel encouraged to do so by the others.

Therefore, the marginalization and historical social exclusion of the Roma have created in time a socio-cultural gap between the Roma population and the majority. They have negatively influenced the self-image of the Roma.

8. Roma Migration Today

The historical gaps between the Roma and the major population continue to have multiple effects, one of them being the migration of Roma from Eastern to Western European countries, mostly to Spain, Italy, France, and Germany.

The main reason why the Roma people have left their native countries, especially Romania and Bulgaria, but also Serbia and Poland, is an economic one, which is strongly associated with this policy of rejection, marginalization and discrimination, including in the labour market. All these are correlated with the poor management of the services provided by the authorities (health care services, social assistance, and housing) and strongly influenced by the problems in the educational system, which fails to intervene appropriately, and follows the same direction of marginalization, rejection and discrimination.

The societies from these Eastern European countries follow the same pattern regarding public policies, showing the same tendencies associated with rejection, marginalization and a fundamental lack of interest in understanding the Roma community. Furthermore, there is no realistic intent to support its evolution while respecting certain internal values and principles. At the next level, there is no attempt to borrow the positive aspects of the Roma culture in order to enrich their own life experience and culture. At most, both the authorities and the societies as a whole have pursued a policy of assimilation, causing a loss in the Roma identity, culture, and language.

The danger of cultural, linguistic, and identity assimilation is also a consequence of the recent Roma migration. In France, for example, various studies indicate that there is a real pressure under many forms in this regard. According to Cousin (2020), the pressures are related to the French way of integration and its injunctions, thus confusing integration with assimilation, as integration involves a number of conditions, such as‘ you must speak French’, ‘your children must go to school’, ‘you must accept administrative relocation’.

Even though Roma emigrated from their countries of origin many times in recent centuries, and some have already been in the countries of residence for several generations, they still carry the historical and cultural heritage of their birthplaces. Thus, the cultural background of the Roma from different regions becomes very important in the interactions with the population of the countries where they go. Another important aspect is the way the society relates to these new groups of Roma arriving and settling in Western European cities, and the willingness of people and local authorities to understand them, their past and identity. The specialised literature in recent Roma migration calls this phenomenon autochthony, which is “the process of affirming group membership from an external, historical legacy of previous administrative and symbolic boundaries. We prefer to speak of autochthony and not of territorial embeddedness to emphasise the symbolic dimension of the legacy of the past” (Cousin, 2020). In contrast with the notion of autonomy, autochthony focuses on the symbolic home-grown nature of group boundaries, looking at long-term family territorial belonging (Cousin et al, 2020).

Another element that influences the settlement and development of the Roma communities in different regions of Europe is that of brotherhood. This is one of the fundamental principles of the traditional Roma culture. Thus, through the interaction between the Roma families or groups, which can sometimes come from different regions or countries (Romania and Bulgaria), and on the background of this fraternity, the relations within the newly formed community are strengthened. This can also be helpful in resolving a variety of situations, such as mediating the relations with the public authorities, and finding jobs or housing for the newly arrived families. Help and support is provided from within the community, from those who arrived earlier in that region. In other words, the permanent reconfiguration of the Roma communities in these areas reproduces the models from their countries of origin, including values and principles such as that of the fraternity (Phralipen in Romani language).

Different groups of Roma settled in Western European countries generations ago, and there are links between the families who left first and the people or groups who came later. The genealogical bonds were formed mainly based on the blood line, but also on other criteria, namely the place of origin, the community, village or city where the Roma came from. This phenomenon was also noticed by other researchers, such as Cousin et al, who mentions that: “These migratory chains were identified as a major ‘push factor’ in contemporary Romanian emigration to Western Europe and, more specifically, as an important factor for Roma migration” (Cousin et al, 2020).

In summary, these are the main aspects regarding the historical consequences and their effects in the development of the Roma communities:

  • Low ethnic self-esteem;
  • Identity stigma;
  • Non-assumption of ethnic identity;
  • Socio-economical and educational gap between Roma and non-Roma;
  • Historical stigma for Roma;
  • Discrimination and marginalization;
  • Recent migration of Roma from Eastern to Western European countries.

9. Roma Traditions – Cultural Barriers in Mentoring?

As it was mentioned at the beginning of this project, only by knowing the history and culture of a people and understanding their specifics, one can truly adapt to the needs of that group. The risk of not knowing leads to misunderstanding and misbehaviour in certain situations, and a lack of necessary and appropriate support for that community.


This chapter aims to present elements of both traditional and contemporary Roma culture; so that Roma and non-Roma mentors can have a better understanding of the communities they work with, and subsequently, they are able to act accordingly. The elements presented here are universally valid for Roma culture; however, some of them are more specific to Romania, because they are the most familiar to the authors, and most of the Roma immigrants in Western Europe come from this country.

Romanipen elements

The Romanipen or the Fundamental Law of the Roma, as it is called by Delia Grigore, a Roma ethnologist, who studied Roma traditions and culture, is based on four main pillars that constitute the most important values of the Roma community:

phralipe (fraternity) – form of mutual aid and shared responsibility;

pakiv (respect) – how community members relate to or should relate to each other;

ujimos (purity) – norm of social control, refers especially to the purity (virginity) of the girl at marriage;

lajimos (shame) – children are educated in the spirit of shame, so as not to violate the norms of moral conduct that could make the family to be ashamed.


Roma marriage

One of the most important events in the traditional Roma culture is marriage, the family being one of the central values. According to Delia Grigore, this has several stages: the marriage proposal, the engagement, the confirmation through the wedding night vow, and the rite of final integration – the celebration of the virginity of the bride (Grigore, 2012, p. 81).

At the marriage proposal, the boy’s parents bring to the girl’s parents a wineskin wrapped in a red shawl, to which gold money is tied. This symbolic gift, of representation and confirmation of the communion, is the arvuna (a promise/assurance of the relationship between the two people – so that the girl can no longer be available to date other boys) for the girl. The exchange of gifts during the engagement, at the wedding and at the pakiv table, constitutes a mandatory ritual gesture, a sign of mutual trust and understanding.  

(Ibid. p. 81)


The wedding night is marked by the verification of the bride’s virginity by old and respectable women. If the bride was a virgin, the mother-in-law validates her honour with the confirmation gift – the golden coins necklace – and the “rachia” dance, when the blood-stained sheet or shirt is sprinkled with brandy, in order to fertilize the couple. This ritual is exclusively feminine, men do not participate, but they are announced by the symbolic gesture of being invited to wash their hands and sit at the table confirming the marriage – the celebration of the bride’s virginity and, at the same time, the consummation of the nuptial act (Ibidem).


Romani justice for peace

Another important aspect in the traditional Roma culture is the Romani peace trial or Kris Romani. Usually, the justice for peace process begins when the victim sends judges to the guilty party. The guilty-one must also have judges, and then the discussions begin. The discussion with the witnesses is held separately. After the discussions, the judges go to a neutral place and debate, and after the debates, they give the verdict to each party. The way every situation is judged and resolved is another important particularity. The main results that have to be achieved are peace, conflict avoidance and order in society. The emphasis is not on punishing the offender, but on finding a balanced way for the parties to be satisfied.  Most of the time, the offender has to pay a sum of money, determined by the judges, to the victim in order to reconcile. Therefore, the role of such a judgment is to restore order in society and to regulate transactions between people, to make peace and not to punish.


Traditional Roma clothes

The traditional Roma clothing is an important element in its culture. They are not just simple clothes, but it has a whole meaning, exemplifying the philosophy on which this culture is based, namely the pure / impure dichotomy.

Delia Grigore claims in her paper “Romanipen. Fundamente ale Culturii Rromani”

The whole philosophy of life in the traditional Roma culture is based on the opposition pure / uźo – impure / maxrime; the purity of the ritual representing the observance of the universal order and harmony through the conformity to the model, and the impurity of the ritual, invisible but spiritually strong, being the deviation from the model, thus breaking the intra-community balance pre-established by a series of conduct and behaviour laws, whose validity has long been verified by experience. Starting from this opposition (pure / impure), a fairly high number of rules refer to the human body and ritual hygiene, starting from the idea that the human body is divided into two parts, above the waist – the upper pure part and below the waist – the lower impure part.”

(Ibid. p. 90)


Thus, Roma women (especially those from the Kalderash branch) do not wear dresses or other pieces of clothing in one piece, because they do not delimit the impure body from the pure one, the norm being to accurately draw the demarcation line between the bottom and the upper part of the body.


As for the men’s suit, the head covering – the hat – is a very important element because it is pure, and nothing human can pass over it, just as it cannot pass over the head. “If a woman passes over a man’s hat or accidentally touches it with her skirt, the hat is thrown.” (Ibid. p. 92). Also, the lower part of the body must be permanently covered; Roma men wear long pants, never shorts, as the knees are an impure part of the body.


The Roma branches/families

According to the socio-occupational criterion, the Roma are divided into several families and branches. In the traditional culture of the Roma, the notion of race does not refer to the kinship of blood, but to the grouping of the Roma according to the following common elements: the traditional profession, the structures of social organization, and the family customs. The branches listed below are valid especially for the Roma in Romania:

  • Ursari Roma(Bear trainers Roma) – they are those who, in the past, were engaged in “walking” with the bear. Now most of them are involved in trade businesses.
  • Musician Roma– they are Roma musicians, especially instrumentalists, coming mainly from Ursari and Vătrași.
  • Boyash (Rudari)Roma – most of them have lost their mother tongue and the traditional Romani culture, they deal with wood processing, making spoons, spindles, forks, furniture, wickerwork;
  • Kalderash Roma– they are the Roma who, in their majority, have kept their mother tongue and traditional Romani culture. They are spread in the Oltenia region, in the following counties: Vâlcea, Dolj, Olt, Gorj and Mehedinţi, but also in the Transylvanian region, especially in Sibiu and Alba-Iulia. They are the Roma whose traditional trade is the processing of copper from which they make boilers, cauldrons, trays, kettles
  • Silversmith Roma – they are the Roma who traditionally process silver and gold and make jewelleries and other ornaments. The vast majority of them are keepers of the traditional Roma culture and the Romani language.
  • Tinsmith Roma – they are the Roma who in the past were engaged in smelting or tinning metal vessels. Most of them are keepers of the traditional Roma culture and the Romani language. They speak the Tinsmith Roma dialect with Turkish influences.
  • Flower-sellers Roma(boldeni) – there are the Roma who in the past used to make artificial flowers for wreaths, and garlands. Nowadays, they sell flowers and do business in general.
  • Hungarian Roma (Gabori)– They are Hungarian Roma, who speak both Hungarian and Romani, settled mainly in Transylvania (Romania), who were traditionally tinsmiths, but today they also trade carpets, blankets, and other household items.


Roma symbols

International Roma flag – It was adopted at the first International Roma Congress in London in 1971, and it consists of blue, red and green. The blue colour symbolizes the sky – freedom and cleanliness, a boundless space. The green colour symbolizes the Earth – the places where the Roma always wander, because they traditionally establish a temporary stop in green forests and fields. The wheel with red spokes – symbolizes the Road of Life of the Roma community.


The international Roma anthem is “Gelem, gelem” (“I walked, I walked”), composed by Žarko Jovanović, which was also adopted at the first International Roma Congress in London in 1971.


International Roma Day – Since 1990, April 8 – the International Roma Day has been celebrated around the world. It was also established at the 1971 International Roma Congress.


Romani language (rromani ćhib) – is the language spoken by the Roma and is similar to other languages in northern India (Punjab). The Romani language is spoken by millions of Roma from all continents. There are several dialects of the Romani language, but also an internationally standardized literary language that is studied both in the pre-university and academic environment. Also, in 1997 it was established the Department of Romani Language and Literature inside the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature of the University of Bucharest. Since 1995, a series of textbooks and teaching materials have been developed, and they contribute to the process of studying the Romani language in the educational system.


Contemporary Roma Theatre – The first to be mentioned here is the feminist Roma theatre company Giuvlipen (formed by two Roma actresses Mihaela Dragan and Zița Moldovan) which staged plays such as Del Duma (Tell Them About Me), a play that addresses the subject of early marriages through the stories of four characters. Another play by the Giuvlipen Theatre Company worth mentioning is Who Killed Somna Grancsa, a play about the educational and family challenges faced by a Roma teenager from a traditional family who wants to continue her studies.


Another Roma actress and director is Alina Șerban, who staged plays like Marea Rușine (The Great Shame) – a play that deals with the subject of Roma slavery in the Romanian Lands and its consequences in the Roma and non-Roma collective mentality. Alina Șerban also developed the “I declare on my own” – a play that brings to the public’s attention the challenges and discrimination that Roma adolescents face, as well as the identity traumas they go through in a world that is not favourable for them to express their identity. Moreover, Alina Șerban has starred in international productions such as “Alone at My Wedding” or “Gypsy Queen”, which discusses the condition of the modern Roma woman. As a director, she has developed the short film “Letter of Forgiveness”, which addresses the subject of Roma slavery.


Contemporary Roma Fine Arts – There have been a number of European initiatives in recent times aimed at cementing a transnational Roma identity, such as the European Roma Initiative and the European Roma Institute supported by the Foundation for an Open Society. In Romania, the contemporary Roma painter Eugen Raportoru, the sculptor Marian Petre, and the painters Viorel Curt and George Vasilescu analyse the main cultural elements of the Roma community and question them. Worthy to be mentioned here is the graphic art exhibitions about Roma Holocaust and Roma Slavery made by Viorel Curt in collaboration with Romane Rodimata Centre for Roman Cultural and Social Research.


Roma Music – Although in the public space Roma are generally associated musically with lăutari and, in recent times, with manele, there are other important musicians and the musical presence of Roma is much more diverse. Some of the most appreciated cultural expressions after 1990 are Taraful Haiducilor (Clejani), Ciocârlia fanfare, and Zece Prăjini Band. They have been noticed especially abroad. In addition, there is also the band Mahala Rai Banda (2004) who plays a mix of fiddle music and electronic music. Also, the Roma jazz was very well represented by Johnny Răducanu (1931-2011). In recent times, Damian Drăghici has also been noted for playing the panpipes and he is internationally recognized. Moreover, worth mentioning are the violinist Ion Voicu, who is a great performer, and the young pop music singer – Connect-r, well known to the general public.


Roma Literature – Internationally known, Ekaterina Taikon from Sweden is a writer and activist for Roma rights. She wrote the well-known children’s series “Katitzi” which present the writer’s childhood. Bronislawa Wajs – Papusza, a Polish writer, Holocaust survivor whose poems speak of this lesser-known episode in Roma history and of the difficulties faced by traditional Roma women. It is worth mentioning the Roma writer Mateo Maximoff from France with his book “The Price of Freedom”, a work that deals with the period of Roma slavery in Romania.


In Romania, Lumința Cioaba is a Roma writer from the Kaldaresh family, a member of the Romanian Writers’ Union who publishes in Romani, Romanian and German. Among her most important writings are the volumes of poems ”Rădăcina Pâmântului” (Earth Root), ”Negustorul de Ploaie” (Rain merchant) and the volume of stories ”Țara pierdută” (Lost country), as well as the plays Blestemul Șarpelui (Snake’ curse)  and ”Macul Roșu” (The red poppy). Another contemporary Roma writer from the Kalderash family was Valerică Stănescu. He wrote “With Death in the Eye” (Cu Moartea în ochi), a novel that approaches the life of the Roma in Transnistria, and “the Laws of Șatra” (Legile Șatrei), whose main subject is Roma traditions and culture. Valerică Stănescu’s works are published both in Romani and Romanian. There are other younger poets who publish in Romani and Romanian, such as Daniel Samuil Petrilă, who organizes since 2017 the yearly Roma literature contest “Bronislawa Wajs” (Papusza), and Sorin Sandu, poet and actor from the Ursari family.


Roma civic and cultural institutions – The two international institutions to be mentioned here are IRU (International Roma Union), which has been active for more than 10 years on Roma rights, history and culture, and also the newly established Institute for the Promotion of Roma Culture at International Level – ERIAC Roma Institute for Arts and Culture).

In Romania, there are other two institutions. The National Agency for Roma is a state structure whose role is to implement national strategies to improve the situation of Roma in Romania. The National Centre for Roma Culture promotes traditional and contemporary Roma culture.



  • The Roma are an international population with a common and international language;
  • They have their own traditional and modern culture;

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