Europe And The Roma

Damian Le Bas at Literary Review:

‘Roma’ and ‘Romani’ are words from the Romani language that have Indian etymologies – despite popular perceptions, they have no connection to Romania. People are commonly confused by the ordinariness of being Roma or part-Roma, and of seeming like ‘any old European’. It’s a confusion I and millions of others of Roma descent have dealt with all our lives. The reason for the confusion, as Europe and the Roma explains, is that six hundred years of cultural production have caused people to expect the opposite. The first four centuries following the earliest chronicled arrival of ‘Gypsies’ in Europe in about 1400 are covered by the opening third of the book. The remainder deals with the period since 1800. This lopsidedness of focus tells us something about the relative amounts of attention paid to Romani people by artists, writers and composers over time. Notwithstanding the subtler portrayals of Gypsies found, for instance, in the work of Emily Brontë and D H Lawrence, the tendency has been to use Gypsy characters as a kind of shorthand for savagery and nonconformity. When we read Prosper Mérimée’s appendix to his tale of Carmen, on which Bizet’s opera was based, we get a taste of this. ‘While they are still very young, their ugliness may not be unattractive,’ Mérimée wrote of Spanish Romani girls, ‘but once they have borne children they become positively repulsive.’

more here.