About Roma people, Gypsies and Romania

Roma familyRoma people are again in the international spotlight following the situation in Greece so it’s maybe a good time to introduce them better. Another reason to write this blog post is that almost all foreigners coming to Romania ask about their situation.
Romania is probably associated more with the Roma people because of the name similarity – which is a simple coincidence.


Origins and Population

There is no exact data on Roma population around the world but the number can be as high as 14 million people. The reason for poor data is due to the fact that most of them refuse to register in official censuses for fear of discrimination.

According to most sources, Romani’s people origins are from India from where they started migrating starting with the 7th century.
Romanian Gypsy teaching a Dutch how to play the violinIn 2011 I traveled with a couple from India and they wanted to meet some Romani coppersmiths. One of the Indians asked them to count in their language, they started and then she continued in her dialect from India, it was almost the same, even the word God was similar.
From India, they first migrated to the Middle East, then moved to Europe and in the 19th century migrated across the ocean to places like United States and Brazil.

The countries with most populous communities, according to official data, are USA (1 million), Iran (760,000), Brazil (678,000), Romania (621,000) Spain (600,000), France (500,000), Turkey (500,000), Bulgaria (370,000) but real numbers can vary considerably. They can be found even in countries like Afghanistan, Columbia, Sweden or Thailand.


Origin of the name

In the Romani language, rom is a masculine noun, meaning “man, husband”, with the plural roma. In Romania, the word is used with double “r” in order to distinguish between Rroma and Romanian people (român, români). In English are used both Roma, and Romani.
Gypsies dancing in SibiuOn the other hand, the name Romania derives from the Latin word Romanus meaning citizen of Rome. So the name similarity is pure coincidence.

Among the majority non-Roma population, the word “Gypsy” originated from the word “Egyptian” and is mostly used in English speaking countries, having a reference to the migration route of the Roma who might have reached Europe via Egypt and the Straits of Gibraltar. The word “Tsigan” comes from the world “Atsigan”, from Greek, which means untouchable. The word spread, so the Roma people are often called țigan (Romanian), cigani (Serbian), tsiganes (French), ciganos (Portuguese), ziguener (German). Romani however don’t accept either Gypsy, or tsigan, because most of the times the words are used with a pejorative meaning.


Traditions and crafts of Roma people

In popular lore, Gypsies are well-known as musicians, dancers, and fortune-tellers. However, other Gypsy with his carriage. Photo by Christian Rothtraditional occupations amongst the Gypsies include metalworking, leather, wood carving, horse trading. They make really beautiful jewelries from gold and silver, household objects (cutlery, plates), and religious objects (candelabrum).

Gypsies place great value on the extended family. Even in urban areas and among highly assimilated Gypsy families, the extended family is strong.
Traditionally, it is a patriarchal society where virginity is considered as essential for unmarried women. Men and women often marry young, and the Romani practice of child marriage has generated controversy in many countries.
It is known that Romani are a nomad people, but not all Roma are nomads. In fact, the majority of Eastern European Roma has been sedentary for centuries.
A Gypsy from Romania, Florin Cioba, the son of the head of Romanian Gypsies (known as bulibașă), self-proclaimed himself the international king of gypsies from the whole world. When he died in 2013, his 2 sons took over the title, one of them being the king of the community living in Romania and the other of those living abroad.


Contemporary issues

Discrimination is one of the major problems that Romani have to deal with even though all over the world efforts are made to stop thisStefan Banica Jr. Photo by Fire_Eyes.
Forced repatriation is another major issue. In the summer of 2010 French authorities demolished at least 51 illegal Roma camps and began the process of repatriating their residents to their countries of origin.
Lack of education, due to the fact that most of them don’t go to schools, in spite of the efforts made by the authorities and different NGOs, also represents a problem.
Another issue is the high rate of criminality – most of the scandals involving Roma people are related to robbery and different crimes. When you open a Romanian newspaper (not only), more than certainly you will find articles referring to their crimes.


Respectable and famous Roma people

Many of them Roma people are educated, having respectable jobs, and in Romania we have some very famous ones like Ştefan Bănică Jr (actor, musician, TV presenter), Johnny Răducanu (jazz musician) and Madalin Voicu (classic music and respected politicians).

This article is informative and I strongly recommend looking for other sources of information if you truly wish to understand these people and also to see the difference between the Roma people and the Romanian people.


  1. I love the Roma people.

  2. A very nice and objective article. Posts like this can make justice to everybody

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