Self-identity among Roma in the many countries where they live follows the same general pattern. It is defined by the family and the particular Romani group they belong to. The group identity can also be further defined by the country in which the Roma live, the dialect of Romani they speak, and the occupation followed by the males of the group. While all Roma consider themselves to be a distinct people, there are subdivisions within the group somewhat like the differences between groups of Native Peoples in Canada.
Roma: This is a common plural which includes both male and female members of the Romani people. In the Romani language, Roma is the plural of Rom, which means an adult male member of the group. A female member of the group is called a Romni. Thus, the term Rom should not be applied to a woman. In English it is fine to use "Romani woman" and "Romani man", with "Roma" as the plural. Since the word Roma is already a plural, the term "Romas" should not be used in English. The proper adjective in English is Romani, so one should say "Romani music", not "Roma music". The language spoken by Roma is also called Romani. There are an estimated 12 million Roma in the world today and they can be found in Europe, parts of Asia, North, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa.
Bayash Roma: The Bayash Roma are a group of Roma originally from Rumania. They now live in Rumania, Hungary and North and South America. They do not speak Romani but use an old Rumanian dialect as their own language. Roma who speak Romani as their own language often call all Roma who do not speak Romani Bayash.
Sinti: The Sinti are the same people as the Roma but do not call themselves Roma although they call their language Romani. Their Romani dialects have many loan words from German because their ancestors lived for many generations in Germany and Austria.
Kale/Cales: In Spain, Roma call themselves Cales and Calaos in Portugal. In Finland, they call themselves Kaale and those living in Wales, define themselves as Kawle. All these groups are part of the original Romani people who left India in the 11th century AD.
Romanitchels: In England and, by emigration, in North America and Australia, a group of travelling people define themselves as Romanitchels. Originally, they were the same people as the Roma but they have been isolated from other Roma in Continental Europe since the 16th century and have formed their own subgroup. They speak what linguists refer to as para-Romani, a register composed of Romani and English as their own language.
Gadje: Non-Roma are referred to collectively as Gadje, which means people who are not Roma. The masculine singular is Gadjo; the feminine singular is Gadji.
Family: This begins with the immediate family and then the large, extended family including in-laws. Since Roma in most countries have large families, this grouping generally includes a large number of people.
Clan: Besides belonging to a large extended family, Roma also belong to a clan although some Roma groups are more traditional and have a more definitive clan structure than others who are more assimilated into the mainstream culture. Among the Vlach Roma, a group of Roma whose ancestors lived for many generations in Rumania, the clan names are usually derived from a common ancestor or founder of the clan. Thus, the Brankeshti would be descended from a common ancestor called Branko.
Other categories of Roma identity
Occupation: Some Roma identify with the occupation or trade followed by the group as a whole such as the Ursari or people who exhibit trained bears. Within these occupational names, there are often numerous clan groups as among the Rumanian Romani Kalderash or Coppersmiths who comprise a large number of clans spread over many countries including Europe, Canada, the US, Central and South America. They are one of the largest and most widely-distributed of the Roma groups. Some Roma have occupational identities within the group. For example. among the Romungere Roma in Hungary there is a numerous subgroup called Bashalde composed of musicians and entertainers.
Geographic: Roma also define themselves and their groups by the countries in which they live. For example, the Romungere Roma can be found in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Formerly, all these countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Romungere were able to travel from one country to another. After the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, the once-united group found themselves separated by new national borders. A related group of Roma are called Karpati Roma because their ancestors lived for many generations in Carpathia.
Nationality: Roma also define themselves in a broad sense by the country in which they live and of which they are citizens, for example Rom Kanadacha or Canadian Roma, Rom Rusniacha or Russian Roma. American Roma or Rom Amerikacha will even subdivide themselves into Rom Teksikaya or Texas Roma and Rom Kalifornyaiya or California Roma.
Dialect: Roma also tend to identify with other Roma who speak the same dialect of Romani even if these Roma are living in another country. Roma who live in the same country who speak a different dialect will be considered to be a different group of Roma.
Copyright © Ronald Lee, October, 1998. Revised February, 2005.
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