Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Gypsies as Indigenous Groups: The Gabori Roma Case in Romania

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Gypsies as Indigenous Groups: The Gabori Roma Case in Romania

Article excerpt

The article shows in which ways the Gabori, Roma of Transylvania, constitute the product and the producers of an autochthony they act in everyday life, within the community as well as in their relations with Others. The Gabor social organisation, based on kinship relations, seems in fact to be inseparable from regional geography and history. These 'traditional Gypsies' should thus be considered as natives, even if natives of a special kind.

Keywords: Gabori, Romania, Transylvania, local integration, autochthony, ethnicity, cultural invention.

'Gypsies are from India is usually the response to questions about the origins of the Gypsies. Even without further elaboration, this statement seems to explain not only the Gypsies' (cultural) foreignness and their (social) marginality, but also their rejection by the majority European populations. The Indian origin, identified in linguistic studies, allows us to place the Gypsy presence within a national rhetoric which has created collective identities and has dominated the European symbolic field for the past two centuries. Within it, each population is identified with a geographical origin, with a particular language, with a specific folklore, etc.1 It is therefore no coincidence that Gypsies became the subject of scholarly discourse and popular media during the period in which the construction of national ideologies was underway in Europe. The French generic term Tsigane, as opposed to various other popular names (Bohémien, Romanichel, Nomade, etc.) was first used in 1826.2

These groups were involved from the outset in the national discourses. Each country has developed its own Gypsy drawing on a common framework, that of the 'insider alien'. At the same time, Gypsies were excluded by denying them their own history. Indeed, European nations are based on a more or less mythical autochthony where their roots are lost: Celts and Gauls, Iberians, Dacians, Picts and Hellenes granted various peoples a kind of natural legitimacy within their territories. We note however that national assertion is constructed by the radical emancipation of those distant ancestors, thanks to history and civilisation. Thus the Gauls are essential to the French, but socially and culturally the French today are not Gauls and do not think of themselves as such. 'These are our ancestors, but we are not their heirs,' is the paradox of modern autochthony. This fundamental mechanism by which nations justify their territorial legitimacy seems to be denied to Gypsies. They are seen as the direct descendants of their ancestors. The 'Cold society' of Europe (Lévi-Strauss 1952, 1969) are seen as having changed little since their departure from Hindustan over 1,000 years ago. It is therefore unnecessary to use another term to distinguish them from those people that gyspsiologists had identified as their distant ancestors. 'The Gypsies (or Roma) come from the Indian subcontinent', it is said, employing an eternal present. They join these 'primitive societies', supposedly outside history until their encounter with the White man.3

'Gypsy life is flowing, monotonous, from the sleepy winter to summer camps, generation after generation [...]. Big problems must emerge [concerning them directly] or cataclysms [. . .] for the outside world to have an expression and an echo in the Gypsy creation writes P. Radista (1980: 5). The historiography of the Gypsies thus consists above all of a description of institutional attitudes towards them and the way in which they suffer under Gaze policy. How, then, can we contest the image of a 'victim people', left on the sidelines, without roots and eternally exposed to the upheavals that shake European societies (Hancock 1987)?

For over thirty years authors have demonstrated a need to take into account the specific history and local integration of the different communities - rather than a distant exotic origin - in order to understand their socio-cultural realities. …

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