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railing the bounty of “Gypsy” appellations

What’s in a Name
Trailing the bounty of “Gypsy” appellations

Dr Raven Dolick MsD/Chovihano

June 9, 2016

The Roma people have been pelted with so many harsh names along the endless journey: “tsigan”, “blacks”, “crow”, some too offensive to list here, that many may not accept Juliet's noble appeal, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”,* meaning the nature of the subject is more important than its name.

Juliet and Balconey
"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

The renowned secretiveness and mystique of the Roma character would be the catalyst of the many varying Roma appellations; no one really knew who they were or where they had come from and which allowed a creative approach to the name-making process. It all began in Byzantium, 1000 years ago, when rag tag Gypsies suddenly appeared parading through the streets, “…snakes wound around them, and they would tell one person that he was born under an evil star, and the other under a lucky star; and they would also prophesy about forthcoming good and ill fortunes."

Superstition in Byzantine society at the time of the Gypsies’ arrival was widespread reaching from the lowly peasants to mighty emperors. There was a need at the time that the church and science couldn’t meet. The Roma found their niche working the occult; it was simply good business sense of supplying a service much in demand; from the church’s point of view it was a wicked problem; they didn’t like the competition and the persecution began right away by branding them “Athinganoi”, after a blasphemous sect of sorcerers.

The Latin pronunciation “Adsincani” spread with Venetian traders to Italy where it translated into Zingari and later Zigeuner in Germany, across the Balkans as “tsigani” in Romania, “chigani” in the Hungarian lands, and across Europe as “Chikani” in the Czech Republic and “tsigane” in France. Even the invading Turks preferred adopting the popular Greek root as “chingene” rather than a word of their own invention.

The Egyptians
By the 13th century the Turkish horde had pushed its way to the brinks of Byzantium, and Roma, psychic or not, sensed the inevitable and began heading north to more stable regions, some settling in the Venetian controlled port cities of the Peloponnese’s islands (present day Greece) where they found security and a steady flow of business from passing traders and pilgrims. As many as 300 Roma families settled at the town of Modon (today Methoni). They called the Roma neighborhood “Little Egypt”.

It’s not known exactly when or what started the Roma - Egyptian association though a comparison may likely have been observed by pilgrims and crusaders returning from the Holy Land where they encountered people of dark North African complexions and mystical religious sects like the Egyptian Copts that they likely associated to the Roma. The Coptic reference would turn up again in parts of Turkey where Roma are called “kipti” (Copts).

May 29th 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman horde – and Europe was now within their sights. They immediately began pushing north till subsequently driving the population of “Little Egypt” from 300 families in 1483 to roughly half that number twenty years later, to a meager thirty huts by 1519. Where did they go? They headed north, away from the conflict, taking the popular “Egyptian” moniker and dropping it off along the way in Bulgaria where the Roma “Agupti” established, “Egyuptsi” in Macedonia, “Evgjit” in Albania and “Giftos” in Greece. In early 15th century they appear in Germany as “those wretched people from Little Egypt” and in France behind the leadership of “Duke Andre of Little Egypt” where the French diminutive “Gitan” would spread through the centuries on into Victor Hugo’s classic “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. The self-proclaimed “Earl of Little Egypt” and his band of Egyptians would cross the English Channel, transitioning into the influential works of Shakespeare: “sees Helen's beauty in the brow of Egypt” - soon thereafter the vernacular “Gypsy” contraction would form. They would travel south into Spain where Egiptanos would translate to “Gitanos”. Miguel de Cervantes would take notice and raise eyebrows in the opening line of his novella Gitanilla, “It seems that the “Gitanos” were born in the world only to be thieves”

Cervantes' Gitanilla
"Black as Tatars"
In those places where the Adsincani root didn't take hold and the Egyptian link was considered a hoax. "tatar" became the name of choice. The link carried some credibility in the east where Moldavian armies returning home from battle with invading Tatar carried back both Gypsy and Tatar slaves. I Viovode Alexander, king and ruler of all Moldavian lands… give Bistrita thirty-one tigani (Gypsy) families and twelve Tartar families, names of the tigani families: Coman, Marco, Sinata… and the Tartar’s are named Palmes, Toder…”

Meanwhile bands of Roma arriving in northern Germany and Scandinavian were greeted unwelcomingly in ways as "exceedingly ugly and black as tartars”… “people from tartary”. The label stuck. The association wasn’t based only on the physical but also the timing of their arrival as Tatar and synonymous Turks were on the march; it would not be long till Suleiman the Magnificant was pounding on the gates of Vienna.

Once the Tatar association had taken root the looming spying accusations began spreading - and going viral until authorities were compelled to take action. Stockholm got caught up in the furor expelling a clan of Roma that just a couple years earlier had been welcomed with gifts and lodging. In German towns Landau and Freiburg, Roma were vilified "in the pay of the Turks". Augsburg followed suit going so far as to declare murdering a Gypsy not a crime.

In the Netherlands, “tatar” was converted into “heathen” (heiden), and there too, the synonymous spying accusations soon followed. In 1525 "Heidened of Egyptenaars" (heathens or egyptians) were forbidden from wandering up and down, under pain of sever penalties". Persecutions increased till criminalized by sight; like cornered rats they were being driven to illicit acts of desperation of which the authorities reacted in force hunting them down by organized “heidenjachten” (heathen hunts) till finally driven to extinction.

Roma Heathens
The fair-skinned Finnish people, “blond as a Finn’ as the Russians say, took notice of the Roma’s “black as Ethiopians” complexions where they became known simply as “Blacks” (Mustalaiset).

In France, where there were already roving tribes of “Tsigane” from the adsincani root and “Gitan” from the Egyptian model, came another large band of Gypsies under the leadership of the so-called “Duke Ladislau”. These Roma weren’t like the ragtag others; they were influential, with powerful friends, carrying a noble letter from King Sigmund of the Holy Roman Empire granting this special group diplomatic immunity. They called them “Bohemiens” after the Bohemia civilization that they had arrived from. The name stuck until usurped by a 19th century movement of Parisian artist adopting a similar “joie de vivre” and “carpe diem” lifestyle.

Racist Slurs and Insult
“Get out of here you crow” can sometimes be heard shouted through the crowd of a noisy Romanian mayor’s office. It’s a rural epithet associating the Gypsies to the notorious black bird’s incessant chattering and stealing of the farmer’s grain. They call us “Allahsiz insaniar” Godless people,” says Bubulea Bendea of the Muslim Roma community along the Romanian coastline. Ghiocel Cobzaru recalls the childhood slur “gologan” (pauper) like it was yesterday. “They used to heckle us in the schoolyard, “mai tsigani – gologani - cit e kilo - de chiolani” (hey penniless Gypsies, what’s the price for a kilo of bones). Ghiocel and his Roma friends retaliated, “mai Romani - cap de caine - bagi nasul - in cur de mine” (hey Romanians with the head of a dog, stick your nose up my ass).

Gypsy Bones
"oase tsiganeste" - gypsy bones at the market
Tit for tat - that’s the usual result of mudslinging – and which is exactly how the Roma - Non-Roma war of words has carried out. While the majority was regularly changing their choice of slur, the Roma were quietly, steadily responding “gadjo”. Gadjo is the Romani word used to identify all nationalities, races and religions “outside” the Roma nation. Roma perceptions of universal dualism split the human race into two groups: those that are Roma and those that are not. It’s an innocent definition not unlike the Jewish “goy” and Japanese “Gijni”, except for the supplementary definition of the word, which mimics the racial stereotype “they all look the same”, except in this case, the Roma perception wasn’t addressing countenance rather than behavior as “they all act the same”. According to Romani linguist W.R. Rishi, “Gadjo conveys a sense of great hatred as if all the non-Rom are their exploiters and oppressors and no less than enemies.” … “Gadjo” is another word for “un-clean”, “dirty” and “distrustful” which when matched against “tigani”, “gypsy” and the rest – reveals a different word – same meaning.

So again before you turn a key and take a road trip thinking you are some kind of gypsy remember this educated mindset we share today and think how you are misled and in actually in league with one of the most prejudiced groups of people worldwide.

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Camp Romani New Mexico
Rom Kangeri {Romani Church}
La Joya, NM 
10am-3pm Daily
Dr Raven Dolick MsD/Chovihano
Personal Consultations $20.00

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