Introduction / History
The Balkan Romani are also known as the Balkan "Rom". They are located in parts of Eastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, including Yugoslavia, Moldova, Turkey, Iran, and Ukraine. There is even a significant community in China, however little else is known about them. They are spread throughout these countries and speak a dialect of the language called Romany, which is related to the North Indo-Aryan language of India.
Romani call themselves Rom, which in their language means "men." Rom is derived from the Indian word Dom, meaning "a man of low caste who gains his livelihood by singing and dancing." The Romany language, therefore, comes from the name the Romani call themselves.
Romani originated in India and began spreading westward in the tenth century. By the fourteenth century, large Romani groups were established in the Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria. Some continued to live as nomads; others settled in permanent dwellings. However, regardless of where they lived, to non-Romani, the Romani remained mysterious and distinct. Curiosity about them eventually led to hatred and discrimination. In the twentieth century, many Romani were killed by Nazis. Today, they are still discriminated against.
What are their lives like?
People may assume that all Romani have dark hair, complexions, and eyes; however, Balkan Romani sometimes have lighter skin and even blond hair and blue eyes. This is probably because their ancestors mixed with Europeans. Unlike the Romani who have remained in India, many of the Balkan Romani have become settled. They often live in villages or near the towns or cities. Some still travel, though, by caravans of cars, trucks, and trailers.
In the past, Romani were not allowed to own land, so they began developing their own occupations which they still do today. These included such things as fortune-telling, horse trading, entertaining, acrobatics, and metal and wood working. They are especially known for their musical abilities. Many sing and play instruments at weddings, baptisms, festivals, and on other occasions. Unfortunately, they are also known as beggars and thieves. Petty theft (usually by children), begging, and black market peddling sometimes provide families with income. This reputation has caused much discrimination against them. In Yugoslavia, for example, they are last in line, even behind Albanians and Turks, for jobs. Some of the women work as domestic helpers, but are paid very low wages and are given no health benefits.
Today, one of the main differences between the Balkan Romani and the Indian Romani is wage labor. Many Indian Romani work in factories or on cooperative farms. Others clean streets or railroads, become store managers, or work as gardeners. It is not uncommon for them to have between two and four sources of income because they are required to change occupations quite frequently. In the cities, the men do industrial and craft labor, while the women work as merchants or fortune-tellers. The men are also responsible to do most of the shopping while the women care for the children and tend to the housework. Among rural traveling Romani, the men care for the livestock.
Social control is very important among Romani. Values such as justice, fidelity, and morality are included in the Romani code of ethics. This strict social code is related to their old Hindu caste system which they have kept since their origin. The chief loyalty of a Romani is to his family. Extended family members usually live together, and those who live in separate homes often telephone or make daily visits to each other.
Marriages are sometimes arranged by the parents, and young couples usually marry while in their mid- to late-teens. Often, they prefer to elope rather than to have a wedding ceremony. But regardless of the type ceremony, purity before marriage is something of great value to them.
Although they may wear the same clothes, drive the same automobiles, and do the same work as non-Romani living in the area, their uniqueness of lifestyle clearly separates them from non-Romani. For instance, it is the fascinating manner in which a Romani wears his clothes: as a costume or as a statement; the unusual ways he uses his automobile: as a home, a shop, or a shrine; the unique method in which he works: with great skill or eccentric style, that sets him apart. All of these things make Romani interesting, mystical, and sometimes misunderstood.
What are their beliefs?
Balkan Romani in Iran and Turkey are Muslims, while those who live in the Ukraine are Russian Orthodox. Although no information on the other groups' religions can be found, most are believed to be Russian Orthodox.
Many Romani have maintained their religious traditions and beliefs. They believe that ghosts, lizards, and snakes are capable of harming humans. Likewise, they believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe that some men have the power to heal the sick.
What are their needs?
Although they may be more sanitary, more educated, and have more opportunities than Romani in the Middle East and India, they all have one thing in common: the need for Jesus. Prayer and evangelism efforts are needed in order to win them to Christ.
* Ask the Lord to raise up people who are willing to share Christ with the Romani.
* Pray that the people who have been rejected and discriminated against will find love and acceptance through Christ.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Romani who have become Christians.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Romani towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will give the missions agencies strategies for reaching the Romani.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local fellowships of believers among the Balkan Romani.