How can Rom move forward in a hostile world?

A New Year’s message of unity by Bob Lovell Kamulo

In 2019, we are called to unite as One, everywhere

We do not need one leader or leaders who preach from afar about how and what will be done, or about how many years since the Roma Union was started. Has it gained us as a people any real respect? No. It may have made gains for a few, but for whom and when and will it last? We still have to prove we are decent law abiding people rather than the negative stereotype. You know the score – thieves and non-tax payers and so on. Need I say more? Then there’s the romantic stereotype. You’ve all heard it – “Proper Rom are lovely, it’s the half breeds that are the problem!” All Rom would be guilty as none are pure blooded anyway. DNA tests prove this beyond any doubt, so please no more arguments.

We must stop the infighting

We as an ethnic people are not doing ourselves any favours with infighting that occurs on social media sites, such as Face Book, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. There is an increase in divisions among Rom groups each claiming more knowledge of Rom culture and language over fellow Rom.

It is especially sad when one reads posts that go like this –

“Oh I’m 100% Rom and have been brought up the Rom way.”

Or, “I don’t accept people who have only found out though DNA tests they have Rom blood – ratt.”

“Yes, they might have some Rom blood, but haven’t lived the life.”

There are many Rom groups unions, coalitions even guilds getting grants

But where are we, the everyday Rom on the puv? It’s either non-Rom academics telling us or a few chosen Rom academics and through the arts telling us as well. Again, where are the ordinary Rom to be seen? There are many of us out there doing good work for Rom ethnic rights yet remain in the shadow of the greats. Why?

We hear too often talk of coalitions and flags, meaning Romani – Roma/Romanichal/Kale

Which brings me to our Traditional Traveling people – Irish & Scottish ethnic Travelers. And now New Agers, also referred to as hippies due to dropping out and who have no claim to that ethnic status whatsoever, having taken up an itinerant lifestyle and travel about in vans. This group in the UK now outnumber Rom and Traditional Travelers. One only has to go out and drive around the UK as I have and you will find this is the case. A situation that is happening in other countries as well. It’s a practice so prevalent in the UK that the term Gypsy as it is under law can now mean anyone living an itinerant lifestyle.

All this confusion about who are Gypsies has contributed to the situation we now face

And requires a huge effort by all of us who have Romani blood lines (this includes those who through no fault of their own have only just discovered they have Rom ratt.). Who has the right to deny anyone with however much or little Rom blood? None of us have that right to refuse our own from being a part of our people wherever in the world we live today. As we all know many of us have family stories of our Rom children being taken by non-Rom officials and these children are then brought up by non-Rom. This, very much like what has happened to many ethnic and indigenous people such as in Indigenous Canadians, Aboriginals in Australia, American Indians and so on.

Many of us are active in fighting in our own corner

Even here, way down in the South Pacific – likely the most far flung of places – one can find a few Rom aided by other Rom in countries like Canada, US and the UK. We challenge misappropriation of our culture and the use of Rom imagery and the term Gypsy by people who are not Rom in anyway, but use us to earn money. To me this is a gross insult to all of us. More so to the memory of our Puri Folkie who suffered so much prejudice just for being born Rom/Gypsies.

The old stereotypes of the Romani/Gypsies were often written by non-Rom authors

And yet the writings of the Baro Ryes – great gentlemen and woman in the UK who wrote and published accounts over the past 150+ years continue to influence many. These accounts have been based on flimsy fact gathering. People such as, John Sampson, George Borrow, Dora Yates, Frances H Groome, Hubert Smith, Charles Leland and others who established the Gypsy Lore Society (GLS), published journals of mostly Welsh and UK Romany with family lines and stories of “supposed” Gypsy life. Much of this writing is based on highly selective hearsay and not from fact gathering at all.

Our people back then could hardly read or write

They had no real way of checking this writing of the Rye’s. It’s only in recent times we openly question their writings, as most of us nowadays have had some education as in a non-Rom education. We certainly all need to question the Rye’s and the GLS’s so-called “facts” of us as an ethnic people. These books by the Rye’s are still in wide circulation and used by some in the study of our people. Do we just stand back and allow this to continue as it spreads like a cancer on the true facts?

We must Nai bista – never forget the over 500 thousand Rom murdered by the Nazis

The Nazis used guns and death camps. Today the enemy is likely the greedy corporations that appropriate the term Gypsy with an eye for the $dollar and to get rich quick. Then we have other groups who often use the term “tribal” then turn this metaphor into Gypsy. Do we allow this? No, we cannot. It’s unacceptable as another form of genocide of Rom by the use of the pen. Never mind, the old saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” is very true today for Rom. We can use the pen just as well as the ones who appropriate our culture to make a living out of it.

Not all is doom and gloom for we Rom

Three prominent Rom have received awards in the UKs New Year’s Honours List. Dr. Ian Hancock received an OBE for his work on Romani and community development, and also Kim Maloney, Honorary President of LEEDSGate, UK. While young Romani Toby Gorniak received an MBE for his work with youth, founding The Street Factory in Plymouth, UK. We must stand proud of and celebrate what can only be seen as a victory for Rom ethic rights worldwide.

How do we fight back?

Always without abuse and racial put downs, but with facts, honesty and with dignity. Together we can overcome adversity. Without it we are in danger of slipping into the tribal mire and fog of confusion and hatred that is very much alive worldwide today.

Savvo Romani ker O Boktalo nevo bersh.

Bob Lovell.

In New Zealand January 2019.





Author: pushapencil

Frances Roberts Reilly is a Romani poet, harpist and filmmaker born into a Welsh Romany/English family and now living in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

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