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"Gelem Gelem"

To speak of the Roma people presupposes that we speak of an ancient, nomadic and agraphic culture. According to many historians and anthropologists, the origins of the Roma people can be found in India or Egypt, or even in Greece. The first Gypsies started entering Europe around the 12th century. Several groups migrated in successive waves for various reasons, probably between the 3rd and 8th centuries, through Persia, Armenia and other regions towards Europe, where they arrived between the 12th and 14th centuries. Their presence in the Iberian Peninsula is only proven much later, around 1425, more specifically in Saragossa.

In Portugal there are no reports of the appearance of this people, although without an exact date the oldest known documents mention the presence of gypsies in our country date back to the 15th century. Socially, Roma are divided into three main groups: Rom (Eastern Europe) Sinti (Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland) Kalon (Portugal and Spain) and there are many other subdivisions. Each of these groups differs from the others by dialect (derived from Romani), customs, specific traditions, dress, etc.


Due to the inexistence of written documents proving the origin of this people, several legends and beliefs have arisen over the centuries. These have spread among the families and support some theories of their origin. The main means of subsistence of this people was through horse trading, several groups wandered around the country, joined by fugitives. In 1526 D. João III, King of Portugal, forbade the Roma people to enter Portugal, consecutively ordering the expulsion of all those who lived within the territory. For centuries legislation was passed with the same purpose: to expel gypsies from Portugal. Only after the 19th century did the State finally consider them Portuguese citizens.

The Roma people are a minority social group, generally ignored by society, making it impossible for them to fully enjoy: the right to health, education, social support and justice, basing their social coexistence on the values and traditions inherent to their people.


Marginalisation and social exclusion have accompanied the Roma people for six centuries and today they still carry the weight of this social stigma. At the time of Nazism, many Roma were taken to concentration camps and exterminated. It is estimated that half a million Roma were eliminated during the Nazi regime. Today this very mystical ethnic group survives on handicrafts, trading in carpets, spices and diffused metal art.

These people are said to have constituted a lower caste of Indians who were expelled from - or left - northern India around the 10th century and began a journey that would last some 500 years, until their descendants settled in different parts of Europe. After a stop in Asia in the 14th Century, the group began to expand throughout Europe. Over time, they followed different routes, always in a westerly direction, which will lead each sub-group to develop different characteristics, derived from contact with other cultures, and to settle in various regions of Europe. It is not known for sure if the Roma arrived in the Iberian Peninsula from the South (North Africa) or from the North (France). Several theories are put forward to explain their arrival in Portugal: one of them is that they would have been invited to entertain the royal court as tricksters or sorcerers. It was from the 16th century onwards that animosities and persecutions against Gypsies began. Incoherent policies were implemented all over Europe, ranging from forced assimilation to total rejection, from expulsion to the death penalty.

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