His movement amongst the Gypsies was much easier than most people had expected. He found that they were not dangerous as the majority had warned, yet rather extremely welcoming. The extraordinary, hospitable nature of the Roma is an inbred part of the culture, an inherent characteristic of the nomadic era.
The Roma are genuinely unique. “The most important thing to us is that you feel good”, is a common comment guests will hear at the Gypsy table.
Chuck learned a great deal from his extensive visits with the Roma while sharing in the work, celebrations, and cheerful discourse inside the cramped quarters around the warming fire. He also learned to understand their ways and how to work with them. The Roma are not like the other Europeans; they have their own ways that doesn’t always blend with the habits of the majority. It’s not surprising since their culture blends a certain degree of their Hindu-Indian origins.
The Roma are the last of Europe’s ancient Eastern invaders still maintaining a semblance of their Oriental customs. All the other Asian hordes like the Mongols, Avars, Cumans, Alans, Huns were ultimately gobbled up by the overpowering European conscience becoming themselves “European”. The Gypsies, however, resisted, defying assimilation without arms yet in their own quiet, secretive manner.
2010 marked the formation of the TzT partnership between Chuck Todaro, Gaby Gabor and Cristian Coman creating the formidable American – Roma alliance. Once the hands had crossed the table and met which is all that is required in Roma tradition to formulate the sacred bond than the team set out to test the waters and see if their idea had the potential. This 2010 trial period proved that the hospitable Roma had the passion to participate, that tourist had the open-mindedness and desire to meet the Gypsies and finally that tourist agencies realized the great potential thus making the way for our 2011 grand opening.
TZIGANIA quite literally means “the Gypsy part of town”. In many cases it’s the ghetto situated on the other side of the railroad tracks or across natural boundaries like a hill or stream. Sometimes it’s the unholy cemetery separating the Christian villagers from the “godless” Gypsies.
Regardless of its location, it’s still a place outsiders don’t go. The traditionally segregated policies surrounding Tzigania are not only forced upon the community but are at the same time of their own choosing. The Tzigania’s of Romania retain a semi-autonomous existence that follows their own free-spirited rules and regulations.
Tzigania is more than just a place - it’s a lifestyle. It’s both community and family. It’s a culture of outdoor living, intense social interaction, shared emotions (highs and lows) and lots of noise.
Though the Tzigania’s of the world are seen on the surface for their grotesque poverty there is an unobserved utopian essence of the place. The unity of its inhabitants has evolved into a natural sharing of goods to those in need or simply without. That’s the Gypsy way. It’s also the vitality of its overwhelming youthful atmosphere, its high quantity of children and young people that raises moods and keeps the Gypsy from ever wanting to leave.
They have a saying about their home. “Gajo” (non-Gypsy) can live happily in the Gypsy community, but a Gypsy can never survive outside Tzigania”. A life outside Tzigania is like a fish out of water – and are certain in time to drown in the restrictions and heartlessness of the real world. To some Tzigania is a paradise
In the Rromani language there is no such word as tigan (Gypsy).
Tzigani and its many ethnic derivatives was the term used by the Europeans to identify a people thought of as inferior in all ways. Though the derogatory term has since become a part of the vocabulary that still regularly appears in all forms of the media, it conveys much of the same sting as the “n-word” bears upon the African-American community.
The word tzigan is a corruption of the term athinganoi, used by the Byzantium Greeks to describe the dark skinned, savage, fortunetellers as they first burst upon Europe. The name athinganoi referred to a ‘heathen’ or polluted individual, an untouchable. The label stuck and transform over time and space into the Romanian Tsigani, French Tsiganes, Italian Zingari, German Zingeuner, Hungarian Czigany and Turkish Chingene. Other nations found different means of identifying the strange dark skinned wanderers: the Dutch called them Heyden (heathen). The Fins refer to them as mustalaiset (blacks). The Spanish term Gitano and English Gypsy evolved from the pre-conceived notion of an Egyptian origin.
The term Tzigan used in the Romanian principalities was a term referring to a slave (Roma, Turkish, Tatar or Romanian) rather than an ethnic group. “Tzigan” was a possession that could be bought and sold – even murdered by his owner and with no questions asked.
Times have changed and though slavery had been abolished for close to a hundred years, the term remains a connotation used to identify an distasteful character trait…“In my opinion, several reasons stand for this situation. The word with which Roma are identified – “tzigan” – has a profoundly pejorative connotation as it is associated with antisocial acts – “steal like a tzigan”, “dirty like a tzigan” – “deceitful like a tzigan,” and so on. says Nicoleta Fotiade, program manager at Monitoring the Press Agency in Romania... “ I remember this meeting with a journalist from a local newspaper in Zalau. We had happened to monitor the newspaper where she wrote some editorials that were simply hate speeches towards Roma. I tried to explain to her the harm that she was doing. To my amazement and totally against my efforts, she said most calmly and plainly that she did not think that she was doing anything wrong towards the Roma. I remember her saying, ‘but how come I am doing something wrong? Everybody thinks that way.’”
“Roma”, on the other hand, has been their own identifying name since strolling the River Ganges. The original Gypsies of India referred to themselves as Domba or Doma. The pronunciation has slightly altered yet the meaning remains the same:
“Rromano murs som” - I am Roma (man) in the Rromani language or “Rromani juvli som” I am a Roma woman.
Though Roma origins has historically been a jumble of controversies we are able today to say with conviction that they originated from the Indian subcontinent. The defense is supported with biological, genetic, linguistic and a scattered paper trail.
The controversies are due in part to the analphabet Roma having never recorded their own history to paper preferring instead to an unreliable oral tradition. The origins were soon lost in the wave lengths of time and the gaps quickly filled with highly subjective accounts by the Europeans.
The theory held by most of today’s scholars marks their exodus from Indian during the 11th century as a means of escaping the marauding Muslim invaders pouring down from Afghanistan. Their long march west and the numerous influences with the passing cultures would slowly chip away at their unity till three main linguistic divisions remained. Those refugees stabilizing closer to home in the Mid-Eastern world would become known as Dom while those moving on into the Armenian territories of Eastern Anatolia (today Eastern Turkey) would call themselves Lom – and those ultimately reaching Greek speaking Byzantium (the Gypsies of Europe) would become known as Rom. The Greek influence on the Roma language Rromani was so powerful that Greek loan words remain second only to the original Sanskrit.
Romania has a very special place in the Roma histories as the only nation that legally adopted Roma slavery. The Romanian military regularly collected slaves following its victories over Tatar and Turkish forces that were known to march with scored of Roma tradesmen - as well as the capturing any misguided Roma nomad haphazardly wondered across the borders in search of work. The Roma were highly valued for their trade skills especially in metallurgy.
Once a slave – always a slave. There was no leaving Romania like in the other European nations that preferred chasing them out to keeping them. The slavery issue is the single reason why Romania has the largest Roma population in all Europe. It was also the cause that prevented Roma integration: the two blocks, Roma and European, lived, worked and procreated separately.
The slavery issue in Romania was a deep rooted part of society. The state owned slaves, landowners and towns owned slaves, even the pious church had joined the system becoming over time one of the largest owners. Roma slavery would carry on for over 500 years right up to the period General Sherman of the Union Army was punishing the Southern United States with his infamous scorched earth policy. Emancipation in the United States would require a horrific civil war costing over 620,000 lives. Romania, however, was fortunate enough to resolve the problem with a single stroke of the pen. The buying and selling of human cargo was banned for good.
Though the law of the land made an easy transformation, man’s discriminatory outlook towards the Roma would take far more time, generations, if not centuries in some cases. Refusal of the majority to accept the Roma would force Roma to burrow deeper into the protection of their own communities and a continued “un-European” ways of living.
The Gypsy and the majority lived together yet apart right up into the mid 20th century.
Of all the criticisms that the communism era has endured its policies towards equality of the masses succeeded in chipping away at the formidable wall of segregation and steadily improving Roma conditions right up till its sudden collapse in late 1989 and after which both sides went right back into the old way of doing things.
Romania is the ideal setting to study the Roma culture, not only because of its long history and vast population but also because with more than half of the nation’s population still living in rural areas the impact of modern development and industrialization on their lives has been far less severe and as a result many Roma communities still offer an environment not too far removed from that which existed from their arrival into Europe.