Interview and translation by Juliana Penha
Since Roma people left India 1.500 years ago, the majority of them concentrate in Europe but they travelled worldwide.
They arrived also in Brazil, in the second half of 16th century exiled from Portugal during the colonization. Nowadays, despite imprecision, it is estimated that there are 800.000 Roma in Brazil.
In order to preserve the heritage of the Roma tradition, in 2009 the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil Phralipen Romane (Brazilian Roma Embassy) was founded. It is an NGO that develops projects to value the history, culture and traditions of Roma people and also bring mutual understanding between Roma and non Roma communities in Brazil.
They publish books about Roma culture, and organize and participate in projects and events to promote the Roma culture in Brazil and worldwide.
We have spoken with Nicolas Ramanush Leite, the president of Brazilian Roma Embassy and lecturer of History of Brazilian Culture and History of Roma Culture, at Pontifica Universidade Catolica de São Paulo, a Brazilian university. He told us about the Roma culture in Brazil, and the work that the Brazilian Roma Embassy does and gave us a message to his Roma siblings around the world:
“Sa e Rrom si prhala ( All Roma are sibling)”
One history of heritage and love
“I am a son of a Roma person from sinti ethnicity (Nicolas Ramanush Romanes,1901 -1978). He has born in France but came to Brazil as a war fugitive in 1914. My mother was a gazhi, non Roma Brazilian.
Despite the fact that he was illiterate (only able to write his name), my father was a polyglot, as many other Roma; he has spoken his mother tongue, the romani sinte-valshtike and also romani-vlax, English, French and German.
Like all traditional Roma, my father transferred to me all Roma traditions and culture, since I was seven years old. Although he was far from his community, because his family were in France and Germany, he was a man that loved his culture and origin and did all to preserve it.
The knowledge of our language, basic values, faith and traditions had been gradually passed on to me through the stories that he used to tell me.
I believe that this led my life to what it represents nowadays; being a president of Brazilian Roma Embassy and alongside my wife Ingrid Ramanush doing what I have been taught by my father: preserving the Roma culture.”
What does it means to be Roma?
“ Firstly, I should emphasize that the word gypsy is a stereotype because it generalizes a large number of ethnic groups around the world. The cultural specificity of each group will never be explained through this label. And in many parts of the world this label acquired a new denomination: Romani. This was because the label gypsy hold a high level of prejudice and discrimination.
Being Roma for me represents a possession of the genetic origin (the blood that is running in my veins), the cradle of the cultural tradition (our values transmitted from father to son) and also the consciousness that I am part of one ethnic group that could be called the only non-territorial people in the world, since we have one hymn and flag officialised and one language to be standardized.
Lastly, as I always say: being Roma is to have the destiny of resilience, using the smile against the life’s adversities.”
The Brazilian Roma: Calon, Roma and Sinti
“ In Brazil there is a significant presence of the ethnicities Calon and Rom (calderash, matchuaia, moldovanos) and a small presence of Sinti ethnicity in some families around Brazil. We can say that the condition of Roma communities in Brazil is good because most of them are integrated in the majority culture, living in houses, with their sons and daughters at University, working as self-employed or businessmen.
Most of the Calon ethnicity survive with the small trade of hand tools. They live in camps and need policies to integration. On the other hand, there isn’t restraint to their access to citizenship, something that doesn’t happen in Europe, where we found, unfortunately, ghettos and Roma neighbourhoods. In Brazil there isn’t this kind of government segregation policies.
Unfortunately, many non Roma Brazilians borrow a supposed to be “Roma Culture” (created by them from what they have been learned from Internet) and they conduct “Roma events” and other practices, which obviously generates more stereotypes.
Finally, something important to say is that there is no unity between the Roma communities and without unity, there is no power.”
The Roma contribution to Brazilian culture and to the world
“The major contribution of Roma in Brazil is that they have brought here the first professions. The Roma arrived officially in Brazil in 1574 and in their luggage they brought all the professions of blacksmith, tinsmith, gunsmith, musician, dancer and messenger.
In regard to the Roma contribution to the world, I believe that it has not yet been comprehended. The “universal men”, without borders will be maybe one day mentioned as the great contribution of the Roma ethnicity to the world.”
The “universal men”, without borders will be maybe one day mentioned as the great contribution of the Roma ethnicity to the world.”
Sa e Rrom si prhala (All Roma are sibling)
We are people made by the same hand,
Bothers so distant, but created by the same love.
So I ask myself:
Why we are not unite?
Each one will find thousands of answers!
But any of them silence my question
Because I know we are all siblings!
And what lack to us is union.
To you, Roma from the world, I extend my hand.
“Te aven baxtale Rromale, Shavale thaj Phejale sa e lumjia” Ramanush
“Be happy Roma men, boys and Roma sisters around the world” translated from Romani
Sources and more information about Roma culture in Brazil:
Embaixada Cigana do Brasil Phralipen Romane (Brazilian Roma Embassy)