Roma, Sinti and Calo: brazilian realities (english)

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Interview with Márcia Yáskara Guelpa and Nicolas Ramanush

In this edition interviewed two representatives of the community Roma in Brazil. Márcia Yáskara Guelpa, President of the CERCI-Centro de Estudos e Resgate da Cultura Cigana[1] and Nicolas Ramanush, the then president of the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil[2] - Phralipen Romani. Regarding the three communities representing Roma in Brazil: the Rom (from former-Yugoslavia, Serbia and from other eastern European countries), Calon (from Spain and Portugal) and Sinti (from Germany, Italy and France), what do they have in common and in what way do they differ?

Márcia Yáskara Guelpa: The Roma don't constitute an homogeneous whole. They are not linguistically, economically, culturally or socially the same. In the Internet, we found countless reports on the Roma, but not all are true. Most try to explain, but without any real foundation, ideas that were built around the Roma starting from the 15th century, and were crystallized in the form of stereotypes and folklore. Therefore, Roma are talked about in a romantic or alarming way and, as incredible as it seems, the reality cross to the imaginary.

Nicolas Ramanush: Roma, Calon and Sinti have in common the self-identification "Roma". On the other hand, individuals from each of these communities claim they are the true Roma, not recognizing the “Romanity” of the other communities. For example, it is very common in a camp to hear from a Calon that he is the true Roma, for this or that reason. And the same is heard among members of other communities regarding themselves, denying the “Romanity” of the others. And that happens for the fact that each individual, be it Rom, Calon or Sinti, identifies himself as Roma and he has the recognition within his community. The differences are many and they exist because of several factors: the dialectal differences of Romani; the acquired cultural values, for each community, in the permanent areas after the exodus from India; and the cultural specificities that each community already possessed even before of leaving India.

Let us analyze each one of those factors so that we can understand them better:

- due to these dialectal differences, there is still no standardization for the Romani. Our language is still not officially recognized (a fact that has been on the works since the International Congress in 1978, when it was decided that a standardization of the Romani was needed);

- the acquired cultural values in the permanent areas created serious differences, including those of religious order, because Roma that were in Turkey, were converted in large numbers to Muslim, the ones that were in Greece, to the Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity and those that arrived in the American continent, to Protestantism. And, for instance, unlike the Jews that profess Judaism (coalition factor), there is among communities no religious system that prevails;

- the cultural specificities that each community possessed, still in India, originated from the system of "castes", whose existence felt for the division and subdivision among the Indian population. As an example of that, there is the rite of marriage, of funerals and of widowhood. Maybe for atavism, mainly among the Calon community, it happens here in Brazil almost in the same way as it happened among the castes a thousand years ago, in India:
- the marriage is contracted for the youths' parents;
- in the funeral everything that belonged to the deceased is burned;
- the widows keep "eternal" mourning. Still today, in many areas of India, the widow is seen as a burden for the family. And how it is surrounded by a lot of prejudice and superstition, she is cloistered in her own place.

Along the years lived in Brazil, the Roma people have been discriminated even among their communities; and the language is also a different one, because the Rom and Sinti speak "romanês" and Calon speak the shib kalé (coalition of the "romanês" with Spanish and the Portuguese). Facing those differences, what motivated the formation of Ciganos Calons's Association as an organization?

Márcia Yáskara Guelpa: I´m not aware of an Association of Calon. I was never introduced to them. Here in São Paulo there is an association called CCB-Collective of Ciganos Calon from Brazil. I am President of CERCI - Centro de Estudos e Resgate da Cultura Cigana and for 5 years I represented the Apreci - Associação para a Preservação da Cultura Cigana, in the CNPCT - National Commission of People and Traditional Communities, in Brasília. As for the language spoken by the Roma People, we can say that, although Romani is their original language, we have to acknowledge it to be partially a language of Indian origin, but also countless words of Persian origin, Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Roman, Kurdish and those of other countries through which the Roma passed, were added to the Romani language. To illustrate this we can say that alone in Europe the Roma speak about 60 different dialects. Here in Brazil, I would say, only Roma of the community Rom speaks, really, Romani, and nevertheless, not all of them. Most of the other speek Caló, that it is a dialect actually spoken mainly in the Iberian Peninsula and, nevertheless, with small differences. The northern and the Northeasterner's Caló is very different from the one spoken in the southeast and south of Brazil.

Summarizing: here in Brazil for many Roma only a lexical base of the Romani has been preserved, with an incredible variety of “dialects”. They lost the language, and that is a shame.

Nicolas Ramanush: differences in language and prejudice are natural and inherent to the human being. For example, in a country like Brazil, whose population reaches the figure of 200 million, dialectal differences (northeastern and southern) generated the linguistic prejudice: the "belief that the Portuguese spoken in the south is a more correct Portuguese than that spoken in the northeast." That happens when in the reality speaking cannot be regulated and appraised by the grammar. And the ignorance of that truth is what drives people to prejudice.
Well, what motivated the institution of the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil - Phralipen Romani, didn't come as a result of these differences but as a result of tradition. My father was born in Saint Marie de la Mer, in the south of France. He came to Brazil as a refugee from the First World War. And even though he was an educated man, he was illiterate (he spoke four languages and he just knew how to sign his own name). I call him an educated man because, even being illiterate, he knew how to transmit to me the practices and the values of his community - Sinte-Valshtike. To him, that is what maintaining tradition is about, and, therefore, the tradition learned in the cradle, was what motivated the institution of the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil. And it couldn't be different, the Statute of the Embassy says that our biggest objective is: the rescue, the maintenance and the diffusion of our traditional values. A fact that has not been impeding us, even without support from the Brazilian government, to offer social welfare services to the communities of Calon that still live in the margins of society and still have difficulty integrating.

During the special session of the Federal Senate to celebrate the National Day of the Black Conscience Mrs. Marlete Queiroz, representative of the Roma community, emphasized that there are 800 Roma camps in Brazil and that this constitutes "an invisible Brazil", since those Roma are not even entitled to a birth certificate. Considering the fight from different ethnic communities and races for human rights, is there any alliance among the indigenous, black and other ethnic movements?

Márcia Yáskara Guelpa: I usually say that there are 600 thousand Roma in Brazil and nevertheless my statement is nothing more than an assumption. The fact is that the Brazilian government doesn't know who and how many we are and, above all, where we are. She, in fact, visited some of these camps, but such a limited number that it certainly doesn't allow the elaboration of any statements in their respect. When the government visited the city of Souza, for instance, it was forgotten or not known that around Souza there are countless cities that shelter Roma, and they were not visited. Why? I'm referring to Marisópolis, Orebe, São João do Rio do Peixe, Patos, Pau de Ferro, etc. As I said, they do not know where we are or, what is worse, they pretend not to know.

In addition to what was said, we can affirm that the Brazilian Roma will never be mapped, since many Roma don't identify themselves as such, for obvious reasons. The Roma culture is marked by exclusion, intolerance, injustice and prejudices that has punished them for centuries. It is not different in Brazil. The Brazilian Roma lack accessibility to obligatory documents of civil identification, public health, public education and permanence in the school, urban spaces for the camps, social and cultural inclusion and, mainly, the guarantee of the preservation of the traditions, of the practices and of the cultural heritage of a people that has been in Brazil since 1562, although some people say 1574. Finally I should say that alliances among traditional communities can exist while there are similarities of some of the themes discussed by the movement in general. But that is beyond discussion, each people have their own practices. The problems faced by all are countless and it is not possible to endorse all fights. It would be the ideal, but...

Nicolas Ramanush: As it was clear in the previous answer, the activity of the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil is 90% cultural. And that its involvement in political militancy falls within this context. What is possible to guarantee, is that there aren't in Brazil reliable statistics regarding the size of the Roma population. And that happens due to the fact that when a Roma militant is questioned regarding the size of his ethnic community, he tends to increase the number (because it is obvious, this is a strategy to call attention and against the so-called "invisibility"). On the other side, the government, through the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) is not able to achieve a technically accurate Census. And to make things worse, it tends to reduce the numbers, creating the "invisibility", so that the due political actions of integration are not put in place due to lack of demand. As for Roma Rights, one cannot forget that the so-called Roma is a Brazilian citizen like any other (although he/she belongs to a differentiated ethnic community of the population in general, he/she was born here or even the generation of his/her great-grandparents was born here).

Ultimately, we can say that the Brazilian Roma, and in particular the Calon community, is treated like a citizen of lower category. Those interested in deepening their knowledge of Roma Rights can access the website Embaixada Cigana.

Currently, the Roma have representatives in the Racial Equality Politics Council (CNPIR) and in the National Commission for Sustainable Development for Traditional People and Traditional Communities. However, the two organs are just advisory. One of the main faced problems faced is the lack of access to education. How old is the Association and which were the victories and which are the political perspectives?

Márcia Yáskara Guelpa: The CERCI - Centro de Estudos e Resgate da Cultura Cigana was founded in February 2007. I ignore what CNPIR and CNPCT have been doing in relation to the education of the Roma People. I prefer not to talk about the Education of the Roma People. Before that, we would have to discuss the problem of the education in Brazil as a whole. Then, it would be necessary to write down some points. Roma women read the future in the lines of the hands. But the future of the Roma people is in the hands of the public agencies, of the society and of the governments that need to make efforts to provide dignity and real social inclusion for a people that awaits to be respected and to exercise their fundamental rights. Let us wait... (Márcia smiles)

Nicolas Ramanush: The Embaixada Cigana do Brasil - Phralipen Romani has been active for 29 years. Of which, 26 active informally, and three with CNPJ. Our greatest conquests until the moment have been:

- for thirteen years it has been teaching courses of cultural extension and master’s degree on the History of the Roma Culture in universities from São Paulo. This was a pioneering project in Latin America in this area;

- we were the first Romas of Latin America to edit books in our language: Roma words (vocabulary and grammar Romani-Sinte) published in 2009, and Los Hermanos Caló y Calon (a rehearsal on those dialects of Romani) launched in 2011 in Spain during participation in the III International Rroma Seminar;
- we address prejudice and the existent differences among the communities, because, we have members originating from Sinte, Calderash, Xorarano and Calon. United and working on behalf of the others;

- we got the international recognition regarding the projects that we developed in the cultural area to minimize prejudice and discrimination - to the point of developing project Romani Rota in Africa, Slovakia, France and Spain. And the number of countries is not larger due to the lack of governmental support, having to rely entirely on our limited resources.

- and recently we started to have certain recognition in our state, São Paulo, starting from the invitation of the institution SESC related to presentations regarding the development of the project Romani Rota. The presentations happened in some units of that institution during the year of 2011. And it will continue in 2012.


[1]Self-Designations for Roma, Calon, Sinti.
[2]Self-Designations for Roma, Calon, Sinti.

Interview: Farah Chagas

Tradution: Roddy Benedetti

Márcia Yáskara Guelpa é formada pela USP – Universidade de São Paulo em Letras e Pedagogia, Pós graduada pela USP em História da Educação e Teoria Literária; Palestrante sobre a cultura cigana, Presidente da CERCI – Centro de Estudos e Resgate da Cultura Cigana, Trabalhou durante anos nos seguintes veículos de comunicação: Revistas Manchete,Vogue, Isto É, Nova, GMagazine, dentre outras e no Jornal da República, do Mino Carta; Representou o Povo Cigano na Comissão Nacional de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais até 2010.
Nicolas Ramanush é prof. universitário e escritor, presidente da Embaixada Cigana do Brasil - Phralipen Romani, e Membro de Honra da Association Santoise de Gitans – França, é do clã Sinte-Valshtike. is university professor and writer president of the Embaixada Cigana do Brasil - Phralipen Romani member of honor of the Association of Santoise Gitans - France, and he is from the clan Sinte-Valshtike.