Yes. This is true.
In a strict Romani household where the family upholds our cultural customs, we do serve non-Romani who are guests in our homes using a different set of cutlery, dishes & glassware. This practice is poorly understood by the outside world. When made aware of this practice, many non-Romani misinterpret it as racist in nature. It is not, but needs explanation.
Romani cultural tradition is steeped in the notion of purity. Despite the differences that exist among the many Romani sub-groups, the commonality that binds us is the upholding of our purity laws. I do not particularly care to refer to these customs as laws, but it is the only English equivalent that is relatable to these traditions.
Our culture is an ancient one. The culture we have today has been shaped by the regions of Europe in which we settled and the lands we crossed before arriving there, but sparingly, considering we have maintained most of our culture for over one thousand years after leaving India. Much of our traditions, and even our language, is comparable and still similar to, cultures found in the Punjab and Rajasthan regions of India, and parts of present day Pakistan. The practices regarding purity and impurity stem from Hindu practices that existed in eleventh century India.
Before I begin the explanation of these customs, and before it is possible to judge Romani as being “paranoid”, “racist”, or “ethnocentric”, I would like to put our customs into perspective. Many people, for religious reasons, or otherwise, are very particular about their food, how it is prepared, and how it is consumed. Many Jewish people keep Kosher; they have their own laws regarding food. They refrain from eating certain foods, combinations of foods, and only prepare their foods in a certain manner. It would be unacceptable and insulting for you to enter the home of a Kosher Jewish family and begin cooking in their kitchen without any knowledge of their customs. It would be inappropriate to do this to a Muslim family who keep Halal. It would not be right for you to enter the home of a vegan and prepare meat with their cutlery.
Many cultures and individuals take very seriously what they put in their own bodies, the Romani included.
For some of us, meats that are not freshly butchered are considered impure. In the most strict households, such as my own, animals raised inhumanely, animals raised on feeds laced with pesticides or hormones, are considered inpure, or mahrime (mah-ree-may). My family only uses specific suppliers for our meats. We frequently purchase meats from one of two local German butcher shops near our town that have been family owned and operated for several generations. When we buy meats from a grocery store, we only purchase select brands that raise their animals free-range on organic & hormone-free diets. Any mixed-meat products, such as hot-dogs, wursts, or sausages that we consume are Kosher; Jewish Kosher customs are similar to our own.
These laws not only extend to our meats, but also to our produce, and grains. I would never eat pre-peeled fruits or vegetables. My parents would argue when we were children because my mother would buy us the “fruit cups” sold throughout grocery stores in America. In a strict Romani household, such type of food is mahrime, as we have no idea in which way the fruit was peeled or handled.
This is the reason why we often do not eat, or eat very little, of the food that is served to us in the homes of non-Romani. This is the reason why I was not suppsed to, though I sometimes did with my own money, purchase and eat foods from our school cafeterias. I packed a lunch every single day. We do not eat in certain restaurants either. My family goes to, or orders from a only handful of restaurants, most of which are owned by people we personally know.
Generally, or at least in my household, we do not extend such strictness to dry goods, such as pasta and breads, and dairy, because it would be nearly impossible in America, or simply too expensive. Most of the grains my family consumes are organic whole wheat products. We have made our own spaetzle, a type of egg noodle found in the cuisine of Central Europe. We also bake fresh bread and cakes often. We rarely had “junk food” in our house. The contents and preparation of this type of food could also be mahrime, so it is generally not consumed.
Preparing food in a Romani household is also part of cleanliness and purity. Before we begin cooking, we must first be clean, wash our hands, and we must also make certain our cooking space is clean. Romani often clean both before and after cooking. Many of us do not prepare meat products with vegetable products. They are prepared, and sometimes cooked, entirely separately from one another. My family will not mix raw meat with vegetables. Meats are cooked until they are no longer raw before being mixed with other foods.
We must also be clean prior to eating. Our hands must be washed again and our eating surfaces must be spotless. Romani will not consume any food that has fallen on or come in contact with an unclean surface, such as a floor, or an unclean countertop.
Romani who entertain non-Romani in their homes do not know how “clean” the non-Romani are. We have no idea if they brushed their teeth that morning, washed their hands after using the bathroom, or showered after working outside. We simply do not know.
So, we serve you on different plates.
My family has two sets of cutlery, three sets of dishes & three sets of glassware, along with the constant stock of disposable cups, plates, forks, knives & spoons. The non-Romani who have ever eaten in our house, barring very close family friends, have been under the impression we serve them on our “good” plates and with our “good” silverware. Actually, the plates we use to feed our non-Romani guests are nicer than the plates my family uses on a daily basis, but they are not the fine china and crystal used to serve our own family.
We only use a certain set of dishes when non-Romani are guests for a meal. These are not the same dishes we use on a daily basis, nor are they the same dishes that we use for family parties. Frequently, we serve guests on paper plates and with disposable cutlery, but we too, will eat on paper plates & using disposable cutlery. We have never, nor will we ever, make non-Romani guests feel uncomfortable or less than when in our home.
Romani families tend to be kind and gracious. Many Romani would gladly give non-Romani the shirt off their back, we would take you in and feed you, just not on the same plates.
We do not tell non-Romani that we do this, until now, of course. The National Geographic show, American Gypsies, exposed some of our idiosyncracies regarding purity, but they have danced around the truth. They have given non-Romani the impression that our non-association is due to racism, or because we feel we are better than those outside our ethnicity. If our fellow Romani did not uphold the same cultural customs, we would serve them on different plates, too.
Our lack of association with non-Romani extends only to upholding these cultural customs and is not, in any way, due to ethnocentrism.
Romani girl from Kosovo goes to India to discover her roots
Romani Gypsy from Kosovo goes to The Panjab region of Northwest India to have her DNA tested and discover the land of her forefathers.
The Romani language is of a Rajasthani / Panjabi origin.
It is believed the Romani left India in approximately 1026ad due to invasion of Islam into the lands. Believed to be of Indian military status, the Romani made a quick journey into what is now Turkey where they lived alongside Greek speaking Byzantines and Armenians. They lived in what is now Turkey for nearly 300 years before a series of Earthquakes weakened the lands and this land also fell threat to Islamic invasion, the Romani left for Europe and arrived in around 1300ad where they settled into the Balkan Regions of Greece and Albania. From here the Romani have spread the length of Europe and onto European colonies where they have survived as a people related through blood, culture and language. Recent testing of Romani DNA has also supported and confirmed their Indian ancestry.
Romani word such as Purano (ancient / elder), Sap (snake), Kher (house) are all still spoken in India today as the young lady discovers.
In the video the man mentions the word “Lohar” which is the Indian word for metal. This word survives in Romani as “Lovva” and means money.
The Roar of Legends
Banjaras singing, Kishkindha, Anegundi, Koppal, 2007
Banjaras sing songs of their heroes and legends as they walk the crumbling streets..
Photo by A Betageri
Banjara woman, Anegundi, Koppal
Photo by Ankur Betageri
Banjara woman, Anegundi, Koppal
Photo by Ankur Betageri
Gypsy of Rajasthanby sasson haviv
“Mother India’s forgotten children after many centuries meet again”.
This foto was shot by Janardhan Pathania in INDIA, during an international Writer’s conference.
From Tony Gatlif’s Latcho Drom
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