Jorge M. Fernandez Bernal
THE SITUATION IN CHILE
Origin and filiation of the Xoraxane Rom in South-America
Despite scholars saying that Rom came from India, this is mainly based upon linguistic studies on Romanes (the Romani language) in the last centuries, and as do many Kalderash and other Rom from the Americas, the Xoraxane Rom from Chile also say: “We are one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and from there the first Rom have come”.
The Xoraxane Rom in South-America; Chile and Brazil have been arriving in these lands since the beginning of the XXth century and before, almost exclusively from the regions of Bosnia and Serbia. Their traditional fairytales relate this origin, and most of these end with the phrase: “This is the whole truth because it has happened in Serbia”. One of them quotes:
“In Yugoslavia, at the beginning of the XXth century, a small group of Rom who had some money (over there the vast majority of the Rom are so poor that they have to beg, dance and play some instrument on the street for the Gadjé to earn some money to live), took a steamboat and came to America, running away from the war that was taking place in those lands, similar to that they are suffering now. When they arrived onto this continent most of them stayed in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, and from there went to Chile and the rest of South-America. It was because of the war that Rom left Yugoslavia. Some Rom there even used to cut their forefingers in order to avoid going to the war. I’ve heard that from my father and grandfather. Because of war, prejudices, and poverty, the Rom Xoraxane came to America.”
(Juan Nicolich, personal communication).
Some authors, even Romani ones, and mainly in Brazil, erroneously suggest that Xoraxane Rom are a Kalderash subgroup of Turkish origin, with a similar way of life to that of the Machwaya, other authors and most of the Kalderash Rom even confuse both Groups.
The Xoraxane Rom have been Christians since their early arrival in the Americas, and are very assimilated with the Kalderash and Machwaya with whom they now share almost the same traditions, including the institution of the kris, and although they have preserved the Muslim ceremony of the kurbáno as in the Balkans, their traditional ceremonies are: (biáu), (bávine), (kristénje), (pomána), (pachíu) and (slávas) which are typical of the Kalderash Rom, while their language is that of the Xoraxane groups of Italy, Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria. They speak a Vlach dialect of the Vlach I (old Vlach) type, palatized and similar to that of the Gurbet and Dzambazi from Serbia.
The Romnyá (Romani women) of this group dress the same way as the Kalderash women in Rumania, Russia, Italy, France and the Americas: traditional long skirts and dikló (handkerchief, for those who are married).
Romani women pratice fortune-telling and sell copper pots (copper additionally being one of Chile’s main exports) made by their husbands, who also repair copper pots, do general metalwork, sell and buy new and old cars. Many families continue to live a nomadic life.
Why did the Xoraxane Rom take on the traditions, way of living and the kris from the Kalderash and Machwáya in the Americas?
The question of the original reason for this groups changing its traditions can be perplexing: If they were Dasikane (Christian) Rom in origin, then why the kurbáno (the traditional Muslim feast of sacrificing a sheep asking for health)? It is hard to believe that they were not Muslims, especially when many old men hold some knowledge about this; and, although they use the word gadjé for the non-Rom, they also have the word “das” (Christian non-Rom in some parts of the Balkans), though used here to mean: owner, boss. Why then did they change their religion?
The reasons, I suppose, cannot be other than the old spirit of surviving and adaptation of the Rom. Although they were the first to arrive in certain parts of the Americas, they are a real minority compared to the Kalderash Rom, who arrived later in great numbers, bringing with them what some authors have calledKalderashocentrism13, and what the Kalderash call Rromaníya (the way of living, thinking, and the traditions of the Rom). This is the only thing that could explain this change by itself; the rejection suffered by them in confrontation not only with Kalderash groups but also with the prejudices of the Gadjé of European origin who dominated these lands, considering also that all the countries in the Americas are predominantly Christian (whether Catholicism, Protestantism, etc.).
Life of the Rom in Chile
Even though the Rom have no territory, common religion, or national or international political representation; they do have a true sense of their own identity, based upon the values, way of living, sense of family, and customs which distinguish them as a group. And in the Americas they feel proud of being what they are; Rom, and want to be integrated within the society without loosing their own identity.
The obvious ability the Rom have for doing business, and surviving despite the marginalization in which they many times are constrained to live, force them exert their innate business capabilities; selling and buying everything, and in general obtaining the best results, instead of starving and begging.
Despite what the Gadjé think in their collective subconscious, the Rom earn their money through their jobs or businesses; whether what they do for a living may seem insignificant to the non-Rom. Even the ability to tell fortunes can bring some profit and can help to make a living.
Outsiders are often able to observe the the Rom’s hardy perseverance in defending their customs and Romani laws. But what happens with the Chilean Rom who don’t live under Romani law or follow many of the local Romani traditions? Already many don’t live in tents or practice metalworking any more, and this was seen at the beginning as if these Rom were betraying the Romani way of life. Nowadays, however, many kinds of new business and professions have been born among the Chilean Rom: car dealing, jewelry, etc. The Rom little by little are finding their own place within the gadjo society which many times reject and undervalue them.
Showing the world wealthy Rom who neither beg on the streets nor wander throughout the country and whose life is closer to that of the Gadjé is something rare, but which is increasingly accepted day by day.
Traditions and Religion
The Rom here are a people genuinely fond of their traditions, no matter how old fashioned they might appear to the eyes of the Gadjé. The men go out to work or to do business, selling new and old cars or metals of all kinds, while the women stay home taking care of the children, selling goods or telling their clients’ fortunes. The bride must marry as a virgin and even nowadays it is not uncommon for parents to arrange their children’s marriages. These customs additionally intermingle with the religion, because even though many of them are catholic and devoted to the virgin of Guadalupe, at least in Chile the Romani International Evangelical Movement is gaining ground, as also happens among Romani people in many countries of the world.
Discrimination and school
Even in Chile Rom suffer discrimination and prejudice of others, which exists to varying degrees in all the countries of the Americas. School is a factor in changing the perceptions one group has of the other. This alone would make it important and necessary to provide every young Rom with access, not only to primary or secondary school, but University.
In Chile there exist the following Romani clans: Kávuchura, Koriánura, Baduníchura, Invasórure, Chikarésti, Khanyária, but all of these call themselves Romá Xoraxané, and in Brazil they simply use this term. Both groups call the Kalderash Lease/Leasi and Kalderas (with s).
13 See Ian Hancock, We are the Romani People, Universitry of Hertfordshire Press, England 2002.
Prepared by: Orfej Haliti