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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

A Review of

The Rom:
Walking In The Paths Of The Gypsies

by Roger Moreau

 

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Summary

In hopes of gaining insights into the diaspora of the Romany people, the author decides to undertake a journey to retrace the route that they are believed to have taken when traveling westward from India many centuries ago. Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

The Rom: Walking In The Paths Of The Gypsies

Author

Roger Moreau

ISBN

1550138685

Publisher

Key Porter Books

Category

Non-Fiction: History

Rating

StarStarStar

Number of Pages

304

Published In

1997

 

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Description

Note: when referring to an ethnic group, it's impossible to find a word that will please everybody. I have chosen to use the word "Rroma" to refer to the people that have been historically known as the Gypsies. Among many people the word "Gypsy" has taken on very, very negative connotations as a vicious racial slur. I acknowledge that not all Gypsies are Rroma - some are Sinti, Dom, or Lom. I also acknowledge that some prefer to use the word "Gypsy" instead of Rroma. But I needed to use something, so I opted for the word with less inflammatory connotations. If you want to read more about why many Gypsies prefer to be called Rom, see the article Please Call Me Rom on Kajira Djoumahna's web site.

This book is partly travelogue, partly glimpses into the history of the Silk Road, and partly anthropological research. The author, Roger Moreau, took time away from his job to spend several months researching the history of the Rroma. In it, he explores the following questions and proposes his answers, based on his research:

  • Which of the tribes in northern India produced the ancestors of the Rroma?
  • Why did these people leave their homeland and move west?
  • What overwhelming forces caused three tribes of Indian people to interbreed, overcoming deeply held cultural taboos against miscegenation, to form a new race?
  • Why didn't the Rroma retain the Hindu religion of their Indian homeland?
  • What factors led to their arrival in Persia?
  • Why did they leave Persia and move on to Constantinople?
  • Why did they leave the home they had made for themselves in Constantinople and disperse widely among the lands of Europe?
  • Why did the Europeans despise the Rroma so much when they arrived among them?

The best way to describe this book is speculative history. The above questions are not answered in any known historical documents that have survived to this day, and therefore no one can authoritatively state "This is the factual story." So Moreau carefully studies the historical documents that do survive in each of the regions he visits, and then he pieces together how those events probably would have affected the people of the kalo rat (dark blood). His speculations are very credible. Although he can't support them with historical documents stating, "The Rroma did this because...." his conclusions are an interesting interpretation of the facts that he was able to substantiate about events affecting the regions as a whole.

After describing his conclusions about the early history of the Rroma, Moreau then leads into Book Two, which describes what happened to the Gypsies after they left Constantinople and spread across Europe. This part of the book is very painful to read, because it tells a story of many centuries of persecution, slavery, persecution during the Spanish Inquisition, and near extinction in the gas chambers of Hitler. But Moreau's story of the Rroma would have been incomplete without covering those horrors, and it casts light on why people say that the Rroma lived with many hardships over their history.

The thread that binds much of the book together is Moreau's description of his three Indian traveling companions - one from each of the Indian tribes that Moreau believes comprised the ancestors of the Gypsy/Romany people. It is somewhat entertaining to read about the exploits of this group as they make their way across India, into Afghanistan, and eventually to Turkey. The tales of these companions definitely add a human element to the book. But at the same time, they're a distraction, and they don't cast much light on the past.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You would like to learn more about the history of the Rroma.
  • You would enjoy a travelogue of a modern-day person's adventures along the Silk Road.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're looking for works based on a more academic, scholarly methodology.
  • You prefer historical accounts that stay close to facts documented in primary sources rather than theorizing.
  • You would prefer a book that stays focused on a single topic, rather than having a bit of history, a bit of travelogue, and a bit of ethnography.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • In the course of developing his theories about the origins of the Rroma, Moreau reveals much fascinating information about the history of Afghanistan, Persia, and Turkey that I had never known before.
  • Although I acknowledge that Moreau's conclusions are only informed speculation, and not documented fact, I find them to be plausible options for interpreting the documented data that does exist.
  • Moreau is very systematic, and always puts a human face on the historical events that he is looking at.
  • Book Two, with its stories of the hardships experienced by the Rroma after their dispersion into Europe, is a necessary aspect of telling the complete story. This book serves up details and facts.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • At times, I found myself getting a bit impatient with the amount of space in the book dedicated to the antics of Moreau's traveling companions, because I wanted him to get back to the point of revealing his research, theories, and discoveries.
  • I wouldn't advise the author to remove his traveling companions from the book, but I would have preferred that he devote a little less space to them and more to the anthropological and cultural histories of the region he researched.

 

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Conclusion

This book is most performs best as a travelogue, and also as a starting point for knowing something of the well-documented history of the Rroma after their arrival in Europe.

For more ancient history, the part where the Rroma traveled along the Silk Road from India to Turkey, the information in this book is mostly speculation by the author. Speculation has its place in historical research, and this author's theories are interesting, but the author's methodology for investigating whether his theories might be true probably wouldn't stand up to academic scrutiny.

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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