Outcast as I wanna be, part 2 of 2
Romani survival, and the power of culture
4,500 years ago the Yamnaya ancestors of the Indo-Aryans left Ukraine and Belorussia and migrated eastward into Asia as nomads. Eventually, they expanded all over South Asia and were assimilated into the indigenous societies, producing the modern cultural synthesis that is India. 3,500 years later, some of their descendants migrated westward, into West Asia, and eventually back into Europe. Again, as nomads. The Romani communities in Eastern Europe have completed a great nomadic migration, wheeling around the heart of Asia, and spinning back again.
Like a Rolling Stone
Much of the secret of the Romani's extraordinary record of resilience is probably that they have maintained a distance from surrounding societies and cultivated a nomadic lifestyle. Unlike the pastoralists of the steppe, the Romani did not expand into vast empty pastures with their herds, but penetrated a dense world of cities and farms, and provided specialized skills as artisans. In modern Romania, the names for various Roma subcultures derive from their professions: goldsmiths, woodworkers and singers. As befits a mobile group, Romani traditionally dealt in and with horses, and when the automobile replaced the horse, they became car dealers and repairmen. In the US’s Pacific Northwest, where I grew up, a group of Romani families owned a chain of used-car dealerships. The most prominent was Joe Romania, whose commercials were ubiquitous during my childhood.
The Romani favored professions which were portable and required little overhead. This way, they could roam unfettered with their horses, with their tinker’s tools, and with their singing talents. These features of their culture made them adaptable to the winds of change, and robust in the face of persecution. Any groups of proto-Romani who left India without these tendencies were likely subsumed into surrounding societies along their route. The biased logic of natural selection shaped and molded the proto-Romani between their leaving India and their eventual arrival in Europe. Any cosmopolitan and assimilative proto-Romani cultures became something else and disappeared into the populations where they put down roots, fading from our view. What remains are the separatists, the rolling stones.