Introduction / History
The Middle East Romani are made up of two groups: the Ghorbati and the Nawari. Both groups speak a dialect of Romany, which is related to the North Indo-Aryan language of India. Their dialect, Domari, contains many Arabic words.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Romani call themselves Rom, which in their language means "men." Rom is derived from the Indian word Dom, meaning "a man of low caste who gains his livelihood by singing and dancing." The Ghorbati are named from the Arabic word, gurbet, which means "stranger." In the Arab world, Romani are called Nauar, hence the Nawari Romani.
Romani originated in India where they worked as musicians, entertainers, and metal workers. There they were discriminated against and excluded from the temples. Later, they were sent to Persia as minstrels. From there they were separated into two groups. One traveled northward and became the Romany-speaking European Romani. The other traveled southward and became known as the Domari, or Middle Eastern Romani.
Dark skin and dark eyes are typical of most Romani. Their almost mystical lifestyle has made them the objects of curiosity, distrust, and even fear, from their beginnings until now.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Middle East Romani live scattered throughout Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Turkey. Most of them are nomads, wandering from region to region, and they depend on the people for their livelihood. It is common for Romani to have two or more specialized occupations. This makes it easier for them to adapt to a changing society's needs. When a region's people no longer need a Romani's particular skill, they move on to one that will.
When a Romani cannot adapt or change his occupation, he will settle down. Today, therefore, there are some Romani villages and communities in the Middle East. Some even live in the cities.
Nomadic Romani either travel in caravans of wagons or carts, or they ride on camels, donkeys, or horses. The settled Romani usually live in houses that are typical to those of the region in which they settle.
Romani have long been known for their abilities as musicians, singers, and dancers. They also hold a wide variety of other occupations. The men are skilled makers of sieves, drums, bird cages, and reed mats. They also entertain with animals, work as tinkers, or play music. The women peddle such things as cloth, shoes, kitchen utensils, or products made by the men. Many also sing and dance. Both men and women shear sheep, spin wool, and tell fortunes. Sadly, some of the women and children are forced to beg or even steal food as a means of survival.
Romani marriages usually take place between couples in their teens. Though polygyny (having more than one wife) is sometimes practiced, it is rare. The family unit is highly valued because each member is depended on for his financial contribution.
Typically, Romani have very unclean living habits due to their nomadic lifestyle. Sanitation and good hygiene are rarely practiced. Children are often poorly cared for; their hair hangs loosely and shoes are seldom worn. Their wagons or carts are used as living units and shops as well as for transportation, which contributes to their unsanitary lifestyle.
Values such as justice, fidelity, and morality are very significant in Romani society. Such things as courtesy and friendliness are also very important. The control of deviants is strictly enforced. If a Romani becomes impure by some immoral or unlawful act, he is considered an outcast. Also, sexual purity is considered a must for young girls. In fact, it must be proven before marriage that the girl has never before been with a man. This strict social code is related to their old Hindu caste system which they have kept since their origin.
The Middle East Romani are almost entirely Muslim and they follow the practices and beliefs of the Islamic faith. However, there are a few who have held on to the traditional beliefs of the Romani. For example, they believe that ghosts, lizards, and snakes are capable of harming humans. They also believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye," and that some people have the power to heal the sick.
What Are Their Needs?
The unsanitary lifestyle of the Middle East Romani has created many physical needs. The quality of health care, nutrition, housing, and education is poor. Adequate educational opportunities must be provided in order to raise their standard of living.
Spiritually, the Islamic religion is very difficult to influence. Their nomadic lifestyle has made it very difficult for missionaries to reach them. Also, their reputation as beggars and thieves has made them undesirable candidates for outreach.
Most Romani have no Christian resources available to them. Christian workers are needed to teach them how to live lives pleasing to God.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to share Christ with the Romani.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Romani Christians.
* Pray that those Romani who know Christ will be bold witnesses of the Gospel to their own people.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Romani towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will raise up intercessors who will stand in the gap for them.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Middle East Romani.
Bethany World Prayer Center