The Pariah Syndrome
by Ian Hancock


This is a corrected and expanded version of a monograph called Land of Pain which I wrote and circulated among a number of colleagues in 1982. It is based upon a collection of texts which in most cases I have had to translate, or have translated. I should very much like to acknowledge the help given me in the preparation of this study by those friends and colleagues, who include Thomas Acton, Sascha Bley-Vroman, Harry Bryer, Madeleine Kabore, Donald Kenrick, Barbara Lalla, Ronald Lee, Joseph Miller, David Smith and, in particular, Victor Friedman. My thanks to each of them.

by Dr. T.A. Acton

Ian Hancock is a marginal man. Like all Romani intellectuals, he has had to live torn between the pariah status of his people and the embrace of a dominant culture which can hardly conceive of such a monster as an educated Gypsy.

Some Gypsies in this position accept this, and pass as non-Gypsies, keeping at a distance all their Romani relatives, and keeping silence at who knows what cost, to them and their own children, on all of their family's past. But a sprinkling of such people find a personal liberation by joining Romani organizations where intellectuals can make a political contribution to winning a better place in society for their people. They have to face incomprehension by non-Gypsies, and often rejection by assimilated relatives, and the constant accusation that they are not "true Gypsies." Face to face with the divided reality of their identity, they are like the man in Yevtushenko's poem, strung out on a high-wire "between the city of yes and the city of no."

There are many ethnic groups among the Gypsies, with a great variety of dialect, culture and occupation. In Europe and the West, however, two brute historical facts have shaped their history from the 15th century on: enslavement (particularly in eastern Europe), and attempted genocide (especially in western Europe), from which have emerged the commercial nomadism of Gypsies in western Europe and the artisan sub-proletariat of Gypsies in eastern Europe. Although the variety of Gypsy economy is, and always has been, enormous, there are perhaps three core fields in which both nomads and slaves were involved: metalwork, transport animals and vehicles, and entertainment.

Ian Hancock's family belongs very much within the entertainment tradition; arguably, as a university professor, he is still in it. His forebears were among those Hungarian Gypsies from both the Romungri and the Lovari ethnic groups who were involved with circuses and show business and who came to England in small numbers in the nineteenth century and intermarried with English Gypsies in the same line of work. Then, as now, the British circus and fairground world and its trade association, the Showmen's Guild, were dominated by the large, non-Gypsy, circus and fairground magnates, who repudiated any idea of association with Gypsy ethnicity for their organization, in order to make it politically more acceptable. The small Romani showmen, whether originating in Britain or overseas, have become in this century a distinct population in their own right. As the fairground world has contracted, many have settled, especially in west and south London. Redevelopment of areas of Battersea and Wandsworth, with their settled Romani populations, has in turn more recently led some of these families to return to a nomadic life. Some of Hancock's relatives have now married non-showmen English Romani Travellers. It was this milieu from which Hancock's family emigrated to Canada when he was in his early teens, and to which he returned as a young man, when I made his acquaintance. He has begun to document his own family background in the journal Lacio Drom.

Plucked by the London School of Oriental and African Studies in the mid-1960s from life as a spray-painter for Bush Rank and sometime road manager for the English band The Outlaws, he has since become a distinguished academic with an international reputation in the field of Creole linguistics, and some 160 publications to his name.

One might think that such an established reputation would make it easier for him to intervene in the field of Romani Studies. This has not been the case: there exist today non-Gypsy experts on Gypsy affairs who, by and large, have the field neatly sewn up among themselves. The questions to which these experts address themselves - and I write as one such myself - are determined by academic and policy schema external to the Gypsies' own realities. If they are anthropologists, they are concerned with matters like kinship terminology; if they are linguists, with, say, the genitive construction, and if they are social workers, with school attendance. They are not concerned with acknowledging the crimes of society against this people. They usually concentrate on the "problems" of the present, and either ignore history or present a stylized and inaccurate account of it. Despite the wealth of documentation to which Hancock refers, both popular and scholarly accounts of Gypsies still tend to maunder on about their "mysterious history." The very fact of slavery can be almost suppressed. Anthropologists have tended to present the Rom as primordially nomadic, building their theories around this, ignoring the fact that many of their "subjects" are only four generations from slavery.

Nor have Gypsies in general been able to challenge these perceptions. At the time of liberation, the freed slaves had, as Hancock shows, the lowest social status of any group, while runaway and rebel slaves were considered as criminals. Ex-slaves tried to make out as free craftsmen, or like their nomadic kin, or else tried to assimilate: to be anything but an ex-slave. It took a period of detachment and reassessment before anyone could turn round and say "No! These rebel slaves were heroes."

This was the message of a remarkable novel, Le Prix de la Liberté, (1955) by a French Rom, Matéo Maximoff, whose own grandfather was born in slavery in Rumania. This novel deals with the dying days of Romani slavery when, as Panaitescu (1941) and Stahl (1980) have shown, slavery and serfdom were no longer economic propositions in a society that was being drawn into the capitalist world system. But as the prices in the slave markets tumbled, and French-educated Rumanian liberals called for emancipation, many slave-owners increased rather than abated their cruelties to their declining assets. Maximoff's novel follows one small group, which flees from an estate to join the rebels in the mountains. He confronts the Kalderash Rom people with their own historical shame as ex-slaves, and seeks to replace that shame by justified indignation, and by pride in the resistance that did occur.  The leading figure in this novel, Isvan, is loosely based on Maximoff's own grandfather. Isvan is educated by his master and becomes his librarian-cum-secretary, and has to face the dilemma between remaining in this comfortable and privileged position, or joining the revolt of his people. He is, in fact, the prototype of the modern civil rights Gypsy activist-and perhaps of anti-colonialist politicians in general. He is also a marginal man, a liberal intellectual amongst an illiterate tribal people. After being educated with his master's children, he has to endure his own family's suspicions, and being thought a traitor; yet without his knowledge of his master's world, no revolt could hope to succeed.

Maximoff, the novelist and preacher, used his moral imagination to recreate this world for the reader. Hancock, the scholar, has used his academic talents to establish, beyond any question, by wilfully blind gajé, its documentary reality. The earlier title of this study was Land of Pain, and the pain in question was partly their own, in coming to terms with this bitter past.

Both Hancock and Maximoff are latter-day Isvans. The market for Le Prix de la Liberté and Land of Pain has been hard for publishers to comprehend. Le Prix de la Liberté was hacked to pieces by its first editors, and though it has remained in print in German, was out of print in French for many years, and Romani and English versions have yet to be published. The Pariah Syndrome, as Land of Pain appeared in a roughly mimeographed form which soon became unavailable, and was thereafter passed from hand to hand in ever more roughly Xeroxed copies across Europe. Their very unavailability has seemed to increase the demand for them from the slowly gathering numbers of literate Gypsies across the world. Together with The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies by Kenrick and Puxon (1972), which deals with the Nazi genocide dealt with in the present work, and due to appear in a UNESCO-sponsored Romani-language edition in 1987, these books form the foundation of a prose literature which will actually serve the needs of the emergent Romani nation. Whether it is the past, or the future, of the Romani peoples that one wishes to understand, the publication of this edition of The Pariah Syndrome could not be more timely.

Thames Polytechnic

Foreword to the Patrin Web Journal edition

This book was the first in English to deal with the enslavement of the Romani people in Romania. When it first appeared in 1987, no one expected that massive political and social changes would begin to take place in Eastern Europe just two years later.  With the death of Ceaucescu in 1989 and the shift to democracy in Romania, many more documents concerning those more than five terrible centuries have come to light, and our knowledge of the nature of Gypsy slavery, and the implications it has for our understanding of the world view and character of those descended from it -- the Vlax Roma -- are just now beginning to be understood.

Together with the Porrajmos (the Holocaust), the period of slavery stands as the single most tragic event in the European experience of my people. Together they must form an integral part of the textbooks in the schools, for not only must we not forget our history, but those who are responsible for these crimes against humanity must also not be allowed to forget; for if such things fade into oblivion, they can too easily happen again.

Ian Hancock
Buda, Texas, 1999


The enslavement of Gypsies came to an end something over a century ago. It may be fairly estimated that well over half of the entire Romani population of Europe at the time of its institution in the 14th century were thus subjugated and, during the following five hundred years, were the mainstay of the economy which oppressed them. While this situation endured in eastern Europe, western European nations were transporting people to India, Africa and the Americas as an unpaid labor force, for no other reason than that they were Gypsies. Despite these facts, the Gypsy presence is not acknowledged in a single treatment of the Atlantic slave trade - over one hundred were examined in the preparation of this work - and not one of the principal sources for Balkan history, such as the works of Scherill, Stavrianos or Wolff, deals with the subject at all.

It is understandable, though not particularly admirable, that there should be deliberate suppression in modern Rumania of this shameful period in their history. I have been told by two scholars from that country, one of them an historian, that this topic is not dealt with in the Rumanian school system, nor is likely to be in the foreseeable future.  Attempts to obtain any kind of official statement in this connection from Rumanian governmental sources remain consistently unacknowledged. In Rumania itself, Beck encountered prejudice against the Tsigani (Gypsy) population at all levels, a situation he has described in a recently-published paper in which he concludes that

Romanians who are in administrative government and political positions of authority, explain the Tsigani situation by referring to America. "You know," they say, "The Tsigani are like your Negroes": foreign, lazy, shiftless, untrustworthy and black (1985:105).

The reluctance to recognise this by agencies outside of eastern Europe is less easy to understand, however. For example, the Slavic and East European Journal, the East European Quarterly, the Slavonic and East European Review and the Slavic Review: American Quarterly of Soviet and East European Studies all declined to publish an article based upon this study, the latter giving the reason that it was not an appropriate submission ... [since] the focus is specifically on the Rom." The North American Chapter of the Gypsy Lore Society did acknowledge in one of their own anthologies, after receiving a copy of the same article, that in the course of the Romani diaspora into Europe some groups remained in the Balkans, some possibly in servitude" (Salo, 1982:263).

The world does not yet appear ready to believe that the enslavement of Gypsies ever happened, or that it was significant enough to warrant being brought to the attention of the larger community. In Romani, there is the saying that kon mangel te kerel tumendar roburen chi shocha phenela tumen o chachimos pa tumare perintonde, "he who wants to enslave you will never tell you the truth about your forefathers." We cannot wait for others to document this truth; our forefathers' history must be told by ourselves.

While the enslavement of Gypsies has been abolished for over a century, equally inhumane forms of oppression continue to be perpetuated into the present day. I have tried to incorporate examples of some of these into the picture here too. The situation which led eventually to Hitler's attempt to exterminate the entire Gypsy people is dealt with, not as something separate or unique, but as just one other episode in the roster of persecution which has followed Gypsies through history. In many ways, little has changed since the end of the Second World War; the persecutions continue, but are simply not centralized in the same way. Official statements calling for the sterilization, deportation and even extermination of Gypsies are still being released today in both eastern and western European countries.  In the United States, history books exclude any references to Gypsy American history; the several hundred thousand Romani Americans are the only ethnic minority in the country against whom laws are still in effect, and who are portrayed negatively in school textbooks. The responses from governmental and educational sources are that the Gypsies referred to in the laws or in children's literature are not real people, and have nothing to do with the ethnic  population of the same name. And yet this Gypsy has been created out of the Romani population by the gajé, and become institutionalized in Euro-American folklore, and it is real Gypsies who suffer because of it. I have tried to account for this by an assumption that there has been a tacit manipulation of the Romani population by the establishment which, for its own purposes, sustains the "mythical" identity it has created, and resists efforts on the part of those thus defined to adjust such an image. Sibley has addressed this most clearly:

It is notable that myth contributes in a significant way to the shaping of images of groups that do not fit the dominant social model. The possibility that the characterization of social groups like ... Gypsies may be based on myth is rarely considered, particularly in governmental circles, probably because these myths are functional-they serve to define the boundaries of the dominant system. Accounts of non-conforming behaviour assume the form of a romantic myth, or they involve amputations of deviancy, which are also largely mythical; the romantic image, located at a distance or in the past, necessarily puts the minority on the outside (1981:195-196).

Only cursory acknowledgement of the five centuries of slavery endured by the Balkan Gypsies has yet been made; no detailed treatments at all have appeared in English. Potra's 376-page collection of documents relating to Gypsy slavery, written entirely in Rumanian, is the only substantial study to have appeared to date, and the only reviewer to my knowledge who has discussed this work in English, Frederick Ackerley, maintained that reading it was a "pleasure" and a "delight" because it gave him a chance to practice his Rumanian. His review dealt with the Romani words the book contained rather than with the awful facts of Gypsy history it revealed (1942:69-71).

Hardly much more is available on the fate of Gypsies in the Holocaust, and only one full-length book in English has been published on that. While their ex-owners were compensated to the sum of 96 francs per slave at the time of abolition (Blaramberg, 1885:802), nothing was forthcoming from the Rumanian government for the freed slaves themselves, no orientation programs set up to integrate the newly-liberated into society, no assistance with housing or health care. Gypsies were left to fend for themselves in a hostile environment, totally unequipped to deal with the anti-Gypsy laws in effect everywhere throughout Europe and, when they came here, North America.  And in the same way, nothing was done to help Gypsies after the war.  None were called to testify at the Nuremberg Trials or any of the subsequent war crime hearings, and no reparation has ever been forthcoming. No Gypsies were invited to participate in the formation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, established by President Carter in 1979 to honor the memory of all who perished in the Third Reich and, despite three years lobbying in Washington on the part of a number of American Romani organizations to protest against this, the Office of Presidential Appointments voted in 1986 to exclude once again any Gypsy representation on the 65-member council.

A people which have been denied access to the means by which other persecuted groups have been able to fight back - schooling, settled housing, opportunities for civil and political organization - remain at the mercy of the popular press, and herein lies one of the biggest problems of all. Journalists invariably tend to exploit the fictitious image of Gypsies, catering to a public familiar only with the Borrovian stereotype they help sustain, and fail to investigate in their reports the real problems which Gypsies must deal with on a day-to-day basis. When such issues have occasionally been covered, it has been in terms not usually sympathetic to the Gypsies' own situation.

If this is not a cause for concern among the non-Gypsy population, if that population is reluctant to be reminded about what it has done, and what it continues to do, then the Romani voice must be louder. But one way or another, it will be heard.

Dedzhava zumavas te haljaras anda soste si kachi but bisicharimata anda le gadzhende te prindzharen amaro rrevdimos thaj amari dukh. Ba fal-ame ke vorta mangen le gadzhe te garaven kakala prami; ande kodole dzhes ferdi 'l Rroma achen, kaj si narado etniko amerikano potriva kaste si zakonurja. Pashchi pandzh shel miji amare phralenge thaj phenjange mudardiline ande'l bov le Hitleroske, kana zumadjas tistara te prepedil amaro njamo (Hancock, 1980a) and'o Baro Porrajmos, numa akhardilo manaj jekh korkoro Rrom ka e Kris Nurembergaki. Arakhle pashchi kodo numero lengo slobodo el dzhutestar le rrobimaske, 'kh cirra maj katar shel bersh anglal, ande 1864; vushoro shaj gichisaras ke maj katar dopash anda o narodo integro ankerdile telal, tela el tiraxande le gadzhende balkanutne. Anda kodole pandzh shel bersh o berand samas la cexrake kaj sas e zor lenge themenge: kodzhja zor kaj pharejadja p'amende.

Antunch tradine amen le gadzhe sar rroburja thaj chora, k'e Afrika, th'e Amerika aj vi k'e Indija, phuv amare rruduchinenge. Manaj nishte klishki kaj den kachja shtirja. Mashkar le klishke le maj dzhangle pa e istorija evropjani vorka balkanutni, chi arakhena tume dazhi jekh korkoro svato. Bilengo apojde musaj te mothos e lumja. Kam-prindzhardjuvas; kamashundjuvas!

Ian Hancock
International Romani Union
Buda, Texas, 1986

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