Gypsies in the Middle East
A cluster of 7 gypsy groups located in 6 countries.
Gypsies 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, Gypsies are called Nauar, hence the Nawari Gypsies.
Gypsies 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 Gypsies. The other traveled southward and became known as the Domari, or Middle Eastern Gypsies.
What are their lives like?
The Middle East Gypsies 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 Gypsies 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 Gypsy's particular skill, they move on to one that will.
When a Gypsy cannot adapt or change his occupation, he will settle down. Today, therefore, there are some Gypsy villages and communities in the Middle East. Some even live in the cities.
Nomadic Gypsies either travel in caravans of wagons or carts, or they ride on camels, donkeys, or horses. The settled Gypsies usually live in houses that are typical to those of the region in which they settle.
Gypsies 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.
Gypsy 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, Gypsies 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 Gypsy society. Such things as courtesy and friendliness are also very important. The control of deviants is strictly enforced. If a Gypsy 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.
What are their beliefs?
What are their needs?
Spiritually, the Islamic religion is very difficult to penetrate. Their nomadic lifestyle has made it very difficult for missionaries to reach them. Also, their reputation as beggars and thieves has made them undesirable targets for outreach.
Most Gypsies have no Christian resources available to them. In fact, only the Nawari of Egypt have some portions of the Bible available in their language. There are currently no missions agencies working among any of the Gypsy groups. Christian broadcasts and scriptures must be made available if they are to hear the Gospel. Christian workers are needed to teach them how to live lives pleasing to God.
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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