The Algarve in the south of Portugal is home to a large gypsy or ‘traveller’ community. While many have now settled into more permanent homes, it is not uncommon to see a gypsy convoy. These groups of Romani, or Roma, people are known in the area as Ciganos, Cales, Calos, Boemios and Gitanos.
Their presence in Portugal dates back to the 15th century and it is estimated today that over 50,000 Romanis live in Portugal, though many now have Portuguese nationality. They are known for fortune-telling, music and dance, as well as for their often colourful wagons. Gypsy music is soulful and varies depending on the region.
Though European gypsies share a common origin, they are highly heterogeneous due to their nomadic culture and generations of mixture with surrounding populations. According to a 2007 report, an ancestral component shared by all Roma groups reflects an Indian origin. It is believed that they originated in the Punjab region of northern India as a nomadic people and entered Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries. They were mistakenly called ‘gypsies’ because Europeans believed they had come from Egypt.
By 1939, it was estimated there were about a million Roma gypsies living in Europe, with most living in eastern Europe. However, a study on human genes showed that introgression between the gypsy and Portuguese population was higher than in other groups across Europe, despite the nomadic peoples having arrived in Portugal far later than in central and eastern Europe.
Though not all gypsies come from the same family group, though the term ‘Roma’ has come to encompass most groups, such as the Sintis, despite some preferring to be referred as ‘gypsies’. The Romani language is based on Sanskrit, the classical language of India.
Traditionally, the Romani people of India followed the Hindu religion. Today, some gypsies are Christian and others are Muslim, having converted during the course of their migrations across Persia, Asia Minor and the Balkans.
During an enquiry conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2016, 71% of gypsies in Portugal had felt discriminated against in the previous years. Sometimes this discrimination is incredibly subtle; as discreet as a frog sitting on a doorstep.
Some Portuguese shopkeepers took to displaying ceramic frogs at the entrance to their establishments. An Al Jazeera article revealed that these frogs were intended to keep gypsies away. This notion appears to be linked to the Roma concept of kuntari, the belief of universal balance, meaning that beings such as frogs that can exist both on land and in water should be avoided.
- A Perspective on the History of the Iberian Gypsies Provided by Phylogeographic Analysis of Y‐Chromosome Lineages