What the conflict did to the Romani communities of Colombia

In Colombia there are approximately 6,000 Gypsies, who try to keep alive their cultural practices in the midst of many difficulties

Translation by: Lijela Stafa


By: Arturo Wallace (BBC) - Bogotá - 12/12/1014

All readers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez know that the Romani people also are present in Colombia: the country has a Romani population. But a lot has changed since the day when Melquiades took the ice to Macondo to stay in the memory of Aureliano Buendia that opens "One Hundred Years of Solitude", the most famous of the books of Gabo. At that time the gypsies moved from Colombia free by all the territory, and as they still do those who live in other countries of the American continent.

Collective victims

In Fact, the armed conflict has become increasingly difficult for the Romani Colombians to live the nomadic life of their ancestors, which in turn has made it difficult to maintain their traditional crafts and cultural practices. And so, since a couple of years ago, the Colombian authorities officially recognize at all the Romani people as a victim of prolonged armed conflict.

With its colorful clothes and offers to read fortune in the palm of your hand, you can recognize some of the Colombian Roma.

"The country we cringed," sums Ana Dalila Gomez, who is the daughter of Kolya and current coordinator of the organizing process of the Romani people - Gypsy of Colombia (Pro-Rrom), the organization that fights for the protection of the rights of this people millennial. "And we are collective victims, but there are also individual victims: had been missing, had been killing , had been kidnapping, had been extorted ,"adds.

The legal basis for the individual and the collective compensation for the Romani people is the decree 4634 of December 9, 2011 and is one of the most important achievements of the Pro-Romani.

But, according to Gomez, the Colombian government has been slow to implement it, although just started a consultation process that it hopes will help to guarantee the rights of the victims and to make visible the struggle of the 6,000 Gypsies who are in Colombia to maintain their integrity ethnic and cultural.

Ana Dalila Gómez he is the coordinator of the organizing process of the Roma people of Colombia.

"We still speak the Romany language, shib Romany, which is part of the 67 languages spoken in this country. And we maintain a self-righteousness, the romani kris, and other important identifying features even though people wanted to extinguish or erode " said Gomez.

"And deep down we still continue to feel us nomads, because nomadism is not only the physical transfer, it is a philosophy, a position towards life, love is freedom," adds. "Although today we can no longer move freely because it is dangerous, because we can be victims of the attacks of war for more than our spirit fly free as a bird".

Sedentarized Gypsies

In fact, most of the Gypsies of Colombia today live in houses and more scattered than before, although grouped into different kumpañy (companies) located in various departments. "The kumpania of Cúcuta (Norte de Santander) is the largest, but there are many Romani people that are transfered to Venezuela. The Giron (Santander) is large, the Bogota too" said Gomez .

"And on the coast we have in Sampués (Sucre), in Sabanalarga (Atlantic) in Sahagún and San Pelayo (Córdoba). Also in Envigado (Antioquia) in Ibague and Ataco (Tolima) and in various parts of Nariño, which are the only ones who still live in tents, "he adds. Although, under these conditions, maintain the customs and traditions of the Romani people is not a easy task.

With only 23, Yessica has not been able to live the characteristic nomadism this ancient village

"I think that before, with nomadism, the culture was lived much, more than what we live right now, because there were more community, we were all together," he tells BBC Yessica, a young gypsy Bogota 23 years. "Now everyone lives at home and very rarely we found to make our typical food, or our dances. Almost only when is celebrated a wedding, a birthday or when a Gypsy comes from somewhere else," he says.

And Hernando Christ, "Toza", one of the patriarchs of the community, believes that this has also affected the image of the romani people are most of the Colombians. "Formerly we were known. Today we say we are Gypsies and tell us. 'What's that?' We're invisible, "said Toza. "Although now we are moving more. Look at the crafts we make, this was taught to us by our great-grandparents of Egypt," he tells to the BBC during a pachiv (party) organized in a park in the south of Bogota with local authorities, to show the culture and gastronomy of the gypsies.

Keeping the tradition

Crafts, copper, is worked by Kolya, while Toza responsible for maintaining live the music and the dances that today were presented  by Yessica and other young Romani people. And it's all part of the efforts of the Colombian gypsies  to keep alive their traditions and to combat the prejudices and the stereotypes that continue to affect too.

Copper handicrafts is one of the traditions that has allowed of the colombian gypsies make money

"There are still people that when they see us  says. 'Oh, this is gypsy, this is thieving, they will steal to us' And that's tiring, it's annoying, it's uncomfortable," Yessica explains, although Ana Dalila Gómez believes that if it remains a problem, discrimination against the Romani people in Colombia is not as strong if it compared with other Latin American countries.

And that may be an indirect consequence of the mostly invisible because of the Colombian conflict, but Gomez says that is clear that the problems are bigger than the pyrrhic "advantage".

"For example, among the Romani people we are counted with the fingers of a hand those who are professionals, because the education system has not adapted to our needs and what the  generality of the Romani people like, is traveling, negotiate, which we are to make proposals to people what we know, what we have, what we sell, "he tells to the BBC.

"And we are also children of this continent, we also have rights," says the coordinator of Prorrom, who believes that the Colombian government is still indebted to promote public policies that guarantee all fundamental rights of the Romani people.

But Yessica has no doubts: "I feel very proud to be a gypsy, if I could born again, I would born gypsy" says, though without losing sight that her experience as a Gypsy has been limited by the armed conflict. "I have to live something that was so of us. It gives a feeling not having been able to live," says, referring to nomadism and freedom that have always defined this ancient people.

And the possibility that Colombia finally have peace and the end of the conflict can come to experiment it?

"It's very difficult , but if it happened it would be great," she tells to the BBC.

And it is certainly the dream of many others, Romani and non-Romani people. While Gomez is convinced that her people,free and peace-loving, have things that all the Colombians could learn.

Fuente: BBC

Mundo Gitano – Gypsy World