Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.
When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.
For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?
Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.
The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari, gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.
Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.
For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.
And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.
In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.
This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.
In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…
…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?
…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…
And much later in scenes toward the end…
…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…
Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.
The May 20-29, 2020 women’s pilgrimage, Spiritual Travel to Southern France: Sourcing the Ways of Love and Light, takes place in the Languedoc and Provence focusing on Mary Magdalene, the Cathars, art and bounty of the land. There are currently 2 spaces open with group size very limited to maintain depth of process and outcome for participants.