Piemontese Sinti - History and Cultural Relations

The Piemontese Sinti are one of a number of groups called Gypsies who are descended from peoples who migrated west from India about 1,000 years ago. Why these people left India is unknown, although in 1011 a Persian poet, Firdousi, in his Book of the Kings mentions a group of 10,000 musicians called Luri sent from India to entertain his people. Whether the Luri are the ancestors of the current-day Gypsy groups is unknown, although linguistic evidence indicates that Gypsy ancestors did live in Persia and the Byzantine Empire. The arrival of Sinti ancestors in Europe may go back to the arrival of the Turks in the fifteenth century, and evidently involved two waves of emigration. The first wave involved a people commonly called the Vlachs who settled in central Europe where they were enslaved in Romanian principalities. The second wave, which included the Sinti's ancestors, settled in western Europe. The first Gypsy settlements in the Piedmont date to somewhere between 1410 and 1430, a period when they were already present in what are now south Germany, Switzerland, and France. By the close of the fifteenth century the Piemontese constituted a sizable population in Piedmont as they were paid large sums of money by the government not to settle in the cities. The contemporary Piemontese Sinti are probably descendants of these fifteenth-century immigrants; their surnames are the same as those registered in the civil status books of the 1450s.

The Piemontese reject the labels "Gypsy" and "Bohemian," viewing themselves instead as a distinct group. They also see themselves as standing in opposition to the Gadže (sedentary, peasants), a belief which tends to align them with other peripatetic groups on the basis of a traditional or Current nomadic way of life. The Gypsy/Gadže opposition thus represents the dichotomy between sedentarism and nomadism. This opposition is reflected in long-term mistrust between the two groups, reflected in attempts at various times to assimilate the Sinti, remove them from the Piedmont, or exclude them from the government. Hostilities have also occurred between different Piemontese groups, largely caused by the practice of similar economic activities and competition over economic niches. Despite conflicts with the Gadže, the Sinti have been much influenced by the Gadže, and, in fact, the unique features of each Sinti group tend to reflect local customs and beliefs borrowed from non-Sinti neighbors. In the past, when the Sinti were largely nomadic, these borrowings had little chance of turning the Sinti into Gadže. Contemporary settled groups, however, are facing strong assimilation pressures from compulsory public education for their children, television, and contact with the urban, industrialized world.

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