History

RROMANI (Gypsy) FROM ALBANIA

Nowadays, at the end of the 20th century, some 100.000 Rromas live in Albania, all long settled in houses, apartments or cottages. Only a handful of them still lead a nomadic life, and then only in summer.

The first mention of Rromas in Albania is to be found in an Ottoman census, dated 1523, with around 374 families counted, but one assumes that the first Rromas reached this mountainous country probably 200 or 300 years earlier. The most numerous groups of Albanian Rromas are the Mećkar and the Kaburʒi. Both belong to the first dialectal stratum. The Mećkar arrived first and settled in Tirana and Durrës, on the coast, and in the Myzeqe plain (near Fier, Lushnje and Levan).

Many of them own land and have long been engaged in agriculture. In the past, some of them would beg from town to town. The Kaburʒi live mostly in Tirana and Korça; they make a living from trade and handcrafts: basketwork, sieves and other objects, mostly decorative. Both groups produced outstanding musicians.

Two other groups are known under the common name of Ćergar, but there are big differences between them: one (the Turkish Ćergar, also called Rupane) lives in Peqin and Tirana, and uses a dialect from the first stratum, while the Shkodra Ćergar inhabit mainly Lezha, Durrës and Tirana; these “Shkodran” belong to the second stratum of the Rromani dialects. They arrived one century ago from Kosovia and Montenegro.

We should also point out an ethno-cultural group named Ćibane or Rlìe (Alb. evgjit, jevg); some consider them Rromas who have forgotten their mother tongue, but they say they originate from Egypt. Both hypotheses may be true, and they may have a double origin. Their name Rlìa (< Tk. yerli "native") suggests that they may already have been in Albania when the first Rromas arrived. They often make alliances with the Rromas (by marriage, children...). They do not have a language of their own but their musical talent should be noted. One should emphasize at this point that 95%of the Rromas speak Rromani. As in the other countries, many Albanian Rromas make a living with music; it is usually said they "eat weddings", in other words they play music and sing at engagements, circumcisions, weddings, and other life. Still, it is currently difficult for them to find jobs, and many of them live in great poverty. That is why music is so important to them: joy, creation, sympathy, but also bread and life. With one wedding, a musician can nourish his family for five or six days, and with a concert in a foreign country, for a month. Before settling, as some 95% are nowadays, the various Rromani groups wandered for centuries all over Europe and due to this movement dialectal subdivisions based on geography do not fit to a satisfactory description of the dialectal structure of Rromani. It is more correct to distinguish three successive strata: • stratum I, in many regards the most archaic of all; it developed from the Balkans toward Central and Northern Europe; forms like phirdom "I walked", xalom "I ate", sinom "I am", pani "water", ‡eni "female" etc... characterize this stratum. The so-called Sinto-Manouche varieties split a long time ago from the central area of this stratum (Carpathian sub-dialect) and moved westwards; these varieties underwent a strong Germanization in grammar and vocabulary. The Kalo varieties, spoken among Gitanos, belong also to this stratum. • stratum II, which displays several basic innovations in respect to stratum II : phirdem, xalem, sem, paj, ‡uvli‡ej etc... The varieties of this stratum were constituted in the heart of the Balkans and almost all of them remained in this peninsula. In Albania, only the ∑kodràni belongs to this group. • stratum III (mainly KalderaÒ and Lovari), probably constituted in a Roumanian-speaking area; the speakers of these varieties, recognizable by their hushing pronunciation, are encountered from Russia to North and South America, as well as from Sweden to Australia etc... but are not represented in Albania. Except for the Manouche and Kalo idioms, which have diverged far from the common pattern, mutual understanding is possible between speakers of all other dialectal varieties of Rromani.