Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Roma


"Who are these people?" asks the man behind the counter in the photo store in Southall, an area also known as London's Little India.
He is handing over my order: a hefty pile of colour photographs, of which a picture of two Roma women and their children (above) is the first.
"They look just like the Banjara in Rajasthan - that's where I come from," he says.
He points to a beautiful print on the wall, showing a glamorous group of female Banjara dancers.
The similarity is striking.
Historians agree that the Roma's origins lie in north-west India and that their journey towards Europe started between the 3rd and 7th Centuries AD - a massive migration prompted by timeless reasons: conflicts, instability and the seeking of a better life in big cities such as Tehran, Baghdad and, later on, Constantinople.
Some of these Indian immigrant workers were farmers, herdsmen, traders, mercenaries or book-keepers. Others were entertainers and musicians.
They settled in the Middle East, calling themselves Dom, a word meaning "man".

Post-war European governments on both sides of the Iron Curtain denied the Roma Holocaust survivors any recognition or aid
To this day they retain their name and speak a language related to Sanskrit.
Large numbers moved into Europe, where the D, which was anyway pronounced with the tongue curled up, became an R, giving the word Rom. Today's European Roma (the plural of Rom) are their descendants.


Via BBC on the Roma

In my opinion, comparing the Roma with the Banjara (Lambani) because of their looks can be misleading. It's obvious that the comparison has stemmed out of their relative lighter skin tone as compared to South and South East Indians.

But the Lambani and the Roma are two different groups. The Roma can be only compared to Domba (another nomadic group in India). But Dombas look just like South or South-East Indians.

The Roma are predominantly Y-haplogroup H and Y-Haplogroup R2 people. Interestingly they carry negligible or nil Y-Haplogroup R1a1, a predominant north-west Indian lineage.

There is also a view that their language which was initially thought to be close to north-west Indian languages could be in fact close to Sinhala. The ancestors of Sinhalese are from eastern India.

Considering their haplogroup profile coupled with their linguistic roots, they would rather match with central-east Indians than north-west Indians.

Now, the fact is many of them do look like light skinned Lambanis(or vice versa). The light skin of the Roma is because of their admixture with West Asians and south-western Europeans.(The route they took appear to be north-west India->West Asia->Mediterranean->south-western Europe/north-eastern Europe-> Central Asia).

But what explains Lambani lighter skin tone? Well, interestingly, it appears they are European nomads in India, just like the Roma are Indian nomads in Europe. According to Sahoo et al.(2006), they carry Y-haplogroup R1b at around 28%(5/18). Considering the fact that they lack J and E, they are most likely from central-west European lands than from West Asia. It should be noted here that Y-haplogroup R1b is hardly present in castes and tribes of India. Also, curiously, they carry mtDNA N1a. There is N1a in India which is close to Iranian samples(Mountain et al.(1995), Baig et al (2004)). However, Lambani N1a is different (according to a Russian expert on mtDNA). I wonder whether their R1b haplotypes and N1a motifs could be compared to present or ancient DNA found in Europe.

Whatever the case, the Roma are from the present day nation state India. But making that point from the skin deep observations is pointless. In fact, as I have explained above, it might ironically show non-Indian inputs in this case. But BBC has always been a fine example of Anglo-Saxon literal view.

13 comments:

Maju said...

Nice review of the issue.

But what explains Lambani lighter skin tone? Well, interestingly, it appears they are European nomads in India, just like the Roma are Indian nomads in Europe. According to Sahoo et al.(2006), they carry Y-haplogroup R1b at around 28%(5/18). Considering the fact that they lack J and E, they are most likely from central-west European lands than from West Asia. It should be noted here that Y-haplogroup R1b is hardly present in castes and tribes of India. Also, curiously, they carry mtDNA N1a.

It's a very curious information, I did not know about. Anyhow, mtDNA N1a(xI) is very rare in Europe and instead common in West Asia, right?

Manjunat said...

mtDNA N1a(xI) is very rare in Europe and instead common in West Asia, right?

Yes, But I remember reading Neolithic remains from Europe showing N1a.

Average Joe said...

Many Roma women made a living as prostitutes in Europe which may explain why Y-chromosome R1b is so common in their population.

Manjunat said...

Well, I hardly discussed about R1b among the Roma (and I suppose they have R1b, E1b1b etc...) but its occurrence among the Banjara (Lambanis) of India. Incidentally, nearly half of the Roma mtDNA is European. How do you explain it?

Maju said...

Here the Roma are not prostitutes normally. In fact I'd say the Roma are kind of machista with their women and married Roma women normally do not use pants (but ugly tubular skirts).

Roma have married out, what often meant, specially in the case of women, to become fully Roma. Also the Roma had reputation of kidnapping children - though not sure if it has some truth behind or is ust a racist myth.

Romanian immigrants do often exert of prostitutes and maybe many of them are Romanian Roma (no idea) but Gitanos have not been particularly involved in that sector: they are very patriarchal and family oriented generally, like Muslims, and that means they don't generally want to see their women in such situations.Their business has always been junk recycling, trading and music, robbery too if you wish but not prostitution - not with any particular emphasis.

Maju said...

Btw, Manju: what's the apportion of Roma mtDNA? I can't recall. I remember that their Y-DNA was basically H and J, what doesn't suggest marked European male genetic infiltration, rather the opposite: that the moustaches are the ones who have kept the family structure and roots at least largely, within a patriarchal context.

Manjunat said...

I remember reading South Asian M makes up 35% of Hungarian Roma mtDNA. I'm not sure of other lineages. The Polish Roma has H, U3, K, J1, X, I, W, and M5 lineages. Of these, I suppose only W and M5 could be considered Indian. But I'm not sure of their proportionate representation. Considering mtDNA M makes up 60-70% of South and SE India and the rest are U2 and R, I would suppose scaled down mtDNA M may represent 50% of the overall Roma mtDNA as Indian.

Manjunat said...

Polish Roma:(n=69)
M-5.8%
HV-16%
J-13%
U3-36%
K-4%
I-7.2%
X-3%
W-9%

Lithuanian Roma:(n=18)
M-22%
HV-22%
U3-55.6%

Spanish Roma:(n=25)
M-20%
HV-12%
J-12%
U3-52%
U5-4%

Balkan Roma:(n=71)
M-27%
HV-27%
T-1.4%
J-14%
U1-1.4%
U3-1.4%
U5-5.6%
K-2.8%
N1b-1.4%
I-1.4%
X-12.7%
W-4.2%

Vlax Roma:(n=161)
M-28%
HV-44.7%
T-3.1%
J-7.5%
U3-2.5%
U5-0.6%
K-1.2%
N1b-2.5%
I-2.5%
X-7.5%

Ref:
Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in the Polish Roma
Malyarchuk et al. (2005)

It appears only M(M5) and W have definite Indian origins. J (J1) probable (Brahui has it), the rest are Europe and West Asia.

Manjunat said...

It appears there are two sets of the Romas. One with high frequency of H1 and J2a4b (M67) and another with R2(the Sinti).

Now, in India more the J2a, J2b is common (as far as some studies are concerned).

Well, Y-chromosome profile makes it more central-east Indian in H1 and R2. Another profile makes it more West Asian in J2a. Then R1b and E1b1b shows southern Europe admixture.

mtDNA profile makes it central-east Indian (M5), Pakistani (J1, W, X?) and West Asian (U3). mtDNA HV, T, K? shows European admixture (possibly, U3 too).

Maju said...

From what I recall, the Balcan (including Vlax) Roma are the real thing, so to say, because West/North Roma passed through a marked founder effect (they all descend from a small group). This small group was obviously abundant in U3.

In the SE Roma, it would seem that instead haplogroup X is important (with the permission of M, of course), lineage that they probably got from West Asia (and J too I guess). It'd be interesting to know the genetics of the Doma because both groups may have interacted before the Roma arrived to Europe.

It appears there are two sets of the Romas. One with high frequency of H1 and J2a4b (M67) and another with R2(the Sinti).

Do you mean the Sinti of Central Asia or the Sinti of Germany and Italy? Wikipedia only mentions the latter but I recall a group calling themselves Sinti or Sinte in Central Asia who had odd genetics within the Roma. I can't find any reference for these right now.

Manjunat said...

I'm talking about the Sinti (Uzbek/Central Asia). They have R2 around 50%. But the sample size is very small(15).

Maju said...

That's what I though. If you search in Wikipedia they don't exist: that ethnonym has been transfered to Germany/Italy

Manjunat said...

May some sections moved from Germany to Central Asia.