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Romani people in Spain
Lolita Flores.jpgPantoja.JPGJoaquín Cortés.jpg
Spanish Gitanos:
Lolita Flores · Isabel Pantoja · Joaquín Cortés
Total population
1.5 to 3% of the Spanish population
Regions with significant populations
 Andalusia 270,000
 Valencia 50,000
 Castile and León 29,000
 Catalonia 80,000
 Madrid 60,000

Romani language · Caló (Spanish Romani) · Spanish language · Catalan language · Erromintxela · Asturian · Aragonese


Evangelical , Roman Catholicism

Related ethnic groups

other Spaniards, Romani people, Indians in Spain

The Romani people in Spain are generally known as Gitanos. Spanish Romanies belong to the Iberian Kale Romani group, with smaller populations in Portugal and southern France. They tend to speak Caló, which is basically Andalusian Spanish with a large number of Romani loan words. Estimates of the Spanish Romani population fluctuate between 600,000 and 1,500,000,[1] with the Spanish government estimating a number between 650,000 and 700,000.[1]

The Erromintxela of the Basque Country are also Romani. They identify as distinctly separate from the Caló-speaking Romani in Spain.[2]



It is now generally accepted that the Romani people migrated out of the Sindh, Rajasthan and Punjab regions of the Indian subcontinent west into Europe as early as the eleventh century. The music and culture of the Gitanos was highly influenced after they reached Al-Andalus through North Africa. Flamenco, the heart of Gitano culture, is a mixture of Moorish, Arabic and Sephardic Jewish influences.

Although many gachos (non-gitanos) think of only the Espectaculo Flamenco (spectacular flamenco), the Zapateo or intense foot tap is only done in the "Spectaculars". At juergas (gypsy parties), flamenco is more reserved in form.

While in most of Europe the Romani arrived from Asia through eastern Europe, they were recorded as having arrived in Spain from Northern Africa, as early as 1425. They were recorded in Barcelona and Zaragoza, by 1447. At first they were well received and were even accorded official protection by many local authorities,[citation needed] but by 1492 the first anti-Romani law was passed in Spain.[citation needed] Spanish Romanies are linked to Flamenco and have contributed a great deal to this Andalusian musical art. According to Blas Infante, in his book Orígenes de lo flamenco y secreto del cante jondo, etymologically, the word Flamenco may derive from Andalusian Arabic fellah mengu, "Escapee Peasant". Infante connects the huge amount of Muslim Andalusians who decided to stay and mix with the Romani newcomers instead of abandoning their lands because of their religious beliefs (Moriscos).

Romani migrations
Spanish Romani people. Yevgraf Sorokin, 1853.

After the Castilian reconquest of Andalusia, the Reconquista, most of the land was expropriated and given to warlords and mercenaries who had helped the Castilian kings' enterprise against Al-Andalus. When the Spanish Crown later ordered the expulsion or forceful conversion of the Andalusian Moors, many of them took refuge among the Roma, becoming fellah mengu to avoid persecution or forced deportation. In 1492 the Romanies were included in the list of peoples to be assimilated or driven out. For about 300 years, Romanies were subject to a number of laws and policies designed to eliminate them from Spain as an identifiable group: Romani settlements were broken up and the residents dispersed; sometimes, Romanies were required to marry non-Roma; they were prohibited from using their language and rituals, and were excluded from public office and from guild membership.[citation needed]

The sedentary population (payos, "Gadjos") saw them as dangerous, accusing them of laziness, stealing and kidnapping children, and of bringing novelties from the outer world. They also thought they had magical powers of palmistry and lived freely.

During the Spanish Civil War, many Romani Catholics were murdered by Republican Forces. Some are being recognised as martyrs and saints by Pope Benedict XVI. Franco's supporters killed many Romani who supported the Republic. Under Franco, Romanies were harassed or simply ignored, although their children were educated, albeit sometimes forcibly.

In the post-Franco era, however, Spanish government policy has been much more sympathetic, especially in the area of social welfare and social services. In 1977, the last anti-Romani laws were removed, promoted by Juan De Dios Rámirez Heredia, the first Romani deputy. Since 1983, the government has operated a special program of Compensatory Education to promote educational rights for the disadvantaged, including those in Romani communities. The challenge will be to devise programs that bring the Romani population into the mainstream of the country's economic and political life without eroding the group's distinctive cultural and linguistic heritage.

Many Spanish Romanies have found consolation in Evangelical Christianity, where churches have incorporated Flamenco in its worship.


Gitanos were traditionally Roman Catholics who participated in four of the church's sacraments (baptism, marriage, confirmation, and extreme unction). They are not assiduous churchgoers. They rarely go to folk healers, and they participate fully in Spain's state-supported medical system. Gitanos have a special involvement with recently dead kin and visit their graves frequently. They spend a great deal more money than non-Gitanos of equivalent economic classes in adorning grave sites.[citation needed]

The Spanish Evangelical Federation claims that 150,000 Gitanos have joined their faith in Spain.[3][citation needed] The Romani Evangelical Assembly is the only religious institution entirely led and composed by Roma.


The traditional Spanish Romani place a high value on the extended family. Virginity is essential in unmarried women. Both men and women often marry young.

A traditional "Gitano" wedding requires a "pedimiento" (similar to an engagement party) followed by the "casamiento" (wedding ceremony), where "el yeli" must be sung to the bride for giving her honor to her husband (proven by the ritual of the "pañuelo"). In the pañuelo ritual, a group consisting of an "ajuntaora" (an elder woman who is well respected in the family), along with the older aunts and elder woman of the family, take the bride into a separate room during the wedding and then examine her to ascertain that she is a virgin. The "ajuntaora" is the one who practices the ritual on the bride, as the other women watch to be witnesses that the bride is truly virgin. The cloth ("pañuelo") must have three rose petals on it and then, the women come out of the room and sing "el yeli" to the couple. During this, the men at the wedding rip their shirts and lift the wife onto their shoulders and do the same with the husband, as they sing "el yeli" to them. Weddings can last very long; up to three days is usual in the Gitano culture. At weddings, "gitanos" invite everyone and anyone that they know of (especially other gitanos). On some occasions "payos" ("gadjos") may attend as well, although this is not common. Through the night, many "bulerías" are danced and especially sung. Today, "rumba gitana" or "rumba flamenca" are a usual party music fixture.


Autonomous communities of Spain
Autonomous communities Population
Andalusia 270.000
Aragon 18.000
Asturias 10.000
Balearic Islands 6.500 (¿?)
Basque Country 13.000
Canary Islands (¿?)
Cantabria 5.000 (¿?)
Castile-La Mancha 20.000
Castile and León 29.000
Catalonia 80.000
Extremadura 15.000
Galicia 9.000
La Rioja 7.000
Madrid 60.000
Navarre 6.000
Region of Murcia 20.000
Valencian Community 50.000
Total[4] 600.000

Spanish Romanies are called gitanos. In the late 1980s, the gitanos lived predominantly in southern Spain.

Gitanos is a Spanish name; in southern France they are known as Gitans or more generally Tsiganes (includes the other French Roma); and in Portugal they are known as Ciganos. Similar to the English word Gypsy, the name Gitano comes from the old Spanish word Egiptano (Egyptian). In past centuries, it was thought their origins were in Egypt. After losing their original Romani language, they used Caló, a jargon with Spanish grammar and some Romani vocabulary . "Caló" means "dark" in Caló and the Caló word for "Gitanos" is calé, also "the dark ones". Cañí[5] is another Caló word for "Gitano". Caló is one of the influences of later Germanía and modern Spanish slang.

Romanian, Slovak and Muslim Moroccan Romanies have recently migrated into the country.

A significant number emigrated to Latin America during colonial times. Often they emigrated to escape the Catholic Inquisition.

In literature

The ballet dancer Carlotta Grisi as the Romani Paquita (1844).

The Gitanos in Spanish society have inspired several authors:

  • Federico García Lorca, a great Spanish poet of the 20th century, wrote Romancero Gitano ("Gypsy Ballad Book")
The Roma is the most basic, most profound, the most aristocratic of my country, as representative of their way and whoever keeps the flame, blood, and the alphabet of the universal Andalusian truth.
Federico García Lorca

Famous Gitanos

Following are famous people of Gitano ethnicity or descent:


Gitano surnames

Due to endogamy, several Spanish surnames are more frequent among the Gitanos[6], though they are not by any means exclusive of them:

See also


  1. ^ Explanatory chart
  2. ^ Vizarraga, Óscar "Erromintxela: notas para una investigación sociolingüística", in I Tchatchipen, Vol 33, Instituto Romanó, Barcelona (2001)
  3. ^ Evangelics fish faithful in catholic crisis; FEDERE, October 2008 (Spanish)
  4. ^ Fuente: Fundación Secretariado General Gitano de España
  5. ^ cañí in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  6. ^ Diccionario de apellidos españoles, Roberto Faure, María Asunción Ribes, Antonio García, Editorial Espasa, Madrid 2001. ISBN 8423922898. Section III.3.8 page XXXIX.

External links


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