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GYPSIES IN JORDAN

It seems that no one agrees on the actual number of Gypsies in the country of Jordan. Some figures put them at several thousand and one sources put the figure as high as twenty thousand.

In the West Bank and Israel all of the gypsies are settled into apartments. They are hard to find, as they blend into the local population. However, they know each other and still speak to each other in their own language.

gypsy tents

gypsy woman
Near Madaba, we visited a gypsy tent near the south side of the city. The kids met us first, and the youngest boy, around 10 years of age confirmed that they were Nawwar (gyspies). We then visited the adults in the tent. There were several older men there, two of them obviously Jordanian. The Jordanian men had brought a jambia (knife) for the gypsy man to sharpen. There were two gypsy women in the tent, as well as the two children. (boy and girl). We visited for a while, and then the Jordanian men left with their knife. The kids then showed us how much Arabic and English they knew. They counted to ten on their fingers in Arabic then in English. I then asked them to do it in their other language. The little girl looked at the old man who shook his head. Then she said “No, not the other language.” The old man soon made it evident that our visit was over, and we left.
In Amman there are several groups of Gyspies. We heard reports that they are living in Jebal Nathif, Jebal Hashemi Shamali and Jebal al Nazhah, and in other places. Taxi drivers often know these areas and avoid them, as gypsies tend to arrive at their destination and disappear without paying their fare. gypsy camp
gypsy camp Gypsy men often work as tin smiths or blacksmiths, although a large number of families are employed in agriculture. In places like Irbid the gypsies gather at planting and harvest season. They work with vegetable crops and now that tobacco has become popular, are often used to pick tobacco.
Gypsy's often leave one family in a location to hold a place on the land while the rest move from place to place. During the winter they tend to gather in the southern end of the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea where the weather is warmer. During the summer they move closer to the farms. Some gypsies live close to the industrial sections of town, and others have migrated from tents to slums near these areas.

Gypsies in Jordan originate from two places. Some have come from the west, from such places as Palestine and the Sinai, and have been in the Middle East since the time of the crusaders. Some have speculated that perhaps they found work as tin smiths during the Middle Ages and followed the crusader routes in and out of Europe.

Other gypsies originate from the east, many of them from Iraq, and probably from the ancient ill-fated Zot Empire. Their language is known as Rom or Dom.


Rom/ Gypsy Pollution laws: Any relationship or behavior that affects the honor of the groups is either 'clean' or 'unclean'. The Gypsies have their own system of purity as elaborate as that in ancient Bible times. 'Marime' is pollution, dishonor or uncleanness. Food, and anything that touches food, has its own separate regime.

Cleanliness depends on keeping the upper part of the body separate from the lower part with its polluting emissions. Separate soap and towels are used for the two parts. Anything to do with entering the body, such as food utensils, is washed separately from the upper body. Clothes covering the lower body must not be brought in contact with food or utensils used for food. Food is shared only with those who keep these standards. The feet and the ground are considered most unclean or polluted. Similarly the stages of life are classified according to pollution, marriage especially be considered polluting while old age is revered and looked forward to as 'clean'. Many of these rules fulfill the practical needs of hygiene in toiletry and food preparation in a more consistent way than those practiced by the gadzé.

Maintaining non-pollution determines one's membership in the family and the group. To become polluted is to undermine the status of one's family with other Gypsies, and is considered a cause of illness and misfortune. Behavior is therefore controlled by the opinion of the group according to these concepts.

The Gypsy fears two things; the mulo or ghost of the dead returning to haunt them and being a social outcast from their clan. There are also supernatural sanctions that are feared, and expulsion from the group spells spiritual and moral death to the Gypsy. These concepts of pollution mean that non-Gypsies and Gypsies do not drink from the same cups, sit in the same seats, and the outside surroundings of a Gypsy home or van is untidy with gadzé scrap or rubbish while the inside of the home is clean. Some Roma do not accept other Gypsies, because they are considered to be faulty in this system of cleanliness.

The Gypsies see the gadzé as immoral, without family loyalty and unhygienic. Therefore the Gypsies relationship to the gadzé is determined by this code of cleanness. Contact with non-Gypsies is inherently polluting. When eating in a non-Gypsy environment disposable plates and cups are preferred, because it is polluting to use utensils that have not been cleansed the Gypsy way. Gypsies will occasionally deliberately act according to stereotyped misconceptions, such as appearing to be dirty, lice-ridden, rude, untidy, or feign madness, contrary to their own self-image to keep the non-Gypsies away and so maintain their own ritual cleanness.

To maintain their own standards visitors will served with special crockery and sat in a place reserved only for those outside the rules of purity, but hospitality that is offered should be accepted by the gadzo as honoring the Gypsy hosts. Gifts of food, clothing or housing will be treated as polluted and need cleansing. Needless to say this has been counterproductive in having harmonious relationships with society as a whole. Conversation also will inevitably touch on subjects in currant affairs, history or religion that the Gypsy construes, often with good reason, as anti-Gypsy. visitor has to have a knowledge of this regime, and be sympathetically persistent to have realistic contact with the Roma.

 Extract from Peoples on the Move by David J. Phillips

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