June is Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month. That’s right; there is one month every year when preschools, schools, public libraries, museums and even in some town halls, the history of Romani and Travelling peoples is celebrated, read about, taught to children (and adults too), project work is undertaken in classrooms, art work is produced and exhibited, films are shown in community cinemas and concerts with Romani musicians and dancers take place. One month in the year when the histories of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are made the focus of public attention. When non-Romani people (‘gadjé’, in Romani), are made aware of the richness of our cultures, our languages (Romanës or Rromani-chib in all it’s varieties amongst the Roma and the four or five dialects of Gammon that are spoken amongst the Travellers), the depth of our contributions to wider European cultures and languages. Did you know that there are some two hundred and fifty words in colloquial Swedish have their roots in Romanës, according to Dr Gerd Carling at Lund University, for instance? No, neither do many Swedish people. The words ‘pal’ and ‘dad’ in English originate in the Romani words for brother and father. Flamenco may be one of Spain’s contributions to world culture, but it too has its roots in the music and dance of the Gitano peoples of Iberia. Many of the great fairy stories have their origins in India tales that were brought by the Romani peoples to Europe.
The Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month has been an event celebrated over the past twelve years (2001 was the very first event in London), particularly in primary and secondary schools and has been a development of the education initiative that we have had in the UK: the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Education Support Services. The History Month follows the model of ‘Black History Month’ in the United States and aims to generate interest and appreciation regarding the Romani communities, our contribution to European culture and recognize some of the well-known and famous Romani people who can be role models for youngsters from the communities. Topics in the curriculum that teachers take up at this time, range from looking at the history of particular Romani and Traveller communities in the locality of the preschool or school, to celebrating the music, dance, film and theatre that has been produced by or with Romani people. Local authorities organize events to focus upon improving relationships with groups of Roma, Gypsies and Travellers and better deliver services to them; libraries will host story-telling sessions with Romani story-tellers. Visits to the Romani museums and exhibitions of Gypsy life in the past, including a chance to see the wonderful, decorated wagons (vardo) that some Romani people still own.
The month long activities and events offer an opportunity for us, as early years practitioners, to bring our heritage and culture directly into the early years curriculum, building on the richness of diversity and improving understanding about who we are and what we are. A great many resources exist (in English mostly) that can be used as part of the themes and topics; the internet links to some are below. If we want to encourage and improve the relationships between non-Roma and Romani communities, this is one of the opportunities in the year to do so – so get organizing and let’s celebrate!
http://grthm.natt.org.uk/whatis.php Some background to the GRT HM and how it all began…
http://www.grthmlondon.org.uk/information/gypsy-timeline/ A timeline of history for Gypsies and Travellers in the UK; create your own for your community!
http://romaniarts.co.uk/tag/grthm/ The events in Wales each year since 2009.
http://romani.humanities.manchester.ac.uk A really good website about Romani language with lots of resources to download!
http://www.bbc.co.uk/lincolnshire/content/articles/2008/06/05/roma_traveller_feature.shtml A part of the BBC internet site that describes more about the GRT HM.