Vol 2 No 4 Spring/Summer 2006

The Domari Gypsies

by Miriam Peretz

Gypsies of Middle-Eastern descent (known as Domari,) originated in India and migrated across Persia and the Silk Road, settling throughout North Africa and the Middle-East. Populations of Gypsies reside in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and are scattered across all of North Africa and the Middle-East. The largest population of Domari, live in Jordan (around 35,000.) There is a very small population of about 1,000 Domari left in Israel, mostly living in the Old City of Jerusalem. Disliked by the Palestinian communities, they remain isolated, as Gypsy communities often live. The community in Israel, although quite small, state that they have their own unique style of music (known as "Eh Kah") and dance that is very similar to the Ghawazi style of the Gypsies in Egypt. The music is also very similar in instrumentation to the Ghawazi, using the rebaba (violin type instrument,) tabla or doumbek (drum,) mizmar (horn instrument,) and vocals. Apparently, the dancers are so much in demand that they have formed a group in Gaza and spend a good amount of time performing in Egypt. All celebrations including weddings, circumcisions, holiday gatherings, and other family events traditionally have dancers as a main form of entertainment.

In my meeting with the Domari Gypsies of Jerusalem, many of them shared with me their troubles both financial as well as social. Not only do they feel separate from their neighboring communities of Palestinians, but they also have a very difficult time finding employment. At one of the fundraisers I attended, I briefly interviewed the director of the Domari Society of Jerusalem, Amoun Sleem. She told me that the only way for me to see their dance would be to attend a private wedding or party. I knew this would be difficult since I am Israeli, and not necessarily welcomed at a private Palestinian party. I unintentionally brought to the meeting a CD recording of traditional Ghawazi music and slipped it into the tape deck. Upon hearing it Yusef, one of the Domaris, jumped up and started dancing. It was great, the whole energy of the event changed and everyone began clapping and cheering him on. I was fortunate to get a little video footage of him dancing with a glass bottle of olive oil on his head, which was especially impressive. He also danced with a stick, which is common to the Ghawazi style of Egypt.

References

1. Latcho Drom, film produced by Tony Gatlif
2. Romani Trail, Part I & II, film produced by Jeremy Marre Co., 1992
3. Khalbelias - Gypsies of Rajastanby Melitta Tchaicovsky Co., 2001
4. Interview of Amy Luna Manderino (Director of Shuvani - Dances of the Roma)

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