If you visit Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian, Mississippi, you’ll find the marker for Kelly Mitchell is inscribed with the words, “Queen of the Gypsies.” She was identified in that way by her husband (whose marker says “King”), and local historians say that many Romani people still visit Kelly’s grave to leave coins, trinkets, and gifts for their queen.
However, Dr. Ian Hancock, Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, argues that there is no royal structure for the Roma and that the Mitchells would have not been an actual King and Queen. When I asked him why they have been reported as such throughout history, he kindly explained.
“In our language, the words for ‘king’ and ‘queen’ are thagar and thagarni. They are not applied to any role within Romani culture, but to non-Romani kings and queens. The word for a leader is a baro. One can imagine Roma coming into a town, and being approached by the locals, perhaps the police chief, who asks to speak to the leader. He’ll ask the leader what is his title, and be told ‘baro’, which isn’t English, or perhaps be told ‘king’ since from the Romani point of view that is the English word for the top person. It began as a translation problem, but was quickly romanticized because of the literary ‘Gypsy’ image. From a king, the jump to a queen and a princess is easy. But these are not Romani concepts.”
Learn More about the Romani people by exploring some of the following online links:
The Romani Archives and Documentation center (RADOC)
Voice of Roma: www.voiceofroma.com
American Gypsy (Documentary): www.americangypsy.com
Photographs by Rana Halprin – Roma from California to Italy, over the past 25 years www.photomythology.com
Little Dust Productions (film by Roma about Roma) www.littledust.com