Romani in New Zealand

Recently I am becoming very interested once again in the situation of Romani people in New Zealand. Despite uniformed claims that there are no real Romani ‘Gypsies’ in NZ there is believed to be between 1,200 and 3000 with the most popular sub-group being Romanichal emigrants from the UK and more recently European Roma refugees.

In the 2018 census, 132 people responded by identifying as Romany in the ethnicity category.

Anyone of Romani descent, or with an interest in Romani culture in NZ is welcome to join the FB group: Aotea Romani

Please see the comment section of this blog to see posts from people looking for their kin. I do not moderate the comment section and it has taken a life of its own but maybe it will be of use to you.



Thank you to everyone who has commented on this post, your family stories are fascinating and I apologise that I am unable to help you further, I hope you are able to find the answers you are looking for.

In light of the white supremacist terror attack in Christchurch I would like to take a moment to reflect on all of those who have had their lives cut short by intolerance. Tariq Omar was a Muslim and a Romani. The Romani Community stands together with you at this difficult time and always.



In the UK everyone *feels* like they know what a Gypsy is, it’s also not that uncommon for people to be able to tell the difference between an Irish Traveller and a Romany Gypsy even in-spite of MBFGW’s efforts to cause confusion. But from what I can tell from Google the term Gypsy and Gypsy Travellers in NZ has become incorrectly re-appropriated to mean ‘any old hippy in a truck’. The lifestyle of these housetruckers is indeed interesting, as someone who has spent a great deal of time with New Age Travellers I am perfectly comfortable around them but they’re not ‘quite right’, I am painfully aware that they’re not kin. they are not and never will be Romani.  It’s strange really, I read a lot of commentary from American bloggers who discuss the appropriation of the term gypsy to mean ‘free spirited hipster girl’ but as someone who lives in a country with a visible population it is sometimes difficult to truly appreciate the feeling of being erased.

Vintage Housetrucker house.

As part of my research I came across an annual ‘Original Gypsy Fair’ (NOT a Gypsy Fair – See UPDATE below) in Invercargill.

The ‘Original Gypsy Fair’ is NOT associated with any Romani Gypsy or Irish Traveller groups. There is active efforts by members of the NZ Romani Community encouraging the fair to change the name. The activist Robert Lovell claims the name is misleading and that copywrite images of Romani people, including of Lovell’s relatives, are being used as promotional material. Not only is this unethical but Lovell is concerned that the misappropriation of the title ‘Gypsy’ leads to confusion and misunderstand, eroding ‘Gypsy’ as an unique ethnic group and any crime committed or incident will be falsely associated with Romani Gypsies

See more from Lovell here and in the comments below.

Remarkably I have discovered a number of articles by New Zealand academics using Māori experiences as a parallel to the Roma experience, I have no expertise to comment on this, nor would I be comfortable doing so as a non-Māori. However if you are interested:

Are Gypsy Roma Traveller communities indigenous and would identification as such better address their public health needs? Link

Māori and Romani Juvenile Justice – Community-Based Approaches and Responses From Different Justice Systems Link

Below is an account published on two young Roma who attended a leadership study session:

Young Roma Gain New Perspective Far From Home, in New Zealand with the Māori

Published by World Bank Original link

Roma in Central and Eastern Europe are in a unique situation compared to other ethnic groups—they are not indigenous to the continent, nor do they have a homeland like national minorities. However, the socioeconomic disadvantages and discrimination that they frequently face parallel those of other populations throughout the globe, whether they are indigenous peoples, refugees, migrants, or other groups.

Two young Roma leaders, Erika Adamaova from Slovakia and Florin Nasture from Romania, had the unique opportunity in April and May to travel halfway around the world to New Zealand to participate in a youth leadership Study Session on “Democracy in the Pacific.” The program introduced them to some of the parallels and contrasts between Roma and New Zealand’s indigenous Māori population and sparked ideas for new approaches to Roma development programs.

The program was organized by the Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy—a youth-led NGO based in Gisborne, on the east side of New Zealand’s North Island—and was funded by the New Zealand government, including the Ministry of Māori Development and NZAID. The World Bank Institute also provided support.

The session involved 28 young leaders from New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Indonesia. The organizers were interested in involving Roma to include a diverse set of perspectives. The program aimed to support an inter-cultural and inter-generational dialogue and to identify strategies for sustainable and innovative community development initiatives. During their visit, Erika and Florin also had the opportunity to visit schools, government agencies, and Māori organizations.

Who are the Māori?

Roma and Māori are vastly different ethnic groups, each with their own unique and rich histories and cultures. Māori are an indigenous minority of approximately 620,000 based largely in New Zealand, with small diaspora populations in Australia and other countries. Roma are an ethnic minority spread across the world, but concentrated in Europe, where an estimated 9 to 12 million live. Although Roma originally migrated into Europe from India, they do not have territorial claims there.

There are also similarities. Both Roma and Māori societies are historically based on oral traditions, which made codifying language and creating a written historical record particularly important. Both groups are striking in their internal diversity.

A More Traditional International Conference

The study session incorporated and exposed the participants to Māori culture and traditions. It was held on a marae, the traditional Māori meeting house, which is central to every aspect of Māori life, including weddings and funerals, and serves as the center of the community. Participants were welcomed through Māori ceremony, including the Māori language and music.

“Being on the marae, I finally understood why workshops, conferences and study sessions organized for Roma activists do not achieve their intended impact and effect,” said Erika. “Organizing such events in a four-star hotel is comfortable and pleasant, but to stay in direct interaction with the community and culture motivates and helps the participants to better understand the way of living, thinking and cultural values…The whole Study Session was held in the spirit of Māori culture and traditions.”

Learning from Each Other

Roma attendees compared and contrasted their status in Central and Eastern Europe with that of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi sets the framework for relations between Māori and the Government, and has influenced the status of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty was signed in 1840 between representatives of the British government and chiefs of iwi (Māori tribal groups) from across New Zealand. While there is ongoing debate about the meaning of the Treaty, it has been an important basis for recognizing the rights of Māori in New Zealand. In recent years, the Waitangi Tribunal has been hearing claims by Māori against the Crown of breaches of the Treaty. The Government has signed settlements with about 12 iwi.

Increased use of the Māori language has been part of a Māori cultural renaissance in New Zealand. Māori is an official language alongside English. A Māori Language Strategy supports the incorporation of the language across society, including within public services, media, and the arts. Keeping alive the Māori language is seen as critical in sustaining a strong and proud cultural identity. The Roma participants were impressed by the emphasis on language use. Florin noted, “The way to preserve culture is by introducing the Roma language into the schools were Roma children are studying.”

Roma and Māori women face similar challenges. “Talking to Māori women, I realized that the privileged status of men over women is not a part of Māori culture,” said Erika. “An effective approach to promote educational attainment among young Roma mothers would be to implement policies that will encourage young Roma mothers to stay in school.”

Contributing to the lack of education among Roma in Central and Eastern Europe is the unofficial policy in many countries of enrolling Roma children into special schools intended for the mentally and physically disabled. Many of these children eventually drop out, as they have no prospect of attending secondary school or university.

New Zealand, however, has effectively banned special schools, something that some CEE governments still resist. However, many Māori parents—and a small but growing number of non-Māori parents—choose to send their children to bilingual or immersion schools that expose students to Māori language and culture.

A Renewed Sense of Identity

The Roma participants returned home having learned important lessons about fostering cultural identity, improving living standards, and increasing social inclusion. “Many Roma feel there is a gap between the community as a whole and its leaders and elites,” pointed out Florin. “Community participation is key to closing this gap, and it will in turn strengthen Roma identity and a feeling of belonging.”

Florin also emphasized that the whole approach to Roma integration should be turned on its head. “In our region, we take a negative perspective, focusing on the disparity between the Roma and the majority, and creating the appearance of a helpless Roma population.” Māori, on the other hand, are more positive. “They build on existing successes to channel their potential. Like them, Roma should not be people with problems who create problems; we should have the power to overcome our obstacles


34 thoughts on “Romani in New Zealand

  1. Hi you are not alone I am of Romany descent my grandfather was a true traditional Romany in England and my Father from England .thay all moved here in the 1950s. We are a special people with special gifts.

    1. Supporting your comments Jo. I too am of Romany decent on my fathers side. He and his family were traditional gypsies in England and along with the darker skin and dark hair, he had (like many members of his family) a somewhat unconventional gypsy name. Now living in NZ I’d like to know more about the Romany history and culture. Any advice or references would be appreciated.

  2. I have an old NZ friend who is 83yrs old and her father was a true Romany Gypsy – dark skinned and dark haired. He was a successful business man as a grower and came to NZ earlier 1900’s.

  3. That “Gypsy” fair mentioned is complete cultural appropriation that conjures up every racial stereotype many real Romani fight to dispell. In fact, many local Romani in NZ and international Romani people have contacted the fair organizers letting them know how disrespectful it is, and have asked Jim Banks and Gavin Mackenzie the organizers to rename it. It misleads the public and is in no way a representative of actual Romani people. Sad to see people use an ethnic minority for monetary gain with no consideration at all for the very people they are grossly trying to imitate.

  4. There are very few true Roma in New Zealand. My father was a Welsh Rom who moved here during the war. He married a gorjo however my brother, sister and I are still considered full Rom (my understanding of the Rom culture) . My brother Bob is very much into our heritage and the Romany language and is well known in NZ and Wales. We are all VERY proud of our grassroots and we all dislike the “gypsy fair” that travels around NZ – they are not Romany, they are not gypsies and when my brother looked into it a few years ago, only a one of these so called gypsies had any Roma bloodlines at all.

  5. Bob Lovell , I’m a Direct Lovell from the Old Romany Gypsy family from Wales and here in NZ I really like your item well done ! right now Jan 2017 I have started a huge FB protest world wide from hundreds of romany people against the misuse of UK Romany photos (taken by Barrie Law of UK Romany people and their vardos ) these photos are at present being used on Advertizing poster by the original Gypsy Fair people here in NZ . They do not have permission to use these photos for business money making purposes . Us Romany have had enough of this kind of abuse . BobLovell NZ.

  6. People should avoid the fair till the name is changed and stop supporting the “Gypsy” money making industry that these cultural vampires put on. I found it ironic that they have children’s events set up to enjoy…..meanwhile real Gypsy children are still being segregated in many schools in Eastern Europe. And real Romani encampments are being dismantled leaving people out in the cold in the dead of winter. What a privilege it must be, to be able to turn yourself into a stereotypical fake Gypsy without ever having to face the reality of what we actually go through.

    1. Hi I was amazed to find this website. I am of true Romany decent, my family migrated to NZ when I was five from England. I grew up with the stories of my dads family. It was my grandad who was the gypsy side and my great grandad was a chieftain of his clan. I never realised that there are authentic Romany gypsy’s who live in NZ. I would love to get in contact with some of them as I have always been very interested in my heritage and culture, I would love to learn more. My maiden name was England.

  7. I live in NZ, and have also protested against these ”Gypsy fairs” and my experience of them is that they are scoundrels, and it seems that the Human Rights Commission here don‘t give a damn about it.

    Bob, what is the FB page? Ta

    I’m trying to find out any information on any Roma who have come here, especially post WW2 and of Lovára or other Hungarian-origin or Vlax descent. To contact me: kaliDOTjag—slingshotconz (add the extra bits eh)

    1. Hi Shiwa Sar san Pen , do you mean FB page about the Original gypsy Fair that we talking about ? I will try and email you as just seen your comment . Bokt , Bob. PS have lost touch with many Romani here in NZ since I resigned as vice President of RAA . Australia , New Zealand Romani association .

  8. Romani blood here too 🙂 You mean there are more of us??! Hehehe. WIsh there was a Romani NZ FB page!

    1. Va, more of us, e lúmja mo them si. 😀

      There is a Yahoo group Aussie Kiwi Roma; it seems rather quiet at the moment though.

      It is all about commoditizing other cultures, and it is also done especially with Māori culture and language. Interestingly, i often get taken as Māori, even being referred once to a local iwi group by someone who insisted that i •must• be Māori, not Romany!

      T’aven baxtale!

      1. My kids are Maori/ Roma. I was born in NZ and as a kid growing up in a predominantly Maori town I had many fights with Pakeha and Maori boys. Not white enough for some and not brown enough for others. Feeling heartened today after discovering this site and realizing our family has something in common with other New Zealanders. Spassibo. Latcho divvus.

  9. Sar san all here YES Be good to meet online and set up our own NZ Romani FB page long over due then we can together fight back against these culture stucking Hippies calling them selves Gypsies when our own people (not here really ) but world wide are treated worse than 2nd class citizens . Rak tutti . Bob Lovell Kamulo .

  10. Leah Romany Stephens born Wellington 1969. Went missing, later found murdered Murawai. My half sister Michelle Roma Listen is a missing person in Australia along with my birth mother Sandra. Born Wellington late 1960s. A Nazi party has recently begun in Australia. Vanish are looking for them.

    1. Leah Romany Stephens was my aunty she was murdered by Steven Stone and her body was dumped by murawai. No mystery there

  11. Hello! I’m Emily, from the woman’s article you posted (That Thelma woman gets me very irate). I am a true Roma and emigrated here with my family from the UK in 1994.
    I am in the last year of my degree and currently making an animation based on the relationship between a Romany man and the Vardo he grew up in.
    I would love to connect with other Romany in New Zealand and you are all welcome to contact me via email – Romany (at) designem . co . nz

  12. Hi I’m a essex Romany living here in WELLINGTON I come here in 2001 and have made nz my home but would love to here from any gypsys from Britain I still live a life as true to our values from home

    1. Hi my names Wendy and I was born in Essex. We migrated to NZ when I was five years old. On my dad’s side they were all Romany gypsies my great grandad was a chieftain of his clan. My maiden name was England. I have always been fascinated by my heritage and would love to learn more about my people. I tried to find out more from my nana when I returned to England many years ago, but couldn’t find out a great deal, grandad passed before I was born and nana was in her late nineties when I met up with her so it was hard to find out much. I have always felt a strong connection towards my Romany side, and would like to connect with others that are of Romany decent. I never even realised that there were any true Romany living in NZ I would love to hear from you and learn about our people.

  13. Hi I’m a Romany born in Essex i have lived in WELLINGTON since 2001 and would like to here from any Romanys living here in New Zealand I too have seen our culture misrepresented many times here as well as coming across the original gypsy fair but if there are any travellers out there please get in touch

  14. I’m not Romany but I thought you might be interested to know that a famous (in NZ) politician and writer, John A. Lee, was related to a Romany community in New Zealand (if I recall correctly, in the early 1900s there were living around the Riversdale area in Southland), and he mentions it in quite a few of his political memoirs and other partially-autobiographical stories (e.g., if I recall correctly, in the book Simple On A Soapbox, he mentions how the Romany relatives arrived at a funeral – they somehow “knew” when and where it would be).

    1. From someone who grew up there in the 1930s (not from personal experience): there were also Romanies in the Nelson area in the 1930s, and some were still plying traditional occupations there as late as the 1980s—and on my asking my informant they didn‘t know what their origin was.

      1. Our family had many connections to the Nelson area. Higgins and Cumming families. I hope those of us searching for relatives find each other. All the best.

  15. Hi there I am of Romany descent on my mothers side. She came out from Kent, England before I was born. It has been very hard for me to research my history as my Mum died when I was twelve and I only have a small amount of my family tree. Her sername was Howard.

  16. My dad has Irish and French ancestry and my mum had Scottish and Spanish Roma ( Zincali) heritage through her mum. The family name was Higgins and they arrived from Scotland in Dunedin in the 1850’s. It makes me happy to see the comments here and realize that there are many people in our country who share a similar background to be myself and our family.

    Opre Roma!

  17. Hi all Robert (Bob ) Lovell again , we have a NZ Romani FB page now called Aotea Romani please contact admis and join we need you all to join us here in nevo Zeatem in our fight Activism for true Romani/Gypsy ethinc rights . we have some small victorys so far , the Gypsy extraraganza Fair -Dropped Gypsy out of registered name due to our Polite but firm requests to them to stop using Gypsy (gap G ) as this is misapropiation , They weren’t happy but faced with historical facts on Us Rom they had to remove Gypsy from Fairs Name . Jim Banks and His The Original gypsy , Gypsy Fair Gypsy Market (all registered NZ business names ) refuse to remove gypsy from his Fairs trade names (we have made him/them remove photos of UK Rom from this Fairs advertizing posters ) In a NZ Herald artical 018 Jim Banks I quote -said I will not remove Gypsy from my Fairs names its my human right etc, then he says Gypsies are just a BREED not a Race like New Zealanders or Filopino’s (his wife happens to be Filopino ) he then shoots himself in the foot by saying his Parents were pure blooded Gypsies as the travelled in a horse & Carrage . – one ! no Rom would ever use these terms it is Grai ta Vardo etc. He & some members of this fair claim Gypsy=Rom heritage but i have approached this Fair many times i have never found a true Rom/gypsy travelling with this what is in fact a new Age Hippy types idea of life style makes one a Gypsy – no it dosn’t . we are currently working towards challenging mr Jim Banks to prove his supposed gypsy/Rom blood by doing a DNA test , he won’t of course as he knows it will show him up as a Chorin Hokno . A stealing liar . Bokt Bob Lovell Kamulo .

    1. Hi Bob, and you so much for your comment. I have added a mention of your FB group in the main text.

      As this article is exceedingly old and I knew very little about this when I wrote the post (that’s why I wrote it) it’s a bit of a mess and doesn’t reflect the current situation. When I have the time I rework it to reflect some of the hard work activists like you are doing to clear up inappropriate business names and public misunderstand.

  18. Hi, I’m British and now living in NZ and I’m looking for information – my family were fairground travellers and forcibly settled just before WWII and their caravans were confiscated. After the war, some family members decided to remain settled (like mine) others moved on. Am keen to reconnect.

    1. Hi Jacquie, thank you for reaching out! That sounds like a very similar situation, my own family were forcibly settled BUT that didn’t stop us for long!

      Do you think your family were members of the Showman’s Guild? The majority of Fairground Travellers are, and members are usually from a number of the GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) ethnic groups. I’m afraid I might not be able to help you personally but if you’re happy to share what information you do know (surname are usually very recognisable and can link to specific GRT families) maybe someone will know more?

      Are you a member of the NZ Romani Facebook group? They might be able to help more.

      Fairground Travellers and Showman are really fascinating bunch, I know war is a horrible thing but I think you might like to google a spitfire that was called ‘The Fun of The Fair’ which was paid for by a Showman ‘crowdfunder’, they raised over £1500 within the first ten days and reached the target of £5000 by (from August-)January. Also due to the expertise of Fairground Travellers driving heavy and oddly shaped vehicles they were indispensable in transporting supplies. Unfortunately they’re being hit very hard by both Corona, and an increase in fuel tax that will come into place after the quarantine.

      Best luck, and stay safe (although it sounds like NZ is the safest place to be right now)!

      1. hi Jacquie, we are distant family! I live in Auckland. My g.g.g granddad Joseph was brother to James Matthews aka Chewbacca who owned the fairgrounds. I have a great book called Fairfield Folk about that side of the family.

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