Unintentional minimalism, & the story of the Romanis – An interview with Alice Ribas

The outgoing-call screen is cleared to reveal a curly haired young lady with the most vibrant hazel eyes, a gorgeous nose piercing and a bubbly personality which infectiously transmits through the screen.

She immediately apologises for the presence of her puppies in the background but of course I would never complain.

Alice Ribas and I proceed to have a chat about what it’s like growing up in a Romani family, the descendant of gypsies (a controversial term we get into) and growing up an unintentional sustainable minimalist in the heart of Brazil.

I believe that in sharing human stories, we could reconnect to our collective consciousness and uplift each other in our common journeys.

This is what these interviews are about – conversations with normal people from across the globe, in various stages of life, pursuing different passions – sharing stories of life.

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Alice (A) and her family are descendants of the Romani people, an exiled group of nomads who fled from India centuries ago, to various corners of the world, searching for safety and a new home.

Today, Alice studies law in Brazil, alongside being a model, music artist and vocal teacher, as well as a proud advocate for her history and family’s culture.

She and I have been social media friends for a while, but I had so many questions about her life and her culture, so I was beyond pleased when she agreed to let me interview her for Vanilla Vadz.

V. Before we dive right into it, I know that you go by Alice ‘Storm’ on social media. Where does that come from?
A. Oh! From the age of 11 or even younger than that, I had a passion for singing and I used to sing songs about storms and the rain so everyone, my family and friends called me Storm/Stormi. I decided that was a good performance/stage name but my last name is Ribas. Alice Ribas.

V. As someone who did a law degree myself while pursuing something creative on the side, I found it interesting to balance both aspects of myself. How are you finding studying law and doing music?
A. Here in Brazil, people who do music don’t always earn money, almost never. My father didn’t want that for me, he basically told me that I couldn’t do music forever and that I needed a plan B which is why I started law.

I know that with a law degree I can help a lot of people – my people, the Romani people. We are invisible to society so it’s nice to be on a path where I can one day help them. But I also follow my music path too.

V. You refer to your family as the Romani and you mentioned in one of your posts the controversy around the word ‘gypsy’. Can we talk about that? What is the correct way to identify the people of your culture and what would you want people to know about using the word ‘gypsy’?
A. The Romani people is the correct way to call them/us.

The word gyspy was originally used as a slur and although in some places it’s not intended to be offensive, sometimes it can be considered so. Here in Brazil, the native language adopted the word ciganos which comes from the Spanish word gitano, which means gypsy.

People tend to use the word gypsy these days very freely to describe themselves as being free minded and bohemian but when I hear that I think, ummmm no you’re not. People are quite ignorant but it’s not their fault – the word has been misused and so the Romani people decided they didn’t want to be called gypsies anymore.

V. So people use the word without knowing about the true history and the people behind it.
A. Yeah. Actually here in Brazil or even in Spain, my family is from Spain as well, we don’t use the word Romani a lot because it confuses people.

V. So where is your Romani family from? We tend to see a lot of the culture in movies and of course movies are romanticising much of the truth. When we think of the image of a gypsy we think of maybe Esmeralda from the Disney Movie the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. What is the true story?
A. The most ancient source of the Romani people came from India.

Our people were originally forced to flee and be on the move all the time. But wherever they would go, they were expelled and had to hide until eventually they were spread in Europe and a little bit all over the world.

The dictionary definition of gypsy is of a freeminded wanderer type but other people forget that the Romani didn’t choose that life. They were forced to become nomads because they were expelled from everywhere they went.

V. How far back was it before your family settled somewhere?
A. To my knowledge, my great grandparents were the last of our family to be moving around, until they came to Brazil and they decided to stay here. Historically, when we decided to stay in one place and set roots, it’s because we were no longer being chased and we were safe.

V. How many Romani families are there in Brazil, do you know?
A. There are a lot of us here. At the end of the day, the families are all part of the same family tree but we are all from different branches. But that doesn’t mean that all the families interact with one another. Because we all moved around for so long, each family adopted a different culture, so our family for example, we have more of a Spanish culture than a Brazilian culture.

But at the end of the day, in many Romani families, we know that we are all very united, and connected as a family.

V. You and I have had conversations before about minimalism and how you unintentionally grew up as a minimalist in a family that valued living a life with less. You grew up in a culture with different values than many of us grow up with today
A. My family is both minimalist and sustainable but not in an intentional modern way. When it comes to clothes and accessories for example, we pass clothes down through generations. I get a lot of clothes from my cousins and grandparents, things that they used to wear. My grandmother and some of my aunties make clothes, and things like notebooks.

But it was only when I learned and researched about sustainable living that I realised that my family was already doing the modern day definition of ‘sustainable living’.

Gift giving for example is different in my Romani family to my non-Romani family. When I give gifts to my cousins for example, I give them my old clothes or I paint or make things. I like to be innovative.

My grandmother produces her own yearly calendar and she likes making things to give as gifts. We all make cards for each other for example. – this isn’t something specific to all Romani people but my family. But if I talk to other Romani families they do something similar.

V. Is there some sort of resistance against buying stuff or do you just feel you don’t need to buy stuff?
A. When I was growing up, I didn’t know about that – the consumer culture. I grew up with my Romani family, my grandmother, making stuff as well as my non Romani family which is my dad’s family. That side has a very different culture of buying things.

When I was 13 I began understanding that culture more but I knew inside me I felt more connected to my Romani family, it felt right for example the things that my grandmother was doing. Which is why I live with my Romani side of the family.

Alice and her mother in Flamenco inspired dresses

V. Do you do a lot of gardening and do you grow your own food?
A. My family, a lot of us live in houses with gardens so we like to grow our own foods. We grow lots of fruits, we grow a lot of corn and the children love it. We’re very close with nature.

The children don’t have the knowledge yet to understand how important that lifestyle is. That it has such an impact to help the world. I think of course the world needs to be helped and we need to save the earth in order to save ourselves.

The earth is much bigger than just ourselves. So they don’t have this knowledge, it’s just part of what we do, what they do and they enjoy it.

V. Can you tell me a little bit more about your traditions?
A. Our traditions are mostly oral, we sing a lot, we talk a lot and we tell stories to the children. So everything that needs to be passed on, we don’t really think about it, it just happens. We tell our own stories of enchanters and myths and fairytales.

Our tradition comes out a lot in the food we eat, the way we sing and dance and the traditional clothes. But the traditional clothes usually depend on where the Romani family are and have been living. Our family wear a lot of flamenco style clothes – Few people know this but flamenco is a fusion of Arabic, Romani and other cultures.

In our home we have an altar for our ancestors, with paintings and pictures of our family, offerings of good fortunes for guests when they come in the house and a Romani doll belonging to each member of the family.

At every family meeting, we all bring our altars together to make one big altar. We do that so that our ancestors won’t be forgotten. We venerate our ancestors and we believe that they in turn will help us with this life.

It’s not a regilion exactly, more part of the culture. Romani people take different religions, some are Catholic, others aren’t, it depends on where they’ve been.

“I think of course the world needs to be helped and we need to save the earth in order to save ourselves.”

When it seems that the majority of society are living life a certain way, it’s easy to forget that there is more than one way to live. That following the tides demanding for ‘more’ doesn’t have to be the only path.

Is there a ‘right’ way to be doing things? I don’t know and I don’t think so, but I could argue that there is a more conscious way to be doing things.

Maybe we have a lot to learn from cultures who historically have had less, who have had to fight for more and yet who still find value in living simple lives.

Thank you to the beautiful Alice for taking her time to educate and enlighten us on something different. You can follow Alice on Instagram at @alicerstorm.

Do you have a story to tell that you’d like to feature on the Vanilla Vadz blog? Drop me an email at vanillavadzofficial@gmail.com


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