Culture

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Customs

Marriage

Bori savo.JPG
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The concept of Marriage Bond according to Rromani Patĭv: marriage is nothing else but the manifestation of will (Latin = affectio maritalis) of the nubiles’ parents’ (or of the persons taking care of the marriageable i.e. the persons “practicing power” over them) aiming to establish matrimony. The act of will is manifested in front of a person in a great respect by the entire community.

There are three phases preceding the establishment of matrimony:

Engagement – mangavipe: manifestation of the act of will aiming to bond the marriage between the nubile and made by the person practicing power over the marriageable; in case the nubile has no parents or such a person then ipso facto he/she can act on his/her own right – sui iuris.

Prior the engagement:

Family “A”: groom’s family Family “B”: bride’s family

Family “A”: “you have a beautiful daughter and we have a nice son, could we come and see your daughter next weekend?” Family “B”: “You can also go and see a princess, why couldn’t you see my daughter?”

In case there is a gossip around about the given daughter, that is she had a lover, or she was or is in love with somebody or something similar meaning that she lost her clean and innocent nature even though she did not make love then the groom’s family would normally avoid proposing such a girl. In other cases, if they want to get the given girl for some reason (the groom fell in love with the girl, his parents would like to have a closer relationship with the bride’s family) the groom’s family will have some privileges like they do not need to organize a huge wedding and thus they can save money. So generally, in case there is gossip about the girl and her cleanness is questioned the parents of the groom do have the right to take the bride candidate to a doctor to testify her virginity. The investigation might happen in the presence of the mothers depending on the will of the future mother in law. In case she proves to be virgin family “A” asks the most respected person in the community to escort them to make a proposal for the daughter of family “B”.

Thus the proposal becomes legitimate since the person in the biggest respect knows about the bond and gives his approval and his consent to the marriage. He himself has a formal rule here. Family “A” takes drink and food to family “B” and would not immediately talk about the proposal itself but they pretend only to visit family “B”. Men would normally sit around the main table and women would either sit together with children in a separate room or in the corner of the room where the men are seated. After a while either the eldest person or the potential mother in law would start to tell people the real purpose of their visit meanwhile everybody knows everything already. Every sentence of the scenario is known by all actors already and everybody plays his/her role in play. The girl is asked formally in the end if she likes the boy or not and then normally she would not reply but smile. If the scenario gets to this point she can’t say no but she can’t say yes either since that would put her family in a shameful situation and thus the groom’s family would have an easier job in making the deal over the bride. Then the father of the bride candidate would say what his family asks for the bride: normally he would ask for a wedding ceremony and money. The size of the money might range from 3-4 thousand dollars to 10 thousand. After the agreement is made the whole family starts to prepare for the wedding. They might leave a couple of months for the young couple to get to know each other better but they would not be allowed to meet alone, they always have somebody in their company, like a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle or a cousin in order to avoid the physical contact between them before the marriage.

Wedding – biav, abav

The groom is escorted by the numerous briding processions, by the wedding party (they are members of the community having the most respected person in the front of the procession) and by the musicians to the house of the bride’s parents or the people practicing power over her. Then the formal proposal is made again in front of the whole community and the act of will is repeated again by the parents in front of the community to confirm the “legitimacy”. Of course everybody knows everything by this time. Then all the guests escort the young couple to the wedding party that mostly ends next morning. At midnight they have the so called “dancing money” which means that everybody has a last chance to dance with the bride for a couple of minutes in case they pay for it. Roma would have no presents for the couple but all guests are to contribute to the sum.

Most Roma would not make their children marry in civic or religious terms at the wedding. The couple might decide to marry officially also later in a couple of years but that would be done due to administrative reasons.

The first night – angluni rat

The couple would leave Roma alone in the wedding after midnight for the house of the groom and spends its first night together alone. The Hungarian traditional Roma communities would not lay a huge emphasis on checking the virginity of the bride after the first night since they would get convinced of the girl’s virginity even before the wedding by taking the bride candidate to a physician to examine that her hymen is untouched.

Sanction of Romàni Pàtĭv: in case the bride turns out to have lost her virginity between the engagement process and the wedding then the family of the groom does have the right to send the bride home and her family is obliged to pay the money back they received for their daughter. According to Romani Patyiv her life becomes stigmatized and her life will be a disaster in her second marriage and her husband will have the right to beat her for her unclean past. The reason for this – as for the common law of Romani Patyiv – is that a “bipatyivali romnyi”, dishonest woman cannot become a respectable wife. In case it is the groom’s fault why they need to split, there is no sanction for the groom and the fate of the girl is stigmatized the same way as if it had been her fault to break up.


Death

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As a person dies in a Roma family then all family members would meet at the home of the dead person from the first day of his/her death to the day of the funeral. This custom has slightly changed in big cities where sometimes it might take two weeks to bury someone. Not only the closest relatives – parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters – but everyone is expected to attend the mourning nights. Roma would cover the mirrors, pictures and tv screens in the entire apartment or house so as to avoid facing the ghost of the dead on a screen. All guests would attend by taking some food and drink to the dead person’s home or something special that was a favorite meal of the dead person. Everything is placed on the tables for the guests nevertheless a separate table would be made for the dead spirit with his/her favorite meals and drinks. Men would either sit in a different room, separately from women and children or if it is about a poor family that has only one room then they would sit around the table and the elderly women of course. Men normally wouldn’t shave and women would cut their hair as a family member dies. After the funeral everyone is supposed to wash his/her hands and should attend a last meeting of the entire community for the respect of the dead person either in a restaurant or pub where there are drinks and food organized for the people. People are not expected to go home straight from the cemetery since they might take some bad spirits with themselves to their own apartment from the graveyard.

The dead family members are believed to be spend time with their family members constantly and at every Christmas and other more important feasts therefore celebrations the Roma would make a table, would put their favorite meals on there so the dead person can visit their families and there is something waiting for them as well.

“Whenever we drink, eat, have fun, cry, we always do it with our people who passed already away.” – Priboy, a Roma family member from Pecs, Hungary.


Christening

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This is practiced by catholic Roma. For them it is also very significant to christen a newborn as soon as possible since the baby is surrounded by bad spirits from the first second he/she spends in the world. Until the christening ceremony there is a blessed picture, necklace or rosary placed under the pillow of the baby and a red ribbon would be put around the wrist of the little newborn family member. This all is meant to keep evil spirits from the baby away. When the child is taken home from the baptism ceremony the child is covered by a piece of clothing that belongs to the father. It is traditional for the mother to put the infant on the ground. The father picks up the infant and places a red string around its neck, thereby acknowledging in front of the entire community that the child is his.

It is very important to choose godparents for the baby who will take care of him/her for his/her entire life. They are supposed to be the second parents of the child and therefore maintain a regular relationship with the baby as well as with the parents. Since this commitment is considered to be a serious one, many Roma have two godparents to assist the parents with fulfilling their obligations.


Kris, the Romani Law System

The Roma legal system not only protects the Roma from external and internal threats, but also serves as a code that organizes Roma society. In particular, Roma law has evolved to insulate Roma from the host society.

  • Roma law acts as a cohesive force serving to protect Roma interests, rights, traditions, and ethnic distinctiveness;
  • Roma law is more democratic than any other law because it does not discriminate against individuals without financial or other influence; and
  • Roma law has maintained its basic form, even though older methods of punishment have given way largely to banishment or social ostracism, it must be more nearly perfect than other laws, which appear to be undergoing constant change.

Each community is ruled by a chief, a man who is chosen for his age, experience, and wisdom. Some Roma tribes call this chief Rom baro, meaning "Big Man." The chief of a Roma community is a man who inspires respect by his strength and intelligence, a man who by his own life sets an example for the other Roma. He settles minor disputes on the basis of his mature judgment, and his decisions are followed by other members of the community. However, if the matter to be settled is a serious one, such as theft, adultery, acts of physical violence, or complicated disputes between two parties, a court is convened. This court is called the kris.

The elders of the tribes will hold a meeting to select one or more men to act as the krisnitora, or judges, for the kris. The plaintiff is allowed to choose the judge who will preside over his case, and the defendant has a right to veto that choice. The krisnitori, or judge, is surrounded by the members of the kris council, who act as associate judges. Generally, five or more men from both sides, usually the elders, form the council. The members of the court are the most respected and wisest men available at the time. Women are never included. Of these members, the eldest is generally chosen to preside at the hearings.

The tribal chiefs are not necessarily aware of all the laws. These laws have never been written down or codified. They have been passed along for generations by word of mouth, but this fact makes the decisions nonetheless binding. The Roma interpret laws according to contemporary custom. Former interpretations of laws may be gradually revised as the needs of the community evolve. The exclusive reliance on oral transmission has led to a high degree of flexibility. Nevertheless, there is a shared feeling that the law is clearly defined. Few ever challenge this notion. This strict adherence to the law in part accounts for the continued cohesion of the Roma in spite of their persecution and forced migration.

Calling together a kris (court) is an event of utmost importance in Roma life. In all cases, it is the aggrieved party who must request the kris, which is the held at a neutral kumpania (geographical unity of Roma tribes). The defendants and plaintiffs must represent themselves. Advocates are forbidden. If the alleged victim is old, sick, or very young, the victim's nearest male relative brings the case to the kris. If the welfare of the community demands joint action, the entire clan may be a plaintiff.

The audience of a kris was once largely male. Women and unmarried or childless men were allowed to attend only if they were needed as witnesses. It is now acceptable to have the entire family present for support. Witnesses may speak freely about the case. The Roma believe there can be no justice without hearing the matter out to its fullest.

Roma consider crimes of violence and noncommercial association with gadje (non-Roma) as crimes against Romani society as a whole and therefore marhimé. A marhimé label can be removed by the forgiveness of the offended party, the passage of time, or by another kris Romani.

Marhimé: the state of impurity, being ostracized, from the community

Divorce cases are complex. Even today, many Roma marriages, which may not be legal marriages according to gajikano law, are still arranged, and the groom's family pays a bride price. If the marriage ends in divorce, a kris may be called to determine how much, if any, of the bride price should be returned to the groom's family.

The judge declares the verdict in public to those who are present. If the accused is found innocent, there is a celebration and an oath of peace is sworn. The decision of the kris is final and binding. Even in countries such as Spain and the United States, where the Roma are considered by some gajikane scholars to be semi-assimilated, the verdict of an official state trial is not final. A kris will still be held. Beyond its judicial function, the kris plays an important role in maintaining the customs of the Romani people.

If, at the end of a trial, the defendant is found to be innocent, there is great joy and relief in the community. A banquet may be held, and the former defendant has the right to propose the first toast. If, on the other hand, the defendant is found guilty, any number of different penalties might be invoked. These range from the largely symbolic one of having to pay all court expenses, including food and drink for the judges, to the most serious of all, permanent banishment from the community of Roma.

The entire Roma community is responsible for enforcing sanctions. Roma have no police or prisons. They have no "law enforcement" in the gajikano sense. Peer pressure fueled by communal knowledge of a verdict ensures compliance. The Roma community may place a curse on the guilty party to insure that he or she accepts the chosen punishment, and it appears that this practice is still effective. Only in rare cases, when the Roma have difficulty enforcing a judgment by the kris, do they turn to the gajikano penal system. The kris may ask the gajikane authorities to arrest the defendant. At this point, the accused will usually accept the punishment and the charges will be dropped. Should the wrongdoer persist, however, he or she might be forced to endure a gajikano court trial. Vindication by a non-Roma civil court does not erase a previous conviction by the kris in the mind of the Roma.


Other cultural rules

  • Greetings: when two Roma meet for the first time, according to Romani patyiv the conversation should go like this (it is like a poem everyone knows by heart):

A: Laćho děs, t’aves baxtalo!

Good day, may you be lucky!

B: Te del o Del! T’aves vi tu!

May God help that! May you be as well!

A: Će vitsa san taj kasko ćhavo san?

What clan are you and whose son are you?

B: Pa mure dadeski rig anda lovarengi pa mura daki ande kelderaśengi vitsa sim, e Lolosko taj e Linako ćhavo kaj ćhindǒn anda Rusia pe jekh rig taj and Serbia pe aver. Taj tu, će vitsa san, kasko nyamo san?

I am Lovari on my father’s side and I am Kalderash from my mother’s. I am the son of Lolo and Lina who come from Russia on one hand and from Serbia on the other. And you, whose son are you, what people are you from?

A: Me sim a Koćakesko taj e Ruźako ćhavo ande le ćhurarengi vitsa. Vi pe katya taj vi pe kitya rig anda Polska ćhindyol amari familia. Muri phuri mami nasul romnĭ sas, kaj bararelas peske nepoton mure paposka ćugnyasa.

I am the son of Kochak and Ruzha from the churari clan. Our family is from Poland on both sides. My great-grandmother was a strict woman who was raising her grandchildren with my grandfather’s lash.


  • Red is NEVER worn by an honest gypsy girl, except on her Wedding day to symbolize she is still a virgin.
  • Never greet another Romany before washing in the morning.
  • Women are Marhime from the waist down except to their husband or intended husband. This is in part to prevent rapes, in part to prevent adultery. A woman can scare away evil spirits by waving one of her skirts in the air.
  • If a woman is Marhime then NO male can talk to them until they have been cleansed by the Krisatora (a gathering of 'judges' from different gypsy tribes - the Kris is not called specifically for this purpose it is called to settle disagreements between the gypsies).
  • Women cannot pass in front of men, nor between two men or in front of a wagon or a car. She must go behind them otherwise she might turn a man’s day unlucky.
  • Men and women would sit separately at community gatherings. Women are with the children and men would sit around the table mostly. Elderly women are also welcome around the table of the men.
  • When clan members are together they would always tell stories of well-known, wise and respected family members (both men and women) to each other. The family relations between family members, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. are also examined. This is why many say the Romani is an oral culture full of oral stories but no written documents behind them.
  • Roma celebrations last long: a birthday party, a wedding, or just a spontaneous good meeting might last 2 or 3 days. The entire family is present, parents, children, brothers, sisters and their children, the elderly generations and then they have big meals, drink, sing and dance and have fun.
  • When being in Roma males’ companion one is not expected to talk about anything that might refer to the state of marhime, spiritual and physical uncleanness or impurity. Or if one has something very important to share with the others, a very joyous event (e.g. a wife who has fallen pregnant recently) then should ask for an excuse (śaj jerton – excuse me pls.). Roma males are supposed to ask for an excuse when mentioning their wives for whatever reasons and whenever talking about something unclean.
  • A Romani girl is not expected to wear a shawl until her wedding night. From then on she is expected to wear that continuously to demonstrate that she is married. She is expected to wear long and wide skirts (bulhi coxa – wide skirt) and would never wear trousers or mini skirts. A bori (daughter-in-law) is not expected to act or dress or to use make-up in a provocative or sexually attractive way.
  • A “harniko romnyi” or “harniko bori”, a deft and astute Romani wife or daughter-in-law is expected to:
    • Raise her children according to Romani customs
    • Run the household, always keep it clean and in order
    • Advise moreover govern the husband from behind as a good manager so as to help him make good money for the family and avoid troubles
    • Fully support her husband in making a business, when he has a dispute with a community member or a gajo or gajikano organ.
    • Te kerel śukar mesalya ­– to make a nice table i.e. to cook good meals every day and to put everything on the table properly, clean and pleasing way
    • A wife is not expected to follow her husband to pubs, amusement places to keep her away from marhime things. A wife is the head of the family, she raises the children, she is responsible for passing on the language and the culture to the children on a day to day basis so there rules are there to protect her and thus the entire family in an indirect way.

Music

There are as many as 15 million people around the world who trace their roots to the Roms, and they are universally misunderstood at best, and often reviled. Music is often the grea bridge to understanding anyone.

One cannot really find a definition of what Romani music is or a distinctive genre invented by the Roma. Roma would always use the dominant culture’s musical material for theirs’ and others’ amusement and would smuggle elements into it that make it different from the original non-Roma music and end-up with something that we call Roma style. This can be discovered in the more emotional, rhythmic, fervent, colorful and dramatic realization of the artistic self.

As a result of this Roma would play any kind of instrument that any non-Roma musician plays. Nevertheless the traditional folk flamenco and the sentimental Central-Eastern-European songs of sorrow, regret, poverty and love demonstrate a similar melody, intonation and tune to what we can hear in the Indian world of authentic music.

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Occupations

Characteristic features of traditional Roma professions are high proportions of flexibility and independence. In contrast to dependent wage workers they sell services and trade to the majority population. Contact with the Gadže is limited to purely economic interest. This independence is guaranteed by carrying out the professions together in economic communities.

Irrespective of whether the group leads a settled or nomadic life, in a traditional Roma community all members have the same occupation – provided that the conditions allow it. Comparable with the Indian caste society there is a relation between the group and the profession. Also those groups who have been forced to assimilate try to maintain these structures to a smaller extent.

The relevance of the traditional professions for the ethnic identity of the respective group is further emphasized by the fact that many Roma groups name themselves after their main occupation:

Kalderaš (coppersmith)

Lovara (horse trader)

Ursari (bear trainer)

Čurara (riddle maker)

Lautari (musician)

Drabarni (fortune-teller)

Romani Names


Boys

A

Aladar, Andrzej, Arben, Artani, Aziz


B

Babalaj, Babali, Badu, Bádo, Bádya, Bagara, Bakaloj, Bakro, Baliśo, Balo, Baluri, Balyári, Bambula, Bandi, Bandula, Bango, Banúko, Barbáro, Bébi, Beno, Bera, Beregáno, Besnik, Bexhet, Bidsika, Bimbaj, Bóbo, Boboko, Bóća, Boiko, Bójko, Boldor, Bológa, Bóltoś, Bóto, Branko, Bretyáno, Briklya, Brúno, Buculo, Bućuma, Bukuro, Bumbáka, Bumbáko, Bumbulo, Bunika, Burika, Burtika, Burtya, Buśa, Búta, Butsulo


C

Ćajko, Ćandiri, Ćepi, Carcajla, Ćervonco, Ćića, Ćiga, Ćilibáti, Ćimbria, Cino, Coica, Ćokirta, Ćóldi, Comon, Ćompi, Corin, Ćuća, Ćukuráno, Ćukuro, Ćúla, Ćulika, Cúra, Ćuxno


D

Dámo, Dandva, Danko, Dica, Dilaver, Dilinko, Dinga, Dirzári, Dobroźáno, Dóda, Dodo, Domino, Drágo, Drila, Dúka, Dumitraśka, Dumitro, Duntshi, Duśáno, Dyordyi, Dyúra, Dyurika, Dźivan


E

Emilian


F

Fantak, Fárdi, Fárkuś, Ferka, Fonso, Fránci, Frinka, Frinkulo, Fróśka


G

Gak, Gána, Gimi, Gógo, Gópa, Granća, Greśa, Grofo, Gruja, Guaril, Gunada, Gunari, Guráno, Gurica, Gurúva, Gusti


H

Hanzi, Harman, Hirco, Honko


I

Imbrija, Inga, Ion, Iśvan, Izóto


J

Janći, Janko, Janoro, Janoś, Jaśa, Joca, Joni, Jośka, Jubo


K

Káco, Kako, Kalderaśa, Kalia, Kálo, Kandoj, Karćulo, Karfója, Kika, Kiko, Koćo, Kokoj, Kolev, Kolja, Koja, Koloro, Kore, Kostika, Krenar, Krestevéco, Kuláj, Kunyáśko, Kúza


L

Laci, Laco, Laetshi, Lajoś, Lali, Lanćo, Lángo, Lángos, Lázo, Lévulo, Lika, Lobo, Loiza, Lólo, Luca, Luciano, Luluvo, Lumbo


M

Máko, Mali, Manciu, Mario, Marko, Máśo, Matej, Máto, Merćak, Merikano, Mićo, Mihaj, Mikloś, Milane, Milordo, Miloś, Mircea, Mirkoś, Mitráno, Mitsho, Mixájla, Móśa, Moyo, Múrga, Múrgulo, Múrśa, Múta, Mutshoro


N

Nanoś, Nikolaj, Niku, Ninga, Nonoka, Notarka, Nuzi


P

Páka, Pali, Palko, Panć, Pani, Papa, Papado, Patyano, Peppo, Péro, Petro, Petruś, Petsha, Piko, Pinćika, Pitivo, Pitti, Plamen, Popoj, Potáko, Primári, Pulika, Puludy, Punka, Pupi, Pupoś, Putzina


R

Rajko, Rambo, Ramo, Rika, Riśa, Romano, Rumen, Ruva


S

Saip, Śandor, Saporro, Śkelgim, Śtefan, Stevo, Stevulo, Stojko, Strúno


T

Talpa, Tári, ,Tina, Tódoro, Tóma, Tóni, Tośa, Trifulo, Trojáno, Troka, Tróka, Trukáno, Tuntu, Tuntulo


V

Vánga, Váso, Vedel, Veśengo, Veśo, Vojtáko, Vosho


Z

Zlaćo, Zláto


Girls

A

Antoinette, Anelka, Anuśka, Armanka, Áza


B

Baba, Babi, Babina, Bajana, Bélka, Bica, Bilja, Bina, Binúca, Birka, Birúca, Bisno, Bóra, Botána, Bojála, Boti, Breśa, Brija, Búna, Bruma, Burgulya


C

Cinni, Córa, Cúra, Ćamba, Ćernyavka, Ćilyana


D

Dána, Danira, Dárka, Déna, Diamanta, Diduka, Dika, Dilinka, Dina, Djidjo, Domka, Donka, Dónya, Drága, Drina, Dritta, Dúda, Dudarka, Dulća, Dundya, Dyána, Dyolbána, Dyombála


F

Felástra, Fifika, Florica, Friminka


G

Gána, Gáfa, Gafica, Gaftóna, Grinza, Gúda


K

Káli, Kapica, Káta, Katarina, Káti, Kéza, Kica, Kokána, Kolombina, Keja


L

Lala, Liliana, Lina, Loli, Liza, Ludu, Luga, Lula, Luludja, Luminica, Luna, Lutka, Luśka, Luza, Lyuba, Lyubićka


M

Madóka, Mala, Maliśka, Mára, Mardyola, Marga, Marona, Mimi, Mirella, Mozol


N

Nadja


P

Paparuga, Papin, Paprika, Papusza, Pesha, Phabaj, Pita, Puća


R

Rupa, Rupinka, Ruźa


S

Shofranka, Sidi, Simza, Stanka


T

Tatoya, Terom, Tshaya Tshilaba, Tsura, Tsuritsa


V

Vadoma, Valentina, Viollca


Y

Yolanda