Gypsies are a specific ethnic community, the so
called "intergroup ethnic community" (LGEC) which has no analogue in the
other European peoples. Gypsies in Bulgaria, like Gypsies around the world,
are not a united and homogeneous community. They are divided into many
internal subdivisions - separate groups, metagroup units and subgroup divisions.
All Gypsies in Bulgaria belong to the Roma stream, but alongside the general
self-appellation Roma or Gypsies, many groups have their own endonymes
(internal self-appellation) or they use exonymes (external appellation)
given to them by other Gypsy groups or the surrounding population.
Gypsies in Bulgaria can be classified on the basis of group self-consciousness
reflected in their etnonymes. A complete and well-grounded classification
must also consider additional criteria such as language, lifestyle, boundaries
of endogamy, professional specialisation, time of settlement in Bulgaria,
etc. All these criteria reflect on the self-consciousness and give the
complete picture of the present state of Gypsy ethnos in Bulgaria. This
is by no means a static picture, it used to be different and will yet be
different in other periods of history.
The metagroup community of settled Gypsies or "Yerlii"
(a generic name) is the most numerous and varied one. These are the descendants
of the first group who more or less gave up nomadism and settled on the
Balkans at the time of the Ottoman Empire. They speak different dialects
of the Balkan group of Gypsy languages which belongs to the first and earlier
stage of development of these dialects ("strata I" according to some authors).
Dialects can differ a lot with each group, some groups have forgotten the
Gypsy language and speak Turkish (or use both languages). The community
of "Yerlii" is divided into two main subdivisions - Dassikane Roma
(Christian or Bulgarian Gypsies) and Horohane/Horahane Roma (Muslim
or Turkish Gypsies). Within the boundaries of these subdivisions there
are some well-preserved groups - the awareness of belonging to the group
comes first, the groups have preserved their traditional functions, they
are strictly endogamous and differentiate themselves from other Gypsy groups
and the surrounding population. These groups have often preserved their
traditional occupations and sometimes their semi-nomadic way of life. Among
Dassikane Roma such groups are: Burgudjii (Gimletmakers),
(Basket-makers), Dzhambazi (Hors dealers), etc.; among Horohane
Roma - Drandari or Musikanti (Musicians),
(Basket-makers), Zvanchari (Bell-makers), etc.
At the same time there are large communities who remember the old time
occupations and the respective group division, but no longer practise them,
the boundaries between groups have been obliterated to a great extent and
moved to the frame of the bigger community (Dassikane or Horohane Roma).
These processes are typical mostly for big city mahali. In some instances,
especially after a number of name and religion changes (such as those in
Sofia) community awareness is on a still higher level (only as "Yerlii"),
while in others the memory of the past religion and the respective differentiation
as a separate community remain - such is the case of Horohane Roma
(Turkish Gypsies) who are Christians.
Sometimes the memory of old occupations and group division is completely
absent. The ethnic self-consciousness here, as in the above example, is
in the metagroup frame.
The Agupti, who are Blacksmiths in the Rhodope
mountains, stand apart from the other "Yerlii". They are probably an older
wave of settlement on the Balkans, they observe a strict distance from
other Gypsy groups and are considerably different from them. The Agupti
have a strong urge to blend with the surrounding Turkish or Bulgarian-Muslim
population and also accept the Turkish or Bulgarian language (the use of
the Gypsy language is just a memory of a secret, third language used by
the older generations).
There is another big subdivision of the Gypsy community in Bulgaria
which is not separate in the classification scheme but belongs to the "Yerlii"
framework. This is the community of Vlahichki Gypsies (an appellation
used in Western Bulgaria) or Vlahoria (with variants - Vlaho,
used in Eastern Bulgaria). They use the so called second level dialects
(dialects of "strata II" of the Balkan group), some authors even classify
them in a separate Vlach dialect group (together with the third level).
Their settlement in Bulgarian lands can be dated back to approximately
the 17th - 18th c. when their ancestors came from Wallachia (mostly runaway
slaves within the Ottoman Empire). They had been nomads with group divisions
into sitari (sievemakers ), reshetari or kalburdjii (cullender-makers),
or grebenari (comb-makers), koshnichari (basket-makers),
etc., who gradually became settled in the 20's and 30's (some even later)
mostly in town mahali, some changed their religion (those in Eastern Bulgaria
are now Moslems) and gradually joined the existing metagroup communities
(Dassikane and Horohane Roma). Co-existence and intermarriages are
normal today, but the different group origin is still remembered, there
are also some differences in appearance, some cultural and behavioural
specifics, which give them til now a special place in the general metagroup
frames of the communities they have entered.
A more specific case is presented by some groups of this first "Yerlii"
subdivision - Gypsies with Turkish identity - who have a preferred self-consciousness
and declare themselves as Turks. These are Muslim "Turkish" Gypsies who
have lost most of their group specifics and are often bilingual (speaking
Turkish and Romani) or entirely monolingual (speaking,-only Turkish). Similar
processes develop with some "Bulgarian" Gypsies such as "Dzhorevtsi" (also
called "Melali", "Murtapi", etc.) the majority of whom descend from intermarriages
between Bulgarians and Gypsies.
A second major and very distinct metagroup community
among Bulgarian Gypsies is the one of "Kalderashi/Kardarashi" (also
a generalising name given by the "Yerlii"). These are former nomads who
were forced to become sedentary in 1958 with a special decree of the Council
of Ministers. They live mostly in villages and small towns and less often
in bigger towns, in small family groups scattered among the surrounding
population without forming their own mahali. "Kardarashi" use their own
dialects (so called third level or "strata III" of the Balkan group or
a part of Vlach dialects according to another classification). They are
descendants of groups who spread to the world from Wallachia, Moldova and
Transilvania during the great Kelderara invasion (in the second half of
the 19th c.).
There are two major subdivisions of "Kardarashi", internally divided
into differentiated groups and subgroups (according to regional, clan or
other features). The first subdivision includes the groups (and subgroups)
analogous to "Lovari" (as they are called elsewhere). Other appellations
are used in Bulgaria together with "Lovari" (some of which are limited
to a certain territory, mostly according to internal subgroup divisions)
such as Zlataria (or Grastari,
Nitsuleshi - "Serbian
Gypsies"), Dodolania, Tasmanari,
Zhapli or Zhapleshti
and others. Their traditional occupations are trade for men (mostly in
horses in the past which is no longer the case) and fortune-telling for
women. They are close to the "Kelderara" related community spread all over
the world. Its subdivisions are known as Laiashi or Laineshti,
(copper-makers) or Niamtsuria ("German" Gypsies, "Hungarian" or
"Austrian" tinsmiths) living mostly in Northern Bulgaria.
All "Kardarasha" Gypsies differ greatly from the rest of the Gypsy community
and are strictly endogamous within the wider boundaries of the community
as a whole.
The "Thracean" Kalaidzii (Thracean tinsmiths) have a very specific
place between the two major metagroup societies ("Yerlia" and "Kardarasha").
A number of criteria, such as lifestyle, group preservation, primary role
of group self-consciousness, etc. make them similar to the "Kardarasha"
community, while their language is similar to level II. They are rigorously
closed in their own group and keep their distance from the two major subdivisions
of the Gypsy community.
Rather a different example is the one of the third
major Gypsy community in Bulgaria - Rudara (called "Vlasi" [Vlach's]
or "Vlach Gypsies " by the surrounding population). Its members speak an
old dialect of Rumanian and have a preferred ethnic self-consciousness
(i.e. identify themselves as Vlachs or old Rumanians and differentiate
themselves distinctly from Gypsies, although they are aware of a certain
relationship). Like "Kardarasha", they spread around the world during the
great Kelderara invasion and are Orthodox Christians. This community consists
of two main subdivisions: Lingurari (spoon-makers, also called "kopanari")
who make wooden goods; and Ursari
("mechkari" and "maymunari" -
bear and monkey trainers). It is not clear whether bear and monkey trainers
had in the past belonged to one or to two distinct groups. Lingurari
and Ursari are endogamous and show serious tendencies of opening
the boundary of endogamy within the greater Rudara community. Until
recently Rudara were nomads and they have preserved the nomadic
lifestyle with seasonal travellings mainly of Ursari who travel
with their bears and monkeys across the country in the warm seasons. Rudara
representatives can be seen all over the country, they live mostly in villages
and small towns, sometimes in their own mahali.
A very interesting issue is the one of the number
of Gypsy groups and especially the major subdivisions of the Gypsy community
in Bulgaria according to the above classification. Unfortunately we have
to admit that there is no exact information (and probably there will not
be any soon), such indicators have never been part of any census and are
not considered in demographical and sociological studies. Given this situation,
we can only rely on a general and personal estimation in order to define
the number of Gypsies in the major subdivision of the Gypsy ethnic community
in Bulgaria. There is no doubt that more than half of the Bulgarian Gypsies
belong to the provisionally limited "Yerlia" community (including the Lahoria
or Viahichki who have joined it). Horohane Roma are more
numerous than Dassikane Roma, but it is most likely that no more
than one third of them have preferred Turkish self-consciousness (even
though this number is usually exaggerated). As far as the other communities
are concerned, we can say that Rudara are slightly more numerous
than "Kardarasha", but it is hard to make a more precise internal comparison.
These estimations are only approximate, nevertheless they can give an idea
of the current internal distribution within the Gypsy community in Bulgaria.