Romani Customs and Traditions:
Roma expect females to be virgins when they marry
and to remain faithful to their husbands until death. The potential for
defilement is greatly heightened at marriage because Roma perceive it as
the end of a woman's innocence. Traditionally, marriages for Roma have
occurred early, after age nine but usually before age fourteen. Gajikane
influence has undermined this tradition in many countries.
Many Roma tribes still maintain the institution of bride price. This
is a payment made by the family of the groom to the family of the bride.
It compensates them for the loss of a daughter and guarantees that she
will be treated well.
For many Roma tribes it is the parents, and not
the young people, who arrange the marriage. The prospective bride and groom
might be consulted, but their opinions are rarely considered in making
a final decision. According to these tribes, it is an essential and important
duty of the parents to find a bride suitable for their son. They carefully
consider all the young, unmarried women in the group, evaluating their
Because of integration into non-Roma societies, many young couples have
opposed arranged engagements and marriages and have eloped. Elopement consists
simply of the couple leaving together for a period of time. When they return
they are chastised and sometimes pay a nominal fine. They usually are accepted
as a married couple in time.
The family plays an active part in marriage formalities
that, to non-Roma eyes, may seem lengthy and elaborate. First, there are
prolonged discussions between the parents, particularly over the amount
of the darro, or dowry. This is a sum meant to compensate for the
potential earning power of the bori, or daughter-in-law, who has
been taken from her family to join that of her new in-laws.
Physical appearance is least important in selecting a bride. The prospective
brides are judged on their merits, such as health, stamina, strength, dispositions,
manners, and domestic skills. The character of the girl's family, as well
as their prestige in the community, is also taken into account.
In these cases, no courtship is involved. It is possible that the prospective
couple will hardly know each other before they marry. They will usually
send a third, uninvolved person to hear out the girl's parents on the acceptability
of the young man. Rejection of a formal proposal is considered a disgrace.
If all goes well, the father of the boy then calls on the father of the
girl. It is a polite and rather serious meeting. The purpose is to obtain
the formal consent of the girl's father, and to establish a price to be
paid for the bride. This money is to compensate the father for the loss
of his daughter, and not as the purchase of a bride.
The discussion can be a long one, centering on the estimated value of
the future bride. All the future bride's desired qualities are taken into
consideration. In addition, the girl's father calculates how much his daughter
has cost him since birth, since he is in effect giving her away. His money
and training have helped make her what she is. At these meetings, the discussions
can become quite serious. Sometimes it is necessary to call in friends
as witnesses to the bride's good qualities. They may argue for a higher
price on her behalf, or to call in other friends to mediate.
Frequently, a few days after the agreement has
been made, a ceremony called a pliashka, or plotchka, is
held. This event is attended by both friends and relatives of the couple.
The symbol of this joyous celebration is a bottle of wine or brandy wrapped
in a brightly colored silk handkerchief, brought to the ceremony by the
young man's father. A necklace of gold coins is traditionally attached
to the bottle. The groom-to-be's father takes the necklace of coins and
puts it around the future bride's neck, and warmly embraces his future
daughter-in-law, or bori. The necklace makes it clear to all that
the girl is now engaged and not available as a bride to any other man.
The groom-to-be's father drinks from the bottle and passes it around to
the guests. When the bottle is emptied, it is refilled with wine or brandy
for use at the wedding celebration.
There are traditional but simple wedding ceremonies
performed by some groups of Roma. In some marriages, the bride and groom
will join hands in front of the chief of a tribe, or an elder of that tribe,
and promise to be true to each other. A few Roma wedding rites are centered
on bread. In one rite, the bride and groom each take a piece of bread and
place a drop of their blood on the bread. They then exchange and eat each
other's bread. In another ritual, the young couple sit down, surrounded
by relatives and friends. A small amount of salt and bread is then placed
on the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of the bread, puts salt
on it, and eats it. The bride does the same. The union of salt and bread
symbolizes a harmonious future together for the groom and bride.
Wedding gifts almost always consist of money. Some families may save
much of their money to present as gifts at weddings. These money gifts
will help the new couple start their new lives together somewhat financially
When the celebration has ended, it is time for
the groom to take his bride to his home. The bride's family kisses the
girl and they weep as they unbraid her hair, a symbol for her new marital
status. Her new mother-in-law helps the bride knot her diklo, or
head scarf, a sign that she is a married woman. She is never seen again
without this diklo in public.
The celebrations ended, a new life begins for the couple. They now take
their places as full members of the community. The major change for the
man is that he is now socially accepted by other married men. Changes for
the woman are more radical, for it is she who leaves her family, gathers
her personal belongings, and moves in with her husband's family. She is
guided by her new mother-in-law and expected to take an active role in
the household. Not until the birth of their first child, and sometimes
not until the birth of several children, will the couple move into their
own home. Not until they are parents, too, will they be able to refer to
each other as husband and wife. Before then, they use only their first
names with each other or in speaking about each other.
Marriages among Roma are serious commitments, and
there are strict obligations on both sides. If a girl is found guilty of
adultery, she must be taken back by her parents, who, in addition, must
return the bride price to the husband's father. Infidelity in marriage
historically has had serious consequences for the wife, including corporal
punishment or a sentence of marimé. If the girl's father
feels she has been mistreated by her husband or her in-laws, he has the
right to take her away. In many cases, these complaints are heard before
the kris before a final settlement is made.
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Gypsies. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992.
Greenfield, Howard. Gypsies.
New York: Crown Publishers, 1977.
McDowell, Bart. Gypsies:
Wanderers of the World. National Geographic Society, 1970.
Sutherland, Anne. Gypsies:
The Hidden Americans. Reprinted Prospect Heights: Waveland, 1986.