The preservation of tradition, often divergent
from majority norms, plays a predominant role in the values of the Roma.
The practice of their traditions frequently leads them into conflict with
the majority system of values and institutions, and sometimes they are
forced to evade the official rules, or even to break the laws reflecting
the majority standards.
The Roma in Hungary do not form a homogeneous community either in their
language or their customs. About two-thirds of them, the Romungro
(Hungarian Gypsies), are linguistically more or less assimilated; 30 percent
are Vlach Roma whose mother tongue is Romanes, and approximately 5 percent
of them make up the Beash group speaking an archaic Romanian dialect.
The Vlach Gypsies living scattered in various parts of the country in small
groups form the most closed community and lay the greatest emphasis on
the preservation of their tradition.
The most important element in the cult of the dead
among the Gypsies is ensuring the respect due to the dead person. An obligatory
part of the cult is watching the dead, if possible, in his or her home.
This may go on for several nights, or even until the funeral. However,
the latest possible date for the removal and burial of the dead is regulated
by strict rules, which are irreconcilable with the tradition of wake. The
Roma do everything to keep the deceased among their relatives, in their
own homes for the longest possible time, even if this means bribing the
municipal health office.
According to the 10/1970 departmental order on "Cemeteries and funeral
activities" of the Ministry of Building and Town Development and the Ministry
of Health - modified in 1983 -, in settlements "with a mortuary or morgue,
after the coroner's examination, the dead must immediately, or in 16 hours
at the latest, be removed into the mortuary of the cemetery, (...) the
dead can not be laid out in a private house or at any other place. In exceptional
circumstances permission for laying in state and funerals outside the cemetery
should be sought for from the state inspector of public health and epidemics."
One way the Roma may break the laws is if they - not risking the refusal
of the municipal health officer - do not notify the coroner instantly after
death, or if they do not have their relative buried in 72 hours. In this
case the municipal clerk or the supervisor of public health and epidemics
can impose a fine up to 30 000 HUF (160 USD). With many applications for
permission turned down, the majority of the Vlach Gypsies very often notifies
the authorities only right before the end of the several-days-long watch,
in some contradiction with the announcement of the health officer.
The obligatory notification and the watch - during which they almost
have to hide their dead - may sometimes lead to absurd scenes, like the
one some years ago in Szarvas, Southeastern Hungary: here a Rom got ill
and died during a funeral, and his sons had to "steal him out" in their
car from the ceremony, so that they could lay him out and so that the exact
date of his death did not become known.
There is additional trouble about the wake if the relative dies in hospital.
If he or she dies in an accident or if his or her death does not come from
natural causes, the Gypsies still insist on holding a wake for at least
one night in the dead person's own home. In these cases the dead person
is taken from the hospital to the mortuary, and the municipal health officer
may agree to have the body laid out in his home. In such cases, however,
the authorities are aware of the exact date of the death, and thus they
cannot be outwitted.
The Roma usually try to prevent the dissection
of their dead: if they cannot find any other means, they will bribe the
employees of hospitals. The average costs are different in each hospital,
and they may reach some tens of thousands HUF (some hundred USD). They
agree to the dissection of the body if the death was caused by accident,
homicide or the supposed carelessness of the doctor: in these cases they
ask the hospital to replace the dissected organs into the corpse.