Gypsies - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Rom (man) and romni (woman) also mean "husband" and "wife." Roma avoid Soviet ceremonies and have their own interesting wedding ceremonies, which are strictly observed, even in big cities. These ceremonies blend Orthodox wedding ritual and Gypsy custom. Weddings generally take three days. The first day is set aside for the church wedding. On this day there is a mock negotiation of bride-price, or sometimes a mock abduction: the groom's friends and family storm the bride's home, which is barricaded by the bride's family. The bride and groom arrive separately at the church; after they have been "crowned," they travel together to the reception. There they kneel, holding icons while elders bless them with bread and salt. In some weddings, a procession circles the bride, who carries a staff. Dancing and singing are as important as tables bending under the weight of the food. After it is established that the bride is a virgin, guests don red armbands. (In some weddings the sheet is shown.) Guests offer gifts of money to the couple, placing the bills in a carved-out loaf of bread or announcing the amount with words such as, "from me a little, from God much more."

Marriages are customarily arranged by the parents, with the matchmaking usually initiated by the parents of the groom. Many couples marry in their mid-teens. Unmarried young men and women are not allowed to socialize alone together, as great value is placed on female chastity.

Domestic Unit. Young marrieds live with the parents of the husband. The bride is called bori, which means "one that my vitsa has acquired through marriage." The bori takes on most household tasks, giving up all outside activities for some time. For a couple to have only one or two children is rare; usually there are three or four. It is obligatory to live a year or two with the parents, at least before the first child is born. This pattern is reinforced by the urban housing shortage. Among rural and nomadic groups, extended families may stay together, living in adjoining houses. Among drovers, herdsmen travel together on seasonal cattle drives, whereas the women continue their chores in the home area.

Men command deference from women and are served by them in the home. Women may be considered potentially unclean ( marime ); in the past a woman had to take care not to brush the man accidentally with her skirts, which could pollute him. This was, however, also a source of female power, for a woman could avenge herself on a man by lifting her skirts before or over him. This could lead to his ostracization for up to a year. Although men make many family decisions and only male elders can judge in the kris (court), women are respected for their skill at bringing in daily provisions. The physical deference of women and the separation of the sexes does not always mean that women are silent, especially once they become elders in their own household.

Inheritance. With state control of most private property the rule in the former USSR until the Gorbachev era, inheritance usually included only personal items. In some cases, among entrepreneurial Gypsies, this can mean significant family treasures. Gold, especially, is prized as a gift between generations.

Socialization. Gypsy families prefer not to turn their children over to day-care centers, although urban women, like other Soviet women who work outside the home, may do so. Women are responsible for most child care, but often they do not care for the children alone; in the country relatives are always nearby, and in the city visits are frequent. Children are often included in adult company, and small ones may be passed from one to another: they receive kisses, are asked to speak, and often are held out to face the rest of the company. Men are also affectionate with children, male and female.

Romani is learned at home, Russian outside the home. There may be conflicts between Romani and Russian (and formerly, Soviet) values, especially for those who receive more schooling. The prime loyalty is to the family: Roma may consider other nationalities to be insufficiently family-oriented. Training in skills begins quite early, and children help their parents in whatever is the family occupation, be it dancing, carpentry, or something else. Girls become skilled at household tasks and may have experience with other kinds of work by the time they marry in their mid-teens. They also learn modestly deferent deportment.


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