Vlach Gypsies of Hungary - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The most important fact about the Rom economy is that they have never used land productively; this they leave to the non-Gypsies. In feudal Europe, Rom had a reputation as blacksmiths and musicians; both professions were considered tainted or "infamous," construed as either polluting or socially dangerous. Now Rom engage, if possible, in various forms of trade, especially with horses, antiques, and (most recently) secondhand cars. Other goods (e.g., nylon sheeting) may be scavenged from municipal rubbish heaps and then sold back to the gaze (non-Gypsies). For most Rom, trade provides an insufficient income to support a family, and, therefore, they take wage-labor jobs in factories and collective farms. When Hungary had a Socialist government, all citizens were obliged to have a registered workplace. This law had been introduced, it was said, to prevent middlemen from "sponging off society," and Gypsies were at times persecuted for trying to avoid "honorable work." A Rom family will often keep a few (two to six) piglets for fattening and later sale to the slaughterhouse,. These piglets, fed on bread and other garbage scavenged from urban housing estates, provide a crucial extra source of cash income. Food is always purchased in shops, though a particular type of unleavened bread ( bokholi ) is made by Rom women and thought to be truly Gypsy food.

Industrial Arts. Gypsies produce little apart from metalwork either for their own use or for sale. Rather than make, for example, brush brooms himself, a Rom will buy the Material and employ a gazo to make them for him before selling them back to gaze in the markets of rural Hungary.

Trade. Rom trade is primarily in horses. Cart horses are needed by Hungarian peasants to work their "household plots," and Rom are the middlemen who organize the circulation of these animals. Horses play an important symbolic role in the self-definition of the Hungarian "proper peasant," and so, by controlling the trade in these animals, Gypsies have acquired a position of control in the Hungarian marketplace. Rom more recently have begun to take over the secondhand car market in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Rom say that they can dominate in the market because they have the ability to "talk people into parting with their money." The wit and personal skills of the Rom trader are celebrated in contrast to the plodding ardor of the peasantlike non-Gypsy. Trade is an activity that Rom engage in together, and the spoils of trade tend to be split equally between those who cooperate on a deal.

Division of Labor. Both men and women from the age of 14-16 engage in wage labor. Horse trading and other symbolically elaborated marketing activities are the preserve of male Rom, as it is considered unlucky for a (fertile) woman to interfere in such. Rom women tend to be more involved in scavenging industrial refuse, which they sell alongside their husbands at the horse fairs. They also raise the piglets that provide income for subsidizing the horse trade, which is itself by no means always profitable. There are no formal occupational specializations according to age or sex.

Land Tenure. Rom own no productive land. Houses, however, may be owned and sold to other Rom or non-Gypsies.


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