As far as the family is concerned, Romanies were never.

Father, mother and a bunch of children around them. Boys bring brides to their families. Of course, father’s father and mother, purim dad and purim daj, have to be present as well. Sometimes an uncle or aunt, possibly also the mother’s parents.

When Romanies celebrate their silver wedding they are surely heard all over the place since they really know how to have fun.

Familija was a name for an extended three or four-generation family divided into five to ten households. It was actually larger tribal group led by the elders: phuro or phuri.
Avitsa was a name for a larger group of blood-relatives.
Familija and avitsa formed basic dynamic elements of broader communities: kumpania, i.e. community of the same neighbourhood, and natsia, i.e. sub-ethnic group, which was characterised by a traditional craft, existing endogamy that is to say blood relation, particular dialect and various customs.
Vlach Romanies used even fixed expressions such as amaro nipo (our large group) and amaro nipos (our nation).
amaro nipo
dad father
phrala brothers
šávo, šáve married sons
šej, šeja single daughters
šavoura children of brothers and sons
dej či romňi mother
džamutre sons-in-law
bouri daughters-in-law
+ papu and mámi (father’s parents), nano and lala (uncle and aunt), sokro and sokra (mother-in-law and father-in-law)
Daughters came to the family of their husbands who had to buy them out. This strange custom is observed with Vlach Romanies even today, just the prices went up a bit.

Group of several large families (amaro nipos) had its tribal leader, the so called vajda. Vajda comes from a Transylvanian word vojvoda. Vajda was called mujalo, thute or čhibalo which was an expression used by settled Romanies. (It was derived from čhib, i.e. language because they were also spokesmen of the community). Vajda was usually the oldest man in the family and he either inherited this position or he was elected by a committee of men for his abilities and merits.
He retained a lot of power. It was him who decided about the direction of Romany nomadizing, or about observing conventions. He was judge, priest and counsellor at the same time. He married couples, baptised by total immersion in cold water (also in winter; little Romany children must have had a lot of fun!) and he buried the dead. When a child was born, first the father lifted the baby up to demonstrate he accepts him / her as his child and then the baby was shown to vajda.
Vajda accepted in his group also men with families who had to leave another group. After a probation of about six months this new member was adopted. They sat down on the ground, vajda had a speech, exorcised new member not to misuse the complaisance of the group otherwise his eyes will dry out or he will get a fever and other kinds of curse for his disobedience. Then they took a bottle of brandy, put it on his partner’s right shoulder and drank it while looking at each other’s eyes to see if they do not notice insincerity. After that the adopted member together with his family enjoyed all rights as well as responsibilities. Vlach Romanies preserved many of these customs even after they stopped nomadizing.

Sinti, i.e. German Romanies, originally practised only a few crafts. They were grinders, umbrella repairmen or cloth vendor. Today some of them (e.g. Berousek’s family) are for example circus performers. (They are called worldly among the other Roms.)
They honour their own Romany identity, they observe romane braucha, customs and traditions. As a group they have very good relationships all around the world and there are thousands of them. They use the Sinti language which very few people understand. Sinti language is a dialect influenced by German language. Many of their customs remain a mystery.
They can be divided into Bémáks (Böhmen = Czech), Estrajchtike (Österreich = Austria), Prajstike (derived from Prussia) and Valštike (Wald = woods).
The communities of settled Romanies, which prevail, did not retain such peculiarities as Vlach Romanies or Sinti. They were all equal in their settlements. (The settlements started in the 16th century as we will learn in the chapter about Romany identity). There were not great social differences. Strictly speaking nobody had anything.
In their isolation they stuck together but at the same time they were dependent on the majority. Though they mastered their crafts very well they did not have an integrated economic life.
Vajda (also čhibalo) was the head of the settlement. However, he did not enjoy such power as for instance Vajda by Vlach Romanies.
In some of the settlements the so called phuri daj (drap daj, bosorka, braterkyňa) had a special position. She retained her power through her natural authority among women. She influenced family and social life, she knew how to heal and practise sorcery.
The principles and structures of these settlements changed in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Equality disappeared. On the lowest level was a class of the poorest. Another level included people who were employed (at least part time) or on a regular rent. They sure let their ”wealth” know and show. Third group were musicians who as first separated themselves from the traditional community, then dealers, usurers who lent money on incredibly high interest rates, and families in new houses.
No wonder that Romany families have always been very large and multigenerational. We all know how good it is to stick together. And especially Romanies had very often a hard time in their history as they lived in a very hostile and antagonistic environment of various groups.
One family split only when it became too large so that they could earn their living. Separate groups did not feel any belonging to the others of the same ethnic group. Still they competed on the market with each other.
Although Roms from other groups were not very welcomed, there was a convention of hospitality, especially when a Romany ran away from an enemy such as a policeman. To lodge information against somebody with the police was considered a shame, ”pre ladž”. We will learn more about this issue in a chapter PATIV and LADŽ.

Rom from a different group was allowed to stay one day, if he was in his own group he could stay as long as he wanted. Gagio (non-Romany) could stay a few days. Positive aspect of romipen and Romany character is that they accept everyone who likes them and whoever needs their help. You can find a real protection in a Romany community.
Odadženo mardo, so ačhila a čoro, oda mek goreder, so hino korkoro. (Whoever is poor suffers. Whoever is alone suffers even more.) Shouldn’t this saying be engraved in stone?


Their concept of time and eating habits are quite strange as well. Time flows as a river and now is the time to live. Children ask: ”Are we going to eat today?”. They do not say: ”What are we going to eat today?” There si another Romany saying: “Father takes care of the spoon to eat from, mother takes care of the food in a pot.”
Man is the head of the family. He has the authority, as it is him who wears the hat, not the woman. Woman is on the 2nd place according to Romany tradition, she rules only at home, in the kitchen and she takes care of the children.
It has always been the responsibility of the man to make money or to make something. He did forging, embossed a kettle or scooped a trough. We will learn more about traditional Romany crafts in a separate chapter. Others had to conform to his decisions.
Everyday life of a family depended on mother many times. She took her husband’s products, nails, chains, horseshoes to zajda, she added her baskets, brooms, and she carried them on her back and offered them to people in the village. Sometimes she got money for them, more often, however, she got food, clothes or a few plates. When the man did not have any job, any work to do, and they ran out of money, it was the mother who went to households and begged for food. She cooked it back home, one food a day.
She always went through town behind her husband, carrying bags and children. Yet recently her position had been very bad and humiliating. She was expected to make love, work, raise children, take care of food and household. Women were not allowed to join their husbands at parties. When a child was born, it was only the man they congratulated to. This look like a discrimination, doesn’t it? Romany women deserve a separate chapter.
Long term affection of the husband towards his wife was somehow missing. Still, getting divorced was something unthinkable!

The elders have always enjoyed a great respect and people came to them for an advice.
Old women were sometimes bosorkas (see chapter Women) so it was better to be on good terms with them.

Romanies love their children. so Mothers take care of them so that they are healthy and happy, not hungry. They take care especially of the first born. The oldest children then take care of their brothers and sisters. They often carried their babies as life dolls on their backs a whole day.
For ages children were their wealth and happiness. Nane čhave, nane bacht! (No children, no happiness).
Let’s hope it is not just a legend. Children with tan faces and big brown eyes in children homes would witness something else!
But let's be optimistic.



All parents believe their child is the most beautiful. And these Romany children are really beautiful, aren’t they?
Unfortunately, Romany mothers do not talk with their children enough, they do not read them fairy tales, neither train them in skills. Romany children lag behind the others at school. Young family might say: “That’s how our parents raised our children.” Nevertheless, romipen should be open to change in order to survive in today’s world.
There is a new Romany saying: Love tutar šaj čoren, ale so džanes, ňiko tutar na lela. (They can take your money but no one can take from you what you have learnt from you.) Hopefully this saying will be written in the hearts of more and more Romany people.
What about children's relationship towards their parents?
Šun la le dades, bo chale buter maro sar tu! - Obey your parents because they have eaten more bread than you have!
Or: Savi pativ des tu tire dades, ajsi pativ šaj užares tire chavendar. (Your children will respect you as much as you respect your parents.)
It was always hard for children to leave their parents, even when they were adults. They never place their parents to retired homes. Nowadays the situation is different. Sons brought their wives to their parents´ house and later they became independent when they built their own houses. However, they never forgot about their parents and the youngest son usually stayed with his parents until they passed away.
Romanies express an extraordinary respect for mother.
Te meral dad, rovel o vodi, te maral daj, rovel o jilo. (When father dies, the soul is weeping but when mother dies, the heart is crying.)

Romanies become mature very early, especially sexually. Thirteen or fourteen year old girls married to fifteen or sixteen year old boys were no exceptions among Romanies.
When a girl likes a boy, she can win his affection (te prikerenpeske) by means of various tactics Romanies believe in. At the very beginning when they start to like each other they already call themselves e piraňi or mro pirano (my dear).
Then comes mongaviben which is a sort of faked marriage since the young couple does not have the right age to get married yet. Later it is followed by bijav which is a real official wedding. At this time the girl may already have a few children and another one may be on its way. Otherwise it would be a shame and she would proof sterile. For centuries they have never used any method of abortion. It would be considered an enormous sin, something unthinkable. Not mentioning bosorkyňas would find ways to “help”.
And today? Who know. Prostitution which used to be a big taboo among Romany women, spread very widely as well. We wish Romipen recovered.
And one more fact - illegitimate children have always enjoyed the same status as other children in a family. As far as this issue is concerned, there have not been any prejudice among Romany people.

After migration stopped, multigenerational families had slowly been replaced by typical one-generation families. And we can understand why. The ways of choosing a partner often changed as well. There were new criteria not so strictly endogamic. Economic issues, unemployment and social status became an important factor. And also character of the woman who had to be able to manage a different and transformed household.
There are mixed marriages. For instance Vlach Romany can marry Rumungry girl. There are also marriages with gagios. It is always an honour for a Romany family. They believe their social status increased. We see a different reaction from the majority. Such a family often excommunicates its offspring from a family life due to prejudice and deep rooted aversion.
Thank God that after a birth of a child relationships often improve and become much better!