Marriage Customs and Beliefs
Engagements and marriages signify the extension and continuation of the family. For this reason they are accompanied by great celebrations. Marriage signifies the Gypsy couples change in positions as full and productive members of the community. All Gypsies are expected to marry.
Both sexes are expected to marry someone within their tribe and most Gypsies conform by marrying someone within their group. If a Gypsy male marries a non-gypsy female, his community may eventually accept her, provided that she adopts the Gypsy way of life. But it is a worse violation of the marime' code for a Gypsy female to marry a gaje, because Gypsy women are the guarantors for the survival of the population.
The first step in contemplating marriage is the selection of the bride. The boy does the courting, and when the couple agrees to marry they become engaged and exchange modest gifts.
Gypsy tradition maintains 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 she will be treated well.
For many Gypsy tribes it is the parents, and not the young people, who arrange the marriage. According to these tribes, it is an essential and important duty of the parents to find a bride suitable for there son. They carefully consider all the young women in the group, evaluating their individual qualities.
Some couples disagreeing with the arrangement, have eloped. When they return they are chastised and sometimes pay a nominal fine. They usually are accepted as a married couple in time.
There are sometimes lengthy marriage formalities that must be followed. First, there are prolonged discussions between the parents, particularly over the amount of darro or Dowry.
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. Rejection of a formal proposal is considered a disgrace.
If all goes well the father of the boy calls on the father of the girl. It is a polite and rather serious meeting. The purpose is to obtain formal consent of the girls 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 the bride.
When an agreement is reached the father of the future bride drinks a symbolic glass of wine. This means that the boy has been formally approved as a husband, under the agreed conditions. Following the formal agreement of terms, there is often a banquet, complete with music, singing, and dancing. The bride to be and her family often feign sorrow at having to leave each other. The grooms family may complain about the high bride price they had to pay. In the end they decide that the price is fair for a bride who will be a good wife to their son.
Frequently a few day 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 father of the groom-to-be takes the necklace of coins and puts it around the future brides 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 father of the groom-to-be 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.
The Wedding Ceremony
The mere fact that two people have agreed to live together and share their lives together constitutes marriage and no formal ritual is required. Some tribes of Gypsies do perform wedding ceremonies.
In some marriages the bride and groom will join hands in front of the bandolier and promise to be true to each other. A few Gypsy 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 others 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.
The informal joyous festivities celebrating the marriage can go on for several days. A huge feast is served on these occasions. There is an open fire over which whole pigs, sides of beef, game, chicken, or goose are roasted. There are huge platters of fried potatoes and boiled cabbage stuffed with rice and chopped meat, with herbs and garlic. Drink too is served generously. There are songs and dances
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 secure.
When the celebration has ended, it is time for the groom to take his bride home. The brides 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 headscarf, a sign that she is a married woman. She is never seen again in public without this diklo, headscarf.
The bride moves into the husbands home. The mother-in-law guiding her and the bride is expected to take an active role in the household. Not until the birth of their first child will the couple move into their own home. Not until they are parents 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.
The birth of a child is a special event. A new child ensures continuation of the family line and adds to the respect of the family.
During pregnancy a gypsy woman is cared for by the women of the tribe and the husband takes over all her duties. The woman at the time of birth is taken to a birthing tent, and is at this point the responsibility of the midwife and her attendants. Various customs abound for birthing rites and vary from tribe to tribe and eve from midwife to midwife.
One rite among some tribes involves the untying of certain knots, so that the umbilical cord will not be knotted. Sometimes all the knots in the expectant mother's clothing will be undone or cut. At other times, the expectant mother's hair will be loosened if it has been pinned or tied with a ribbon.
Other symbolic rituals involve the formal recognition of the infant by its father. In some Gypsy tribes, the child is wrapped in swaddling on which a few drops of paternal blood are placed. In other cases, the child is covered by a piece of clothing belonging to the father. It is traditional in other tribes for the mother to put the infant on the ground. The father picks up the infant and places a red string around it's neck, thereby acknowledging that the child is his.
In some tribes the mother cannot be seen by any man except the husband before the baptism. The husband face restrictions too. He will often be prohibited from going out between sunset and sunrise so that he may keep away from evil spirits, called tsinvari, which might attack the infant during the night. These infants might attack the new mother also. These spirits have also been known to posses the mother causing her to do harm to those she loves. In one such incident the mother became possessed and killed half her campania before she wound up being killed. Only other women, and never the husband or other men, are allowed to protect her.
The baptism takes place two weeks after the birth. During this time period the mother and child are isolated. Before the baptism, the baby's name cannot be pronounced.
The baptism has the baby baptised in running water to cleanse it. It is massaged with oil to strengthen it and in some cases amulets and or talismans are used to protect it from evil spirits.
After the purification by water the baby is formally a human being and can be called by a name. This name, however, is only one of three that the child will carry through his or her life. The first name remains a secret. Tradition has it that this name is whispered by the mother, the only one who knows it at the time of birth, and it is never used. The purpose of this secret name is to confuse the supernatural spirits by keeping the real identity of the child from them. The second name is a Gypsy name used only among the Gypsies and didikai, or Gypsy friends. The third name is a name used when dealing with non-gypsy.
The child is raised by the entire tribe, and it is the responsibility of everyone in the family unit to help raise the child. The growing child plays at will. The child has a special place in the family, adored and cherished by his or her parents. He or she learns whatever skills can be acquired by the mother or father, first by imitating them, and finally, by helping the parents whenever possible. He or she learns the ways of the Gypsy, too, by observation and at a certain point, participation. Further training in later years is done in whatever skills they seem most interested in and in what they excel in.
DEATH RITUALS AND CUSTOMS
All Gypsy tribes have customs and rituals regarding death. Spirits surround us all of the time. These spirits must be carefully guarded against, or combated by the use of spells and/or charms. For the Gypsy, death is a senseless, unnatural occurrence that should anger those who die.
A Gypsy must not die in his or her habitual place, home or dwelling. Gypsies traditionally move the deathbed in front of the tent or caravan, usually under an improvised canopy. Tears and lamentations are publicly displayed.
When death finally comes, the lamentation increases. From that time until the burial, certain traditional customs are observed. Above all else there is total absorption in the mourning with no distractions or activities. There is no washing or shaving or combing of the hair. No food is prepared. Only the drinking of coffee, brandy, or other liquor is permitted. Mirrors are covered and vessels containing water are emptied.
An important step is the gathering together of those things that will be useful to the deceased during the journey from life to be placed in the coffin. These can include almost anything, such as clothing, tools, eating utensils, jewelry, and money. A small band is sometimes hired to play marches, going ahead of the coffin. This band is followed by the widow or widower, other mourning relatives, and friends. As the procession enters the cemetery, the sobbing of the mourners increases. This display of sorrow reaches its peak as the coffin is lowered into the grave. The mourners generally then throw coins as well as handfuls of earth into the grave.
Following the funeral all material ties with the dead must be carefully destroyed. It has been a common practice so as not to cause hardship to the deceased family, to instead of destroying these objects to sell them. They must be sold to a non-gypsy and for only a modest sum as the family should not profit enormously from the dead, this would be seen as a form of marhime'. Sometimes animals that belonged to the dead must be killed. Only the horse is usually excluded from this rule. There should be not trace of the deceased in the Gypsy camp or household. Even the use of his or her name is avoided, except when absolutely necessary.
According to traditional Gypsy beliefs, life for the dead continues on another level. However there is a great fear among the survivors that the dead might return in some supernatural form to haunt the living. It is for this reason that the name of the dead should not be mentioned, that the body should not be touched, and that all objects that belonged to the dead tying him to this place must be destroyed.
In the lives of the Gypsies everyday is a celebration of life. The following is a list of a few special festivals that are of special signifigance. Please feel free to add to these and to spice the ones here up.
Springfire March 10
A fertility festival full of parties and the lighting of the bonfire. A favored time for betrothals and courting. Small fires are made and blessed and prospective couples jump over them as a symbol of life quickening in them.
Feast of Life Sept-Oct
Almost a month long celebration of parties celebrating the harvest and the abundance of life with the promise of renewal come spring. Gypsy caravans will often help local villages with the harvest and in return are given some of the harvested grain and fruits. The first loaves of the harvest are eaten at these feasts.
Magic and WAr
Out of Play