The Culture Of The Roma Gypsies

The Roma gypsies, also known as Roma, Romani or gypsies, are people of Indian origin who are now settled all over the world. The migration, which commenced sometime in the 9th century, shows that the Roma people migrated from Indian sub-continent following two distinct paths, namely, the Central Asian route and the Northern African route.

Nomadic nature of the Roma gypsies

Gypsies are nomads. The nomadic nature seems to be a central point of departure that defines the gypsy way of life. Although, the modern Roma people no longer travel in caravan and have blended in with the locals, the sense of independence through travel still is reflected in their way of life, for example, many Roma men choose occupations that lets them travel and be on the road.

Social organization

Roma society lacks traditional hierarchy or structure. Roma people live as a large group consisting of extended family members as a unit. A typical Roma family would consist of parents, their children and spouses, grandchildren, unmarried children, widowed or divorced daughters. Apart from this basic unit, the same family could also include extended family members and members who belong to the same sub-group as the family. Such a sub-group is usually formed based on differences in spoken Roma language dialect, attire, hairstyles, moustache-styles, place of origin, type of trade and region of settlement.

Economic organization

Both men and women have roles in the economic sector within and outside the gypsy community. While men take on the more outgoing and modern roles of trading, women stick to a more traditional role of scrap collection and selling, fortune telling or begging. Although many Romas have adopted scrupulous ways of trading, Romas are notorious for deceiving the government into paying their welfare checks. Similarly, non-gypsies are wary of gypsies, as they are known for thieving through con.

Governance through gypsy law

Romaniya, the oral gypsy law that governs Roma gypsies, defines the various concepts that a Roma needs to follow in order to live a proper gypsy way of life. To a non-gypsy or gaje, the law would seem like a list of taboos. The gypsy law is based on the principle of cleanliness of the body and the spirit. It elaborates on the concepts of melyardo (physically soiled) and marime (morally soiled). Marime or mahrime (parts existing below the waistline) is portrayed as being contagious and vujo or uźo (the parts above the waistline) as being the most pious. Several day-to-day activities, customs and traditions are based on these core values. The attire must be worn in two parts that separate the pure from the impure.


Since the Roma people travelled widely and seldom settled, their culture and social structure was predominantly influenced by the regions that they travelled through. In this modern age, the gypsies still live as a large extended family, following their own rules, intermarrying within their sub-groups and have a largely unstructured social hierarchy.

Copyright 2012-2024