History and Language

The group term Gurbet has its origin in Arabic and reached Romani through the Turkish language. It means "foreigners" or "foreign work". Like the Kalderaš and Lovara, the Gurbet belong to the larger group of Vlach-Roma, whose language is strongly characterized by Romanian. This linguistic influence can be traced back to centuries of bondsmenship and enslavement of the Roma in the regions of present-day Romania. When slavery was abolished in 1856, many Gurbet left the principalities Moldavia and Walachia, most of them moving to Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo.

There are several Gurbet gibt es mehrere sub-groups. In the larger area of Šabac (Serbia), Gurbet groups refer to themselves as Njamcura (Germans) or Xoraxane (Turks/Muslims). All Gurbet groups share a special linguistic feature, which distinguishes them from other Roma groups: in Gurbet-Romani the singular and plural forms of the verb "to be" are not identical in the past tense (sasa"he/she/it was"; sesa"they were"). Furthermore, Gurbet-Romani did not experience the change from either čh or to š or ž, respectively, which is characteristic of all other varieties of Vlach-Romani.

As opposed to most of the other groups of Vlach-Roma who identify with specific professions, the Gurbet have always done all kinds of different jobs. If any, the trading professions, particularly horse trading can be counted among the most traditional with the Gurbet. Many of them also work in agriculture or earn their living as manual workers [professions]. Among the Gurbet personalities who are known internationally, there are writer and historian Rajko Djurić and Ali Krasnići, author of poetry and prose.

Present situation in Austria

In the wake of the workers’ migration in the 1960s, the Gurbet started coming to Austria as "immigrant workers" (temporary foreign workers) from Serbia and Macedonia (e.g. Kumanovo, Skopje). The number of Gurbet living in Vienna today cannot be stated with any certainty. Estimations talk about several hundreds of them. Today, the great majority of Gurbet are Austrian citizens.

The Austrian Gurbet are socially established, which means that their standard of living at least equals that of other Austrian citizens who came from the Balkan as foreign workers in the 1960ies. What distinguishes them from other non-Roma migrants is the fact they try to avoid employment and rather prefer to work self-employed (second-hand trading, private businesses, etc.) Even though the Gurbets' desire to be independent is not as strong as among the Kalderaš, it has helped them to keep their traditional social structure alive.

Traditions of celebrating and the structure of the larger family are still intact. The Serbian-orthodox Gurbet celebrate in similar ways as the Kalderaš - abàv (wedding), slava (family celebration on the day of a specific saint), pomana (funeral meal) ordjurdjevdan (Saint George’s Day)) (1). The Muslim Gurbet celebrate their holidays according to their religion.

The best-known Austrian Gurbet is the writer Ilija Jovanović. Born in Rumska near Belgrade in 1950, he has been living and working in Vienna since 1971. Following several publications in magazines and anthologies as well as numerous readings, his first book, a collection of poems called "Bündel – Budžo" was published in Romani and German in the year 2000. In his poetry and prose, Ilija Jovanović talks about his life as a child, about poverty, the joy of living and the history of his people, expressing the pain of losing one’s identity and the difficult search for a new home and a new identity. Ilija Jovanović has received several prizes for his work.

1 Some Serbian-orthodox Gurbet families also celebrate the so-called Bibi-celebration (bibiako). Bibi means "aunt" and represents a protective saint, who is worshipped by the Serbian Roma for protecting especially children. Rajko Djuric assumes that the religious customs surrounding the celebration of the holy Bibi are of Indian origin, as she shows several features characteristic of the Indian goddess Durga.


Fennesz-Juhasz, Christiane / Halwachs, Dieter W. / Heinschink, Mozes F. (1996) Sprache und Musik der österreichischen Roma. In: GLS 46, pp. 61-110.
Fraser, Angus (1992) The Gypsies. Oxford.
Halwachs, Dieter W. (2004) Roma und Romani in Österreich. http://www-gewi.kfunigraz[...]ni/ling/
Halwachs, Dieter W. (2001) Romani in Österreich. In: Halwachs, Dieter W. / Menz, Florian (eds.) Die Sprache der Roma. Perspektiven der Romani-Forschung in Österreich im interdisziplinären und internationalen Kontext, Graz, pp. 1-37.
Halwachs, Dieter W. / Heinschink, Mozes F. (1993) Zur Mehrsprachigkeit der Zigeuner in Österreich. In: Halwachs, Dieter W. / Stütz, Irmgard (eds.) Sprache-Sprechen-Handeln. Akten des 28. Linguistischen Kolloquiums, Tübingen, pp. 229-236.
Heinschink, Mozes F. (1994) E Romani Čhib – Die Sprache der Roma. In: Heinschink, Mozes F. / Hemetek, Ursula (eds.) Roma. Das unbekannte Volk. Schicksal und Kultur, Wien, pp. 110-128.
Jovanović, Ilija (2000) Bündel / Budžo. Gedichte / Djila (Deutsch / Romanes), Landeck.
Vossen, Rüdiger (1983) Zigeuner. Roma, Sinti, Gitanos, Gypsies zwischen Verfolgung und Romantisierung, Hamburg.
Image Printable version
Image Memories from my childhood
Image Bundle
Image Budžo
Ilija Jovanović (Maria Zell [Styria]/Austria), 2001