Baro Phral / Baro čhavo

baro phral/baro čhavo – oldest brother (literally, "big brother") / oldest son (literally "big son" – in linguistic and social sense, corresponds to the Hindi bará bháí. Because the role of the oldest brother blends with the role of the oldest son (and son/brother in general) we are discussing the fulfillment of that role and its social status.

Birth of a son

Traditional Romani families preferred the firstborn to be a son. Reasons: The prestige of a family increased with the number of male descendants because, in Romani society, the man was always socially superior to the woman.

Murš – murš, džuvľi ča džuvľi.
"A man is a man and a woman is only a woman."
Murš hordinel kalapa pro šero, džuvľi ča khosno.
"A man wears a hat on his head; a woman only a scarf."

The physical strength of a family was greater. This was important during disputes. Strength increased the social weight of a family.

Kaj e zor, odoj e goďi.
"Where you find strength, there you find reason."

It was assumed that men would bring money home to the family.

Murš kerel buťi, anel khere o love.
"A man works; he brings money home."

A man brings his bride (daughter-in-law: bori) to his family and thereby enriches it with another member, a new worker, and the dowry the bride sometimes receives from her family. A boy also cannot bring such shame (ladž) to the family as a girl can.

O čhavo našťi avel khere pereha.
"A boy can't come home with a belly."

Financial obligations of a son

It is not only expected that the oldest son will turn over all of his earnings to the family, i.e. usually his mother. It is also expected that, when he "marries", he will bring his bride (terňi bori) to his parents' home. He begins giving money to his wife only after they have two or three children and move into their own home. Then they will begin to have their independent budget. That is when the terňi bori becomes a bori (daughter-in-law) and a romňi (wife). A working brother usually does not give money to younger and non-working brothers and sisters; he supports them differently.

K'amende na sas avka, kaj phralestar te las love, te sas mek slobodno. Odi phen ladžalas le phralestar te lel love.
"In our family it was not customary to take money from our brother if he was still single. A sister would have been ashamed to take money from her brother."
Phureder phral, te hin mek kije daj a kerel buťi, ta te na del love, ta cinkerel pre koda terneder - abo pre čhaj, abo pre muršeste. A the te lel romňa a nane len čhave, ta furt cinkerel abo dareso del abo prianel dareso. Sar imar les hin leskere čhave, no ta imar na cinkerel.
"If the older brother still lives with his mother, even if he does not give his younger brothers and sisters money, at least he buys them clothing. Even when he gets married but still doesn't have children of his own, he keeps buying them clothing; he keeps giving and bringing them something. But once he has his own children, he no longer buys things for his siblings."

Position and obligations of the oldest son in the family work

The sons, like the father and other male members of the family, have the obligation to perform "men's" work, such as building a house, obtaining and cutting firewood, etc.

Educational obligations

The oldest son had the additional obligation of education. He had a privileged position among the siblings. One reason was that he was a man.

Dojekhe muršes hin bareder lav sar la džuvľa.
"Every man's word is more important than a woman's."
Phen kerel khatal phraleste sar khatal jendreste.
"A sister treats her brother like an egg."

Another reason was that he was the oldest and it was, therefore, assumed that he was physically stronger, more reasonable and more experienced.

The role of the oldest brother might, in exceptional circumstances, be transferred to one of the younger brothers. This might be the case, for example, if the oldest brother was ill, incapable, mentally or otherwise weak (for example, if he was an alcoholic); if the older brother was not present (e.g. doing military service); or if the authority of one of the younger brothers was clearly superior.

O nekphureder phral, avka sar daj dad. Te phenlas, ta amen dojekh les šunás. Šunás les, te čačipen, aľe choc te nane čačipen, ta avka les šunás, bo na kamás leske te prephagel leskero lav.
"The oldest brother is like a father. If he said something, we all obeyed him. We obeyed him when he was right, but we obeyed him even when he was wrong because we did not want to shake his authority." (In that case, the role was stronger than the man who played it.)

From his childhood, the baro phral helps his parents bring up his brothers and sisters, watches over them, directs their behaviour, organises their work, protects them from attack by other Romani or non-Romani children, represents his parents during their absence, etc.

His status rises considerably when he enters the adult world at the age of fifteen or sixteen. This happens when his father invites him to sit down with him and other men at a communal table. After that, his role in rearing the children is nearly equal to his father's.

O dad, kana na kamelas te chal bida amenca, ta vičinďa le bare phrales u ov kerlas kavka sar dad amenge.
"When our father didn't want to get angry with us, he called our oldest brother and he was like our father."

Responsibility for his sisters

The baro phral has the chief responsibility for his sisters. He guards their pat'iv (honour), which is important for a number of reasons. A presuťi (un-wed mother) has a much lower social status and she has difficulty finding a husband. Usually she has to be grateful to make a lower financial or social "match". The family of the daughter is obligated to take care of illegitimate children whose father does not look after them. The children are a burden on the family. Therefore, it is usual for all the brothers to protect the honour of their sisters.

Keci sas phrala, ajci pre phen dodikhenas.
"As many brothers as there were, that's how many guarded their sister."
Te me gejľoma korkori andal o kher, ta imar mri daj man murdarďahas! Vašoda miro phral manca phirlas. Ov manca džalas andre buťi, avavas pale, avlas vaš mange, avavas leha khere. Le gavestar bešahas amen vaj jekh kilometros, aľe aňi pro kotor man na mukelas korkora.
"If I had left the house alone, my mother would have beaten me! That's why my brother came with me everywhere. He went to work with me and when I had to come home, he came for me and I went home with him. We lived only about a kilometer from the village, but he would not let me go even a short distance alone."

The baro phral had basically the same rights to educate his younger brothers and sisters as his parents. He could order, forbid, or, in cases of disobedience, even punish.

Baro phral šaj marlas le ternederes, aľe o terneder les našťi marlas. Amen les likerahas sar dades, le bare phrales.
"The oldest brother could hit a younger brother, but the younger one could not hit him. We respected our oldest brother as much as our father."

He can give advice to his sister on the choice of a partner, who is mainly chosen by the father. One difference between him and his parents, however, is that the baro phral cannot force his sister to marry someone she doesn't want. In this matter, he cannot stand up against the parents' will.

Miro phral pes na spričinlas, kaj me te lav mire romes, ča e daj. E daj na kamelas, bo somas terňi. Aľe o phral man zaačholas, bo jov, miro rom, baro lavutaris sas! Anelas love. Na mušinďahas e daj te kerel, te uľahas jov k'amende. Aľe joj na kamelas e daj.
"My brother was not against my marrying my husband, but my mother was. Mother didn't want me to get married because she felt I was still too young. But my brother stood up for me because my husband was an excellent violinist. He earned money. If he had lived with us, mother wouldn't even have had to work. Only mother said, "No"."

Role of the brother after the sister's marriage

The brother's role as protector continues to endure even after she is married, as does his supportive role when her husband is absent.

Imar akana, sam romenca, imar amen hin čhave, aľe te o phral phenel vareso, ta les šunas. Bo jov phenel: Sar na kereha kavka – the o čhave, the tu .. ta imar kadaj na avava! Ta šunav. Jekhvar les na šunďom a n'avlas maj berš andro kher! Mi kerel, so kamel, phenďa. A'ľe akana oda phral avel arde, kaj man love te el, lel andal e žeba či tranda, či saranda koruni, phenel: Le! A šunav les… Abo demela more čhaven, na phenava leske ňič. A o čhave šunen!
"Even now when we all have our husbands and children, if our brother says something, we obey him. He'll come and say, "If you don't do this or that, or if the children don't do it, then I won't keep coming back." Well, I'll obey him. Once I didn't and he didn't come to see me for nearly a whole year. He said, "Let her do what she wants." But now my brother comes again, and he always takes thirty or forty crowns out of his pocket for me. "Here. Take this." And so I obey him. Or if he hits the children, I won't say anything. And the children obey him!"

Brother - brother-in-law relationship

The relationship between the brothers and the brother-in-law is not entirely clearly delineated. We have met cases where the baro phral kept his role even after his sister married and had children. He could continue to give her orders and sometimes even punish her.

Mek feder šunel e phen le phtrales sar peskere romes.
"A sister is more likely to obey her brother than her husband."

Elsewhere, however, the brother loses his role as his sister's protector to her husband. Very often, though, the brother supports the husband's behaviour towards his sister to keep good relations in the family. The baro phral's direct contact with his brother-in-law is usually more reserved. He tries to avoid tension between the sister's family and that of her husband.

Sigeder čhinava mire phrales pal o muj sar le šougoris, bo o phral mange prebačinala, al'e o šougoris mange na mušinel te prebačinel.
"I would rather slap my brother than my brother-in-law because my brother always forgives me while my brother-in-law doesn't have to."

Strength was also a factor in the contact between the families. If the brother-in-law's relatives were stronger, the brother did not dare to intervene in his sister's family.

Brother and the children of his siblings

The Baro Phral behaves the same way towards the children of his sister and his other siblings as towards his own; he educates them and punishes them in the same way.

Šaj marel le phraleskere abo la pheňakere čhaven avka sar peskeren.
"He is allowed to beat his brother's or his sister's children like his own."

The baro phral, like the other sisters and brothers, provides protection for the children of his sisters and brothers even when, for example, they act against the will of their parents. [Denašel] They stand up with the children, for example, against an unwanted marriage arranged by the parents. [Position of the husband and wife in the family]

Baro phral and the younger brothers and sisters

Younger brothers and sisters usually obey and respect their oldest brother.

Te les o dad čhinďa pal o muj, ta o terneder čhave pal leste roven, bo kerel pre lende buťi.
"If his father punches him, the younger brothers and sisters cry for him because the older brother supports them, too."

It can happen that the younger siblings look out for each other; the younger could complain about the older brother to their parents; the older brother could complain and punish them. Or they could plot together.

Miro baro phral manca sovlas pro vaďos, me leske phundravás e blaka, kana phirlas pal o piraňa.
"My oldest brother slept in my bed with me, and I opened the window for him when he went after girls."

Function of the oldest brother after the father's death

The brother achieves the highest authority if the father dies. He becomes the head of the family. Even the mother's authority is often subordinated to him. He often decides whether his mother may remarry.

Sar imar o čhavo baro, ta e daj mušinel te šunel les – te la romňaha ke late bešel.
"If a son is grown up and lives with his wife at his mother's, then the mother must obey him."
Te e daj phivľi, ta rozkazinelo čhavo, či e daj džal romeste abo na. Odi daj na džalas bi romeste imar ladžatar.
"If a mother is widowed, then her son decides if she can remarry or not. The mother herself would be ashamed to decide on her own to marry again."

Text based on

Šebková, Hana (1996) Úloha nejstaršího syna v tradiční romské rodině. In: Romano džaniben 96/1-2.
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Pertoča (Slovenia), 2002
Trnje (Slovenia), 2002