Traditional socio-organisation

The traditional socio-structures described below, are only now intact within a few groups. The Holocaust destroyed the original socio-structure of many, mainly central-European Roma and Sinti groups. Due to the traumatisation of the survivors, it became almost impossible to re-establish a new Roma identity along the former socio-cultural line. In the former Eastern block countries, the forced assimilation, and the involvement in the kolkhoz work had significant consequences, especially for those groups whose socio-organisation was closely linked to their nomadic way of life.

Already in previous centuries, the different historical and socio-cultural developments, had led to a broad spectrum of socio-organisations within the Roma society. The Roma and Sinti do not represent a homogeneous community. There are numerous different groups, which can be subdivided into sub-groups. There is an intra-group collective consciousness that characterises comparable ethnic groups only in a very reduced way. Primarily, the Roma and Sinti feel their belonging to their extended family and to their group.

Due to this heterogeneity it is only possible to indicate intra-group common ground and to describe in detail only group-specific socio-organisations. [Subgroups of Roma] The consciousness of being Roma, the desire to be independent and to disassociate oneself from the Gadže, as well as the ability to adapt to the relative conditions to the extent of surviving without endangering ethnic identity, are characteristic features of all Roma and Sinti groups. The socio-structure defines the us-feeling (collective consciousness) by determining the borders towards the Gadže, but also to other Roma and Sinti groups. In the following I want to go into the socio-organisation of two Valch groups and of one Balkan Roma group. [Classification] Milena Hübschmannová describes in detail the traditional socio structures and family structures of the Servika-Roma – a central group.

The traditional socio-organisation of the Kalderaš and the Lovara

The largest social unit within the traditional socio-organisation of the Kalderaš is the natia or řasa (”tribe”). Within the natia or řasa there is no fixed order to be followed by all the members. It is a variable model, which follows the continuously changing needs of the people. The natia / řasa consists of the vici (Sg. vica / Pl. vici) ("kinship groups").

The vica denotes a community of the different extended families of one common ancestor. A vica can be composed of dozens but also of hundreds of members spread over different countries. Nevertheless, the vica offers a higher potential for identification than the natia because of its manageable size and structure. Vici have mostly got their own Romani names, often they derive from the founder or the progenitor (e.g. Frinkuleshti – named after Frinkulo Michailovitch).

It is preferred to marry within one vica even if also marriages of friend vici are possible. The marriage can be carried out in a patri-linear (1) as well as in a matri-linear (2) way; it depends on whether the Rom feels more related to the kinship group of the father or to the one of the mother. [Fajta]

It is part of the duties of a vica-member to help those members of the kinship group who need help, to participate in the pomana (death meal) held for important members of the kinship group, and to accept the decisions made by traditional jurisdiction – kris.

Before, the following unit within the socio-organisation of the Kalderaš was named cera and corresponded to our notion of extended family. Cera means "tent" and indicates the traditional, nomadic way of life of the Kalderaš, as well as the related living communities in huge tents. Nowadays, the Kalderaš who are leading a settled life call a household of three-generations familija. If only two generations are living together in one household, the term čeledo is commonly used.

The traditional socio-organisation of the Lovara differs from that of the Kalderaš only in the sense that nipo corresponds to the Kalderaš-term vica. A two-generation-household is called čaládo.

The traditional socio-organisation of the Prileper Arlije

In its basic structure the traditional socio-organisation of the Arlije is the same as the one of the Kalderaš or the Lovara. The relevant difference is that the Arlije have brought in line their socio-organisation to the needs of their group, who have been leading a settled life for centuries. The Arlije calls an extended family of a common ancestor prekari. Prekari corresponds to the Kalderaš-definition vica.

Amen sinam sare Roma vo Prilep, sare sinam jek anav jek nacija, jek običaj kharas. Živoinasas amen pojčke pala ko gava. I amen sare o Roma maškar amende na pindžarasas amen. Oti o phure, so vakerena o phure lengere dadengere dada, živoinasas pala ko gava. Katar o gava iznašle, ale peske ki dis. Amende si, te phenas, deš anava čhingarol pe Kadri. I tu, ako man rodes ma vo Prilep. Kaj bešel o Kadrija? Koga Kadrija? Zato treba te džanes mo prekari, o Kadrija katar o Kiramovci. Togas celo Prilep man džanol ma.
"We are all Roma in Prilep. We have all got one name, we are one nation, we have a custom. (Before) we lived in the villages. We, all Roma, did not know each other. Because, as the elders told us, our great-grandfathers lived in villages. From the villages they all escaped to town. We have got twelve names, for example Kadri. If now you are looking for me in Prilep, – "Where is Kadrija living? – Which Kadrija?" That’s why it is necessary that you know my Prekari, Kadrija of the Kiramovi's. Then, all Prilep will know me."

The different prekari-definitions derive from the founder or the progenitor, as within the Kalderaš.

The traditional socio-organisation of the Sinti and the Manouche

Similarly, the traditional socio-structure of the Sinti or the Manouche can be classified in three central units. The smallest unit is the familija, which is increased to extended family in a patri-linear way. Two or three friend familii form the next level in terms of size; the mostly endogamous (3) clan – the Manouche in Alsace call it i mensché. The heads of the families (Sg. phuro / Pl. phure) who in the ideal case are related to each other as mutual fathers-in-law together, are the leaders of the clan. Similar to the natia or the rasa for the Vlach Roma the largest social unit of the Sintiunsre Leute (the tribe) – is composed of all clans. The French Manouches and all further tribes (e.g. Sinti piémontais) together form the group of the Sinti and the Manouches.

Family Structure

At the centre of every traditionally living Roma and Sinti group there is the family, which is organised in a strictly patriarchal way. The man represents the head of the family, and is the one responsible for its material survival, the woman has to subordinate. It is her general responsibility to care for the education of the children and to look after the elder or ill members of the family; furthermore she is responsible for the household, for the cooking. Beside this she must be able to contribute to the family income (e.g. selling the products produced by the man). This is the reason why the women are the decisive connecting link between the societies of the Roma and the Gadže. They are continuously in contact with the non-Roma and for the non-Roma they are the real representatives of the Roma’s culture.

The central requirements for a future bride or for a daughter-in-law (bori) are virginity, industry (harniko) and the fulfilment of the ritual cleanliness rules. [Mahrime] The controlling organ is the kris, which is formed exclusively by men. It is true that the cleanliness rules attach to the women a certain power and protect their private lives; if, however, a Romni offends these principles, the worst consequence could be expulsion from the group.

Economic Level

The central economic unit within the socio-organisation of the Kalderaš is the kumpania, which is the union of more cerha / vici or of the members of different cerha / vici in order to form an economic community. A kumpania does not follow a strict order but represents a loose association, which can be extended or reduced permanently, depending on the requirements of the present connections. There are unions similar to a kumpania also within the Sinti.

Also in the southern Balkan area and especially in Kosovo, a further form of economic community could develop due to the comparably Roma-friendly policy and society. The Roma in Prizren (e.g. Arlije (4)) who had already been leading a settled life by the 12th century, founded, at that time, trade associations which are comparable to the craftsmen guilds in central and western Europe. Beside their economic relevance they also fulfilled an important social function. For the non-Roma they considerably contributed to the standing of the group. The annual guild celebrations represented a part of the celebration tradition and influenced the ethnic identity of the group. Every guild had its own flag and a patron (o biri – patron of the blacksmith’s guild). This tradition remained for centuries until the Kosovo war (1999). Nowadays it is present only in fragments.

1 If the marriage is carried out in a patri-linear way the children take the surname of the father, the domicile of the family is in the father’s home, or with the family of the father, and the succession is realised following the father’s line.
2 The mother’s line determines the name of the children, the domicile as well as the succession.
3 Endogamy means that a marriage within the respective group is carried out. In contrast to this concept, the familii represent an exogamy community because the marriage partners are looked for outside the group.
4 The name Arlije refers to the former settled life of the group. It can be traced back to the Turkish yer (place). In Turkish Yerli means "native".


Phonogrammarchiv, Austrian Academy of Sciences: Heinschink Collection: Nr. 2293 (Arlije / Prilep) .


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Image Printable version
Image So si o prekari? – What is a "prekari"?
Image Dragan Jevremović on "fajta"
Cooking in front of the wagon (Kladno [Czech Republic]), 1959