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The Romany Culture and Language

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This glossary is meant to be a helpful guide to Romani (Gypsy) culture. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of dialects of Romanes (the Gypsy language), and words often differ slightly from place to place -- alternate spellings and pronunciations are given when known (we mostly use the Kalderash dialect at Faire, since our characters are Kalderash Rom). Oh, and if in doubt considering pronunciation, just remember that most Romani words stress the penultimate -- next to last -- syllable.

 

IMPORTANT TERMS

 

Basht (or baxt, bak) -- "Good Luck." Luck, good and bad, is a very important thing to the Roma (Gypsies). Many items, such as talismans, and situations are considered basht. Someone or something lucky is called bakalo, and similarly, someone happy is baktalo.

Gaje (GAH-zhe or gah-ZHAY depending on dialect) (or Geyro, Giorgio) (sing. masc. Gajo, sing. fem. Gaji) -- All non-Gypsies, and any person not of Romani heritage. Gypsies are by necessity very insular people, and the Gaje are viewed with suspicion and caution. This is due to centuries of persecution at their hands. To quote the excellent Patrin website: "Since their entry into Europe, the Roma have been outlawed, enslaved, hunted, tortured and murdered." Gaje are viewed as foolish and honorless, and thus it is considered all right to trick, swindle and steal from them when it is necessary -- though these things are only done when they are necessary for survival, not out of habit or to be malicious. It is considered very bad luck to associate with Gaje except in any way except for business. However, we don't overemphasize these prejudices at Faire -- we stick to the positive after all, and Nikolai even has a harmless yet dangerous (when our women catch him) fancy for Gaje women. We ply our trades on them and allow them to believe they have the upper hand. As Rom, though, our characters remember they are something special, touched by destiny in a way no Gaje could ever understand.

Mahrime (MAH-ree-may) (also Mokadi (mo-KAH-dee)) -- "Unclean and impure in a spiritual way." Ritual cleanliness is of great importance to the Rom, and certain things, creatures and people are believed to be tainted. These include certain animals -- especially cats, rats, foxes (called mokadi jook, "dirty dog"), and to an extent dogs (which are never supposed to enter a vardo or be allowed to lick one's face). Also tainted are blood (especially menstrual blood), water a dog has drank from or a woman has stepped over, and a variety of other items and situations. Some people are also considered mahrime, especially Gaje (and any Rom with a lot of Gaje heritage), Pikies (Gypsies expelled from Romani society forever for their crimes) and Hedgecrawlers (Travelers without Romani blood like the Irish Tinkers). Mulo (ghosts) and faeries are also most mahrime. All these things may sound like mere superstitions, but they have kept the Rom healthier than other peoples throughout history, especially during the Black Plague. The code that regulates what is and is not mahrime is called Romipen, literally "Gypsyness".

Phral (FROLL) -- Literally "brother" in some dialects of Romanes, it means a full-blooded Gypsy, a True Rom -- a very good thing to be. Used as both an adjective and a noun.

Prikaza (pree-KOZ-ah) -- "Bad Luck." Prikaza is the result of coming into contact with mahrime things, creatures or people -- it follows any who are tainted (there are, of course, ways to undo it). Actions that cause prikaza include bringing a dog into a vardo, touching or even coming into contact with a cat, becoming too close to the Gaje and most of all mentioning any and all bodily fluids and functions -- a strict taboo. The color red in its primary, basic shade is also very prikaza -- this shade of red dye almost never appears in Gypsy clothing, and you will never see a vardo painted that color.

Rom A person of Gypsy heritage and 2) specifically married Gypsy man (a married Gypsy woman is a romni). Names for a Rom in other languages include Cigan (French & Russian), Cigany (Hungarian), Zigeuner (German) and Zingaresca (Italian).

Roma, the (ro-MAH) -- The name that most Gypsies use for themselves as a race and people. Roma only refer to themselves as Gypsies when around the Gaje. The name "Gypsy" stems from a swindle pulled by some of the first Rom in Western Europe in the 1400's -- a Rom Baro (chieftain), knowing his people would otherwise be persecuted in Europe for being very different, obtained free passage for his people across Europe by claiming that they were the deposed rulers of Little Egypt, driven from their country by heathens and forced to travel endlessly in penance. It worked for several decades before the Gaje finally caught on, and in English the abbreviation 'Gyptian, or Gypsy, stuck. The Rom originally came from northern India (leaving around the 10th century), and have since developed a unique wandering lifestyle and culture while traveling the world.

Romanes (RO-mah-ness or RAH-mah-ness) -- The language of the Roma (related closely to Sanskrit). Romanes has a huge amount of dialects because the Roma have been scattered across the world and often adopt Gaje words into the language.

Romani (RO-mah-nee or RAH-mah-nee) (also Romany) -- An adjective for anything related to the Rom (ex. Romani carpentry). Sometimes used as synonomous with Romanes or occasionally as a plural form of Rom -- Romanies.

Rom Baro (ROM BAH-ro) (also Bulibasha (boo-lee-BOSH-ah)) -- Literally "big man," the Rom Baro is the leader of a vitsa (clan) or kumpania (tribe, made up of several clans). Though they often call themselves kings around the Gaje, the position of Rom Baro is an elected one. He is usually chosen by a council of Phuri (Elders) for a combination of cleverness, experience and wisdom. He is advised by the Phuri Dae (FOO-ree DIE-ee), or Wise Woman, who is a matron, spiritual advisor and accountant (collecting all the money earned and doling it out when needed). The Rom Baro makes the big decisions after being advised by her and the other Phuri and also serves as a representative when dealing with both the Gaje and Roma of other clans.

Vardo (VAHR-doe) (or vurdon) -- The brightly painted and elaborately carved wagon around which Romani life traditionally centers. They serve as both transportation and home. Pulled by one or two horses depending on size, they vary greatly in form and style from place to place. (They weren't actually in common use in the 16th century, but we ignore that, especially since there are so many vardos at our faire that are used as booths).

Wuzho (WOO-zhoh) -- "Pure and untainted," the opposite of mahrime. Certain creatures are revered as wuzho, including hedgehogs, horses and all scavengers (who are honored for recycling that which has died), as well as some people, including most Roma.

 

The Romany Social System

The basic unit of Romani society is the Familia (fa-MEEL-yah). It is made up of an older married couple, their unmarried sons and daughters, their married sons and their wives and children (in most Romani groups a woman joins the familia of her husband when she marries). Individual households within the familia are called Tsera (SAIR-ah), literally "tent". We have members of several familii (pl. form) represented in our group, but the most prevalent in our group are Familia Borodin and Familia Zarovitch.

Several closely related familii make up the Vitsa (VEET-sah), or "Clan." Vitsi (pl.) vary greatly in size and traditions, but one's connection to the vitsa (literally "vine" in Romanes) is the most important social tie a Rom has. Most traveling vitsi follow a circuit from town to town that may take a year or more to complete, and almost all stop traveling for the winter, whiling away the time by building and repairing vardos, making crafts to sell to the Gaje, etc. Our group is made up of two very closely related vitsi, the Vitsa of the Fiery Dawn (led by Nikolai) and the Vitsa of the Midnight Sands (led by Kyrill).

Several vitsi in turn form the Kumpania (koom-pa-NEE-yah), or "Tribe", a loose federation of related vitsi that coexist within a region. The relationship one has to it is mostly a social and political one. The whole kumpania often winters together when times are good and during the rest of the year convenes when necessary, usually for a kris (Romani law court). Both of our vitsi are a part of Kumpania Wispersteppe, our tribe, which (in our storyline) in 1533 includes most of the Gypsies in England.

Finally, several kumpanii together compose the Natsia (nat-SEE-ah), or "Nation", which is made up of several thousand Rom who derive (supposedly) from a common ancestor. There are many natsii across the world, but the four largest and most influential are the Kalderash, Lowara, Machwaya and Tsurara. We are Kalderash.

 

Family Terms

Aunt-- Bibio (BEE-bee-oh)
Brother -- Prala (PRAH-lah)
Brother-in-law -- Zhamutro (zha-moo-TRO). Literally "groom."
"Co-parent-in-law" -- Xanamiki (kha-na-MEE-kee). Term for fellow mothers and fathers-in-law.
Cousin (both genders) -- Simensa (see-MEN-suh)
Daughter -- Chikni (CHEEK-nee)
Daughter-in-Law -- Bori (BORE-ee). Literally "bride"
Father -- Dadro (DAH-dro)
Father-in-law -- Sastro (sas-TRO)
Granddaughter -- Chaveske chikni (chav-ESS-kay cheek-NEE)
Grandfather -- Purodad (POOR-uh-dod)
Grandmother -- Puridaia (poor-ee-DIE-uh)
Grandson -- Chaveske chikno (chav-ESS-kay cheek-NO)
Husband -- Rom
Mother -- Dai (DIE)
Mother-in-law -- Sackra (SACK-ruh)
Nephew -- Palesko (pal-ESS-ko)
Niece -- Penyaki (pen-YAWK-ee)
Sister -- Phei (FAY)
Sister-in-Law -- Bori (BORE-ee)
Son -- Chikno (CHEEK-no)
Son-in-law -- Zhamutro (zha-moo-TRO)
Uncle -- Kako (KAH-koh). It is also a respectful form of address for any older man
Wife -- Monisha (ma-NEE-sha). Also, more loosely, girlfriend

 

Folki (People)

Baba -- A term of respect for an old woman, used before her name -- for example, Baba Ravena
baro moy -- "big mouth," a gossip
bor -- friend
chavi (CHA-vee) -- a Romani girl
chavo (CHA-vo) -- a Romani boy
Chivani (chee-VAWN-ee) -- The head Phuri Dae (Wise Woman) of a kumpania, in our case Baba Ravena.
choro (CHORE-oh) -- a thief
dilo (DEE-lo) -- a fool or imbecile (a favorite word for the Gaje!)
Drabarni (dra-BAR-nee) -- A female Romani herbalist and fortuneteller
glata (GLAH-ta) -- children
joovi (JOO-vee) -- woman (in general)
Kralisi (kra-LEESE-ee) -- Queen. Used for both Romni (unofficial name for a Rom Baro's wife, unless she is the Phuri Dae) and Gaje queens.
lubni (LOOB-nee) -- A tart or wench.
moosh -- man (in general)
Phuro (FOO-roh) (fem. Phuri, pl. Phuri) -- A wise and respected elder, used before his or her name
Puyuria (poo-YOUR-ee-ah) -- "Gaje Gypsy groupies", any Gaje who play at being Rom or are overtly fascinated by the Roma. Generally not considered as bad as most Gaje because of this, as long as they go about it in a respected and informed way. Sound like anyone we know? : )
Rai -- "Sir," a term of great respect usually reserved for great rulers and Phuri
Rani (RAH-nee) -- "Lady," same as Rai.
Rom -- A married Romani man (unmarried men are called romoro, or "not quite a man")
Romni (ROM-nee) -- A married Romani woman (unmarried women are still called chavi)
Shanglo (SHAN-glow) -- "The Law," any Gaje law officer, be it the Sheriff or a constable...
Ves'tacha(VESS TAH-cha) -- "Beloved ," a term of great affection

Numbers

1 - Jek (ZHECK)
2 - Dui (DWEE)
3 - Trin
4 - Shtar
5 - Panj
6 - Shov
7 - Efta
8 - Otor (OH-tor)
9 - Enija (ah-NEE-ja)
10 - Desh

 

Commands, Exclamations and Questions

Commands & Exclamations:

Av akai (AHV ah-KIE) -- "Come here"
Baksheesh! (bok-SHEESH) -- "Good Fortune!" -- A blessing and toast
'Chavaia (cha-VI-ah) -- "Stop"
Nais Tuke (NICE TOO-kah) -- "Thank you"
Hush kacker! (HOOSH KOK-er) -- "Shut up and listen!"
Misto! (MEESE-toe) -- "Wondrous!" -- An exclamation of joy equivalent to our "Cool!"
Nash avri! (nosh ah-VREE) -- "Go away!"
Sastimos! (sass-TEE-mose) -- "Good Health!" -- Both a greeting and a toast
Shesti! (SHES-tee) -- "Nonsense!"
Te xav ka ta biav (TEE HAVE KAH TAH BEE-ahv) -- "May I eat at your wedding." A great blessing when said a young Gypsy, wishing them the best of luck.
Tshailo Sim! (SHY-lo SIM) -- "I'm stuffed!" -- Said after a good meal with a belch.

Questions:

Ande save vitsa? (AHN-day SAH-vay VEET-sah) -- "In which vitsa (are you)?" Often asked to strange Rom
Chindilan? (chin-DEE-lan) -- "Are you tired?"
Kon? -- "Who?"
Ov yilo isi? (OHV YEE-lo EE-see) -- "Is this all right?"
Si'n Rom? (SEEN ROM) -- "Are you Rom?"
Si tut bocklo? (SEE TOOT bock-LO) -- "Are you hungry?"
Soske? (SOSS-kay) -- "Why?"

Greetings:

1st Rom -- Devlesa avilan (dev-LAY-sah AH-veel-an) -- "It is God who brought you".
2nd Rom -- Devlesa araklam tume (dev-LAY-sah ahr-AHK-lam TOO-may) -- "It is with God that I found you".

Also, 1st Rom -- Droboy tume Romale! (DRO-boy TOO-may ro-MAH-lay) -- "It is good to see you, Rom."
2nd Rom -- Nais Tuke (NICE TOO-kah) -- "Thank you."

Sar'shan? (sar'SHAWN) -- "How are you?" -- The most common greeting between related Rom.

Farewells:

Latcho Drom (LAH-cho DROM) -- "Good Journey", the traditional Romany farewell.

 

Miscellaneous Useful Words

Opposites:
adoi (ah-DOY) -- there akai (ah-KIE) -- here
baro (BAH-ro) -- big bitti (BEET-ee) -- small
latcho (LAH-cho) -- good narkri (nar-KREE) -- bad

Things & Places:
Bujo (BOO-zho) -- Literally "cloth over the eyes," an elaborate swindle to gain money from a Gaje (non-Gypsy). Often combined with dukkerin (fortune telling) in a way that convinces the poor Gaje the only way he can avoid misfortune is to do what the kind Gypsy suggests ("Give all that cursed money to me so it can be spent....er, I mean burned, to rid you of the bad luck!"). In past centuries, many Gypsies specialized in the art of Bujo, making it their career. This was not because they were malicious or untrustworthy people, but because hard times forced it upon them. And the Gaje are just SO easy to trick!
chakano (cha-KAH-no) (pl. chere (CHAIR-ay)) -- star
churi (CHOOR-ee) -- knife
dijilia (dee-JEEL-ee-ah)(sing. dijili (dee-JEEL-ee)) -- songs
diklo (DEEK-loh) -- The head scarf worn by Romni and sometimes Rom among the Kalderash and Lowara
drom -- road
foros (FOR-oss) -- fair or market
galbé (GALL-bay) -- The gold coin necklace, a traditional part of Romani garb
habben (HOBB-en) -- food
kishti (KISH-tee) -- belt/sash
lavuta (la-VOO-ta) -- fiddle (which the Rom introduced to Europe, by the way)
lové (LOW-vay) -- money
Mulo (MOO-lo) (sing. Mulé (moo-LAY)) -- Ghosts -- Rom almost never travel during the noon hour or at night out of respect and fear for these restless spirits of the dead, who like to possess people
paramitsha (pah-rah-MEET-sha) -- Romani fairy tales
patrin (PAT-treen) -- Romani trail signs, used to inform other Rom about an area
sumadji (soo-MOD-jee) -- Fairly heirlooms, the only items not burned with a Rom's body and his/her vardo after death. Galbé, darro (a woman's dowry) and jewelry are a few examples of sumadji

Miscellaneous:
amria (am-REE-ah) -- A curse or oath
chor -- to steal choribé (cha-REE-bay) -- thievery
dhon -- very much
didlo (DEED-loh) -- crazy
dinili (dee-NEEL-ee) -- silly, stupid, foolish
divano (dee-VAWN-oh) -- A meeting or other important gathering
Dook -- The Sight (ability to see the future) and magick in general. To dukker is to tell fortunes
dosta (DOST-ah) -- enough
gras -- horse
lolo -- red
lovoro (low-VOR-oh) -- Ceremonial division of cash earned by a vitsa
patshiv (PAT-sheeve) -- A Gypsy celebration
rinkini (rin-KEE-nee) -- beautiful
Romaniya (ro-mah-NEE-yah) -- Gypsy laws and traditions, the Romani legal code
tarno (TAR-no) -- young
tatcho (TATCH-oh) -- real, true -- often asked as a question

 

Further Reading

Cotton, Rena. Russian Gypsy Tales.

Crowe, David M. A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia. (A very well researched book that finally makes reliable information on Rom in the 16th century available).

Fonseca, Isabel. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. (An EXCELLENT book that allows a very rare personal glimpse at the Rom. Full of history, modern Romani life and other useful information).

Hancock, Ian. The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution. (A great book by a Texan Rom who teaches at UT and is now the Romani representative in the United Nations!)

Tong, Diane. Gypsy Folk Tales. (A wonderful collection of tales that we draw most of our stories for the Extravaganza from)

Wood, Manfri Frederick. In the Life of a Romani Gypsy. (In my opinion one of the best books on the subject, an autobiography of a traditional Welsh Rom)

Yoors, Jan. The Gypsies.

And the collected journals of the Gypsy Lore Society

 

Suggested Music

Muzsikas, The Prisoner's Song. A great selection of Hungarian songs about imprisonment and exile with HEAVY Romany influence.
The soundtrack to Latcho Drom. An import in the US, but you'll never find more authentic music!
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies. Also an import in the US, but well worth looking for. Lots of variety.
Taraf de Haidouks. Made up of three generations of Romany musicians. Their self-titled US debut is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was contributed by Gypsy Witchcraft.
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