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23.5.2017
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Adolescence
06-04-2000

The childhood and adolescence of Romani children ends when they begin their own families. One Romani proverb says: Sit your daughter in a chair and if her feet touch the ground, she's ready for marriage.

The commonly prevalent opinion that Romani girls mature earlier sexually than Czech girls was proved false by Daniela Sivakova in her study Antropologicke vyskumy Ciganov (Romov) na Slovensku z roku 1992 [Anthropological research on Gypsies (Roma) in Slovakia in 1992]. Romani girls are prepared for marriage between 14 and 16 years of age, which explains the young age of Romani wedding guests, but the study would indicate that the young Romani girls are more socially prepared for marriage than biologically. Because, as soon as the girl "grew up" and reached the critical adolescent age, which for most of us is connected to defiance and rebellion, her mother was having several other children and entrusting her daughter "for upbringing" to her future husband.

Parents entrusted their adolescent daughters to their future husbands. The girls mostly had to marry men who their parents chose for them. The father chose the husband more often, though this wasn't by rule. So Romani girls didn't marry for romantic love, but in obedience to the wishes of their family. The daughter's duty was to enter into a good and well-advised marriage, thus bringing together two families and by doing so increasing her family's prestige. This kind of arranged marriage could only occur between two families which were of similar material standing and had friendly relations, and when both fathers agreed on the wedding.

It happened, of course, that two young people would get married against the will of their parents, but this didn't always cause conflicts. Most of these couples had siblings helping them elope, and if they spent the night together, there was nothing else to do but arrange a wedding. The families usually forgave them, but they had to be publicly punished first, so that others wouldn't get the same idea. The couple wouldn't be banished from the family or the community for their transgression, just punished. Banishment from the community was the worst punishment there was for the Roma, reserved for crimes like incest, a multicultural taboo strongly condemned by the Roma.

In order for two young people to live together and start having children, after the fathers' agreement an engagement ceremony (mangavipen) would be arranged. The young couple, in the accompaniment of each of their parents, swore before witnesses to be faithful to each other until death. The master of ceremonies, most often a chief elder(chhibalo or vajda), bound the hands of the couple together with a scarf and then poured wine or some spirit into their palms which they would then drink. Today, the hands are not usually bound, just held, and the newlywed couple drink the contents of each other's cup and kiss. From this moment, they are considered by Romani society to be husband and wife, and they may live together and produce children.

The civil or church ceremony (bijav) would be concluded after a few years, when the couple had already had a child or two together. A completed marriage was for life. Separation was rare, and was only permitted in the case of the infertility or infidelity of the wife.

If after several years no children were born to the couple, the husband could leave his wife. Infertility was the worst of fates for a Romani woman, as it meant she couldn't fulfill her role in life - to be a good mother, and thus a good wife. Such a woman was scorned by all, and no one thought badly of her husband for leaving her. Infertility was considered a punishment, inflicted on the woman for some reason. Naturally, there were many charms to counteract infertility. One remedy, for example, was for the infertile woman to eat herbs picked off the grave of a woman who died of puerperal fever after giving birth. With even clearer symbolic meaning, another spell involved the inhalation of the contents of an egg from the husband's mouth to that of the wife, who then swallowed it. The women also believed in the power of the full moon, and ate herbs picked at midnight by the full moon. The desire for the greatest number of children, which arose from the vital necessity of families to have the largest number of descendents, also had something to do with the non-existence of abortion.

The wife's infidelity could also be a reason for her abandonment. If her husband didn't leave her, he had to at least punish her publicly (cut off her hair, beat her, etc.). With male infidelity, it was a different matter; it increased the prestige of the man, and sometimes the wife would brag about it and use it to demonstrate the quality of her husband. The question remains, with whom could the husband be unfaithful...

When a Romani woman is sure that she's "in a family way," she announces the joyous news to the women in the family, and only after that to her husband. From this moment on, the "rules for the protection of the baby" come into effect, a strict set of rules that come out of the belief that negative qualities and various deficiencies can be transmitted to the fetus. The woman is put under a variety of restrictions: she cannot look at physically-handicapped people, at "ugly" or black-magic animals (mainly reptiles), at dead people, etc. She works to the last possible moment, however, and when her time comes, the husband rouses the neighbors and calls the midwife, whose function is half gynecological and half magical. Before cutting off and removing the umbilical cord, the parents prepare a magical drink against demons that could jump into the newborn, and sometimes light a fire outside the house or tent to drive them away. After that comes the official baptism, because until then, the child is at risk from evil spirits. After the baptism, these evil spirits can no longer affect the baby. Among these spirits are the souls of women who died during childbirth, or of women who gave birth to dead babies, and who want to find a new child. There are various defenses against these evil spirits (guli daj), such as protective objects in the crib under the blankets or a red line drawn on the wrist of the child.

Baptism (kirvipen), as with non-Roma, always takes place in a church. The godparents are a very important requirement of the baptism for the Roma. They often chose as second godparents some gadje, perhaps a farmer from the village, as something of a guarantee that the family wouldn't starve if they got into trouble. The godfather or godmother would give the godchild a krizmo - an object the godchild would keep for his or her whole life. They would receive the gift on some important day, for example when the child went to school for the first time or reached some significant birthday. The godparent/godchild relationship was an important way to strengthen the relations between families.

During the baptism, the child receives a name, usually after a godparent, one of the parents or other relative, though this name is only "official" - for dealing with non-Roma society - and the child frequently doesn't even know it. In addition to this name, the child is given another name, a Romani one, which is derived from physical or mental characteristics (Thulo - Fat, Kalori - Black-Haired), from some event, from some mutilation of words the child tried to say, etc. This Romani name, which can change more than once during childhood before it becomes definitely set, becomes the name used inside the Romani community. Roma therefore rarely use the names they are registered under at birth and which are on their identification.



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