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The Romani Family

The family plays a large role in the life of the Roma. Everything takes place in the family and it satisfies every need. This made the Roma very independent of the surrounding society while they were travelling, but it did make them completely dependent on their family or group. The family was the source of sustenance, it served as the educating or socializing agent, as a protector, and many other functions. For just these reasons, Roma were identified by their family.

In speaking about our family, most of us would think of our husband or wife, parents, siblings, and possibly those relatives with whom we live under the same roof. Though we know other relatives, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, mothers-, fathers-, brothers-, and sisters-in-law, we may not know many of them personally, and Czech, unlike the Romani language, doesn't even have names for the more distant relatives, such as the children of cousins. For the Roma, however, these are nearer relatives, with whom they live in the same community or neighborhood (in physical proximity) and share not only bonds of blood, but of family tradition and solidarity.

Ajsi romni kampel, savi moro anel.
Lachi romni kerel jekha konuratar duj.
A good wife knows how to provide bread.
A good wife makes two crowns from one.
Romani proverb

In a Romani family, just as in a Czech one, there is a difference between the roles of the husband and wife. The Romani woman managed, and is being brought up to manage, the running of the family. The duty of the wife is to safeguard the operation of the household, raise the children, and listen to her husband. The woman often had the economically more important role, as it was she who had to ensure the survival of the family and acquire food and clothes. She had to get food by any means, either by doing some kind of work for gadje - such as farmers - (working in the fields), picking wild fruit (blueberries, raspberries, etc.), or even begging. The Romani husband is to the outside world as well as to the family the bearer and protector of the family's prestige, making decisions and taking responsibility for the family. In many families, the husband earns money only occasionally, so the husband spends his time looking for work, keeping good relations with friends and relatives, settling feuds between families, and so on.

The family is consolidated and enlarged by the number of children born. The more children, the greater the family fortunes, and the number of boys also improved the standing of the family, or as the Romani proverb says, O chave hin zor - In boys is strength. For the firstborn, the young couple would wish for a boy. Mostly it was mainly the wish of the husband and to the wife it was all the same, or even the opposite, that in her heart of hearts she hoped that the first child would be a girl, which meant help for the mother in her "woman's work." Each additional child was warmly welcomed. Raising the children was handled mainly by the mother, but the entire extended family took a part in it as well. The child would live among three or even four generations, and his or her socialization took place in this cohesive company.

Every member of the family was connected by mutual support. Unmarried children (a rarity even today) stayed with their parents and orphans were taken in by a different family. Old people were looked after and deeply respected, and they weren't excluded from the family life. Even the thought of putting elderly family members in an old-folk's home was unthinkable, like sending the children to a children's home. The ill were not left alone, even if hospitalized, and even the dead were kept at home until their funeral.

The extended family looked after everyone socially (no one lived alone and everyone was taken care of), psychologically (problems were resolved together), and economically (ensuring a living for all). The family, as far as production, was an economic unit which had to work together, because an individual wouldn't survive alone. There were no generation gaps in a Romani family, because they did everything together.

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