Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture

Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture

Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture

Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture


Approximately one thousand years ago Gypsies, or Roma, left their native India. Today Gypsies can be found in countries throughout the world, their distinct culture still intact in spite of the intense persecution they have endured. This authoritative collection brings together leading Gypsy and non-Gypsy scholars to examine the Romani legal system, an autonomous body of law based on an oral tradition and existing alongside dominant national legal networks.

For centuries the Roma have survived by using defensive strategies, especially the absolute exclusion of "gadje (non-Gypsies) from their private lives, their values, and information about Romani language and social institutions. Sexuality, gender, and the body are fundamental to Gypsy law, with rules that govern being pure "(vujo) or impure "(marime). Women play an important role in maintaining legal customs, having the power to sanction and to contaminate, but they are not directly involved in legal proceedings.

These essays offer a comparative perspective on Romani legal procedures and identity, including topics such as the United States' criminalization of many aspects of Gypsy law, parallels between Jewish and Gypsy law, and legal distinctions between Romani communities. The contributors raise broad theoretical questions that transcend the specific Gypsy context and offer important insights into understanding oral legal traditions. Together they suggest a theoretical framework for explaining the coe


The recent study of Gypsy law by Weyrauch and Bell (chap. 2 in this volume) has been widely circulated, often in second and third generation xerox copies, among European Romani intellectuals. It has also brought Romani social control mechanisms into the main-stream of legal philosophy. Weyrauch and Bell take these mechanisms as an example of autonomous lawmaking, which serves to maintain internal order and control while at the same time unifying and protecting Gypsies and Gypsy traditions against potentially hostile host societies. Their examination, however, is limited to the system built around the kris of the Vlach Rom, and they fail to see the relevance of other forms of Gypsy social control such as the blood feud of the Finnish Kaale Rom, which they rule out of their discussion. This limits their understandings of the possibilities within the operation of Romani law and indeed of the kris itself. This paper argues that in fact there is a structural inversion between kris systems and blood-feud systems, which shows how similar value systems can be enforced via very different forms of social control. It is suggested that the different forms of social control are appropriate to different nomadic and sedentary modes of life in different Romani groups; and that in fact, using the theories of Pashukanis, one might theorize the kris as an embryonic state developing a criminal law from the historically prior civil law embodied in the norms of Gypsy groups regulating conflicts through the feud system. These contrasts enable a deeper understanding of Gypsy lawmaking processes, which resolve some of the problems shared both by Weyrauch and Bell and by their critics, such as Reisman.

At first sight no two systems of social control could be more different than the systems of private vengeance found among the old nomadic Romani communities of northwestern Europe and those public tribunals (the kris) which regulate all civil and criminal disputes among many of the Rom of Eastern Europe, especially the . . .

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