The Case of the “Gypsies”
Walter O. Weyrauch and Maureen Anne Bell
This essay is a study of the laws and legal processes of the Romani people, traditionally known as Gypsies.1 The account of the autonomous legal system of the Romani people provided here may appear so incredible that some readers may believe that it is based not on research but on insupportable construction. In fact, this account finds its support in the extensive and amorphous nonlegal literature and from the few Romani sources available.
The essay discusses the highly developed internal laws of the Gypsies to illustrate how private lawmaking is central to the everyday workings of society. The Vlax Roma, the largest Gypsy group in the United States, have laws that are generations old, administered by their own courts (kris) and judges (krisnitorya). For centuries, their courts have functioned autonomously virtually without regard for those
We are indebted to Frank Allen, Gunther Arzt, Stanley Ingber, Lynn LoPucki, and Rosalie Sanderson for their valuable suggestions. Special thanks are due to Ian Hancock, a British-Hungarian Rom and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Texas, for his numerous comments and valuable critique on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
This essay uses the term “Gypsy” interchangeably with the term “Roma” to reflect the fact that its research depends on both Gypsy and non-Gypsy sources. Gypsy authors such as Ian Hancock have used the term “Gypsy” when addressing a non-Gypsy audience. See IAN HANCOCK, THE PARIAH SYNDROME: AN ACCOUNT OF GYPSY SLAVERY AND PERSECUTION (1987) [hereinafter HANCOCK, PARIAH SYNDROME]. Throughout this Article we use the alternative spelling “Rumania” for Romania to stress that the term “Roma” for Gypsies is not linguistically related to Rumanian. This spelling is used by Hancock for the same reason.____________________