Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture

By Walter O. Weyrauch | Go to book overview

TWO
Autonomous Lawmaking:
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.

____________________
1
The terminological difficulties regarding the word “Gypsy, ” and the conceptual problems resulting from them, are described in detail in Part II, infra. “Gypsy” is a designation used by nonGypsies to describe the ethnic people who call themselves “Roma. ” English-language scholarship still refers widely to “Gypsies” rather than “Roma. ” See Jan Yoors, Gypsy, 13 ENCYCLOPEDIA AMERICANA 646, 646 (Int'l ed. 1989) [hereinafter Yoors, AMERICANA]; Gypsy, 5 NEW ECYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA 593 (15th ed. 1990). Difficulties exist in other languages as well. The German word Zigeuner is no longer used in scholarly writings. A German author reports that, consequently, she began using the word “Roma” in her writings, Rumanian Gypsies, however, objected to this usage. They preferred to be called Zigeuner. Herta Müller, Der Staub ist blind—die Sonne ein Krüppel, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, May 4, 1991, Bilder und Zeiten at 1, 2 (postscript to article).

-11-

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Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Editor's Note on Terminology vii
  • Foreword - Angela P. Harris ix
  • One - Walter O. Weyrauch 1
  • Two - Walter O. Weyrauch and Maureen Anne Bell 11
  • Three - Thomas Acton, Susan Caffrey, and Gary Mundy 88
  • Four - Susan Caffrey and Gary Mundy 101
  • Five - Calum Carmichael 117
  • Six - Angus Fraser 137
  • Seven - Martti Grönfors 149
  • Eight - Ian Hancock 170
  • Nine - Ronald Lee 188
  • Ten - Anne Sutherland 231
  • Eleven - Walter O. Weyrauch 243
  • Contributors 277
  • Index 279
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