Romani Customs and Traditions:
Strict rules come into effect at the time of pregnancy
before the actual birth of a Roma child. Most of these rules are based
on the belief that a woman is marimé, or impure, during pregnancy
and for a period of time after the birth of the infant until it's baptism.
When a woman is certain that she is pregnant, she tells her husband and
other women of the community. The pregnancy signals a change in her status
among the group. Pregnancy means that the woman is "impure" and must be
isolated as much as possible from the community. She is cared for only
by other women in the community. Though she continues to live at home,
her husband can spend only short periods of time with her during the pregnancy.
It is frequently his job to take over the domestic duties when she is unable
to handle them.
Traditionally, the birth cannot take place in the
family's usual home, whether it be a tent, trailer, or house because it
would then become "impure." Because of this, an increasing number of Roma
women have preferred to leave their encampments and homes to give birth
in a hospital, in spite of their disdain for non-Roma ways. It is not because
they think they will receive better care, but because in that way they
will not soil their own homes. If the delivery takes place outside a hospital,
only specially appointed midwives, or possibly other women who have experienced
maternity, are allowed to assist with the birth.
There are any number of rites that might precede
the actual birth. One rite among some tribes involves the untying of certain
knots, so that the umbilical cord will not be knotted. Sometimes all the
knots in the expectant mother's clothing will be undone or cut. At other
times, the expectant mother's hair will be loosened if it has been pinned
or tied with a ribbon.
In some tribes the mother cannot be seen by any
man except the husband before the baptism. The husband faces restrictions,
too. He will often be prohibited from going out between sunset and sunrise
so that he may keep away from evil spirits, called tsinivari, which
might attack the infant during the night. These evil spirits might attack
the new mother, also. Only other women, and never the husband or other
men, are allowed to protect her, because of her marimé condition.
The baptism takes place any time from a few weeks
to a few months after birth, most commonly between two and three weeks.
During this interim period, the mother and child are both isolated from
the community. Before the baptism, the baby's name cannot be pronounced,
it cannot be photographed, and sometimes the baby's face is not even permitted
to be shown in public. This period does not end until the baptism, when
the impurities are washed away by immersion in water. This is most frequently
practiced by washing it in running water, an act that is separate from
any subsequent baptism. After washing, the child might be massaged with
oil in order to strengthen it. In some cases, amulets or talismans are
used to protect the baby from evil spirits.
Fraser, Angus. The
Gypsies. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992.
Greenfield, Howard. Gypsies.
New York: Crown Publishers, 1977.
Sutherland, Anne. Gypsies:
The Hidden Americans. Reprinted Prospect Heights: Waveland, 1986.