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Do You Have Gypsy Matches?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Customs and Beliefs of the Roma and Sinti

Some of our customers have been surprised to get Gypsy/Romani population matches in their results for the DNA Fingerprint Test. Typically, these are combined with Middle Eastern and Indian matches due to the Gypsies' historical migrations. Other customers were not surprised at all and called to tell us about the fortuneteller great-grandmother or mysterious ancestor who traveled with the circus. Gypsy heritage is not unheard of among Melungeons. So for those who think they may have Roma/Sinti or Romechal (the term used in the British Isles), we have compiled the following list of customs and beliefs taken from an excellent authority.

Strict monotheism similar to Jews

Keeping the seventh day holy

Lighting candles on the evening of Parashat (Friday)

Blasphemy a sin, as is cursing an elder

Beng (Satan) the enemy of God and of the Roma people

The Evil One called bivuzhó (impure) and bilashó


Code of Law

No social classes, only a division into Roma and Gadje (non-Roma)

A court of justice called Kris (Judiciary Council), composed of clan representatives as judges

Both men and women serving on Kris

Issues between Roma to be judged only by the Kris, not by Gadje

All Roma equal before the eyes of the Kris

Belief in blood revenge and compensatory payment for clan of victim

Banishment from territory of victim’s clan for wrong doing

Forfeiture of protection if banished offender reenters

Roma not even to acknowledge or greet one who is banished

Accursed or banished called mahrimé (impure)

Roma not to ask interest for loans to other Roma, only from Gadje


Sexuality, Marriage and Childbirth

Nudity is taboo, allowed only with a husband and wife

Showing naked legs before an elder disrespectful

Homosexuality an abomination

Not allowed to wear clothes of the opposite sex, even as a joke or disguise

Virginity before marriage essential

Tokens of virginity shown to the assembly after wedding

Prostitution strongly condemned

Incest taboo, defined in the same way as Mosaic law (including step-siblings and in-laws)

Permissible to marry your cousin

Members of the Kris must be married

Lack of a spouse makes a man or woman incomplete

Groom’s family pays dowry to the bride’s family

Dowry for a widow amounts to half that for a virgin

A man dishonoring a woman should pay the dowry to her family anyway

Runaway couples considered legitimately married

Marriage endogamic, even within the same clan

Clan recognized by a common ancestor within a few generations

Divorce admitted:  husband sends wife out or she leaves

Remarriage expected after divorce

Levirate law practiced (Deut. 25:5-6)

Childbirth impure, must take place outside the home

Mother giving birth isolated with baby for seven days strictly, followed by 33 days of less strict isolation (cf. Lev. 12:2, 4-5)

New mother cannot show herself in public or attend religious services

Both sexes marrying very young (child marriage)


Funeral and Mourning Rituals

Dead to be buried intact (autopsy or cremation sacrilegious)

Close relatives of the dead impure for seven days

Not to touch a dead body

Family and relatives of deceased forbidden to bathe, comb their hair, cut their nails for three days

On third day after a death, relative must wash thoroughly, and then not again until seventh day

All food in house where a person died is thrown away as defiled

On third day after a death, the house is purified (“the ashes of the burning of the sin”) and a virgin sprinkles running water

The same ceremony repeated on the seventh day after a death, with food brought to the mourners from another dwelling place

Mourners stay at home

Sitting on low stools

Covering mirrors

Not using oils or perfumes or cosmetics

Not wearing new clothes

Not listening to loud music

Not taking photographs or watching television

Not painting, cooking, and cannot greet people

Day mourning extended after seventh day remembrance ceremony until thirtieth day

Another remembrance ceremony on thirtieth day, closing the strict mourning period


Beliefs in Afterlife

Death is final, no reincarnation or return

Soul goes to Paradise or Hell


Purity and Impurity

Concept of marimé (similar to kashrut)

Lower body and things associated with it impure

Sleeping regarded as an impure state

Not to greet anyone upon waking until washed

Disrespectful to greet anyone in an impure state

Dogs and cats impure

Horses, donkeys or riding animal impure

Carnivorous animals impure

Avoidance of horseflesh

Shoes, pants, hose, skirts, trousers, etc. impure

The camp pure

Restrooms built outside the home

Clothes for the lower body and menstruating women washed separately

Dishes washed in a different place from clothes


Other Practices

Custom of mangel, asking for favors from Gadje

Painting doorposts of dwelling with animal blood to protect against angel of death

Invoking the Prophet Elijah, particularly when seeing lightening or hearing thunder

Firstborn son considered a special blessing to the family

Wearing of whiskers

Left hand related to the public domain (Gadje), impure

Separate dishes and cups for Gadje

Only eating ritually slaughtered animals

Slander considered very a very serious offense, worth taking to Kris

Lack of belief in divination (contrary to general view of Gypsies)

Practice of Tarot cards and crystal balls for Gadje only

Having a Gypsy name besides a civil name

Names that are Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Spanish, Hungarian, Persian, never Indian or Hindu

Beef a favorite food

Interest in bullfighting

Middle Eastern music and dance with zithers, etc. (Flamenco in Spain)

Fingernails and toenails filed with an emery board, not a clipper

Going to a church called Filadelfia (Brotherhood)

Claiming to be Egyptian in origin

Making pilgrimages to the burial places of your ancestors


Source:  Abraham Sándor, “Comparison of Romany Law with Israelite Law and Indo-Aryan Traditions”


 More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match




Anonymous commented on 18-Sep-2010 01:39 PM

Thank YOU, Shari, for this long comment. Actually, it was your emails that inspired me to research the true history of the Gypsies. Great idea about a Gypsy Forum on DNA Communities. I have a Gypsy modal DNA profile I can post. Would you consider being a co-moderator with Kim de Beus?

Shari commented on 19-Sep-2010 05:06 PM

Thanks so much for, “Do You Have Gypsy Matches?” It’s fascinating reading. My U.S. Gypsy-Roma great-grandparents were quite religious, I believe Baptist. Mom’s grandparents were “Genetic Gypsies,” not cultural Gypsies. My guess is that they were either “Silent Gypsies,” covering up their ethnicity, or they didn’t know about it. (They emigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s and later owned farms.) In the Shetland Islands mainland these ancestors’ occupations were the typical fishing and farming. Their family naming patterns were traditionally Scottish. Most likely, early on, their ancestors adopted typical Scottish names and ways of life, passing these on to their descendants. In Scotland, Gypsies were persecuted, imprisoned, banished to other lands and even put to death if they didn’t conform. Some or most of Mom’s maternal grandparents’ earlier Gypsy-Roma ancestors migrated from Aberdeen, Scotland to the Shetland mainland. Mother’s test also revealed DNA matches with people in Glasgow, Scotland - assuming Gypsy-Roma. Besides DNA, there are other clues that they were Gypsy-Roma. One clue is that one of our ancestor’s surnames - FEA - is a common Gypsy surname - http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/fealty. During Internet searches I’ve found historical as well as current information about Gypsy-Roma. There are websites originating in England and Scotland as well as many sites reviewing ancient Gypsy history (some timelines) of migration from India to most European countries. As I understand it, almost all researchers (such as Iovita in “Reconstructing the Origins and Migrations of Diasporic Populations: The Case of the European Gypsies,” the source cited by you, Don, in Mom’s DNA report) have concluded that Gypsy-Roma originated in India; and before that, Southeast Asia is mentioned. Only one site by Abraham Sandor (your source for your Gypsy blog entry) makes the argument that Gypsy-Roma did not originate in India, but instead in Mesopotamia, later migrating to India before beginning their European migrations - http://www.imninalu.net/Roma_map.htm. . The records of early Gypsies in England and Scotland seem mostly to recount arrests, trials, banishment and being put to death - drowning and otherwise. In Europe a popular punishment was cutting off ears! Most early treatment described in European history is appalling. Estimates of up to 500,000 Gypsy-Roma individuals were killed by the Nazis in World War II. There are few Internet accounts of Gypsy-Roma in the U.S. One website presents basic genealogical information - some Gypsy surnames and YDNA test descriptions for male descendants of known Gypsy-Roma persons banished (1600s-1700s) to the U.S. Southwest, South America and other lands (Peter Wilson Coldham books). “Famous Gypsies” websites can be found on the Internet. Alternatively, there are vitriolic (sometimes downright racist) posts and sites about Gypsy-Roma. One is a U.S. police website giving an overview of Gypsy “criminals.” There are criminals in all ethnic groups who need to be caught and punished appropriately. There is such a disconnect for me here. My mother’s grandparents and great aunt and great uncle raised lovely families and we descendants are very nice people! I’m certain that’s true of the overwhelming majority of Gypsy-Roma as well as “Genetic Gypsy-Roma.” No matter the ethnic group, people only wish to raise decent, happy children who grow up to be responsible, caring adults in our society. With (mostly) dark skin and hair, colorful dress, “different” behaviors (including that of “traveling”) and with no country of their own, the Gypsies were forced to find safe “home places,” not easy to do in lands already occupied. The Gypsy-Roma were persecuted for centuries. Today Gypsies live all over the world, still often enduring various forms of persecution. I believe these people have survived as well as can be expected under extreme circumstances. Some resigned themselves to or have been forced to take on the life styles of their resident neighbors to stop the persecution. Now some of us are discovering for the first time that we have various amounts of “Gypsy-Roma” DNA. Gypsies could certainly use more positive “press,” so I’d like to make a request to be considered. Would DNA Consultants be willing to include a fifth posting category - “Gypsy-Roma” - along with Europe, Melungeons, Native American and World? Gypsy-Roma deserve more positive representation and something like this would certainly help. I’m proud of my Gypsy great-grandparents. They sacrificed and worked hard to establish homes in the U.S., ensuring easier lives for their descendants. I enjoyed “Do You Have Gypsy Matches” and am very pleased with Mom’s DNA Fingerprint Plus test. It will definitely enrich Mom’s family history (that I’m in the process of writing)! Thanks to DNA Consultants for a great service. Shari

Shari commented on 20-Sep-2010 09:45 AM

Looking forward to seeing the Gypsy modal DNA profile on the new Gypsy Forum at DNA Communities.

Shari commented on 22-Sep-2010 02:13 PM

Don, thanks for the invitation to become a co-moderator with Kim, you and others on the new Roma (Gypsy) Forum that is now up and running in the DNA Consultants Communities site. This will be an important positive source for those of us who wish to exchange information and increase our knowledge about Roma (Gypsies) - DNA and history.

Shari commented on 07-Sep-2012 09:34 AM

I need to make a big correction in my post above regarding my Shetland ancestors. Thank you for your extraordinary and revealing book, WHEN SCOTLAND WAS JEWISH, in which I found almost all of my Shetland ancestors' surnames to be Jewish (SINCLAIR, LESLIE,
etc.) except for our great...grandmother’s Romany-Gypsy surname FEA. Now I must conclude that these ancestors, farmers in California, were predominantly of Jewish ethnicity. Also, I no longer suspect they changed their surnames to escape persecution. Most
likely they just "moved on" to the Shetland Islands (some perhaps earlier to Orkney) from Aberdeen, Scotland, then to the United States. Many Shetlanders emigrated to other countries in the 1880s because of overpopulation.

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