Romani Culture and Traditions
American Gypsies, a new documentary series on the National Geographic Channel explores the inner workings of one Romani (Gypsy) family. To the Manhattan Johns family, upholding Gypsy tradition and lifestyle is extremely important. However, one of the brothers, Bobby believes that tradition sometimes gets in the way of pursuing the American Dream for his family, especially his children, for whom some of the traditional way of life of the Gypsies have become obstacles in allowing his girls to be all they can be.
Gypsy tradition goes back centuries, back before they arrived in Europe. Some of those traditions have kept the community strong, and even alive, in the face of discrimination and even persecution as they lived permanently displaced and on the move. In 21st Century America, those same traditions bind on Romani community to another, and provide a community and cultural lifestyle that keeps traditional alive. But even as assimilation into modern life has become possible, tradition is strong and the resistance to incorporating the ways of the gadje (non-Romani) in the Johns family.
So, what are some of these traditions that hold together this unique ethnic culture?
Religion and Spirituality
Throughout time, Romani communities have often adopted the religious beliefs of the people in whose midst they’d dwelled. Overtly, Romani may be Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Islam. But whatever religious practice with which they affiliate, Romani supplement their adopted religious practices with a very traditional set of spiritual beliefs, rooted in their Indian origins.
Traditional Romani spirituality includes belief in the existence of Del (God) and Beng (Satan), who forever pull at the spirit. Maintaining harmony between these two forces drives the Romani desire to maintain spiritual balance between the good and bad. Similar to Indian Karma, this complex set of spiritual practices also include a belief in bibax (bad luck), and bubo (spirits and ghosts). Good luck charms, amulets and healing rituals are all important parts of Romani belief; however nothing, according to Romani belief happens by chance, but is a consequence of one’s actions, good or bad.Continued on the next page