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Gypsy Law

Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture

EDITED BY Walter O. Weyrauch
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Gypsy Law
    Book Description:

    Approximately one thousand years ago Gypsies, or Roma, left their native India. Today Gypsies can be found in countries throughout the world, their distinct culture still intact in spite of the intense persecution they have endured. This authoritative collection brings together leading Gypsy and non-Gypsy scholars to examine the Romani legal system, an autonomous body of law based on an oral tradition and existing alongside dominant national legal networks. For centuries the Roma have survived by using defensive strategies, especially the absolute exclusion ofgadje(non-Gypsies) from their private lives, their values, and information about Romani language and social institutions. Sexuality, gender, and the body are fundamental to Gypsy law, with rules that govern being pure(vujo)or impure(marime). Women play an important role in maintaining legal customs, having the power to sanction and to contaminate, but they are not directly involved in legal proceedings. These essays offer a comparative perspective on Romani legal procedures and identity, including topics such as the United States' criminalization of many aspects of Gypsy law, parallels between Jewish and Gypsy law, and legal distinctions between Romani communities. The contributors raise broad theoretical questions that transcend the specific Gypsy context and offer important insights into understanding oral legal traditions. Together they suggest a theoretical framework for explaining the coexistence of formal and informal law within a single legal system. They also highlight the ethical dilemmas encountered in comparative law research and definitions of "human rights."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92427-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Note on Terminology
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Angela P. Harris

    The contributors to this book struggle throughout with a problem that they do not name but that surrounds their thoughtful and informative essays like a mist: the problem that arises when the academic enterprise and unequal power relations meet. Roma have for many centuries been the target of discrimination, persecution, stereotyping, forced assimilation, and violence.¹ Survival for cultural groups in this situation becomes what Native American scholar Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance,” for survival through resistance; and the primary Romani tactic of survivance has historically been invisibility. As the essays in this book document, Roma have been able to maintain an...

  5. ONE Romaniya: An Introduction to Gypsy Law
    (pp. 1-10)
    Walter O. Weyrauch

    The appearance ofRomaniyaor Gypsy law in legal literature is of extraordinary moment for jurisprudence and the comparative study of law. This autonomous body of law, existing unnoticed among dominant legal systems, has been invisible to legal scholarship and provides a considerable challenge to established ways of thinking.

    This volume contains ten essays that describe aspects ofRomaniya.Much of the presentation has testimonial character, for example, accounts of past field research in Finland, as told by Martti Grönfors, or of giving expert testimony in a criminal trial involving a Gypsy who had used a wrong social security number,...

  6. TWO Autonomous Lawmaking: The Case of the “Gypsies”
    (pp. 11-87)
    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,...

  7. THREE Theorizing Gypsy Law
    (pp. 88-100)
    Thomas Acton, Susan Caffrey and Gary Mundy

    The recent study of Gypsy law by Weyrauch and Bell (chap. 2 in this volume) has been widely circulated, often in second and third generation xerox copies, among European Romani intellectuals. It has also brought Romani social control mechanisms into the main-stream of legal philosophy. Weyrauch and Bell take these mechanisms as an example of autonomous lawmaking, which serves to maintain internal order and control while at the same time unifying and protecting Gypsies and Gypsy traditions against potentially hostile host societies. Their examination, however, is limited to the system built around thekrisof the Vlach Rom, and they...

  8. FOUR Informal Systems of Justice: The Formation of Law within Gypsy Communities
    (pp. 101-116)
    Susan Caffrey and Gary Mundy

    Recent criminological theory has laid increasing stress upon the importance of informal controls in cooperation with state agencies in the prevention of crime and the apprehension of those who have offended. Gypsies and other ethnic minority groups are often represented as having a lifestyle which is built upon criminality, the areas where they live being seen as supportive of a criminal way of life.¹ We wish to show that these so-called crimogenic communities have their own system of law which could be seen to have something to offer to the host society. By looking at Gypsy communities, who already manage...

  9. FIVE Gypsy Law and Jewish Law
    (pp. 117-136)
    Calum Carmichael

    The essay on Gypsy law by Walter Weyrauch and Maureen Bell is a pioneering attempt to describe the role of law among the Roma (Gypsies).¹ Because there is no written law, Weyrauch and Bell are not in a position to give an account of the development of Romani law over its approximately one-thousand-year history. This lack is in striking contrast to Jewish law. Although there are eras when we know little or nothing about Jewish law, we can nonetheless give an account of its development over a very long period of time.

    Jewish law has existed for about three thousand...

  10. SIX Juridical Autonomy among Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Gypsies
    (pp. 137-148)
    Angus Fraser

    One of the most intriguing aspects of Gypsy history is the apparent manner of their arrival in western Christendom in the early fifteenth century. For a time, they can be seen to be behaving in a fashion that, for them, was unprecedented. They moved around conspicuously, seeming almost to court attention. Some of them evidently bore safe-conducts from up high, fostering a story of their being penitents who were undertaking a seven-year pilgrimage to expiate a period of apostasy. Pretended pilgrims, like thecoquillardsof France, were no novelty in the Middle Ages, but they did not usually travel in...

  11. SEVEN Institutional Non-Marriage in the Finnish Roma Community and Its Relationship to Rom Traditional Law
    (pp. 149-169)
    Martti Grönfors

    I studied the Finnish Roma society as a participant observer in 1976–78; the total time spent in the field was about eighteen months. Since that time I have moved to other things, but have maintained contact with my closest informants and friends and also have periodically returned to this topic with updated articles.¹ The participation was truly anthropological in that I lived, worked, and travelled with them as far as an outsider can do.

    The Finnish Roma differ markedly from the Roma in other parts of the world because they do not really use the Romani language as a...

  12. EIGHT A Glossary of Romani Terms
    (pp. 170-187)
    Ian Hancock

    The following is a glossary of words occurring in the essays in this volume, plus a number of others directly or indirectly relevant to the topics dealt with. Where they represent usage in different dialects, this has been indicated.

    Romani orthography, and indeed the Romani language itself, is only now in the process of being standardized. The spelling used here has been regularized according to the system outlined in Ian F. Hancock,A Handbook of Vlax Romani(Slavica Publishers, Columbia, Ohio, 1995). Briefly, the letters and letter combinations have the following values in Kalderash Vlax: [j] is like English “y,”...

  13. NINE The Rom-Vlach Gypsies and the Kris-Romani
    (pp. 188-230)
    Ronald Lee

    Before discussing thekris-Romani,or “Gypsy Court,” it may be useful to describe the leadership structure among the large group of Rom in Canada and the United States who have been defined as the Rom-Vlach Gypsies.¹ Many Gypsiologists and writers who have written about this group have borrowed from previous sources and, in my opinion, have failed to clarify the exact nature of leadership among them. In some ways, they have created a new set of stereotypes to replace those they have attempted to demolish—for example, the semi-mythological “Gypsy Chieftain” or “tribal leader” has now been redefined as the...

  14. TEN Complexities of U.S. Law and Gypsy Identity
    (pp. 231-242)
    Anne Sutherland

    Fundamental differences between sedentary societies and nomadic societies frequently lead to conflicts. Such conflicts stem from the interests vested in the basic social and legal forms of societies organized around individuals being in a fixed place and the interests of societies organized around the flexibility of being able to move from place to place. In sedentary societies (which developed historically with agriculture), each person has an official and personal identity linked to a fixed abode (an address), a name (a legal name), and often documents of proof of identity (birth certificate, identity card, driver’s license, passport, etc.). In nomadic societies,...

  15. ELEVEN Oral Legal Traditions of Gypsies and Some American Equivalents
    (pp. 243-276)
    Walter O. Weyrauch

    The significance of tribal law for comparative law is not commonly stressed. To the extent that comparisons remain on the level of legal cultures that are historically and politically closely allied to each other, even though they are in appearance “different,” an element of unconscious ethnocentrism cannot be eliminated. We tend to compare legal cultures with whose reasoning and results one can identify. The closeness of the parallels, while full identity is missing, tends to be experienced as stimulating. Yet the occasional forays into legal cultures that are “radically different”¹ may be more fascinating and jurisprudentially and even practically rewarding....

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 277-278)
  17. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-289)