Spanish Rom

views updated

Spanish Rom

ETHNONYMS: Hungaros, Zingaros


Identification and Location. The Rom are a Gypsy group of wide distribution in Europe and the Americas. The Rom are scattered throughout Spain in small communities. By and large they make their living through metalworking, and small, relatively sedentary communities tend to be located in Industrial, urban, and resort centers. Some Rom who do metalworking or operate small circuses continue to engage in a more nomadic life-style. These mobile groups tend also to travel through Portugal, France, and Italy.

Demography. There are comparatively few Rom on the Iberian Peninsula. At any one time there are at most several hundred of them in Spain and Portugal.

Linguistic Affiliation. Gypsies generally speak Romany, which is classified by linguists as belonging to the Indo-Iranian division of the Indo-European Language Family. The varieties of Romany that the Rom speak are called the Vlach dialects. Vlach Romany has a conservative Indic basic vocabulary and grammar. It has eight or nine noun cases and a complex system of functional verbal suffixes. Although Vlach "common" or basic vocabulary items are of Indian origin, Vlach also contains numerous (1,000+) Romanian loanwords. The Spanish Rom also speak Spanish, and the Nomadic groups speak the languages of nearby European countries in addition to their own dialects.

History and Cultural Relations

Linguistic and genetical evidence indicates that the "original" Gypsies were an Indian ethnic group that migrated out of the subcontinent around a.d. 1000. Passing through Byzantium, they spread through the Balkans during the fourteenth Century and reached Russia, Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, and Spain in the fifteenth century. The Spanish descendants of these early migrants are called "Gitanos" and today, as in past centuries, they constitute the majority of Spanish Gypsies. The Gitanos retained much of their Romany lexicon, which was called "Caló" until well into the nineteenth century; but they quickly forgot its Indic grammar. The Rom, on the other hand, did not arrive in western Europe, including Spain and Portugal, much before 1850. Until about that date they had been attached, in a kind of serfdom, to the still-feudal Romanian economy; hence a considerable admixture of Romanian words is evident in their Romany. Reportedly, a nomadic band of metalworking Gypsies camped on the outskirts of the Portuguese city of Fonte Nova in 1869, and their kitchenware was of such fine quality that it left the city's resident Neopolitan craftsmen speechless. Another report from Portugal in 1883 describes a nomadic band of metalworkers, at least two of whom spoke "perfect Spanish," and relates that they were returning to Spain. They spoke a "special language" that was not Caló, and they did not like to be compared with the Gitanos. Both descriptions refer to the people involved as "Hungarian Gypsies" (Ciganos Hungaros) and leave little doubt that these folk were Rom, and that, as such, the Rom had entered Iberia soon after the Romanian diaspora.


The size and distribution of settlements are structured by the availability of metalwork. The latter consists of industrial cutting tools to be sharpened, repaired, and tempered and Industrial kitchenware to be cleaned, tinned, and repaired. Hence, small nuclei of several extended families cluster in urban, industrial, and resort areas. Other groups of thirty to forty People are nomadic and travel from work site to work site. Mixed types also occur.


Metalwork is always done on a contractual basis for non-Gypsy or Gazé businessmen. Each Gypsy male head of an extended family has his clientele of repeat customers, some of which have "been in the family" over several generations. All family heads constantly search for new clients. Often several family heads enter into joint ventures and share proceeds. Interfamily solidarity is a paramount economic focus for the Rom in that significant capital is invested back into the multifamily local group in the form of elaborate ritual drinking and feasting. Women are charged with domestic responsibilities, but they help with metalwork and sometimes are called on to deal with difficult Gazé customers. The Spanish Rom and other European Rom see a sort of economic "golden age" of their people as ending in the post-World War II era, when great urban and resort hotels began to replace their large collections of valuable copper pots and pans, which required constant tinning and repair, with stainless steel. Spain, in particular, is seen by Rom to have suffered from the effects of this technological innovation. Many Rom see Spain as xalardó or "finished" in an economic sense. Many European and American Rom also view their Spanish cousins as being somewhat old-fashioned and traditional. In a related sense, European Rom perceive Spain as a particularly good place to be "Gypsy" (i.e., as a sort of "vacation" spot in which to spend the money they have made elsewhere in Europe). Some of the few small circuses that find their way in and out of Spain are run by Moldováya or Bayása Gypsies, who lost much of their Romany during the "Romanian captivity" but who have relearned it from the Rom they associate with in various parts of Europe. Finally, Rom from South America have found their way recently into Spanish tourist centers, where they make their living by telling fortunes. They tend to keep their distance from the Spanish Rom proper, who frown on the practice because they believe it exposes their women to danger.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. In the Rom kinship system, kin terms are, with the exception of affinal labels, similar to those in English. The European Rom, including the Spanish Rom, divide themselves into three "tribes" or vítsi: the Kalderása, the Lovára, and the Tšurára. Although Rom concede that small linguistic and social differences distinguish one vitsa from another, all Rom consider themselves related to all other Rom by ties of consanguinity and affinity, as well as by a common culture and language. Marriages can occur both within and across vitsa lines, and one can claim membership to either father's or mother's tribe. The vitsi are not corporate groups.

Marriage. Ideally, the kin of a marriageable young man (a romoro ) seek out a Rom girl (a sei ) for him to marry. The boy's kin arrange a series of feasts "to honor" the girl's kin. Then at a formal ritual (mangimós ), a bride-price in gold coins is negotiated. A wedding usually follows. Many Spanish Rom dislike the idea of a bride-price and take pains to keep their married daughters close by. They also require that the young people involved consent to the union. Occasionally Rom men will marry Gazé women or Gitano women. There is a strong taboo on Rom women marrying Gazé men. Patrilocality is the ideal, but matrilocality also occurs.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Spanish Rom have no formal leaders, and coercion of any sort is frowned on. Occasionally, rich Gypsy men might influence others by example and persuasion, but never by threat.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The Spanish Rom are nominally Catholics. Some are devoted to the cults of Iberian folk saints and healers. They are very devoted to the memory of their dead, especially their recent dead. They believe these recent dead can intervene for ill or for good in the affairs of the living. The Spanish Rom have no folk healers and strongly believe in Western medicine.

Arts. The Rom are aware that they have a certain style that permeates and unifies many aspects of their everyday life Including speech, food preparation, manners, dress, the arrangement of space, and the ritual preparation of tea. They value this style, which they denote by the adverb romanes (in the Gypsy way) and are aware that it is admired by many of their Gazé and Gitano neighbors.


Cohn, Werner (1969). "Some Comparisons between Gypsy (North American rom ) and American Kinship Terms." American Anthropologist 71:476-482.

Gjerdman, O., and E. Ljungberg (1963). The Language of the Swedish Coppersmith Gipsy Johan Dimitri Taikon. Uppsala: A.-B Lundequistska Bokhandeln.

Mulcahy, F. D. (1988). "Material and Non-Material resources, or Why the Gypsies Have No Vises." Technology in Society 10:457-467.

Yoors, Jan (1987). The Gypsies. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.

Yoors, Jan (1988). Crossing. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.