Xoraxané Romá

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Xoraxané Romá

ETHNONYMS: Arlija, Arnuta (i.e., "Albanians"), Čergaša, Gurbéti, Romá, Xoraxané Romá (i.e., "Turkish" Romá)


Identification. The Xoraxané Romá are a heterogeneous Gypsy group, found in the south of former and current Yugoslavia, particularly in those regions that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In order to escape the economic crisis in southern Yugoslavia, they began, like many Yugoslavs, to emigrate to Western Europe in the 1960s (and have continued to do so up to the present day). The Xoraxané described here migrated from the Yugoslavian region of Kosovo and arrived in Italy at the end of the 1960s.

Location and Demography. The Xoraxané Romá in Italy today are nomads and tend to set up camp on the outskirts of large and medium towns. They travel widely throughout Italy and are today found in virtually all regions, including Sicily and Sardinia. Because many families traveled back and forth between Yugoslavia and Italy prior to the Yugoslav civil war, their numerical presence in Italy is extremely variable and very difficult to calculate. One can estimate a population numbering between 5,000 and 10,000, though no census has ever been made.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Xoraxané Romá speak a Gypsy dialect, which has been considerably influenced lexically by the languages of the region of origin (i.e., Serbian and Albanian). The Gurbeti, who arrived in Yugoslavia from Romania at the beginning of the nineteenth century, speak a Gypsy dialect, called "Vlax" by gypsiologists, with strong Serbian and Albanian influences. The Xoraxané also speak Serbian and Albanian fluently, and also a mangled Italian.

History and Cultural Relations

Having lived for centuries in regions under the domination of the Ottoman Empire, the Xoraxané are noted even today for the cultural influences they have received from the surrounding non-Gypsy Muslim populations. In fact the term "Xoraxané" is used as a distinguishing mark in relation to the "Christian Romá," called "Dassikané Romá" or "Gadjikané Romá" (i.e., "Serbian Romá" or "non-Gypsy Romá"). They are very numerous in the regions that were the south of Yugoslavia (numbering a few hundred thousand) and it would seem they developed relatively early permanent settlements, both rural and urban. Today one can find Xoraxané Romá in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Denmark, as well as in Italy. Even though they consider the West to be a "halter's" (beggar's) paradise, their living conditions are far from easy. Most arrive in Italy illegally and remain without the residence permit required of them as foreign citizens. This unlawful status leads them to continual struggles with officials, as do their economic activities, which are considered illegal under Italian law. During the 1970s the Italian police used mass roundups and escorted them over the Italian/Yugoslavian border, but the Romá always managed to return. During the 1980s several Italian city councils, especially those in large municipalities, adopted a policy of integration by means of the usual system of schooling, job-training schemes, and the setting up of special campsites; nevertheless, the Xoraxané's position in Italy today remains difficult. Among the Gypsy groups in Italy, the Xoraxané is the group that appears to best accept schooling and literacy. Even most of the adults can read and write, evidently as a result of the partial success of the Yugoslavian policies regarding mandatory school attendance; in fact, it is not an accident that in Kosovo and Macedonia there are cultural circles organized by Romá that have produced notable literary works.


Although they are sedentary in their country of origin, once in Italy the Xoraxané become nomadic. They live in tents (the ordinary tents one uses for camping) or in caravans they buy from the Italian Gypsies. They go in for large encampments (comprising as many as a hundred people); for traveling they use cars or trains; and, in most cases, they move on only when forced to do so by police intervention. Such intervention renders highly fluid the composition of the local groups, which are prevalently, though not exclusively, formed on a basis of bilateral kinship ties.


Although they pursue various activities and are partially involved in salaried jobs in what was Yugoslavia, few of the Xoraxané arriving in Italy today intend to sell their labor. Although some try to make a living through small commercial activities, like the sale of used paper for recycling, most of them live by begging and petty theft. Only the Xoraxané originating from Bosnia are involved in the coppersmith trade. Begging is considered a real trade and, among the Xoraxané from the Kosovo region, it can be followed by all the members of a householdmen, women, the elderly, and children although only the women tend to do it on a day-to-day basis. The women prefer begging in town centers, halting along the busiest streets or outside churches, and they do not try to hide the fact that they are Gypsies. The men, however, prefer begging door-to-door and pretend to be non-Gypsy cripples, political refugees, or Yugoslavian, Romanian, or Lebanese earthquake victims. They all see the town in which they are encamped as their principal, though not their only, begging area. The town of temporary residence is in fact the center of an economic area that extends as far as other nearby towns, reached daily by the Romá by means of public transport. On account of the woman's domestic duties, the extension of her economic area is somewhat limited in relation to the man's: a woman may travel as far as 50-60 kilometers from her encampment in order to beg, while a man may go as far as 100-150 kilometers. Petty theft is practiced above all by children, since the latter cannot be punished under Italian law. This has led, in recent years, to some families "renting" children for a sum of money from relatives or friends in Yugoslavia. For this reason, certain Romá have been condemned by the Italian law courts as "slave traders." The Romá themselves declare that a month's begging in Italy can earn you as much money as 3-4 months' salaried work in Yugoslavia. Some families, therefore, organize their migration in great detail; some members of the household remain in Yugoslavia, while others go to Italy to beg for a few months. In this way life in Italy is seen only as a "period of production," while the earnings are spent in Yugoslavia.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Xoraxané Romá recognize a bilateral kindred (familja ) which, in theory, includes third cousins. In practice there is no rigid dividing line, and the composition will often depend on genealogical memory. This memory certainly reaches as far back as the third ascending generation, but for the most part only as far as the lineals are concerned; the collaterals are more easily forgotten. Within the kindred great stress is placed on the patriline, though this in no way constitutes a formalized corporate group. Eponymous ancestors do not exist. The patrilineal ideology, symbolized in the transmission of blood, is in evidence above all where blood feuds are concerned. The maternal uncle has a rather peculiar position: if his sister's son is killed, he can seek revenge (within certain time limits); sexual intercourse between himself and the wife of his sister's son is considered incestuous (whereas it is not considered so between a paternal uncle and his nephew's wife).

Kinship Terminology. The terminology makes a clear distinction between consanguineal and affinal terms. The consanguine terminology is of the Sudanese type with elements of the Eskimo type, while the affinal terminology is of a type that can be defined as "Greek," The terminological system is not, however, uniform throughout all Xoraxané groups.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The norm requires a preliminary agreement between the families of both parties plus the payment of bride-wealth (either in cash or in gold). A promise of marriage can be made while the future bride and bridegroom are still children. Elopement is an accepted possibility for a couple who wish to go against their parents' wishes. The incest taboo stretches as far as first cousins and includes the following affinal relationships: daughter-in-law/father-in-law, son-in-law/mother-in-law, bride's father/bridegroom's mother, bride's mother/bridegroom's father, maternal uncle/nephew's wife. The bilateral kindred as previously described is, in theory, an exogamous group, though one can note Several exceptions to the rule. The exogamy, again in theory, concerns all the members of Ego's kindred in relation to all the members of the kindred of Ego's godfather. The postmarital residence is generally virilocal, with some cases of neolocality. Divorce is possible and is ideologically accepted. Polygyny is practiced (in this case the first wife has a predominant role), though monogamy is much more common.

Domestic Unit. As well as bilateral kindred, the term familja also denotes the extended family and the nuclear family. The expression barî familja (i.e., "big familja") can refer to a group containing all the descendants of a living person, or to a group of coresidents made up of one or more nuclear families. One must distinguish, therefore, between a barí familja of descendance, following cognatic lines, and a barí familja of residence, made up from rules following virilocality. In the development of the domestic cycle, the virilocality is not permanent: a married son will usually leave his father's family when another brother gets married and replaces him in the paternal home (house or caravan). The father's family, however, remains a point of reference and of solidarity. Another type of "great" family is made up from the polygynous family; here the dyads of mother/children assume great importance, seeing that the cowives have separate homes and can even live in different towns. Each cowife with her children forms an autonomous residential unit, and the husband divides his time between one unit and another.

Inheritance. The norm, which is not always followed, is that the youngest married son should inherit everything. This rule of ultimogeniture is in keeping with the chain development of the virilocality: the last son to marry and who lives with his father becomes, at the death of the latter, head of the household and must look after his widowed mother and any young unmarried siblings.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social and Political Organization. Outside the domestic unit there are no recognized "chiefs" or units that act as centers of power. Among the Xoraxané the only inequalities are those depending on age and sex. The acephalous character, however, does not prevent the recognition of baró Rom (great Rom), a prestigious title given to the head of family who is also head of a large barí familja of descendance and whose reputation is impeccable. The domestic units, independent from each other both politically and economically, form the basis for the local groups. The latter are, in Italy, ever-changing and very unstable and do not expect a monopoly over a given territory: every domestic unit can move freely and camp with any family with whom they are on good terms. This movement is hindered only by the surrounding non-Gypsies and sometimes by non-Xoraxané Gypsies, who wish to have nothing to do with the Xoraxané Romá, whom they see as trespassers.

Social Control and Conflict. For the Romá the institution of the blood-feud, or merely the threat of such a feud, is a fundamental guarantee of order. The feud, which in theory foresees the intervention only of patrilineal relatives and, within certain time limits, the intervention of the murdered person's maternal uncle, can in practice be put into effect by the nonpatrilineal relatives as well. The cognatic structure constitutes a notable restraint on prolonging a feud: the relatives common to both parties in a dispute can become peacemakers. In order officially to "repacify the blood," as the Xoraxané put itthat is, to end a feudthere exists an ad hoc institution. This is a formal trial by a council composed of an unfixed number of "great Romá" and called a plešnóra, which must be requested by both contenders. The plešnóra decides who is right and who is wrong and establishes the sum of "blood wealth" to be paid. A contender who refuses to accept the plešnóra's verdict risks a blood feud with the plešnóra itself.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. The Xoraxané call themselves Muslims, though religious practice is held to be a private affair. The nonpracticing Xoraxané are in no way censured. In Italy, where there are no mosques, the practicing Muslim Xoraxané content themselves with observing Ramadan, not eating pork, and invoking Allah in moments of need. Many have begun to have their children baptized according to the Christian rites, but they continue to call themselves Muslims. Messianic movements that have met with success among other Gypsy groups in Italy (e.g., the Rom Kalderash and some Sinti groups) do not seem to interest the Xoraxané.

Death and Afterlife. When possible, the Xoraxané will take their dead to Yugoslavia in order to bury them according to Muslim ritual. They believe in the return of the dead (especially for those who meet a violent death) in the form of vampires (coxané ). These are believed to possess superhuman aspects and to become incarnate in children. Some say the vampires exist only in Yugoslavia, while others swear they have seen them in Italy.


Lockwood, William G. (1986). "East European Gypsies in Western Europe: The Social and Cultural Adaptation of the Xoraxané." Nomadic Peoples 21-22:63-70.

Piasere, Leonardo (1987). "In Search of New Niches: The Productive Organization of the Peripatetic Xoraxané in Italy." In The Other Nomads, edited by A. Rao, 111-32. Cologne: Böhlau.

Piasere, Leonardo (1990). Popoli delle discariche. Rome: CISU.