The term "Gypsy" didn't begin with Stevie Nicks or a Cher song and they very much exist in today's day and age. We're also not talking about the modern Romnichial gypsies that have graced television screens everywhere, even though they are a sub-group of the Romani people. While their wardrobes may be updated a bit, their customs still remain the same and still as strict as ever. Much of those customs are responsible for very specific pregnancy procedures that Romani families follow to a T. While it may seem somewhat crazy to the outside world, to a traditional Romani family, these rules keep their bloodline going and ensure their survival.
Pregnancy does not, by any means, follow the customs that most people know and is followed by strict Romani laws and for nine months. Superstitions are avoided like the plague and anything Romani men and women can do to keep any evil energy away from expecting parents comes first. Pregnancy is the total opposite of what many moms are familiar with and would certainly make expecting fathers uncomfortable, but in a Roma family you either follow the rules or follow the path back out. In a life where outsiders are not even an option, adulthood begins at 15, pregnancy is full of rules that would leave most people scratching their heads...But for Romani woman, it's just a way of life.
15 Pregnancy Is Not Always Magical
Bringing a child into this world is a wonderful and exciting experience and is usually met with congratulations, applause, and people wanting to constantly feel your stomach. For a Romani, this announcement comes with immediate quarantine.
While the actual act of giving birth to a child and raising them is highly supported and encouraged by Romani families, a pregnant woman is restricted from being around her husband and other men for the duration of her pregnancy.
The Roma traditions follow the idea of "marimé" which quite literally is translated to "unclean" because, in order to have a baby, purity must be violated. Every Romani family is different, but during periods of early Roma history, marimé was associated with the idea of pollution which is why pregnant women were isolated outside of the women tending to her. In simple terms, to a Romani, anything from the waist down is considered unclean, while anything above the waist is clean. Pregnancy doesn't make a difference in this belief, and mothers-to-be are still commonly separated until they give birth.
14 It's Your Husband's Turn To Wash Dishes
Ah, Romani husbands. Men have a unique role in the life of Roma-based tradition, and during pregnancy, it becomes even more imperative. With a Romani man's wife being impure by virtue of bearing a child, he's not allowed to touch anything that she has already come into contact with. This means that occasionally, he'll be required to pick up on the housekeeping or household duties after she has given birth.
All utensils that his wife has touched are required to be thrown out and expelled from the house to prevent any further contamination, which sounds strange, but according to their belief, it's completely within logical reasoning for a Romani tribe.
In addition to anything she has touched, a new Romani mom may not be allowed to touch her husband. Unless, say, she had a pair of gloves. Wearing gloves prevents her from spreading impurity until the house is assuredly cleansed of all impure items and her child has been baptized and cleansed as well. However, for some expecting fathers, this means they might need to help out here and there to prevent further fear. Of course it's down to the individuals to know how that goes over for most Romani couples.
13 It's Knot A Game
Romani women have a countless number of superstitions that they keep alive through their rituals and traditions.
One of these has to do with knots and the idea that a tangled umbilical cord can be prevented by repeatedly undoing them. Up until the time of birth, midwives will continue undoing knots as a sign of a natural birth with a non-problematic umbilical cord.
This act of loosening knots is believed to improve an expectant mother's luck when she gives birth and it's considered bad luck for the umbilical cord if anything is still knotted. Midwives and women will go about untying knotted ropes, strings, and even clothing that belongs to the pregnant mother. In some cases, a mother-to-be's hair will even be taken down if it's held back by a ribbon or in some kind of updo. Obviously, this is so far out of the traditions of most women who are about to give birth, considering when the searing pain comes on, their hair is literally the last thing on their mind next to pushing. But for Romani people, no knot is safe when a pregnant mother is around because the looser the knots, the looser the umbilical cord will be when that baby shows up.
12 Oil Means Strength
Roma culture does have a tradition that many people are familiar with, and that's baptism. Newborn babies are baptized about two weeks after mom gives birth and, of course, the act of baptizing a baby comes with its own rules as well. For parents, this baptism means the end of a long, long wait to be around each other during the time in which the pregnant gypsy mom was considered "unclean". During that wait, her husband was not permitted to go out during the hours in between sunset and sunrise. It's a long nine months not only for the tiny baby inside, but for his or her parents as well, and the baptism symbolizes the end of that period. The traditions don't stop there though.
For strict traditional Romani family, both mother and baby are required to live in isolation until the baptism. During this time, the baby's name can't be spoken whatsoever and for incredibly strict families, the baby can't even be seen.
You can imagine how welcome the baptism is at this point. Rituals of the baptism include cleaning the baby first with running water (successfully ending marimé) and then rubbing him or her with oil. The significance of this is that oil is believed to strengthen the baby -- because who wouldn't want their child to grow up and be a bodybuilder?
11 Keep The Bloodlines Going
One of the most important roles of Roma is to keep the bloodline going. Pregnancy may be followed by odd traditions and weird rules, but the ultimate goal is to continue on the Roma royalty. This is why the Romani are so unbelievably strict when it comes to who they marry and have children with.
Outsiders are not considered suitable for carrying on the bloodline and therefore are not even an option to Roma.
It's not uncommon for Romani gypsies to marry second cousins just to keep things in the family (no pun intended). Chastity is also filed under "no exceptions" for Romani families; if a woman doesn't follow this then they're at risk for being cast out when it's time to marry another Romani man or woman. With that being said, you can imagine how awful it would be to bear a child before you're married, especially one with an outsider. Because of this, Roma follow their strict rules without compromise to ensure that their family heritage is protected and that their tribes continue on for generations. All of the rules and Romani laws are worth it to keep the culture alive and thriving.
10 Get Rid Of Anything A Pregnant Woman Touched
You have to give Romani mothers serious props for going through what they go through in order to have a baby and continue their bloodline. Even though these traditions are simply second-nature to them, it's still a tough thing to wrap your mind around if you're not a gypsy.
The notion that pregnant women are unclean practically rules their life and because of this, anything they've touched is also considered, well, unclean. After Romani moms give birth, anything they've touched, whether it be cooking utensils, household items, etc., must be throw out after the baby has been baptized.
Why? It's simple: bad spirits. Yes, the one thing Romani gypsies fear more than marrying an outsider are evil spirits that have the potential to curse entire families. Roma tribes most certainly are not the only ones with these beliefs, and it's easy enough to find other groups throughout history who have shared the same tradition. For them, this belief extends so far that new mothers are not even allowed to touch their husbands or perform household duties without the use of gloves. This is made relatively easy, however, since they're technically not allowed back within the community with their newborn until after the baptism.
9 New Father's Job Is To Protect And Stay Close By
Roma traditions may make the father's role seem strange, but don't get the wrong idea.
Just because the Romani father of his pregnant wife's baby isn't around for nine months, doesn't mean that he doesn't care or doesn't want to be involved.
It's common knowledge that Romanis are misunderstood, especially with all the popular reality shows that discredit how their lives were traditionally led. The reasoning behind Romani husbands distancing themselves is due to a bit of tradition and a bit of superstition. Cleanliness is a huge part of the Romani lifestyle, even down to the clothes they wear and what they touch post-pregnancy and pre-baptism. In addition to wearing long skirts that hide a woman's legs and "unclean" body parts, when women become pregnant, it's a wonderful thing but also symbolic of her purity being violated to do so. Because of this, Romani husbands are required to live outside of their home and mostly stay away from their pregnant wives. In order to protect the baby, they are not permitted to go out after the sun sets and can't leave before it rises. This is to avoid any bad spirits that may come out to play at night and follow the family, including their newborn.
8 Tri-Naming Is Necessary
Did you ever introduce yourself to someone and think, "Oh man, I wish I had a fake first name to give this person because they're outside of my cultural heritage"? No? Well, Romani families consider that a requirement for their children. Each child is given three names at different time periods after their birth. A name symbolizes a baby becoming a human (don't worry, we were convinced you were just born as one, too) and it's necessary for each child to have all of them. At the moment of birth, a mother is required to pick a fake name to give her child which is often whispered in his or her ear immediately. This is a name that, under no circumstances, will ever be known or used by anyone else. Too bad if you're bad at keeping secrets, if word gets out about your baby's first given name, you could have a fight with some bad spirits on your hands.
In order to trick these spirits, it's necessary that a first name is given even though it will never be used. A child's second name is their true given name by the Roma and is used only amongst the Romani community.
This name is casual and used by everyone within their tribe. The third name is somewhat significant, but not to the Roma people. When a baby is baptized for the second time, he or she is done so by the more prevalent religion of the country their family resides in and thus is given a name that's to be used by non-Roma people.
7 "Woman" Means "Midwife"
A pregnant woman is unclean by marimé and isolated from her husband: now what? How is the expecting mom supposed to get all the help she needs? Luckily, the women of the Roma tribe take over from this point on.
Pregnant women are taken care of by people referred to as midwives who help attend to their needs since husbands play no role in the nine months that their wives are pregnant.
While her husband is spending time away from her and their unborn baby, women come and go to her house to take care of her and make sure she has everything she needs. It's not encouraged that women get regular check-ups with an outside doctor and routine trips to the office for prenatal care is not on a Romani's to-do list. Instead, a pregnant mother is required to stay home until the birth and depend on their attending midwives. Only very briefly and not often is a pregnant woman's husband allowed to visit her, otherwise her status among the Romani community is one of isolation. Nothing is permitted outside of non-Roma traditions which make for interesting pregnancies and not necessarily the most successful ones.
6 Rituals For Father-Baby Bonding
Of course, the Roma have traditions that veer away from a standard procedure such as a baptism. When the child and her mother are cleared to go and allowed back into the community and around people again, that's when the new Romani baby's father plays his part in recognizing his child.
This ritual is symbolic only and represents the father acknowledging that the child placed in front of him is, indeed, his own.
This is done in many ways; the first is for the child to be placed in swaddling clothes and placed in front of their father. After that, several drops of the father's blood are placed on his or her head to signify the paternal bond. What we consider to be old-world is what the Roma consider tradition. Another method of doing this is by wrapping the baby in an item that belongs to their father. In some Romani families, the mother will place her newborn child on the ground and when her husband picks up the baby, he'll tie a red string around its neck, again to signify the bond between baby and father. Now we know non-Romanis have it easy, all they have to do is hold the baby in the hospital and it's a done deal.
5 Watch Out For Those Spirits, Especially At Night
It may sound like a joke, but to a Romani, the risk of a meddling spirit is high during pregnancy. Every tribe has their customs but one thing remains a common thread: Tsinivari.
The Tsinivari are spirits who come out at night and may plague a family of parents-to-be, which is why fathers-to-be are not allowed to leave their dwellings during these crucial times.
The spirits that the Romani believe in are capable of truly wicked things. While most people fear walking down the street alone at night, the Roma families fear bad spirits harming their newborn child. The spirits at hand are also capable of harming new mothers as well which makes the rules set into place especially important. Since only the women of the community and midwives are allowed to care for pregnant women in her own home, they're also the only ones who are allowed to protect her. So while it may seem crazy for a Romani man to be restricted to his own house outside of daytime hours, it's not crazy at all when you consider what's at stake for his unborn child and wife. It may seem like superstition to outsiders, but it's an important tradition and part of Roma culture. The instinct to protect family is universal and should always be respected.
4 High Expectations Of Kids
Once Romani children are born they have an intriguing lifestyle. Their parents give them the freedom to do pretty much whatever they wish, which gives them a chance to learn on their own and observe their surroundings. This includes watching their prominent Romani parents and the family and friends who are helping to raise them, and while they do this, they're picking up on all the customs they'll be participating in when raising and teaching their own kids with someday. The Romani child is held up on a pedestal after their birth and is loved and welcomed by not only their parents but the entire community.
But even though they're so well taken care of, they're still expected to put in the effort needed to learn the Roma ways of life.
New Romani children are held up to high standards to balance the high rate of attention and freedom they are given at birth, and it's definitely not easy. Since they're required to marry and have children at such a young age, they're also required to pick up on customs and Romani laws at a young age, too. These high standards and emphasis on tradition are what has made it possible for their culture to survive all these years.
3 Surprisingly They Never Give Birth At Home
We've mentioned midwives, but what we haven't mentioned is that they don't actually deliver a Romani baby in the comfort of a Roma's own home. Once again, everything below a woman's waist is considered impure or unclean, therefore giving birth at home is a huge no-no for Romani families.
Even though it goes against everything that they believe in, many gypsies will make a trip to the hospital to give birth, if only to keep from contaminating their own homes.
It's Romani rule that children need to be born outside of where they will be living, as both mother and child are considered impure -- heck, newborn babies aren't even considered formally human -- until the baptism. This means that expectant moms need to put their traditional ways aside if only for the sake of Roma culture. If a baby does happen to be born outside of a hospital, there are rules that follow this as well. Doctors aren't allowed to deliver the baby, and only the midwives who have been designated to do so are allowed near the soon-to-be mother. Moms who have already gone through childbirth are also allowed to play a part and assist in the birthing of a child, but outside of the Romani circle, it's the help ends there.
2 Better To Be Cautious Than Cursed
The exact origins of the Roma people are still somewhat of a mystery but we know it has roots in traveling tribes. Settling hasn't stopped them from carrying on their traditions and beliefs though -- even when it comes to spirits cursing their families. While they're not known for following a specific religion or faith, it's often noted that Romani people will follow whichever denomination is the most followed in the country that they live in. Their religion, however, has nothing to do with the customs they still follow when it comes to protecting their families from any spirits that are to threaten or put their newborn child in danger.
They have a firm belief in which ways are best to keep spirits away and for a solid nine months, these methods are followed strictly.
In order to keep their baby and new mothers from being harmed, this is not an item on their list that is skipped. It's said in the gypsy culture that if these rules aren't obeyed, bad spirits will come in the middle of the night and harm the humans of their choosing. It's a curse you can't blame them for wanting to keep at bay.
1 It Takes A Village
As you may have guessed, Romani children aren't raised just by their biological parents. Once babies are baptized and new mothers are allowed to rejoin the community, the entire tribe helps to raise, educate, and pass on strong traditions to the new child. Growing up, they are initially left to do as they please, with Romani parents having acquired the reputation for being "permissive" according to Patrin on oocities.org. This in no way reflects the love new Romani parents and the Roma community have for newborn children, in fact, they're very highly treasured because they will be the ones leading the future bloodline. A successful childbirth means a successful next generation of Roma. To ensure this, everyone in the Romani family is required to play a role in raising the child. His or her parents will teach the skills that they know and to learn them completely, the child will practice by imitation. This is how the Romani culture has continued to thrive and span centuries. For a Romani child, freedom is theirs as long as they continue to uphold gypsy tradition. When they're at the appropriate age, whatever skills they've perfected or enjoy will lead to their career in life, followed shortly by a family of their own.