The Gypsy legal system not only protects the Gypsy from external and internal threats, but also serves as a code that organizes Gypsy society. Gypsy law acts as a cohesive force serving to protect Gypsy interests, rights, traditions, and ethnic distinctiveness. Gypsy law is self-contained and cannot incorporate rules of a foreign legal system. The gaje legal system is equally insular so far as Gypsy law is concerned.
But unlike the gaje who know nothing about Gypsy law, Gypsies are necessarily aware of gaje law. The Gypsy believe they should approach and respond to the gaje with caution, especially if the gaje profess good intentions, or claim to serve the best interest of the Gypsies are also cautious with gaje notions of due process, civil rights, and neutrality of law. Furthermore, not only do the Gypsy consider non-Gypsy marime', they also believe that Gypsy names and rituals lose their magical effectiveness if uttered to gaje.
Although the Gypsy people do not formally gather to pursue an objective, their need to survive as a distinct and isolated group provides them with a common purpose. Gypsy law ensures that the host country's legal systems and cultures minimally influence Gypsy life. Although Gypsy law has sacred aspects that direct Gypsies to lead their lives properly by attaining a state of purity and preventing contamination, it does not advocate imposing its values on non-gypsy. Its main purpose is to achieve a state of balance, or kintala, that pleases the spirits of the ancestors, or mule'.
Each Gypsy group can determine its own form of mediation. Although there are many words for "group" in the Gypsy language, four primary associations can be identified:
(1)natsia, meaning nation;
(2) kampania, plural kampaniyi, an alliance of households not necessarily of the same natsia but of the same geographic area bound together for socioeconomic reasons;
(3) vitsa, or clan;
(4) familiya, which consists of the individual extended family.
Each associated unit is involved in the administration of justice, beginning with the smallest, the familiya, which informally settles minor disputes, and extending to the larger units with increasing formality.
Each community is ruled by a bandolier, a person who is chosen for his/her age, experience, and wisdom. The bandolier of a Gypsy community is a person who inspires respect by his/her strength and intellingence, a person who by his/her own life sets an example for the other Gypsies. The bandolier settles minor disputes on the basis of his/her mature judgement, and his/her decisions are followed by other members of the community. However, if the matter to be settled is a serious one, such as theft, adultery, acts of physical violence, or complicated disputes between two parties, a court is convened. This court is called the kris.
Each bandolier handles all day-to-day conflicts within his population. When conflict emerges between Gypsy of different vitsi or kampaniyi, a divano may assemble. A divano is an informal proceeding where the chiefs of the various clans try to mediate a dispute. The parties themselves are not required to attend, and they are not technically bound by the bandolier's suggestions. The contestants sometimes bow to peer pressure and settle the case. Blatant disregard for the bandolier's recommendations could cost them the respect of the community.
When the Gypsy cannot settle a controversy amicably in a divano, a kris Romani may become necessary. In former times, the kris usually mediated three kinds of cases: property losses, matters of honor, and moral issues including disregard of marime' taboos. Other examples included are: stealing from or lying to another Gypsy, direct disobedience of the Gypsy Queen/King without good cause, and breaking faith or revealing secrets of the Gypsy nation to gaje. If the matter to be settled is a serious one, such as theft, defaults in payments of debts, acts of physical violence, serious marime' violations, or complicated disputes between two parties, a court is convened. This court is the most important moral force in Gypsy life. To be called before the Kris is a serious accusation before the entire Gypsy nation.
The leader of the Kris and the elders of the tribes will hold a meeting to select one or more men to act as the krisnitorya, or judges, for the kris. The krisnitori, the head of the kris, who must remain unbiased and impartial presides over the case, surrounded by the members of the kris council, who act as associate judges. The council, or Krisnitorya, is made up of five respeted members of the community. They are the most respected and wisest members available at the time. Only the head of the Kris is a permanent position, appointed by the Queen, the other five are rotating positions.
The bandolier and the head of the Kris my be removed from the position only if: (a) they resign or (b) they are accused of being unfair, biased, or if committing another act which requires them to stand before the Kris, and they are found guilty. At such times the Gypsy King/Queen will call a Kris and appoint the judges to sit in judgement with him/her over the previous seat holder. If not found guilty the Gypsy King/Queen may restore the seat holder.
If necessary the Gypsy King/Queen may call the head of the Kris before the Kris and vice versa. If the need for a Kris arises the duty of calling the Kris falls in the following order:
a) the Gypsy King/Queen,
b) the head of the Kris,
c) the bandolier of the nearest tribe,
d) the bandolier of the nearest duchy etc.
While the judges have been chosen because of their personal authority, they are expected to allow behavior that might be considered prejudiced or disruptive in non-gypsy trials. Participation by the audience is expected and encouraged by custom. Members of the audience, although not formally called as witnesses, may feel justified in expressing views. Whether their contributions to the proceedings is based on personal observation or opinion does not matter. Ultimately the judge weighs the value of the cumulative evidence to make rulings. Parties or witnesses will be perceived as credible if their statements have "the ring of truth". A person who can demonstrate in court that he or she has conformed to accepted communal standards may also be considered credible by the court.
The bandoliers are not necessarily aware of all the laws. These laws have never been written down or codified. They have been passed along for generations by word of mouth, but this fact makes the decisions nonetheless binding. The Gypsy interpret laws according to contemporary custom. Former interpretations of laws may be gradually revised as the needs of the community evolve. The exclusive reliance on oral transmission has led to a high degree of flexibility. Nevertheless, there is a shared feeling that the law is clearly defined. Few ever challenge this notion. This strict adherence to the law in part accounts for the continued cohesion of the Gypsy in spite of their persecution and forced migration.
The following eight (8) laws are the most predominant laws among the tribes and are set in stone.
(1) The leader of the combined Gypsy nations (either the Gypsy King/Queen) has the final word in all decisions or instructions among the tribes. Members of all tribes, whether born or "initiated" owe their loyalty and allegiance firstly to the Gypsy King/Queen's wishes and decisions; secondly, to those of their bandolier (the leader of their own tribe who, in the absence of the Gypsy King/Queen, has all the powers of the Gypsy King/Queen) ; thirdly, to the well-being and safety of all other Gypsies; and lastly, to any other group with which the Gypsy becomes associated. A Gypsy may not place loyalty to any group or person above that which the Gypsy owes to the tribe. If any conflicts of loyalty arise the Gypsy must stand on the side of the Gypsies or face the Kris.
(2) The Kris is the court of the Gypsies and has the sole authority to remove a person from the tribe. Anyone found guilty by the Kris loses all Gypsy blood, including the accent and the ability to throw Gypsy curses.
(3) Only the Gypsy King/Queen may appoint or choose from among the tribes: (a) the head of the Kris; or(b) bandoliers.
(4) No Gypsy without good and provable cause, may cause harm or danger to another Gypsy. To do so will result in facing the Kris.
(5) Gypsies are blood family. In order to become a Gypsy, a person must adventure with a band of Gypsies for a time as a Gypsy, or be sponsored by a member of the band. The band will then vote whether to accept the candidate into the tribe, and if accepted, the candidate must successfully undergo the initiation ceremony which changes their blood to Gypsy blood.
(6) The truth is expressed in Romani, the gypsy language. No Gypsy lies-it is not our fault if we inadvertantly get things "wrong" while speaking with the gaje. If we speak their language, they'll have to be patient if we make mistakes.
(7) Any travelling Gypsy is welcome to the hospitality of any Gypsy camp whenever there is need.
(8) Any gaje who is name a "Gypsy Friend" or didkai by the Gypsy leader or tribe is considered an honorary Gypsy (without Gypsy powers) and is welcome to the hospitality of the Gypsy camp and the loyalty and protection of the tribe.
Calling together a kris is an event of utmost importance in Gypsy life. In all cases, it is the aggrieved party who must request the kris, which is the held at a neutral kampania. The defendants and plaintiffs must represent themselves. Advocates are forbidden. If the alleged victim is old, sick, or very young, the victim's nearest relative brings the case to the kris. If the welfare of the community demands joint action, the entire clan may be a plaintiff.
It is acceptable to have the entire family present for support. Witnesses may speak freely about the case. The Gypsies believe there can be no justice without hearing the matter out to its fullest. Exaggerated claims and ornate stories referring to folk tales and mythology are common. When members of the audience think the witness is not being truthful or responsive, they may hiss or make jokes. In some delicate matters, the public and witnesses can be excluded.
When the accused testify on their own behalf they are expected to be truthful. The kris can further insure their honesty by requiring the accused to swear an oath and casting a truth spell. If the witnesses must swear an oath, an altar of justice consisting of icons of the clan present is erected. In complex situations, the judge may ask for expert opinions from tribal bandoliers or the elders. Nonetheless, only the head of the kris decides guilt and punishment.
Socially disruptive behavior may result in legal sanctions, including a sentence of marime'. In addition to strong taboos against exploiting or stealing from a fellow member of the Gypsy community, Gypsies consider crimes of violence and noncommercial association with gaje as crimes against Gypsy society as a whole and therefore marime'. A marime' label can be removed by the forgiveness of the offended party, the passage of time, or by another kris Romani. Readmission to Gypsy society following a sentence of marime' is a cause for celebration.
Divorce cases are complex. Many Gypsy marriages are still arranged and the groom's family pays a bride price. If the marriage ends in divorce, a kris may be called to determine how much, if any, of the bride price should be returned to the groom's family.
Economic cases cover such issues as who has the right to engage in fortune telling in a specific territory, although the Gypsy has no control over those gaje who do fortune telling. Gypsies believe that every Gypsy has the right to work. Accordingly, groups divide territory into economic units. Controversies may result when some Gypsies encroach on other's territory, and then a kris is called. A first-time offender may receive a warning by the kris. Repeated violations result in a sentence of marime'.
The hand of the kris declares the verdict in public to those who are present. If the accused is found innocent, there is a celebrations and an oath of peace is sworn. The decision of the kris is final and binding.
If, at the end of a trial, the defendant is found to be innocent, there is great joy and relief in the community. A banquet may be held, and the former defendant has the right to propose the first toast. If, on the other hand, the defendant is found guilty, any number of different punishments may be handed down by the head of the kris including permanent banishment from the Gypsy community.
The kris imposes punishment according to the seriousness of the offense. The kris relies primarily on such sanctions as fines, corporal punishment, and banishment. The responsibility to pay a kris-imposed fine, called glaba, falls collectively on the wrongdoers lineage.
There are no jails or executioners in a Gypsy community. Perhaps the most severe punishment for a Gypsy is marime', or banishment, from his own community. This banishment is achieved by declaring the offender marime', a term that means socially rejected in its legal sense. It is considered a sentence of social death. Marime' stigmatizes all wrongdoers as polluted and justifies their expulsion from the community. The offender cannot have any social contact with other members of the tribe. The simple pleasures of Gypsy life, eating together and camaraderie, are forbidden, and the guilty party is condemned to live in the world of the non-gypsy. No marriages are arranged for those stigmatized as marime', and without marriage in Gypsy society one's economic and social life is over. When they die, no one will bury them, and they will not have a funeral. In many cases, not only the offender, but his or her own family as well, is declared marime'. This harsh punishment is a great deterrent to crime within the Gypsy community. It can last for days or year. It involves permanent loss of status and respect even when the guilty party has been reinstated. Permanent marime' is rare and used only for serious crimes.
Permanent marime' means that the persons blood is changed to gaje blood and they are outcast/exiled forever from the tribe. They are no longer part of the Gypsy nation, receive no protection and hospitality, and lose their accent and their ability to cast the Gypsy curse.
Most Gypsy society relies heavily on distinctions between behavior that is pure, vujo, or wuzho, and polluted, or marime'. Marime' has a duel meaning to the Gypsy. It refers both to a state of pollution or defilement as well as to the sentence of expulsion imposed for violation of purity rules or any behavior disruptive to the Gypsy community. Pollution and rejection are thus closely associated with one another. Pollution taboos and their names vary from group to group (except for certain set laws see law section) and often among smaller Gypsy units. Nevertheless Gypsies define themselves in part by their adherence to these cleanliness rituals.
Many of the traditional laws of hygiene deal with water. For example, Gypsies must wash only in running water. A shower would be acceptable, but a bath would not be, for the person would be sitting or lying in dirty stagnant water. Dishes cannot berinsed in the same sink or basin that is used for washing personal clothing. The kitchen sink is used only for washing ones dishes and therefore cannot be used for washing ones hands.
Some traditional rules might make sense to the non-gypsy. The surface of tables used for eating are kept spotless. Handkerchiefs for blowing the nose are frowned upon. They merely preserve the dirt of the nose. For this reason Gypsies prefer to blow their noses in disposable material. In any case, after blowing the nose or sneezing, one must wash before eating.
There are remedies or punishments for a person who has become unclean, or marime'. Minor offenses, clearly unintentional ones, can be forgiven by those present at the time the offense is committed. More serious ones must be dealt with by the community and, in some cases, by the Kris.
Wow... great article. I knew nothing of this. Very interesting...