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WHO are the Roma/Gypsies of Romania

The Four Necessary Steps in Understanding

The Caste System of Romanian Roma

By Chuck Todaro







- Modus Operandi -

     When I first began meeting the Gypsies I was shocked to learn of the varying styles of life, character traits and numerous dialects: there are those religiously preserving the Roma traditions while others no longer speaking the language, those identified by their tribe rather than the race, Roma adorned in flowery dresses while others in pants, there are Christians and there are Muslims, there are those recognized for their dark complexion and those with lighter tones - and then there are those disparaging comments they often have to say about one another; it was becoming very clear that - there doesn’t exist a single Gypsy people but many Gypsy peoples.


   The similarities and the conflicting differences fascinated me, yet I was finding little documentation along these lines. Roma intelligentsia preferred focusing on the unifying similarities rather than dividing differences. It was these varting differences in the field that has divided the whole and weakened its lobbying influence.  The Roma are Europe’s largest minority yet stand politically crippled, as it is in Romania where they unofficially hold roughly 10% of the population yet remain, as they have for centuries,  political dysfunctional.

     I set out collecting data on the various tribes by touring Romania,  Europe's largest Roma population and, the land that historian Angus Fraser considers “… the ideal setting to study the Gypsy people… more than half its population still living in rural areas the impact of modern development and industrialization on their lives has been less severe and as a result many Gypsy communities still offer an environment not far removed from that which existed from their arrival into Europe,”… I toured each of the country’s 41 counties, and back again, meeting with as many communities as possible. However “meeting” was insufficient. I had the experience of comparing “meeting” the Gypsies and bedding with them and it was the later where the truth came to light; where their words were either supported or contradicted by actions; where the age old adage “actions speak louder than words” proved its worth.

By the time I was through I had slept in more beds than Washington.

     The Romanian Roma caste system is an endogenous study of the Roma/Gypsy group’s own sense of worth. It is their responses combined with their actions that formed the following outline

gravediggers               without wood is no fire



Tzigania Project is sadly no longer able to freely offer our exclusive research online due to plagiarism and other unconsented usage of our material.

 Our movement has always strongly believed in sharing objective truths of Roma history and culture as a means of combatting the abundance of misinformation and biased opinions feeding the stereotypes.

 Our excusive research is still freely available at our learning center locations. Contact us with ANY questions:

Part 1

Base understandings to the Romanian Roma Caste System:

 Settled versus Nomadic Conflict

 Khashtalo architecture                                      Nomadic Gypsy


    The greatest impact Roma society encountered in Europe was the effects of a settled existence on the traditionally nomadic way of life.  The change in lifestyle and responsibilities set-up divisions between the two groups: the settled versus nomadic.


The Nomadic

    The nomadic Roma were able to shield themselves from contaminating forces of change .....

The Settled


Social Interaction

    Though living on their own segregated area of the village, cut off from the rest, ......



    Meanwhile, the inherent social differences between ,,,,

European Religion

    Christianity had an easier time infiltrating the settled Gypsy compound ....

Property Ownership

    Changes also evolved from maintaining a settled existence: maintaining a home, storing food for the winter, managing farm land for those owning property, etc… Emancipation coming in the mid-19th century brought new opportunities...



Necessary Background: Slavery and its Influences  

Gypsy Slave Poster


    Linguistic and genetic evidence has proven that the Gypsies departed India about 1000 years ago however we still don’t exactly know why. The theory accepted by most Gypsiologist attributes the cause to a series of Islamic invasions over Northern India in the early 11th century.


      Romani loan words of Persian and Armenian origins identify their travel routes west along the relatively secure and prosperous silk routes. By the 12th century they reached Byzantium (modern day Turkey) where they interacted with the Greek speaking populace until finally crossing the Bosporus into the Balkans and further west into Europe.


      The Romanian-Roma caste system carries numerous similarities to their origins as members of the Hindu-Indian Caste system which stirs the question - did the proto-Roma depart as numerous groups already divided - or a single group that divided along the way?



State owned slaves

      The state owned slaves had the freedom of movement...

Privately owned slaves


      The resulting culture of the privately owned Gypsy slaves closely parallels with the African slaves of southern United States. (African-American and Gypsy Cultural Relationship) .....


Monastery owned slaves


      The monasteries had been acquiring slaves as early as the 14th century through the donationsy ....



Part 3

The basic principles to understanding 

The Romanian Roma caste system


Roma rank is awarded by the level of observation of Romanipen, the laws, traditions, customs of the Roma people, much of which channels back to their Hindu-Indian roots.


The Romanian-Roma hierarchy can be summed up into three major divisions:

(1)     The formerly nomadic: 

(2)     Settled Gypsy: 

(3)      Slaves of the church: t


Part 4: 

Understanding the Romanian Roma Caste System

The Roma caste system in Romania is divided into five groups.

1)  First Class - Traditional Roma

 The Gabor Traditionalist



Leading the charge, the so called Brahmin, 


      Gabor and Kalderash are traditional metal workers: p


      The Traditional Roma are defined by their strict dress codes and....

      The strictly observed guidelines of Romanipen forms a unique cultural parallel between the Traditional Roma and the Jewish culture (Roma – Jewish Cultural Relationship)



(2)  Tent Gypsies


Tent Gypsy



  The valued trade skill of the Tent Gypsies placed them into the category of ....


      Roma people are similar to their Indian roots where communities are heavily defined by their “jati” (community trade or occupation). T....


      The Tent Gypsy caste is comprised of dozens of tribes identified by their former trade such as Ursari (former bear trainers), Pieptenari (comb makers), Spoitori (pot menders), Pernari (pillow makers), Ciurari  (sieve makers)…


The Effects:

Loss of the occupation created a void that needed to be filled however the Romanipen values of separation coupled by other ....


(3) House Gypsies

House Gypsies Musicians 


    The settled House Gypsies – the former privately owned slaves or plantation slaves - had lost ....

      The House Gypsy communities are often defined by their family trade like Lautari (musicians), Caramidari (brickmakers), Fierari (blacksmiths), Coshocari (basket-makers) while those without or no longer possessing a community trade are often termed “Romanianized Gypsies”. ....



(4)  Tsigan (Gypsy)




      Tsigan can historically be identified as the servant class: those Gypsies without a skill given the dirty jobs.  They have been acknowledged in historical records as Kokolari (scavengers), gravediggers, executioners, street cleaners, dog catchers (the Hingeri), day labor or farm hands....

      Since 1990 many of these unskilled...., 



(5)   Khashtalo (Forest – Gypsy)




    Khashtalo – dubbed “Forest Gypsies” are the descendants of former monastery slaves or church owned slaves that went through a process of assimilation without integration. Their culture is Romanian. They do not speak any of the Romani languages nor hold any aspects of Roma culture. Many do not even identify themselves as Roma or Gypsy.


      The Khastalo are divided into three regional groups: Rudari of historical Romania (Wallachia), Lingurari (spoon carvers) of Moldova, and the smaller group of Boyash of Transylvania. 


      More about the Khashtalo and their social status: Khashtalo – The Outcastes.




I - Traditionalist
II - Tent Gypsies
III - House Gypsies
IV - "Tigani" (Gypsy)
V - Khashtalo

Slavery StatusDefining CustomesTribe - Trade - Features

State Owned Slaves


Tent Gypsies
State Owned Slaves

House Gypsies



(Forest Gypsies)
Outcasts / Untouchables

Monastery Owned Slaves