Dr. Lilyana Kovacheva is an eminent Roma poet and scholar from Bulgaria. She graduated University Degree in Pedagogy and accomplished Ph.D on Ethnology. She was the main organizer of International Roma Conference “Coming back to the roots”, held at Delhi and Chandigarh in April, 2001, which was organized by Hindu Heritage Prathisthan, Delhi, Research Foundation, Delhi and India Inter-Continental Cultural Association, Chandigarh. Over 35 persons of Roma origin from various European countries participated in this conference. She is author of several books and publications on Roma including “Rom knows the way” published in India. She was the initiator of Indian Music and Dance groups of India Inter-Continental Cultural Association to take participation in the International Festival of Roma Music and Dance in the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.
email: lilyana_kovatcheva@abv.bg


Gypsy Groups in Central and Western Bulgaria
- Kyustendil, Dupnitsa, Sofia, Pernik, Blagoevgrad and Simitly
- Dr. Lilyana Kovatcheva


In the spirit of reflexive anthropology, I would like to begin with a few words about my personal reasons for choosing the topic. I chose this topic mostly because I’m a Gypsy and since my childhood I’ve been interested in the questions: Who am I? Where my ancestors come from? Why are we different from the others?; Why do Roma use the distinction “we - they” not only for the Roma and non - Roma, but also among themselves.

This distinction has always existed, but all the time I was taking it for granted. Sometimes, I remember my grandmother telling me about a family: “O aj ta mukhlen kalke melalen, telunen ola xan na haljaren, bibahtale sherengere, ma phenen mange lendar, me zhanava save si ola. (Oh let these people, they are so dirty, they reach the bottom, they eat, but do not give to another, suckers do not talk to me about them, I know them very well and what they are.”)

Another thing, I’ve noticed while collecting information for my dissertation or at least I have not thought about before is that the Gypsies, as a rule, do not correspond uniquely to the question of which Roma they are? I, myself, unconsciously respond differently to the same question depending on my location and on the fact who asks me this question – if he/she is a Rom or not. For example, if I am in my mahala or home neighborhood and someone ask me from which Roma are you? – My answer is : from kovachia [blacksmiths] according to my great-grandfather crafts or KOVACHEVA family’s surname of my grandfather. In my family the blacksmiths craft is still exercised by my father and my brothers..

In Kyustendil Romani mahala that applies for basketry and masonry (construction) and traders (who deal with home delivery, mostly at fairs and village councils) and tinkering i.e. descendants of those same families in a similar situation will be presented as Koshnichari, Duylgeri, Targovtsi, Kalajdzhii [i.e.basket makers, builders, dealers, tinkers]. This does not apply to trades that are no longer exercised in Kyustendil neighborhood as reshetarstvoto [sieve-makers], grebenarstvot/ [comb makers]. In conversations informants mention them, but being asked: Of what Roma are you?, they do not mention the name of the former craft. I’ ve noticed that the situation is similar in other neighborhoods studied.

If I am out of Kyustendil – my answer is - from Kyustendil’s Roma. If I am outside Bulgaria, my answer is: Of Bulgarian’s Roma. At an international conference in Copenhagen, the local Gypsies called the Roma from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia Balkanikane Roma [Balkan’s Roma]. If I am out of the Balkans and I answer the same way - the Balkan’s Roma. At a seminar for Roma women in 1996 in New York City this question I answered without thinking -Europikane Roma/ European’s Roma. If the person who asks me is non Roma, my answer is simply a Roma without specifying.

During the work I have done on my doctoral dissertation and in the practical work I realized that the knowledge of Gypsy groups is important firstly for scientific knowledge. Secondly the knowledge about the Gypsy groups is extremely important not only for the Gypsies themselves and for their identity, but also for the government strategies and policies. What is right for one Gypsy group, let me say for the so called Arlii, may be completely wrong for another, for example for the Kardarash. Knowing the specifics, values and internal rules of a Gypsy group ensures adequate and effective measures in each political system and any government.

In my study of Roma groups in middle and western Bulgaria, I relied upon the general characteristics and the theoretical model developed by Marushiakova Elena and Vesselin Popov. According to them: Observations of Gypsy groups confirm persistence, but also their flexibility and ability to adapt to environmental changes. This fact is best illustrated in cases of displacement of some Gypsy families whose placement in new settings create conditions for the establishment of a new Gypsy group. This indicates a strong need for group life among the Gypsies. Observations show that the Gypsy group has some equanimity, it is submitted to outside influence, but does not change its essence.
Structure of the ideal, hypothetic model of the Gypsy group according to Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov:

1. Group identity;
2. A member of the group is considered only the one who is born in it;
3. Strict observance of the group endogamy;
4 . Common language of the group;
5. A common way of life in the past.
6 . Same way to earn their living - group trade or traditional crafts;
7 . Presence of intra- government and private bodies potestarian;
8. Strict adherence to the group rules.
9. Common general ideas of life - religious, value orientations, moral principles, similarities in behavior;
10 . Extended family, the strong family is considered the highest value;
11. Limitation of friendly contacts only within the group;
12. Mutual solidarity and obligations to assist;
13. No interference in the work of another group;
14. Strict adherence to the group banned “mahrime”. 

On this bases I tried to register and list the existing Gypsy groups in middle and western Bulgaria. Group information is primary, collected through the stories of individual representatives of the respective groups and personal observations. Here I will present only the Gypsy groups in Kyustendil and Dupnitsa.

The Gypsy groups in Kyustendil:

There is a Roma neighborhood in Kyustendil, which is divided into two parts - upper (new part) and lower (old part). Initial data about Roma in Kyustendil is registered during the Ottoman rule. Some of the Roma groups in Kyustendil have their own endonym - name that is given by representatives of the group and exonym - name given to them by other Gypsy groups or by the surrounding population.

According to the memories of older Roma in the neighborhood of Kyustendil before the time of communist rule (09.09.1944), all Roma in the quarter were Muslims - “Horaxane Roma”. Not yet erased the memories of the boys’ “sunet” (circumcision) and the celebration of Bairam and Ramadan Bairam. About 90 % of Roma have Turkish names till 1962 year, when they performed “rename” and Turkish names were replaced with Bulgarian ones. The main and most numerous Gypsy group in Kyustendil is called Erlii (Horaxane Roma), the second one is called Dassikane Rom or Dzhorevtsi, the third smallest in number is called Vlaxi. Of course, there are also individual members of other groups such as the Roma – Kalaydjii, Kopanari and others, but these are usually wives or mix marriages of the neighborhood from other cities. There are three main groups - Erlii, Dassikane (not talking the language of the Roma, also known as Djorevtsi ) Roma and Vlaxi (in this case I do not mean the Vlach Gypsies, who speak Roumanian ).

These groups are formed on different grounds - the way of life, religion, occupation, kinship, language, dialect and others (on-line with hypothetic model of the Gypsy group). Each of these groups may comprise representatives of the smaller groups. The study groups are known under different names.

- Ethnic names that reflect the lifestyle of the group. These are for example, Erlii (come from Turkish language yard means land, a local resident living in one place for years), and nomads, in the case of Vlah (the term used here in sense of nomads). The Roma who have been living there since the Ottoman times are the Erlia, or “Horaxane Roma.” According to the memories of informants, the presence of representatives of the Vlah group in Kyustendil is found much later - in the beginning of the 19th century.

- Ethnonym according to the religion of the group. Before 09.09.1944 in Kyustendil were - Horaxane Roma (Muslim) and Dassikane Roma (Orthodox Christians). Today, under the influence of new religious movements is formed a group of on a religious basis, the so-called Devlikane manusha [God’ men] or Evangelicals, which includes adherents of different evangelical churches Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and he Adventists of 7 Day [called sabotyani – the Sathurday keepers].

- Ethnonym referring the occupation of the group. These are the most common and typical self-descriptions. At the same time, these ethnonyms are causing much confusion in the definition of the group because often different groups have one and the sameself-appellation according to the professional specificity. A typical example is the Kovachi [blacksmiths] and Bashalne [Musicians]. As elsewhere in Kyustendil too the specific group could not be definied only by ethnonym, but in order to distinguished between different groups with same appellation and to determine the individual Gypsy group it is needed to use the ideal model, i.e. to check whether they meet the 14 characteristics. The self-appelation used according to the occupation in Kyustendil are – Kovachi (Blacksmiths), Koshnichari (Basket makers), Muzikanti (Musicians), Citno sito ili Edro sito (Fine sieve or Coarse sieve0, Tyrgovec na kone (Horse cooper), Grebenary (Comb makers), Dulgeri (Builders), Grobari (Grave-diggers), Magyari (Witchcraft) and more.

- Pejorative (insulting) ethnonyms. In most cases they are known, but are rarely seen as self-descriptions and are given by foreign Gypsy groups. Reflects the neglect of other groups, the notion that only own group is clean, and the rest are lower standing. In Kyustendil such example are: Limale (Sniveling), Dile (Crazy); Fartichariya (Cheaters); Dzhorevtsi (a cross between a horse and donkey) or neither Roma, nor Bulgarians, live as Roma and speak Bulgarian) and others.

- Family generic self-descriptions. At the core of these names most often stands after the legendary or real-life ancestor. In Kyustendil are found the following numerous and influential families of the so-called by the informers plemena [tribes] - Golyovtsi, Shakovtsi, Velkovtsi, Ibraimovtsi, Limalevtsi, Rakipovtsi, Dilinevtsi, Dzhekovtsi, Proshlyakya ). Here we must note that initiatly pejorative names - Limalevtsi and Dilinevtsi undergo a change in the sense that they become self-descriptions, ethnonyms.

- Ethnonym by location, region, town, village where the group is displaced, lived or still lives - (in this case Vlah, coming from Walachia). Erlii group in Kyustendil refers disparagingly to the Vlah and they treat them as a lower group, unworthy.

Roma in Kyustendil are still divided by language and dialectal variations:
- By language they are divided into: talking and not talking Romanes (only Dzhorevtsi are not Romanes speaking).
- According Dialect they are divided into: Erlii dialect speaking; Vlah dialect speaking.

Meta-group united several groups with violated borders by building from them new ones and at the same time preserves part of the main characteristics of the previous groups, at least at memory level. This is proof of the high adaptability of the Gypsy group that preserves the ethnic specificity of the Gypsies. Full fusion of different groups in one meta-group is not detected in Kyustenddil, at this stage, and one of the reasons for this may lie in the fact that Kyustendil is a small town of Kyustendil and the groups are still enough numerous and strong and have not been registered splintered group.

Gypsy groups in Dupnitsa

In Dupnitza Roma live in these neighborhoods - Tseneva, Arakchijski most, Tsiganeto and Gizdava mala. Structurally, the groups’ composition does not differ from the one of the Roma in Kyustendil. One of the differences between Roma of Kyustendil and Roma of Dupnitza is the dialect spoken Roma from Kyustendil - Erlia dialect and in Dupnitsa the so-called “ zis” dialect – Pei e maci ando cyl, hayas hayas em phutsii / Peli i makhi ando khil halyas halyas em phukili; gilyabava / ziabava.

In the past, the largest part of the Roma in Dupnitsa according occupation was the Dzhambaz [horse dealer] group, followed by the Dyulgeri [masons], Kamenari [stone crusher] and Karutsari [carters].

Today I monitor interesting processes triggered by the economic crisis, negative attitudes towards Roma as a whole. A large number of Roma living in Dupnitsa go abroad to find work. Almost all of the families have members living abroad, he or she is working there and is sending money to the other family members. This process has two sides - on one hand, this is an opportunity for financial assistance to unemployed Roma families, but the other is a prerequisite for disintegrate family and values. People call them according the occupation Gurbetchii [migrant workers] (nothing to do with the group of Gurbeti). This is especially true for Roma who migratied from Dupnitsa in Spain. They settle down in certain cities and neighborhoods which are given a second by the relative district of Dupnitza. Example - Roma quarter of Tseneva called neighborhood in the Spanish city of Murcia - Tseneva.

In the recent years, a richer class appears, called by informants Likhvari [the loan sharks] – they have their own stores, the poor and unemployed to buy on credit, but if bread costs 1 lev, they sell it for 3 leva. This phenomenon is observed in almost the entire region. The Likhvari are on the borders of the group, i.e. they are on the way to create their own Roma subgroup.

Another interesting phenomenon is an intense process of uniting all evangelical religious groups – Adventists (sabotiyani), Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses in a so-called Devlikane manusha (God’s people). They correspond to two thirds of the characteristics of a group. It is also noted that marriages between themselves come to happen more often. Devlikane manusha located on the border of a group, perhaps in the future will be in a separate group. In contrast to Kyustendil Turkish / Horahane Roma are very small community, they are usually immigrants from Kyustendil.

Schematicaly the groups in the two cities can be presented as folows:

Roma groups in Kjustendil and Dupnitsa

By way of living in the past time settled – Eirlii; By where the group comes from – Vlahi; By romany or no romany speakers –Djorevtsi or Dassikane Roma; By religion – Horaxane Roma or Muslims, Dassikane Roma or Christians

By professions - blacksmiths, basket-makers, musicians, brush-makers, net-makers, djambaz (dealing with horses), comb-makers, builders, gravediggers, witches and other;

By family ethnonims - Goliovtsi, Shakovtsi, Velkovtsi, Ibrahimovtsi, Limalevtsi, Rakipovtsi, Dilineevtsi, Dzekovtsi , Proshlitsi;
Pejorative ethnonims - Limale/Snivels; Diline/ Crazy; Fartichari/Cheaters and other


Marushiakova E. & Popov, V. (1993). Gypsies in Bulgaria. Sofia: Club 90.
Marushiakova E. & Popov, V. (2007). Studies Novels, Volume VII. Sofia: Paradigm.
Marushiakova E. & Popov, V. (2007). Gypsy group - ethnonym VS Profetsionimi (pp. 297-315) In: Marushiakova E. & Popov. Studies novels, item VII. Sofia: Paradigm.
Kotev, J. (1999). Panorama of the communities in southwestern Bulgaria. Kyustendil: Publishing house MKI.
For a detailed description of the dialects see: romani.humanities.manchester.ac.uk

© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)