Gypsy Groups in Central and Western
- 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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
Marushiakova E. & Popov, V. (1993). Gypsies in Bulgaria. Sofia: Club 90.
Marushiakova E. & Popov, V. (2007). Studies Novels, Volume VII. Sofia:
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:
(Published in Kafla
Intercontinental - Spring 2016)