i know you’ve been wondering.

well, obviously the gypsies are a highly endogamous group — they mostly marry other gypsies. the actual cousin marriage rates vary though from (as you’ll see below) ca. 10-30% first cousin only marriages amongst gypsies in slovakia to 29% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in spain [pdf] to 36% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in wales [pdf]. these rates are comparable to those found in places like turkey (esp. eastern turkey) or north africa…or southern india.

consang.net tells us that the rates of first cousin marriage (that includes double-first cousin marriage) amongst slovakian gypsies ranges from 10.1% to 14.7% [pdf – pg. 10 – i think the reference is to this 1994 paper].

another study of gypsies in slovakia (in svinia) found that the cousin marriage rates have actually increased over time since the early twentieth century, the researcher guesses due to the increasing population size (the more cousins around to marry, the more cousin marriage – maybe?). from Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and Their Neighbours (2005) [pgs. 84-85]:

“Analysis of the marital choices made by local Roma shows that 75 per cent of the children born here between the 1930s and the early 1970s had a least one parent who hailed from elsewhere, whereas that ratio fell to 25 per cent during subsequent years. This dramatic shift doesn’t mean that young people no longer leave Svinia for spouses in other settlements — some continue to do so — but it does mean that of those who remain behind, which is the vast majority, far fewer end up with spouses from outside the community than used to be the case with their parents and grandparents.

“I don’t know how to explain this remarkable shift toward settlement endogamy. The people who are responsible for it don’t indicate any significant changes in their preferences, and the most plausible conclusion one can draw in the absence of evidence pointing in a different direction is to correlate the shift with the dramatic increase in Svinia’s population size, which translates into a corresponding growth of the local marriage universe. Unlike their parents and grandparents who lived in a small community that imposed strict limits on their choice of partners, the people who have reached maturity in more recent years have faced a much expanded pool of potential local partners, enabling them to make a selection within their own settlement.

“The result of this shift has been a decrease in the amount of traffic between Svinia and other Romani communities. Every marriage with a resident of another settlement brings about increased contact between the two communities. Relatives and friends travel to and fro as they attend baptisms, birthday parties, funerals, and other important events…. The shift from choosing mostly spouses from other settlements to marrying predominantly one’s own neighbours has gone hand in hand with a remarkable increase in the rate of unions between relatives. It is certain that common-law marriage involving close relatives did exist among Svinia’s first- and second-generation Roma. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the common-law spouse of Bartolomej (1912-73), one of Juraj and Hania’s sons and the founder of one of the lineages of *jarkovci*, was his biological niece. And of Hania and Juraj’s 27 grandchildren who remained in Svinia and found partners there, seven chose first cousins or first cousins once removed. But this rate of roughly 25 per cent pales in comparison with the situation among the third- and fourth-generation: people who have reached maturity during the last 30 years or so and who have remained in their ancestral settlement. Of the 159 persons in this category, 101 (or close to 65 per cent) opted for a biologically related partner. Roughly one half of these unions involves close cousins — first and once removed — while the other half consists of more distant degrees of consanguinity….

“Interestingly, local Roma profess avoidance of cousin marriage, and few of those who have broken this norm will disclose it voluntarily. Confronted with genealogical evidence, most will shrug their shoulders and declare pragmatically that affection overrides conventions. On the other hand, many people have such a vague grasp of their own ancestry that they cannot establish the identities of all four grandparents. This means that more distantly linked spouses, such as second or third cousins, are often not even aware of their relationship.”

and here about gypsies in albania from Roma and Egyptians in Albania: From Social Exclusion to Social Inclusion (2005) (egyptians??) [pg. 18]:

“Most marriages, especially among Roma, are intra-ethnic and arranged through match-makers. In fact, 95 percent of Roma and 74 percent of Egyptians preferred members of their own ethnic group as marriage partners.

“Traditional Marriage Partners. Most Roma and Egyptians still marry within their own ethnic group. More Egyptians than Roma would accept a marriage between a family member and an Albanian.

Among many Roma families, moreover, marriage partners must be members of their own primary *fis*. Many Cergar and Bamill Roma in Delvina, Gjirokastra, Levan, Fier, Fushe Kruja, and Korca arrange marriages between first and second cousins. Endogamy is practiced by some Roma in isolated localities, or by Roma that recently migrated from the country, and is explained by the limited access to available marriage patterns there. Roma explain endogamy through such metaphors as ‘The good horse should be sold within the village’ and ‘Why should the good apple get eaten by someone else?’

“The tradition of marrying members of one’s own primary *fis* is, however, undergoing change. One Roma leader in Tirana explained: ‘Many marriages happen nowadays between members of different Roma *fise*, whereas before they didn’t. Everyone wanted [to marry someone] from his own *fis*. My father and my wife’s father belong to the same *fis*; therefore my wife and I married…Today, however, the youth don’t care about this tradition, and they’ve even started marrying whites, Egyptians, or Roma from other *fise*.’

“Marriage with a member of another ethnic group is sometimes punished with ostracism….”

we’ve heard about these *fise* in the balkans before. here’s more about the gypsy *fise* (i think we can just call them clans) [pgs. 21-22]:

“Roma social organization is based on the *fis*. Members of one *fis* are usually persons who patrilineally descend from a common male *fis* name. The main branches of the *fis* — large families — serve as the bases for the creation of new *fise*.

“Arben, a Roma who enjoys a high standing within his *fis*, explained: ‘My *fis* is made up of all cousins [first, second] that have my last name, Demir.’ When a *fis* extends for several generations into a few dozen families, *fis* membership can reach into the hundreds. Now into its third generation, the Demir *fis* is composed of approximately 70 families and several hundred individuals.

“*Fis* structures can take several forms. Many Roma only consider persons with a common last name as *fis* members. But some Roma think that the children of female *fis* members can still be considered *fis* members although they have different last names. The concept of the *fis* is relative and dependent upon the outlook of *fis* members and the point in the family tree from which the *fis* begins. Patrilineage indicates an ongoing social change. But while patrilineage has, up to now, been a rather stable form of kinship social organization of the Roma *fis*, forms of matrilineage have become less common.”

and, finally, on some gypsies in romania — Exploring Gypsiness: Power, Exchange and Interdependence in a Transylvanian Village (2007) [pg. 79]:

“The only restrictions of marriage among the hamlet Roma are between members of the immediate family, between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews and between Roma and gaže [that’s us]. These restrictions are, however, not expressed as rules, but as a self-evident question of morality and practicality. As the gaže ‘have no shame’ and do not speak Romanes, and as such mixed marriages are also rejected by gaže, they will not generally happen. As marriage to gaže does not create alliance, and thus kinship, it is not strategically interesting. When such marriages did occur they were the result of individual choice, but were not rejected if they were seen as prosperous for the family household or familia in general. The hamlet Roma preferred to marry Roma of their own subgroup, generally Roma to whom they were already related. Although most Roma told us that it was bad to marry too close, first- and second-cousin marriages were common, both between cross and parallel cousins (vero/verisoara). These were regarded as true Roma (Roma cace), people one knows and can trust because they already belong to one’s kin network and speak Romanes properly.

how long have gypsies been marrying close cousins at these rates? who knows. long time probably.

*edit 10/24: anonymous points out that the “gypsies” on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding are actually irish travellers — or mostly irish travellers. thanks, anonymous! the irish travellers marry their cousins A LOT.


apparently, a couple of the principles on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding who got married were first cousins. caused a bit of a stir among some non-gypsy viewers i guess. i must’ve missed that episode. (~_^) interesting to see here the restrictions on women — related to reproduction, of course — just like in other inbreeding groups — like the arabs, for instance:

“‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ stars believe in incest, not pre-marital sex”

“…The show’s stars add that they also embrace traditional values and distinct gender roles.

“‘We don’t believe in sleeping with men before we are married,’ Annie explained. ‘The woman’s role in a gypsy family is to stay home, take care of kids, clean, get your nails done, and take care of duties at home. The kids, especially the girls, are learning to clean the house and parents are very strict on them. Growing up I was not allowed to stay at friends’ houses even when I was 15 or 16 years old, I was not allowed to go to parties or have a boyfriend or do anything. I just cleaned the house.’

“Nettie continued that the ‘normal age for a girl to get married is between 16 and 18,’ and that females are allowed fewer freedoms than their male counterparts.

“‘It is just the way we were brought up,’ she insisted. ‘A girl has more at risk with her reputation than a boy does. A girl has to go a little further than a guy to protect her reputation. A girl is to be looked at as a decent young girl, where a boy can do whatever and nobody is going to look at him in a bad way….'”

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