Charts & Graphs

Law of the Gypsies

Take extreme measures to avoid the mention of urine.

Romani legal traditions—known as romaniya—are based on an ancient folk religion that traces back to Indian sources. The most fundamental set of laws, the marimé code, pertains mostly to hygiene and sexuality. “The individual who violates a marimé prohibition has succumbed to powers of evil and destruction that are so frightening,” writes law professor Walter Weyrauch, “that even his own family shuns him for fear of contamination.” There are exceptions and variations to these rules; compliance is neither universal nor absolute.

  • Wash male and female clothing separately.
  • Keep items worn above the waist separate from those worn below the waist.
  • Keep items worn above the waist separate from those worn below the waist.
  • If a woman steps over food or drink, the food or drink must be discarded.
  • When menstruating, a woman must eat alone and cannot prepare food for a man.
  • The shadow of a non-Gypsy is polluting.
  • Take extreme measures to avoid the mention of urine.
  • Do not serve food or drink to guests in cracked or chipped dishes, unless you want to communicate that a guest is not welcome.
  • Install new toilets and sinks in a home you intend to rent for a long period.
  • A man should not walk under a clothesline where women’s clothes are hanging.
  • If a woman steps into a stream or river, no one can drink from the stream for several hours.
  • A woman may not walk past a seated man, because her genitals would be the same height as his face.
  • Yawning or looking sleepy is shameful.
  • Do not share dishes or utensils with non-Romani guests.
  • Never use a kitchen sink to wash hands or clothes.
  • After childbirth a woman remains unclean for up to six weeks. She cannot share a bed with her husband during this time.
  • Plumbing is a forbidden trade. A man is defiled by handling toilet fixtures.
  • Any item touched by a contaminated person must be destroyed, no matter how valuable. Some utensils and dishware may be purified with bleach.
  • Theft and fraud are crimes only when perpetrated against other Roma.
  • A man who deals in used vehicles cannot handle hearses or garbage trucks.
  • Do not discuss in mixed company any terms describing genitals, bodily waste, toilets, underwear, or sex.
  • Wash your hands after touching shoes or doorknobs.
  • If a Rom dies in a rented house, the family must move out; the house is untenable.
  • You may not rent a ground-floor apartment, because a woman living upstairs could walk overhead.
  • A woman must undress with her back to her husband and get into bed before him. She must rise in the morning before he does.