How did Gypsy communities view adoption in the past?

Kate Chered
4 min readNov 22, 2023

Adoption, a practice embedded in various cultures, holds diverse narratives, each carrying its unique set of beliefs and traditions. In the world of the Romani people, commonly known as Gypsies, adoption takes on an intriguing form, steeped in historical intricacies and societal perceptions.

Where Gypsy Traditions Diverge: The Notion of the “Extra Mouth”

The Romani community has a rich tapestry of adoption practices, where children were sometimes considered an “extra mouth” in impoverished, large families. Curiously, children were willingly handed over to Gypsy families, and in certain cases, formal adoptions were even documented.

Within the Gypsy population, infertile couples eagerly embraced children from different nationalities, fostering a unique sense of inclusivity in their communities.

The Gypsy camps served as a refuge not only for adopted children but also for stray, wandering youngsters who joined willingly. This voluntary aspect adds a layer of complexity to the dynamics of Gypsy families.

An adopted child might stand out with fair hair and light eyes, distinctly different from their new Gypsy parents. Such differences fueled myths of child theft by the Gypsy community, perpetuating misunderstandings among outsiders.

Historical records reveal instances where non-Gypsy children were integrated into Gypsy families. In 1875, a Russian village witnessed the death of a peasant woman, leaving behind a neglected child. The villagers, overwhelmed with their own offspring, narrated the tale to passing Gypsy women.

One Gypsy, childless and moved by compassion, pleaded for the child. The villagers, after contemplation, granted permission. The child grew up in the Gypsy camp, adopting their language and lifestyle, erasing traces of their Russian origin.

Such stories highlight the intricate ways in which Gypsy communities expanded through adoption, creating unique blends of cultural identity.

To the Gypsy Caravan: A Haven for the Abandoned

Another real-life account comes from Dmitry Gasperovich, a young Romani individual from Belarus, recounting his family’s history. His grandfather shared a tale from the reign of Tsar Nicholas II when a Gypsy camp arrived in a Smolensk village.

In one house, a Gypsy woman discovered a drunken man and a crying infant on a table. The mother had died shortly after childbirth, condemning the baby to a bleak fate. The Gypsy woman gladly adopted the child but, fearing the father’s potential claim, insisted he sign official documents in the village.

This child, named Abram with the surname Semchenkov, grew up in the Gypsy camp, embodying the essence of a Romani lifestyle while retaining his Orthodox faith-a stark reminder of the intricate interplay between cultural adoption and religious identity.

Nikolay Bessonov’s work, “The Myth of Stolen Children,” delves into the societal perceptions surrounding Gypsy adoptions. The narrative challenges stereotypes, revealing that these adoptions were often rooted in compassion and the shared human experience of caring for abandoned children.

Bessonov presents cases where children, initially perceived as outsiders, seamlessly assimilated into the Gypsy way of life, eroding the boundaries of ethnicity and nationality.

These stories not only shatter misconceptions but also underscore the fluidity of identity within the Gypsy culture, transcending biological ties.

The Gypsy tradition of adoption, woven with compassion and cultural integration, challenges preconceived notions. These stories, rich in complexity and human connection, paint a picture of adoption that transcends borders, both geographically and socially.

As we unravel the myth surrounding Gypsy adoptions, it becomes clear that these practices were driven by a profound sense of community, empathy, and the universal desire to provide a loving home for those in need.

FAQs

How did Gypsy communities view adoption in the past?

The Romani community regarded adoption as a solution to the challenges of large families, often willingly offering children to Gypsy families. Formal adoptions were not uncommon, fostering a unique perspective on expanding family ties.

Where did Gypsies traditionally adopt children from?

Gypsies embraced adoption from diverse sources. In some instances, they took in children from impoverished families within their own community. Additionally, infertile Gypsy couples were open to adopting children of different nationalities, creating a mosaic of cultural diversity within their camps.

What fueled the myths surrounding Gypsy adoptions?

The distinctive appearance of adopted children, such as fair hair and light eyes, often led to misconceptions that they were stolen from non-Gypsy communities. These physical differences sparked myths that persisted, perpetuating misunderstandings about the Gypsy adoption practices.

When did Gypsy communities adopt children voluntarily?

Gypsy camps became havens for not only adopted children but also for voluntary additions-stray, wandering youngsters seeking refuge. This voluntary aspect added complexity to the dynamics of Gypsy families, showcasing a unique approach to adoption within their communities.

To whom did Gypsies reach out for adopting abandoned children?

Local communities, facing challenges in caring for abandoned children, occasionally turned to Gypsy women for assistance. Gypsies, moved by compassion, would adopt these children, bridging gaps in care and providing a sense of belonging within the Romani community.

Originally published at https://beingmotherhood.com on November 22, 2023.

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