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“Women Married off to Chalices”: Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Romanian Cortorari Gypsies

Tesar, CC; (2013) “Women Married off to Chalices”: Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Romanian Cortorari Gypsies. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Combining processual and cultural meanings-orientated with post-functionalist agency-focused approaches to relatedness, this thesis examines the role of women in the reproduction of Cortorari kinship. Cortorari are a Romanian, “traditional” Gypsy society, kin-based, bilateral and endogamous, with a strong androcentric ideology. It demonstrates that women, who are otherwise accorded less symbolic value than men and may not inherit ceremonial wealth, have a preeminent role in the reproduction of the cosmic and social order. Cortorari consider themselves descendants of a common group of ancestors. Inclusion or exclusion from kin is achieved in relation to a person’s depth and breadth of interrelatedness. However, the spread of kin ties is an expression of transactions in property: especially chalices. These material items, which are imbued with transcendent value, circulate as inalienable possessions along male bloodlines. In marriage transactions, wife-givers gain entitlements in the groom’s chalice in exchange for cash “dowries”. The transaction entails intermarriage in the future. Conceptions of proprietorship articulate notions of gendered personhood: Inheritance of a chalice is premised on birth of a male offspring to the heir. Maleness and femaleness are, in turn, achieved through procreation inside wedlock and through enactment of moral behaviour revolving around “honour” and “shame”. Detailed ethnography of several marriages – involving practices of cousin marriage and daughter exchange as well as an overarching principle of sibling unity – and of the accompanying ceremonial gifts leads me to contend that the idiom of exchange cannot account for the economic, political and sexual significances of Cortorari marriages. I demonstrate that women as “daughters”, “mothers” and “wives” secure men’s possession of chalices. This thesis concludes with a critical engagement with orthodox anthropological thinking about Gypsies. I use my ethnographic findings to query deterministic explanations of Gypsy cultural survival, the model of “living in the present” and the performative nature of Gypsiness.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: “Women Married off to Chalices”: Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Romanian Cortorari Gypsies
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1385887
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