Gypsies of Serbia

I’ve recently been in touch with a Serbian anthropologist who studies the Gypsies there. Chatting with her has given me an intriguing glimpse into everyday life and culture of these mysterious folks.

She mainly focuses on their reproductive behavior. In short, they have lots of sex and kids, and in general put less investment into each offspring. In biology, this is known as classic “r-strategy.” In comparison, most humans practice (I would hope) k-strategy, which is to say, you fritter away your working life saving up for your kid’s college tuition (high parental investment).

The Gypsies there are essentially forced to pursue this counter-intuitive strategy, because of high infant mortality rates. They also happen to be one of the most marginalized Gypsy groups in Europe–many drive these Citroen cars that are stripped down to just wheels and the engine, and go scrounging for scrap metal. The good news they’ve managed to maintain a rich culture, by marrying only within their clan and stressing their oral tradition (particularly in poetry and music).

The backdrop is dramatic–a country quickly recovering from the 1999 bombings, and moving away from its communism roots towards lucrative privatization, with GDP growth this year at 7% compared to 2% in 2003. They’ve even been thinking about EU membership. But like everyone else, Serbia has forgotten about the Gypsies.

Here’s a BBC slideshow.