As we specified, the Roma come to present-day Bulgarian lands at different times and from different places. That is the reason why today so many Roma groups exist, differing (more or less) from one another.
The first in historical aspect is the meta-group of the so-called Yerlii – i.e. local, settled Roma. They are decendents of the Roma who came during the period from the 13th to the 18th century, and who gradually settled and for centuries on lived together with both Bulgarian and Turkish population. To a large extent the term Yerlii was introduced for popular usage mainly as a scientific point of view to summarize a large group of Roma, who settled at different times in the Balkans from the Middle Ages to the beginning of 19th century. A large part of the Roma themselves (except several subgroups near Sofia and Kyustendil) do not recognize the term Yerlii, and prefer the subgroup names or just Roma /Gypsies.
Yerlii divide themselves into two large groups: Horahane Roma (Turkish/Muslim Roma) and Dasikane Roma (Bulgarian Roma, Christians).
Literally translated “Horahane Roma” means today Turkish/Muslim Roma . Horahane Roma are the predominant Roma population in Northeast, Southeast and Central South Bulgaria and approximately half of the Roma population in Southwest Bulgaria. Horahane Roma are the most numerous Roma group in Bulgaria. They profess Islam mixed with numerous Christian elements, and their holiday system includes not only Bayrams, but all significant Christian holidays – St. George’s Day (Erdelez), St. Basil’s Day (Bango Vassilii), St. Todor’s Day, St. Ivan’s Day, even Christmas and Easter. They speak Romani mixed with a number of Turkish words, and some of them use Turkish language together with Romani language. Horahane Roma are divided into number of subgroups. For example Basket-makers, Tinsmiths, Drandari (Musicians), etc. In the course of time these internal group differences have faded up and today the larger majority of Horahane Roma are a uniform group, which keeps only a distant memory about the former craft and subgroup division.
Literally translated “Dasikane Roma” today means Bulgarian/Christian Roma. As a whole the word “das” in its original meaning meant “servant”, “slave”. The generalizing term Dasikane Roma identifies about 26 subgroups, speaking different dialects of the Balkan type of Roma dialects, with significant lexical influence from the local Bulgarian dialect. Dasikane Roma is the predominant Roma population in Northwest and some parts of Central North Bulgaria and approximately half of the Roma population in Southwest Bulgaria. These are for example Burgudžiii, Dzhambazi, Tudzhari, etc. Among them a slight tendency for Pro-Bulgarian behaviour can be observed, but some groups proudly preserve their Roma identity and traditions (for example part of the Burgudžiii in Shumen area call themselves “parpul Roma“- “real Roma“).
The second large Roma meta-group in Bulgaria are the so-called Kaldarashi. They come with “the big Kaldarashi invasion”, initially passing through Austro-Hungary and Serbia, as a result of which they are often called “Hungarian Gypsies”, “Austrian Gypsies”, “Serbian Gypsies” or “Nyamtsuri” (i.e. German Gypsies”). They are divided into two large groups – Bakardzhii and Lovari (from the Hungarian “lo” – “horse”, due to which they are known as “horse stealers”) and into many subgroups.
The Kaldarashi is one of the best preserved Roma groups in Bulgaria. They still have potestarian forms preserved – such as the Roma court – meshere, they speak mainly Romani, they strictly keep their customs and traditions. The lavish way in which they celebrate Easter (Patragi) and St. George’s Day, as well as Kaldarashi wedding ceremonies often points them out as one of the most interesting Roma customs in Europe. The Eastern Orthodox Christianity plays very important role in the life of the Kaldarashi and they are devoted Christians.
Until the middle of 20th century they were nomads, who travelled from village to village to sell their goods. They settled down after the promulgation of Decree 258 of the Council of Ministers dated 1958, prohibiting “nomadism and begging in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria”. In absolute numbers they are not many. But in territorial aspect Kaldarashi live in all country regions, they rarely form large neighbourhoods, more often several families settle in a village together with the other population but without mixing with the other Roma .
The number of the Kaldarashi in Bulgaria is about 30 000. (Krumova, Kolev, Daskalova-Tsvetkova: 2011)
Rudari / Ludari – Groups of people which the neighbouring population calls “Romanian gypsies” live predominantly in the village regions of Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Nova Zagora, Burgas, Varna, Dobrich, Veliko Tarnovo and Pleven areas. The representatives of this community call themselves “Rudari” or “Ludari” – depending on the local dialect. Due to their specific crafts, the surrounding population knows them as Kopanari (whittlers) and Mechkadari (bear-tamers), for which their words are respectively Lingurari and Ursari. During the census and the sociological researches the Rudari/Ludari identify themselves usually as Romanian, Wallachians or Bulgarian, but they always insist on being differentiated from the Roma . Usually older generations accept the name “Romanian gypsies” for them, because the words tsigán and tsigánka mean respectively “husband” and “wife” in their speech (as by the way is the meaning of the words rom and romni in Roma language). The Rudari / Ludari speak a dialect of the Romanian language. In Bulgaria there are two dialects – north (more influenced by the standard Romanian) and south (with more distinct influence from the Greek language). Although they live in relatively differentiated ethnical neighbourhoods, they are probably the best integrated Roma group in the Bulgarian society in relation to the level of education, employment rate, as well as the size of the households, in which they do not differ from the Bulgarian population in the certain residential areas.
The number of the Rudari in Bulgaria is about 70 000. (Krumova, Kolev, Daskalova-Tsvetkova: 2011)
In the regions where Horahane Roma live, there are groups of people who call themselves “Millet”. The Bulgarians usually designate them as “Turkish Roma” or “Roma with preferred Turkish consiousness”, the Turkish call them “Millet chengenesi”. The Romani-speaking Roma have dubious attitude and some accept them as Roma, others consider them Turkish. Although the census of the population they declare themselves as Turkish, the name they use for themselves is Millet. “Millet” is a Turkish word, which can be best translated as “ethnos” or “religious community”. During the time of the Ottoman empire the minority Christian population was divided into Millets in terms of religion – for example Orthodox, Judeans, Armenians (not in the ethnical meaning of the word, but in the religious one, as long as the Armenian Church differs from the Eastern Orthodox). The only millet, which was divided in an ethnical principle, was the gypsy one – Chengene Millet. The Turkish themselves did not use the word “millet” when referring to themselves. Part of the gypsies, who called themselves “Millet” used also the name “Turkish gypsies”, but categorically deny being called “Roma “. For them Roma are only the Christians who speak Roma language. The mother tongue of the Millet is Turkish, but in some residential areas the older generations use Roma language as “a secret language”, and in other groups the usage of a small number of Roma words is preserved as a slang. (Kolev, Krumova: 2005)