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Exploring Gypsiness

Exploring Gypsiness: Power, Exchange and Interdependence in a Transylvanian Village

Ada I. Engebrigtsen
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Exploring Gypsiness
    Book Description:

    Romania has a larger Gypsy population than most other countries but little is known about the relationship between this group and the non-Gypsy Romanians around them. This book focuses on a group of Rom Gypsies living in a village in Transylvania and explores their social life and cosmology. Because Rom Gypsies are dependent on and define themselves in relation to the surrounding non-Gypsy populations, it is important to understand their day-to-day interactions with these neighbors, primarily peasants to whom they relate through extended barter. The author comes to the conclusion that, although economically and politically marginal, Rom Gypsies are central to Romanian collective identity in that they offer desirable and repulsive counter images, incorporating the uncivilized, immoral and destructive "other". This interdependence creates tensions but it also allows for some degree of cultural and political autonomy for the Roma within Romanian society.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-710-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Transcriptions, Pronunciations and Vocabulary
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is about the relation between Rom Gypsies and peasants in a village in Transylvania. The termgypsinesswill refer to what I see as the Rom-Gypsy mode of existence that implies their relationship to non-Gypsies and the mutual ideas that govern this relationship. Gypsiness as a social form is a creation of specific social processes in time and space. Gypsiness in this study does not refer to a community, but to the particular social form created by the interdependence of Gypsies and non-Gypsies(gaze pl.)– here the hamlet Roma and peasants in a village in Transylvania. I...


    • Chapter 1 Roma in the Romanian Figuration
      (pp. 24-40)

      The aim of this opening chapter is to highlight the significance of Roma as the social and ethnic category:Gypsiesin the Romanian figuration. I will develop my argument by exploring the notion of ‘civilizaţie’ in the discourse of Romanianness and the theory and concept of civilization developed by the sociologist Norbert Elias (Elias, 2000). The Romanian concept of ‘civilizaţie’ is interpreted in different ways by different socioeconomic groups and ethnic groups, but I suggest that a common denominator of the colloquial use is that it refers primarily to the behaviour of people in society and especially ‘their outward bodily...

    • Chapter 2 Cultivating and Harvesting Social Environment
      (pp. 41-61)

      It is six o’clock in the morning and the bulibasa household is starting the new day, as are all the thirty-two households in the Rom hamlet.¹Bulibasais the Slavic term for a Rom headman, but it is as Joska, the male head of the household, that I will introduce him in this chapter. Joska and Kurva his wife,Romni,² are the first to get up in the morning while the rest of the household still are asleep in the main room of the house. There are three big beds in the room, a stove where the household’s meals are...

    • Chapter 3 Gender, Shame and Honour
      (pp. 62-73)

      The Roma express what it means to be a woman by stating what women do. As Bakro emphasised: ‘What should a man do without his wife, only women can raise our children and get food from gaze (numa le Romnja zanen te xoxaven le gazen)’. When we asked Joska’s sister Mariora to describe her life she talked about her work and hardship:

      Well, Jorgole (addressing Lars Gjerde), in the morning I get up, I make a fire, I wake up the children and I start thinking what to give them to eat. I have many children, and they need a...

    • Chapter 4 Amari Familia: Belonging Together
      (pp. 74-96)

      One day in early spring, Joska told us that he and Kurva were going to celebrate a wedding between his fifteen years old son and the daughter of Joska’s sister Nuca who also lived in the hamlet. In fact, he stressed, it would not be a real wedding (biav), but only a small party (kef). Joska asked me to videotape the occasion. The ‘wedding’ was celebrated on a Sunday but was prepared for the day before. Kurva, her married and unmarried daughters in the hamlet and one of her sisters, together with Joska and Kurva’s brothers, prepared food and decorations....

    • Chapter 5 Competing for Equality
      (pp. 97-116)

      Joska’s oldest uncle in the hamlet, Fusuj, had been sent home from hospital to die among his family. Fusuj was sixty-five years old and had cancer. He was one of the elders and the father of four sons and four daughters, all married in the hamlet. His sons told us they wanted to give amesali, a meal in his honour, and wanted us to videorecord it: ‘to have something to remember him by when he is dead’. The date for this meal was not set, but it was to be held when the family had enough money to give...

    • Chapter 6 Rom Leadership: Joska Bulibasa
      (pp. 117-124)

      So how are we to understand the position of the bulibasa in a community of equal brothers? We have seen that the family household and the familia are central units in Rom organisation, and while the household is generally headed by the oldest male, the leadership of a familia is more problematic. The males in Joska’s familia consisted of himself, some of his brothers and his wife’s brothers, all heading different family households, but in spite of his position as bulibasa, Joska had no decision-making power towards his brothers or his brothers-in-law. His position as bulibasa, with good relations and...

    • Chapter 7 Romanimo: Towards a Rom Cosmology
      (pp. 125-142)

      The Roma discourse on the property of shame as what makes them different from gaze is the most ‘essentialist’ representation of what I take to be a cosmological message, that of romanimo:¹ properties of true ‘Romness’. This chapter will pull together what I see as core elements of the hamlet discourse on what it takes to be a true Rom as expressions of a Rom cosmology. ‘Cosmology’ in this sense is not to be understood as a coherent system of beliefs and practices. I would prefer to see Rom cosmology as an orientation in the world expressed by the symbolic...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 143-145)

      The first part of this book was about the Rom world – not about a world exclusively Rom, because that does not exist; there are no spheres in the Rom world untouched by gaze. Rather, the first part presented the world from the Rom point of view. This second part follows the steep mud-track from the Rom hamlet on the hilltop down through the narrow, cement-covered track that leads between the houses of the outskirts of the village, over the railway line and into the church road that leads to the centre of the village, the market place and the...

    • Chapter 8 Village Life, Peasant Cosmology
      (pp. 146-168)

      Every morning, in winter and summer, every seson, Florica gets up at six o’clock to milk her two goats and to feed the pigs and chicken. In spring, summer and autumn she then walks to her family’s fields. She brings a bottle of water, a piece of lard, some onions and a piece of bread. Every morning the same exodus may be observed through the streets of the village: first the workers hurry through the village to the station to catch a train to work, then comes the first shepherd with the villagers’ goats, followed by the second shepherd with...

    • Chapter 9 Exchange and Power
      (pp. 169-192)

      Every morning after the exodus of villagers to work and of livestock to the pastures, hamlet women appear in the village streets accompanied by children and sometimes by their husbands. They stop outside a gate, knock or softly cry out the name of the woman in charge of the household and are swiftly let into the courtyard, while the men wait outside. After a while they are let out again and proceed to their next visit. When they return to the hamlet in the early afternoon their bags are generally full of bread, potatoes and other foodstuffs.

      In a society...

    • Chapter 10 The Ţigan as Signifier
      (pp. 193-203)

      I introduced this book by arguing for the understanding of Roma in terms of gypsiness; a mode of existence that implies their relationship to non-Gypsies and the mutual ideas that govern this relationship. I hold that the different social groups of Romania constitute a specific ethnic figuration that is crucial for the understanding of power relations and ethnic identity in the region and that ţigani hold a significant position in the Romanian figuration and in the collective identity of Romanians as ambiguous and stigmatised ‘others’. By following some aspects of the life and strategies of Joska, the hamlet bulibaşa, and...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 204-205)

    Since leaving the village in the summer of 1997, we have been back three times.

    The first visit was in 1999 when we spent one week there and could ascertain that no major changes had occurred since we had left. A group of young men from different families had, however, left to work in Turkey, a journey that probably was possible because of the money most families had saved from the sale of clothes. The next visit was in 2001 when we spent most of our stay in hospitals and at deathbeds as both Viorel, our Romanian host, and Varga,...

    (pp. 206-212)
  11. Index
    (pp. 213-218)