1:07 PMSome aspects of my culture
I'm a Romani (well, all right, I'm a posh-rat - a half-breed Romani - and I mean Romani as in gypsy NOT Romanian or Roman! |
I'd like to share with you a couple of our legends and a true story about one of my family members who was saved from the Porajmos (what us gypsies call the Romani holocaust when Hitler murdered nearly a million of our people):
How music came among the Roma:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful young girl. Not only her looks but her great wealth should have drawn all the men towards her. All the same, some years passed and she remained single. The villagers began muttering among themselves.
She is bewitched, they declared. Why else is it that a girl as beautiful and rich as her still wants a husband?
The girl was desolate as no man came for her. She fell in love with a young farmer and tried everything she could to make him love her back. For all her efforts, the boy hardly noticed she existed.
Cast down in despair, she prayed to God but nothing changed in her life. Then in desperation she prayed to Satan and asked for his help.
The Devil agreed, telling her that he would give her an enchanted musical instrument that would allow her to win the young man's love. All he asked in return was the souls of her family.
The girl did not hesitate, and readily swore away the souls of her parents and four brothers. Shortly after, her family died. The Devil gave her the instrument and she soon captured the heart of the man she loved.
For a while they lived in bliss. Then Satan came back and took their souls as well. The instrument was abandoned and the couple whisked away to hell.
Later that day, walking in the forest, a Rom saw the instrument lying on the ground. He picked it up and soon found out its secrets. He became the master of the Devil's music and from that day to this the violin has always been the main instrument of the Romani.
How the swallow got her tail
The Virgin Mary had a young servant girl who was not to be trusted. One day she saw a beautiful pair of scissors that her mistress had just bought.
She has so many scissors, surely she won't miss one? I could sell it in the market for a good price, thought the girl.
Later that day Mary was making clothes. She looked for her new scissors and found them gone. Looking at the girl, she asked her, where are my new pair of scissors? I don't know, mistress, the girl replied.
Then Mary searched the servant's room and found two gold coins. You stole my scissors and sold them down the market, she said angrily. Because you also lied about it to me I will turn you into a bird so that you can never speak or tell lies again.
The girl instantly became a swallow. That is why the swallow's tail is like a pair of scissors.
The Latsho Gadje
[This is a true story about how my uncle (really my second cousin) was helped to safety from the jaws of death in Auschwitz. Unfortunately his parents, brother and sister were murdered there. Just as Jews have righteous Gentiles, so we of the Roma have righteous gadjes.I've told the story more or less as miri nano told it to me, in the first person.]
Once upon a time the sky grew dark. Men who served evil ruled the land and amaro foki (our people) suffered under them.
They took us to a great place called a railway station, where a train carried us away for thousands of miles. Many died on the long journey.
When we came to the place called Auschwitz they separated us. Wives and husband all had to go to a different part of the camp.
I was five years old, my brother seven and my sister eight. A man came and took my sister away from me. I never saw her again. Then he came for my brother and took him away. I never saw him again.
Another man, not in the black uniform of the first, came over to me. He asked me my name and I told him. He asked how old I was and I said I was five.
For a moment I thought I saw tears in his eyes. He turned away and then came back to face me again.
"You are a gypsy," he said. "Many here are Jews, or Poles. or Russians. Many of your people have come here too. None has left and none ever will. Except perhaps..."
He stood before me, lost in thought for a moment.
"Come," he said quickly. "Follow me,"
He led me to a hiding place and told me to stay there till he returned. Hours passed, and it grew dark and cold, but still I waited.
Then the rye came back for me at last. He brought food and water and even gave me a knife.
"Follow me," he said. "I have made arrangements. Do not fear but be careful. You must go now."
"But my father and mother, my sister and brother - where are they? How can I leave them?"
"You will never see them again," he said sadly. "Their bones are already ashes. You have the chance to live. For them, life is already over. Go quickly, into the country beyond."
"Go where? Where should I go alone?"
"You will not be alone," he told me. "Outside this dreadful place are three of your people. They are your family now and they will lead you to safety if they can. Go now! And go with God!"
So the latsho gadje led me out of the camp In the countryside I saw three Roma who spoke to me in our own language. Jaul avree, they said. Narkri atchin-tan akai. Tiri dat, dai, o brat, o phen, mulos.
Come away, they told me. This is an evil place and you must not stay. Your father and mother, your sister and brother, are dead.
Then I gazed at them and said softly, te soves misto. May you rest in peace. So I went with the three Roma and at least we came to the safety of the mountains, thousands of miles away.
When the clouds lifted from the sky and the evil men were no more I tried to find the latsho gadje who had saved my life. I did not even know his name but I prayed for his soul and gave thanks to God for saving the life of one our people.
(If anyone wants me to translate the few Romani words I've used I'm happy to do so).
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