Souls of the Dead (Mule)

Savoro pes prejal, cha o Del achhel. Everything passes, only God lasts. Romani proverb

This Romani proverb reflects the spiritual thinking of the Romani people. They cherish everything because it swiftly passes and in the end they know that only God will remain. However in the mean time they believe of other spiritual beings that visit during their time here on earth. My research into the Roma’s spiritual belief took me into a very fascinating aspect that is the souls of the dead. They can be ancestors or other ghosts that come back for retribution or to counsel those they love (ROMBASE).

Mule can appear either in human form or as animals: as dogs, cats, birds or butterflies. It is possible to distinguish them from living beings because they walk sideways (phirel seraha) and you cannot see their faces. They can even return to this world unnoticed.” (ROMBASE) It is interesting to note that their presence is most often noticed because the Roma believe, found on the Roma database, ROMBASE, that God works through the souls of the dead. These different beings, be they human or animal, act as God’s instruments to give consequences or show a sign.

Ian Hancock in his book “We are the Romani People” talked about how Roma maintain balance with the spirits so they are there to guard and help instead of punish. “The consequences of the prikaza (warning signal) underlie the universal Romani belief that nothing is an accident – that nothing happens simply by chance.” (Ian Hancock) This not only brings around the connection with the proverb but also shows the Romani’s great respect shown to the dead. Various rituals, like saving a place at the dinner table during Christmas dinner if they died half way through the year would please the dead and let the dead to find peace in the other world.

For the most part though they leave the souls of their ancestors alone, letting them sit in a corner and avoid sitting in that spot, if the ancestors can’t find rest. That way the soul of the dead can bring about their mission without interruption. Therefore in the end they can find peace and all that will remain is God.

 

Sources:

Proverb: http://romove.radio.cz/en/clanek/18906

ROMBASE: http://romani.uni-graz.at/rombase/

Hancock: http://www.amazon.com/Are-Romani-People-Ian-Hancock/dp/1902806190

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Romani Proverb Poetry

A proverb is a noun, a short saying stating a general truth or giving advice.

In an effort to understand the how proverbs reflect the Romani’s worldview, I came across an article about the English Proverbs written by Gary Martin; “Nothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language, and the element of language that best encapsulates a society’s values and beliefs is its proverbs.” (Gary Martin) Therefore I realized that the language the Romani use to state the general truth or advice comes from their social, environmental and political influences just like anywhere else.

Ian Hancock in We are the Romani People stated: “It is through these that wisdom is codified, and the rules for social behavior are passed down from generation to generation.” They are called hidden words because their meaning is not always apparent.

The purpose of the proverb is to have traditions and rules for the Romani passed down through metaphorical phrases. Not only does it teach critical thinking but also reflects the surroundings of the Romani that would be easy to comprehend in the situations they live in.

For my poem I chose:“If you want to see the fish, don’t stir up the water.” –Romani Proverb from We are the Romani People by Ian Hancock. Which is saying approach a situation carefully, don’t be hasty.

I like the imagery that it brings up for me when I picture stirring water. I have spent plenty of time at my family’s lake house trying to catch a fish and in my impatience have always ended up startling the fish as soon as they got close. It relates to me in more than just being able to picture it, I have a bad case of being impetuous; I like things to go my way quickly and I that includes most situations. I have been learning throughout my life to try and not “stir up the water” but it’s an ongoing process that this phrase reminds me of.

Az en falum: My Village

 

Artist: Bada Marta

Artist: Bada Marta

In this picture you are looking at a girl who is walking between two houses somewhere that has lots of vegetation. The more I look at it the more I wonder what the girl’s story is. Marta Bada is a Romani Hungarian artist who has worked most of her life, doing art related jobs like making tiles, and was denied from art school because she lacked the education necessary to be approved. The education that she needed was refused by the government as she was growing up and instead Bada was put in a special program for slow learners. She never quit at art and today is a well-known Roma artist.

After learning about her life I start to think that this could be depicting Bada as young girl. The focal point of the painting is the girl who has a frown on her face, wearing a plain dress. The houses that she is walking by seem proportionally close together and aren’t the most luxurious homes. There are two different red colors, one more pink and the other an orange, that draws attention to the lack of care put into constructing the village, most likely a government assigned residency.

The next thing I noticed was the contrast of the red in the green trees, probably another house in the vicinity. The small quick, straight strokes made me realize that the houses have warmer colors denoted to them and nature has cooler colors which could be representing the cool, calming, tranquility of nature contrasting the harsher, plain homes. Above the house is smoke, used with blues and whites which looks more like a natural vapor coming from the home, as if the house is giving back to nature.

There is emphasis on the circular dots that make up most of the vegetation, sky and smoke. This brings the attention the nature and makes nature vital to this picture. Bada’s message to the viewer is related to a natural state, one that she wishes would prevail more in her life maybe. She seems to guarantee the peace of the world, where government hasn’t interfered and simplicity is the most harmonious ingredient.

After google translating what she titled this artwork: Az en Falum, meaning My village, I was more entitled to assume a deeper meaning to the paintings surroundings, since it does represent a part of her past. Looking at it now I see a girl living in a bright and colorful world and while it looks like she is headed back into the village, and that makes her unhappy- the world she dreams of isn’t.

The artwork can be found at:

http://www.kuglerartszalon.hu/node/57

And to learn more about the artist:

http://www.kuglerartszalon.hu/node/196

“Son of the Wind” by Alexian Spinelli

This poem is about the speaker who is talking about his home, how he lived in nature, traveling around but is now in a well-built home that makes him feel trapped. This has been his dream, to live in one spot, but now it feels like something that has him caged, making his dream something seemingly unattainable. His first metaphor is nature that stands in place of a tent, he enumerates the different aspects of this tent, the water, land, skies, sun, light and heat that show the ongoing days he lived in a state of happiness (seen through the tone). The second is a bird that represents his dream, a bird with no name, wings disfigured, attempting to fly but splashes into empty silence. This empty silence is a metaphor for the Romani battle against discrimination falling against resilient people who don’t care to hear what the Roma have to say about their treatment, even if the Roma settle down.

The speaker describes himself as son of the wind, one who follows the green trees (personification) bringing imagery to the nature that is his home using words phrases like “breath of powerful horses” to demonstrate the awesomeness the makes him feel free. He uses alliteration of “sweet songs” of birds (not related to metaphor used later) and then positive tone to reflect the freedom that his home gave him, something that correlates the son of the wind being content with the freedom of nature, leaving the impression of a traveler.

Then the poem shifts to when the speaker describes his home now; using tone words like “small”, “trap”, and “prison” to accentuate the degree of his loss of freedom that contrasts to the happiness before. He explains the reason for settling down was brought by “the wind of the fathers” who gave the speaker his dream; the simile “I planted it here as if it were a flag” details the proud moment that he seemed to fulfill his dream. However the metaphor of the bird whom is disfigured and “splashes into empty silence” illustrates that the dream he wanted was not what it turned out to be. This correlates with the Romani cause to be integrated into society, not to be seen as outcasts and not to be discriminated against.

This poem details the wishes of the Roma to be their own people without having the problems with the society they live in and gives the unfortunate failure to bring attention to the Romani cause. The speaker uses the bird (singular) in the beginning of his description as settling down, ending with “I can’t reach the banks to proclaim them mine”, them being the birds (plural), which shows that just settling down doesn’t bring enough attention to the Roma, that it doesn’t change people’s ignorant opinion about Roma and that now there has to be more to the dream then just settling down. This has imprisoned the speaker in a way that traveling didn’t and begs to question whether fulfilling his dream of settling down was worth the veil (constraint of being in one place with the same discrimination) that he placed there.

Sources: “The Roads of the Roma” edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd and Rajko Djuric (page 41)

Tough Guise

Gypsy Blood, a documentary about a select group of families living the stereotypical gypsy life style, displays violence as a part of their culture creating an erroneous representation of the lives of the majority of Romani people.

This showcase of the families spotlights the fighting starting from a young age; parents even telling their kids they would rather have them drown than lose a fight. The kids are taught a proper etiquette for fighting: “You shake hands before you fight and after you fight, then forget it ever happened.(Gypsy Blood)” Fighting can be 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or even to the death because you fight till someone loses. While watching Jackson Katz explain the tough guise men put on, in his documentary, the logic to be a tough guy is “learned from their families and community”, as represented by Gypsy Blood, and the survival mechanism they put on comes at a cost.

Many of the older gentlemen interviewed in Gypsy Blood had horror stories about different fights they had been in, one guy even mentioning that he had 26 stitches from a machete. Ian Hancock mentions in “The Origin and Function of the Gypsy Image in Children’s Literature” the background that has caused the basis of Gypsy Blood to be based off fictional representation. “Unable to defend themselves, easily recognized in large groups, Romanies learned to stay away from urban areas and to travel in small numbers. (Hancock)” This would make most the Romani people more independent and create their own survival mechanism that Katz talks about but it does not make them a violent people.

Gypsy Blood’s main focus is the violence that is learned behavior from a young age, showing only a small section of the Roma culture and much less of Romani people. The violent upbringing has no factual foundation in Romani culture and brings an inaccurate picture of the Romani people.

References:

Jackson Katz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3exzMPT4nGI#t=342

Ian Hancock: http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_c_language_children_s_literature&lang=en&articles=true

 

Visual Pleasure

Visual Pleasure

This week I have had the pleasure of reading Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” which has taken me a little time to understand honestly. Her theory is about the role of women in films and their representations based off of male perspective. Phallocentrism, as she discusses, is defined by the image of women to give order and meaning to the world (Mulvey). “The traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact.” (Mulvey)

In an effort to display this exact theory I found a picture on another blog about Romani persecution called This is White History.

In this picture it is easy to see how she is being sexualized because of the fact she has no clothes on and is barely covered by the sheet. However looking longer I began to notice the unbound hair which from the time period this was made would have been something only acceptable in one’s house at night. This is considered something scandalous then and draws attention next to her jewelry still on. This creates, for me at least, an image of passionate night where there wasn’t time to think about taking the jewelry off. The person also painted a shadow covering her face, adding an air of mystery to the girl whose face is only half shown “thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire (Mulvey).” Her unsmiling face suggests a more serious note which more accurately reproduces the conditions of human perception which Mulvey says [the male] “articulates the look”, part of Mulvey’s theory on woman’s functions for display. Here the artist creates her as erotic object for himself and then for others.

This picture then fulfills Mulvey’s theory because she has become this erotic image for people to view and have pleasure from. Therefore this gives meaning to the world that women are a sexual objects and while it is a beautiful portrait is still undermines women; especially Romani women, who have had a more specialized stereotype for being sexualized.

Relating Stereotypes

Video blogger, Feminist Frequency, discusses a topic that I have never noticed: most movies involve male characters where if the female character exists, she is alone (Smurfette Principle), or talking with another female about men.

In Hollywood, movies are made that exclude exceptional female characters, or any at all. The majority of movies made are from the male perspective, especially since the industry is male dominated. During awards very few movies include a main female character or one that interacts with another female. If there happens to be multiple women their main conversation is about men; this stereotype that women can only hold a part of men’s life when they are a side kick or a sexy object is very common and often the only representation in movies. Therefore the Bechdel test has become a way to distinguish this problem. To pass the test, movies must have more than one female character that talks to another female character and they must talk about something other than men. This test is generally pass or fail but in recent debate there have been a few movies that contain short conversation between women, unrelated to men, that cause people to question if the movies pass or not. In an effort to create even further parameters, there is a new sixty second rule for the dialogue.

This is useful in relating to Romani people who has also faced a stereotypical representation in movies. Just as women aren’t really involved in the industry, neither are the Romani, putting them at the same disadvantage. However Romani people haven’t had as much attention to stopping stereotypes. Ian Hancock wrote in “The Origin and Function of the Gypsy Image in Children’s Literature” that only for those who are aware can make this problem a more central issue of representations in literature and movies. Just has there has been a new test added for different colored people, there could be one for the Romani people who have faced a much more negative representation. Has I have stated in my other posts there have been very harsh stereotypes shown in films that damage the Romani race in the eyes of others. The only way to stop this is to bring attention to the need and start to make a change as the Feminist Frequency has done.

Antigypsyism

It started in the 14th century and hasn’t stopped since then. They first entered Europe from Asian and Islamic countries. European’s have viewed them as intruders especially during the crusades, allowing the church to contribute to their discrimination. “Ironically the prejudice which kept, Romanies from staying in an area, and which led to their constantly being moved on, created a new suspicion, especially in mediaeval Germany: that they were spies for the Turks.” (Hancock) When they first entered into Europe their skin was dark and through time they have become mixed with surrounding races wherever they ended up. This was held against them and even though skin color is less of a problem than it was 700 years ago it still causes problems. Romani people don’t trust outsiders and therefore end up secluding themselves which worked against them; people assumed stories about them, embellishing about cultural differences and setting them even more apart from the culture they resided in. Stereotypes started to form about eating babies, enjoying being filthy, disregarding birth control, stealing for fun, and the jobs they procured their choice. When they picked the only jobs that were available to them, people looked on with disgust, not understanding that they come from a different culture were they have been oppressed. Romani people engage in many things European’s look down upon, when in fact it’s the people who look down on the Romani who have put them in that situation.

“Thousands of Romani children are placed in segregated schools and receive a substandard education. Roma are often denied access to jobs and quality health care. They are victims of racially motivated violence and are often left unprotected by the police and without access to justice (Amnesty International).”

They are also discriminated against the Italian government who houses them in public camps where they cancel funds for basic needs. Not just Italy though is involved in this wide spread discrimination still occurring today. On Amnesty International I clicked on other related links where several news stories about evictions of the Roma and leaving them homeless or in terrible ghettos occurred. They are known as trash and seen as a second-class people. Since the beginning people have been prejudice against them and today it is still happening in sad conditions that disable the Romani people from breaking free.

Ian Hancock: ‘We are the Romani People’, chapter 5

Single Story in Ever After

Ever After: A Cinerella Movie that show cases, in the last 3 minutes of the clip, gypsies who live in the woods that come to steal from the prince. They are dirty and vulgar; searching a way to make money off of others. They travel in packs through wooded areas, stopping to make camp where they can. At the end of the clip they allow the prince and Danielle to stay at the camp for the night around a camp fire.

After reading Ian Hancock’s “We are the Romani People” my eyes have been opened about how this stereotype is problematic. “Gypsies do not imply a race or eithnicity but rather a nomadic lifestyle.” (chapter 6) This is something I had never considered, just accepted – gypsies were a group of people that were made up of the same ethnicity – which is false. Even if I never fully idenitified that it was the Romani that were considered “traditional gypsies” I still always believed that a gypsy was part of a race.

This led me to another misconception. Travelling was a part of the Romani culture, and therefore the nomadism was a part of a purpose. “Local laws in an area forbid one to stop and therefore leave no choice.” The movie makes it seem as if they set up camp where they want, wandering from place to place, looking for a way to make a living, usually involving stealing which is usually seen as a typical way for them to earn money.

Another widely accepted view that gypsies dont take pride in personal hygiene. Ever After’s gypsieshave grimy clothes and unclean faces. This, however, also has a purpose, when the Romani were rejected, laws were passed to keep Romani seperate and therefore different things were available; “No plumbing and sanitation, and where many families must share a single well or pump and communal toilet, it is very difficult to maintain the standards everybody would like to have.” (chapter 11)

Ian Hancock suggests “to change places, in your mind, with the Romani people” (chapter 11) and when viewing how the movie portrays gypsies dont assume they are the same “there are [not only] great differences among Romani groups” (chapter 11) but there are reasons for the way gypsies live.

Sexy Gypsy Stereotype

stardust

When I first saw Stardust, I didnt think twice about the seductress gypsy woman who travels around tempting men with promises and fortune telling. She has an illegitimate child with a man who walks by and becomes enchanted by her.  While this is only a very small part of the plot, I didnt stop to think that anything was inaccurate about the representation of gypsies. From most movies and songs I have seen and heard gypsies are traveling folk who sell what they can for money, steal, and the women are known for being beautiful and working that to their advantage. This movie illustrates every preconceived notion I had about gypsies being tramps. She accepts payment by sexual favors and ends up fathering the man’s child.

This illustration makes generalization about gypsies that, from reading “The ‘Gypsy’ stereotype and the sexualization of Romani” by Ian Hancock,  I have learned that gypsies are from a discriminated race that a portion entered into slavery in the 11th century. Even once Romani people were released from slavery, Romani people were still suppressed and therefore chose to obtain money any way they could, including fortune telling. The women who took this up were depicted as “free-spirited, stron, demanding, sexually arousing, alluring, and dismissive.” This representation is shown in the film and keeps the incorrect characterization of gypsy women alive.

This small section of the film only reinforces that gypsy women used their bodies to attract customers. Hancock cites another author who said that non-gypsy men were “attracted to the mystery of this roaming race, to the beauty of the gypsy women, or to their free lifestyle… refusing to be tamed.” However it is incredibly incorrect that sexual favors were a payment acceptable for fortune telling services. “Romani identity still remains to a great extent controlled by the non-Romani world, by Hollywood” and therefore these miconceptions remain prominent.

Hancock’s article: http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_d_identity_sexualization&lang=en&articles=true