In the crafts brought from India, Romanies used to be respected and honoured masters. In the course of time, however, almost all classical crafts died out. On account of assembly lines, computers and plastics Romanies lost the source of their modest livelihood.
The designations of nomadic groups very often marked their traditional occupations: Kalderasha = kettle-makers, Lingurara = makers of spoons and wooden utensils, Rudari = trough-makers, Zlatari, Ursari or Machvari (bear-keepers in Serbia), Churara and Lovara (from Hungarian ló = horse) = horse-traders, etc.
Kalderasha applied themselves exclusively to kettle-making. In the open air and in front of the eyes of local inhabitants they were able to emboss kettles, caldrons, pans and dishes out of copper plate. Later on they travelled from village to village and tinkered pots or ground knives.
|Smiths were also nomads. Hearth (vigňa) was usually standing outside. On one end there were forge blowers (pišoty) made of ram or goat skin leading into the hearth and on the other end a mobile anvil hammered into the ground (amoňis, amoňi or kovinca). Smiths (charťas) were squatting or sitting on their feet using various tools, such as hammer (sviri or čokanos), pair of tongs (silavis), forge chisel (duršlovo or kopiďi) and puncher (dorňikos or čalavkerdo). They made use of old material, they knew the technique of hammer welding very well. In the nick of time they were able to make a new horseshoe out of two old ones. They were also able to make fire in barn without setting the place on fire. These things remained a mystery for the inhabitants of the village Romanies went through. Everybody looked back at them with admiration.|
|In comparison to smiths Romany horse-traders had a bad reputation. They bought cheap jades (bogos), fed them and healed them with herbs, they did all kinds of tricks with them they never told anyone. Before taking them to horse market they polished horse’s yellow teeth and added arsenic into the fodder so that the horse had a shiny skin and eyes. They made him slightly drunk and sometimes they hammered a small wooden nail into his hoof in order to make him more lively. And so the price went up. Then they took off very soon. They avoided the consequences of their acts and again there is a leitmotiv: ”he who runs away wins.”|
|Since the 16th century first Romany groups began to settle down and occupied themselves with smithery. Even before World War I a lot of Romany smiths and musicians could be found in Austro-Hungarian Empire.
When a majority of Romanies settled down, odd jobs with farmers became more and more important to them. Romanies worked on fields, vineyards, they tended cattle, broke stones to chippings for future roads.
They made use of their long experience of life in the open air and knowledge of natural resources. They made small baskets of straw or osiers, mats, etc. They knew how to char coal and wood-coal. They were also good potters, and they even made town seals. In the half of the last century they made unburnt bricks valky.
Unfortunately, there is a general opinion in the society that they used to make their living mostly by mooching chicken, sponging, cheating and begging. Women sometimes did these things only when the man’s income could not cover necessary expenses, especially to feed their many children.
The world of the 21st century goes a different direction, still there is an interest in traditional crafts and skills, which could be very important for the young generation and their identification with romipen. They could become proud of the skills of their ancestors. And non-Romanies would express their honour to these skills.
|Let’s have a closer look at the skill of smiths.|
|Smiths started to use hearth and hammer anvil inside more and more often in order to be able to work throughout the whole year. They used charcoal (kaštune angara) which they charred themselves in heaps. In their forges they produced romane karfina (special nails with big or double heads which were demanded), lanci (chains), petala (horseshoes), graci (hoes), šingli or kramľa (cramps). There was always enough work in the country. Some of their work were real pieces of arts.|
|Bell-makers were demanded especially in hilly areas. Otherwise lost cattle could only hardly be found even by the best shepherd. Big bells were for cattle (kolompo) and smaller ones for sheep and goats (čengero). The sound of bells on mountain pastures many times became a beautiful clinking concert.|
|Troughs-makers were real masters. They came from Romania and there is only a few of them left today. They do not speak Romany language any more and do not associate themselves with Romanies either.
They chopped a tree, usually a poplar tree, cut it in half and then into pieces of more than 1,5 meters long. They were able to make ten to sixteen troughs out of one full-grown tree. They did the rough work with axes (tover) outdoors. Scooping was done with an adze (kapa tover) and final design with a shave.
Big troughs as well as small ones were used at pigsticking or for dough. In winter they made bowls with handles (vahance), spoons, ladles and twirlers.
Their sons do not really want to continue in the work of their fathers and so the production slowly but surely dies out. What a pity. Trough-makers have always been respected everywhere!
|Basket-makers do their work up to the present day.|
|They used to make baskets for potatoes or fodder out of raw osiers. They also made baskets for fruit, eggs, mushrooms, linen baskets, decorative baskets, baskets for various craftwork and basket furniture out of white peeled osiers.|
|Brooms do not require so much skill. Even men in Eastern Slovakia make a little extra money by doing them nowadays. They make them either round or flat.|
|Romany women spread clay in the inside of farmwife’s ovens. They also used to make unburnt bricks valky - out of the same material. Forms (25×15×15 cm) were filled with clay and dried in the sun. However, this craft has, naturally, almost disappeared.|
|At first Romany women only helped their men. Later on, however, weaving twines on krosienkas (small hand-loom) became more and more popular among them. Romanies men made ropes and cords on wooden loom because this work was much more difficult to do. And these products were demanded, too.|
|Production of brushes out of pig bristles or horsehair was very popular as well. One could always find these things handy at home. Romany women could also knit, lace and embroider.|
|Production of musical instruments, for instance brumle, is not so well-known although Romanies make strings out of ram's guts particularly for contrabass even today.
We have already learnt something about the curious history of Romany marionetters in the Middle-Ages. They were often the first people to present marionettes to the public. Thanks to their close relationship to nature and wildlife they knew how to domesticate a bear, monkeys, snakes, and they used them in their performances.
We already know about the abilities of Romany horse-traders. Some of them were also dealers. There are dealers among Vlach Romanies even today. Unfortunately, they became drug dealers. Certainly this is not exclusively a Romany issue!
Music - Romany skill on the border of craft and art.
|"Gypsy band" (lavutara) comprises band-master, second violin, accompanying viola, dulcimer, contrabass and clarinet. Later violoncello, saxophone and accordion. And the sound was great!|
|The oldest mention of Romany musician in Hungary comes from 1489. He played the lute at the court of queen Beatrix. There are mentions of Romanies playing zither in the 16th century. Hungarian aristocracy employed Romany bands at their manors and granted them with various privileges.
In the 18th and 19th centuries there were outstanding musicians such as: Michal Barna who was a court-musician of cardinal Imrich Čáky in Iliašovce by Spiš. Ján Bihary from Velký Blahov near Dunajská Streda, (so called Hungarian Orpheus), performed in Budin, Pest and Vienna. He was called Hungarian Orfeus. František Šarközi was established as a general military bandmaster of all imperial musicians in Hungary. Florián Berki-Rožňavský from Gemer performed in front of many European rulers, e.g. Charles Lois
Habsburk in Dobšínská ice-cave. František Horváth from Bánská Bystrica became ”the king of band-masters” in Budapest in 1885 and he also played at the opening of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 in Paris or at the court of British king Edward VI.
|One of the most famous was Panna Cinková (1711-1772), bandmaster, collector and arranger of Gemer folksongs. She performed in male clothes with a pipe and became popular due to her beauty, charisma and virtuosity play on violin all over Hungary. People called her “Gypsy Sappho”.|
|In 1992 there was a memorial opened in remembrance of this first Romany celebrity in her birthplace Gemer in Slovakia.|
|The most popular in Czech lands was Jožka Kubík, also called “Majster” (1907-1978), singer of songs from Moravian Horňácko. His whole family was murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp. He got back, after spending a few days at the camp, with white hair. Only musicians were sent back but they were forbidden to have children. We will learn more about the genocide of Moravian Romanies.|
|He incorporated dulcimer in a typical "Gypsy band", he enriched a gypsy folklore with dance steps, he left a number of radio records as well as LP records. In honour of his name there was a memorial open in Strážnice, the Czech Republic in1987.
But there were many more great musicians in former Czechoslovakia. Bands composed of professional Romany musicians performed in many towns and spas, they adopted the lifestyle of the city inhabitants, they wore the same clothes just like the others, they sent their children to schools, etc. First members of Romany intelligentsia came out of such families. They do credit to romipen, they were able to develop their identity, get higher education, and they could also have a great influence on the life of other Romanies.
|Let’s look at some more facts:|
|hundred-member band Budapest famous all around Europe
Gitanos from Andalusia are considered to be originators of flamenco and up to the present day they perform this dance marvellously
French band Gipsy Kings which gained a world-wide renown
Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), French guitarist and composer, was a founder of Romany jazz
|But that’s a different story.|
|Music was not just a way to make money. There was a Romany band at every dance party, wedding, christening party or funeral. Romanies always needed music in their lives and their songs reflect their fates: they are long, sad, as well as full of vivacity in czardas rhythm.
Vlach Romanies did not even need instruments for their traditional songs. Their singing was accompanied by clapping, cracking of fingers, beating off their chest with open hand, tapping rhythmical pattern with mouth.
|It were usually relatives and friends who played in the bands of country Romany musicians. Boys learnt form their fathers and older brothers. Already when they were 12 or 14 they started playing in these bands. Those musicians did not read notes and played according to what they heard.
They stole away. Still you can find a good Romany band in every city. However, when they are asked to play at weddings, they ask for such a great deal of money that other Romanies can only hardly afford it. Again, the principle of pativ somehow is not applied here.