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Taking On : Roma and their Culture

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Image source: education4sustainability.org

By- Annesha Das Gupta

The community of Roma has been cited by various scholars and historian as a group of people who are most definitely part of the Indian diaspora. They appear to have left the country back in the 11th century as a result of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazna and through various historical occurrences landed in Europe and various other parts of the world.

Hence, in the process, they have been able to imbibe various non-Roma customs and societal norms. While they have kept many similarities of the Indian cultural sphere, there has been diversification of the socio-economic and political structures as well.

In this article, we shall span through and cover up a brief look at their cultural phenomena, which may surprise as well as please one. Though, it should be kept in mind, the importance of cultural relativism (understanding and due respect to other cultures), as Sociology points out, one of the tools to stem the proliferation of ethno-centrism.

So, let’s get started.

Structure and Roma society

  • Family

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Image Courtesy: Gvsph Org

The family structure in the community is traditionally weaved together around the group of close kin and forming a single household. The extended family comes together, to make up anywhere from a few to a few hundred members and are known as Kumpanias. These bands generally travel together, in the past in caravans and presently in their own cars.

The group or the family elects one permanent chief called Voivode, who leads the entire band. While there may also a woman named Phuri dai, who will take the responsibility of looking after the women and the children in the community.

The family will always share their resources, organize the work together as well as prepare and consume the food only when everyone is around. The group generally consist the head and his wife, their married sons, and daughter-in-laws with their own children, it can also have the bachelor sons and spinster daughter, as well as divorced and widowed daughters.

The ethnic group or ‘nation’ may form smaller bands, Vistas, with regard to their common ancestry.

The family will derive their names from the traditional or historical trades they practice. They can also claim their titles on the basis of the region of settlement or the religion to which they may belong.

Both women and men take care of their household. It is known that both the parents contribute in bringing up their children together. Though, because of the work pattern, the child may mostly spend hers/his hours with their grandparents, the parents can be busy running their business like selling cars or clothes and similar items.

  • Marriage

The weddings in the Roma community mainly took place as a form of endogamy, as it is deeply believed to be essential for maintaining the purity of the tribe or the group. The decision is taken by the family members of the bride and the groom along with the negotiation of the bride price. To marry a female outsider or a gadji, maybe not at first accepted by the people but sometimes can eventually be sorted out. While the female members of the community are strictly forbidden under the Marime (impure) laws to do the same, as they are perceived as continuers and guarantors of their population.

Bride price is taken by the girl’s family as a form of compensation for their loss. A formal proposal of marriage comes from the boy’s side and then the discussion takes place with the soon-to-be bride’s father. The bride’s price is negotiated by taking into consideration all the desired qualities of the girl. The amount of the price is fixed based on the merits of the girl such as strength, disposition, and domestic skills. The refusal of the formal proposal is highly considered to be a disgrace to the community.

‘Abiav’, as the wedding is called, is preferred to as a symbolic act rather than a religious one. Though the Roma do not take into account the importance of a formal wedding ceremony, the observations are changing now based on the regions they have settled in and civil and religious marriages are becoming more common.

Among certain Roma tribes, bread is taken by the groom and the bride with a drop of blood in it, which they exchange with each other. Whereas according to another rite, the couple is surrounded by their close ones and a small amount of salt and bread is applied to the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of it and eats, while the bride, also does the same. The ritual symbolizes the harmonious future of the couple together.

  • Religion

In the past, the community did not hold believes in any form of organized religion. Though with time they have accepted and opted for religions like Islam and Christianity. They observe various religious rituals in their houses. Pilgrimages are also taken by them, such the annual pilgrimage to Saintes Maries dela Mar (24-26 May) on the Mediterranean coast of France Sainte Anne de Beaupre (July 26) in Quebec, Canada. These occasions are also considered to be social gatherings by the Roma.

One of the essential aspects of the community is the cult of dead. It is maintained by them, to be a duty to attend the burials of other members, even if they are not personally acquainted with deceased or their close family members. To give the due respect to their deceased, it is an obligatory part to observe or watch them, if possible for as long as before the funeral, in their own house. They believe it that they should keep the dead person among them and in their homes to signify the strong bond they all share.

 Occupation

Both the women as well as the men have tasks and responsibilities to perform both inside and outside their households. Women are usually the in charge of preparing the food and maintaining the house. While the men take charge of the production of tools such as baskets and copperware which is sold to the customers. They will both entertain and perform within the household and outside. Women are mainly the professional storytellers, singers and dancers, whereas the men only tend to play musical instruments.

Women also work in trades, as professional healers and fortune-tellers known as drabardi. And the men work as sale persons of cars, carpets as well as musical instruments. The men can also occupy the positions of collectors of scrap materials for recycling, construction laborers, etc.

Roma Clothes

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Image Courtesy: Bpaimages/Photoshelter

Based on the Marime code, the parts of the women body are divided into pure and polluted. The upper part from the waist is believed to be hygienic while the lower part is not. The conception is mainly attached with the menstrual cycle. And for this, women have to cover their legs with long skirts. The exposure of their legs is considered to be a grave offense. The skirts wore by the women are all long, brightly colored and contains many layers. The new bride is helped by her mother-in-law to knot around her head a scarf, or diklo, which a married woman is supposed to wear throughout her life, afterward.

In the case of men, as the head is considered to be the focal point, they usually cover it with a hat and a wide mustache. For special occasions, they wear good suits which will be brightly colored. They tend to keep it until it absolutely fades. Though in the modern times, they normally wear the clothes in which they cannot be distinguished from the outsiders.

Roma Food

Based on their nomadic way of life, they readily make use of whatever was available to eat – berries, fruits, small mammals, etc. In the present times, they have adapted to the lifestyles of the non-Romanies as well.

They usually begin their day with a strong cup of black coffee, which will, of course, be heavily sugared. Since coffee is considered to be a staple drink among them it might be taken many times in a particular day. The community, do not maintain a schedule for lunch. The food is always put up on the stove as people can serve themselves whenever they feel hungry. Dinner gets started around the time of the sunset. It consists of generally a stew, where a lot of vegetables, leafy greens, potatoes, rice, and paste is added. Garlic is used as the most common seasoning. Sometimes meat of rabbit or game fowl is also cooked or boiled on the spit.

Maize cakes can also be used instead of bread. Whereas, during festivities, a large and sumptuous quantity of food and drinks are prepared with lots of time and enthusiasm.

Their customs, although, prohibits cruelty against animals and asserts that they should be killed as a source of food. The German Sintis considers consumption of horse flesh, as a taboo. As an itinerant lifestyle was lived by them, horses are respected as supporters in their journeys.

All these give us a food for thought to contemplate and gauge the wonderful facets of the Roma culture. While some of the misogynist aspects of the tradition should be done away with, there are also some extraordinary examples of how much the people of this world and can learn and be inspired by their traditions and customs.

Thus, it demands a more astute study and social uplift of the lives and socio-economic standards of the Romanies.

Read More here-www.newsgram.com/the-forgotten-holocaust-a-brief-history-of-the-roma/

 http://www.newsgram.com/roaming-their-world-the-roma/

‘We (Roma) would like to be treated as Indian diaspora’

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Short-Circuit Likely The Cause of Notre Dame Fire, Claims Police Investigators

"It's a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,''

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firefighters who saved Notre Dame Cathedral
Members of Paris Firefighters' brigade enter the security perimeter to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019. France paid a daylong tribute Thursday to the Paris firefighters who saved Notre Dame Cathedral from collapse. VOA

Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday, as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.

A judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.

The cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, third left, and other officials listen to cello player Armance Quero during a ceremony in front of the Paris city hall, April 18, 2019.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, third left, and other officials listen to cello player Armance Quero during a ceremony in front of the Paris city hall, April 18, 2019. VOA

The police official would not comment on an unsourced report in Le Parisian newspaper that investigators are looking at whether the fire could have been linked to a computer glitch or the temporary elevators used in the renovation work, among other things. The prosecutor’s office said only that “all leads must be explored.”

Temporary structure proposed

Since the cathedral will be closed to the public for years, the rector of the Catholic parish that worships there has proposed building a temporary structure on the plaza in front of the Gothic-era landmark, and City Hall gave its approval Thursday “subject to technical restraints.”

“The rector has no cathedral for the moment. … But I’m going to try to invent something,” Bishop Patrick Chauvet said.

A crypt containing vestiges dating from antiquity is located under the vast esplanade.

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants Notre Dame to be restored in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris is hosting. Restoration specialists have questioned the ambitious timeline, with some saying it could take three times that long to rebuild the 850-year-old architectural treasure.

Honoring the firefighters

Earlier Thursday, Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving fire at Notre Dame for nine hours starting Monday evening, preventing the structure’s destruction and rescuing many of the important relics held inside.

Emergency service personnel walk at the Elysee Palace in Paris after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019.
Emergency service personnel walk at the Elysee Palace in Paris after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019. VOA

“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”

The cathedral’s lead roof and its soaring spire were destroyed, but Notre Dame’s iconic bell towers, rose windows, organ and precious artworks were saved.

Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.

Paris City Hall also held a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Thursday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Remarkably, no one was killed in the blaze that broke out as the cathedral was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.

Securing area, cathedral

A large swath of the island in the Seine River where Notre Dame is located was officially closed Thursday by police, who cited “important risks” of collapse and falling objects. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.

A crane hoists scaffolding past gargoyles outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019.
A crane hoists scaffolding past gargoyles outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 18, 2019. VOA

Meanwhile, workers using a crane removed some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, to keep them from collapsing since they were no longer supported by the roof and its network of centuries-old timbers that were consumed by the inferno.

They also secured the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s rose windows with wooden planks.

Saving history

Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who told the Le Parisian daily he was able to save the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he was especially proud “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral — a reference to the Catholic belief that consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.

An earlier report credited Fournier with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, but Fournier told France Info Thursday he arrived after rescuers had already broken the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code needed to unlock it finished the job. He praised the action that preserved “this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”

Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, Jean-Marc Fournier, center, waits at the Elysee Palace in Paris prior to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019.
Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, Jean-Marc Fournier, center, waits at the Elysee Palace in Paris prior to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, April 18, 2019. VOA

Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers.

“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”

Also Read: Measles Spread in Google’s Headquarters, Employees Discussing Ways To Protect Themselves

Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.

“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said. (VOA)