Blog 10: “Bury Me Standing– I’ve been on my knees my whole life.” Romani Proverbs and Poetry

Gadji author Isabel Fonseca lived and traveled with Roma from Poland to Albania for four years, and wrote Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey. Powerful title, right? It comes from the Romani proverb: “Bury Me Standing– I’ve been on my knees my whole life,” and her book explores the ways that discrimination and oppression has affected the lives of Romani people as well as the culture.* It’s a fitting title, don’t you think?

This week, read “Chapter 14, Amari Čhib: Our Language” of We Are the Romani People. It’s a fascinating chapter that covers the linguistic roots and evolution of Rromanes, the various dialects, Romani vocabulary, the oral and written history of Romani people, and Romani proverbs .Then, you’ll choose a Romani proverb to write your poem about. The proverb could be the title, the subtitle, or a line of the poem. Just make sure that you credit it as a Romani proverb. And since proverbs are metaphorical, there’s a lot of room for you to create an extended metaphor inspired by the proverb.  Hancock provides an interpretation for you so you have an idea of its meaning, and you might have a different spin too. Maybe you want to take it literally, turn it into a poetic cautionary tale, use the imagery to underscore a poem that deals with similar themes….Be creative– there are a lot of ways for you relate to the proverb you pick.

For the 300 word+ blog post this week, answer question 4 from the discussion questions plus one other question of your choice. Use examples from the reading to explain your answer. And for question 4, after you’ve answered the question, explain how the specific proverb you picked reflects an aspect of Romani culture.  You can answer more questions for extra credit if you like.

Note* While Fonseca’s work expresses real admiration, understanding, and tolerance for the Romani culture and is well-meaning and mostly well-researched, there are still some inaccuracies in her book. Ian Hancock addressed one of these inaccuracies In a previous article that we’ve read, “Duty, Beauty, Possession and Truth:The Claim of Lexical Impoverishment as Control.”

Another claim to a lack of certain basic human responses or skills is found in Isabel Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey, where she maintains that there are no words in Romani for ‘read’ and ‘write’. Elsewhere in the same book she states that there are no words for ‘time’, ‘danger’, ‘warmth’ or ‘quiet’ either, because these are foreign concepts for us (1995: 98). Even before the book reached the bookstores, reviewers were accepting and repeating these false assumptions: ‘[the Gypsy’s] is a world … where there are no words for “time” (or for “danger,” “warmth” or “quiet”) … where no day is different from any other’. (Kobak, 1995: 14).

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