VIDA’s list of Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading

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Portrait of Papusza, the mother of Romani poetry

I’m so delighted to share my Twenty Gypsy Women You Should be Reading with everyone In honor of Roma and Traveller History Month,. Gypsy culture is vastly misunderstood and underrepresented, and literature is a beautiful way to discover it. You may not have heard of many of these writers before but they will astound you with their talent. Happy reading!

“And while I spend a lot of time on my soap box bellowing that Roma and Travellers are just human, as a storyteller and a poet, I will say that some of the most beautiful, dark, and hauntingly fantastic stories I’ve ever heard or read have been from Gypsies. It’s a MathildeVonThieleworld-view that outsiders would never be able to reach on their own, and I feel this poignantly as a not-quite-white looking girl who grew up knowing that, way back, her Gypsy ancestors sailed up and down the Danube from Germany to Hungary, working as dancers and fortune tellers in the riparian towns before the war tore everything to shreds. Their lives were not idyllic, but the stories my grandmother told were beautiful. I would hold them close to my chest when I was stoned at school, or given detention for “witchcraft and the evil eye” in a town where there were no Gypsies, where my mother and grandmother routinely referred to the Gypsy community (some abstract thing I imagined) as “they” instead of “we.” I worried about my “percentage of Gypsy” and whether or not it was enough to claim. The few practices my grandmother kept and passed down to me didn’t make sense until I began to research my own people when I was a teenager and realized that alienation is also inheritance. I found Papusza, the Mother of Romani poetry and an omen of exile and connection. I stepped into the river-mouth of my blood.”

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My great-great grandmother Mathilde as a young dancer

Today Roma honor the Goddess-Saint Kali Sara

St. Sarah, Kali Sara, Sara Kali, Sara-la-Kali, Sati-Sara, The Black Madonna, The Black Mother… many names for one Goddess-Saint sacred to Roma all over the world. Today is her festival– she is the Goddess of Fate, good fortune, fertility, and protection– and Roma honor her in pilgrimage, by worshiping her statue, through dance and community… so many ways, so many incarnations of the goddess who accompanied the Roma all the way from India.

Take a look at these articles below for more information about the Goddess-Saint, Romanipen/Romani religion/spirituality, and her celebration. Be sure to click the links for the whole articles.

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

“Until recently it was widely believed that this worship of Kali Sara, the Romani Black Madonna or Goddess was unique to Les Saintes Maries de La Mer. My own recent research among Romani refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and in countries of the Balkans has uncovered the little-known fact that other Black Virgins are worshipped by Roma in central/eastern Europe and that Roma from these countries perform similar rituals. These rituals include laying flowers at the feet of the statue, adorning the statue with clothing of the sick hoping for cures, placing requests to the statue, and lighting candles to the female divinity. To the Roma, Kali Sara is the Protectress who will cure sickness, bring good luck and fertility and grant success in business ventures.
The Romani ceremony at Les Saintes Maries, as elsewhere, consists of carrying the statue on a platform strewn with flowers (4) into the closest body of water such as a sea, lake, flowing river or even a large pond of clear water. The platform is then lowered to touch the water while the crowd throws flowers into the water. Indian scholars such as Dr. Weer Rishi (5) and others who have witnessed this Romani ceremony, as well as Western observers who are familiar with Hindu religious customs have identified this ceremony with the Durga Poojaof India. In Romani, Kali Sara means Black Sara and in India, the Goddess Kali is known as Kali/Durga/Sara. Like the Hindus, the Roma practice shaktism, the worship of Goddesses. In other words, the Roma who attend the pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries in France and in other related ceremonies elsewhere honouring black female divinities, are in fact continuing to worship Kali/Durga/Sara their original Goddess in India.

According to the Durgasaptashati (seven hundred verses in the worship of Goddess Durga and her various forms), chapter 5, verse 12, which mentions Sara, contains the following: “Salute to Durga, Durgapara, (Deliver of all difficulties), Sara, (Embodiment of everything par-excellent), Cause of everything, Krishna and Dhurma (Evaporated form in smoke).” Other references in this ancient Hindu scripture also confirm that Sara is one and the same with the Indian goddess Durga who is also another aspect of Kali, the consort of Shiva.” —“THE ROMANI GODDESS KALI SARA” by RONALD LEE

The Indian Goddess Kali

The Indian Goddess Kali

Some Romani groups in Europe today appear to maintain elements of Shaktism or goddess-worship; the Rajputs worshipped the warrior-goddess Parvati, another name for the female deity Sati-Sara, who is Saint Sarah, the Romani Goddess of Fate. That she forms part of the yearly pilgrimage to La Camargue at Stes. Maries de la Mer in the south of France is of particular significance; here she is carried into the sea just as she is carried into the waters of the Ganges each December in India. Both Sati-Sara and St. Sarah wear a crown, both are also called Kali, and both have shining faces painted black.  Sati-Sara is a consort of the god Ðiva, and is known by many other names, Bhadrakali, Uma, Durga and Syamaamong them.” —

“ROMANI (‘GYPSY’) RELIGION” by Ian Hancock

Sara, toi la sainte patronne des voyageurs et gitans du monde entier,
tu as vécu en ce lieu des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Tu es venue d’un lointain pays au-delà des mers.
J’aime venir te retrouver ici, te dire tout ce que j’ai dans le Cœur,
te confier mes peines et mes joies.
Je te prie pour tous les membres de ma famille et tous mes amis.
Sara, veille sur moi!

(Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over, you who lived in this region of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You came from a far-away country from across the seas. I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart and in you confide my sorrows and joys. I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends. Sara, come to me!) —Saint Sara-la-Kali: A Sister to Kali Maa

Saint Sarah

Saint Sarah

Some Romani Easter traditions!

Whatever y’all are up to today, I hope it’s a good day. 

“Out of concern for health, Roma eat lighter vegetarian dishes in addition to the heavy meat dishes on a feast day. Among the ursarii Roma, during Easter Fast Days, women clean the house thoroughly, whitewash walls and prepare the oven to cook traditional sponge cake. The Roma attach a specific meaning to each ritual dish: lamb to be light and pure as the lamb, fish (eaten on the first Easter Day) to be swift as the fish. Polenta is not to be prepared or eaten on the first Easter Day to preserve male and female fertility (so that one will not turn soft like polenta). In addition, the members of the family are not supposed to eat salt or perspire heavily. Such recommendations and dietary taboos rest on similitude magic, but from an external perspective, they also preserve a good state of health through a well balanced diet.

Hardelezii, also known as Tinker’s Easter, is the major feast of the Roma tinkers and is celebrated one week after the Orthodox Easter. It combines the symbol of Easter with Muslim Gurban. The main element of the ritual is slaughtering a lamb either for the recovery of a member of the family who suffers from a disease or the protection of the family from disease and misfortunes. Sometimes one lamb slaughtered for each child, for protection and well-being. Some of the rudarii Roma, similar to their tinker brethren, also celebrate the Gurban/Hardelezii, a tradition which reunites the symbol of the Easter and the Muslim feast. The rudarii hold a feast on Ascension, which consists of killing a lamb as an offering to God for reparatory healing purposes.”

To read more about Romani culture, check out the rest of the article by Romanian Romani academic Delia Grigore on The Gypsy Chronicles http://thegypsychronicles.net/romanipen/

I found all of these gems of the Lolo Diklo Facebook page— “like” for more about current Romani news, activism, arts, and culture.

1. A Travelling girl’s story: the struggle against eviction and her kickstarter to fund her education. Her video shows what it’s like to be a Traveller girl in England trying to better herself in spite of the daily persecution that Travellers and Roma face.

http://www.gofundme.com/6tjh2o

2. Romedia Foundation led a summer camp workshop for young Roma from Szendrőlád (a small settlement in North-Western Hungary) in the summer of 2012, as part of the “Youth in Action: Strenghtening the Voice of Roma Youth” project. The summer camp was organized by the Bhim Rao Association. The workshop held by Romedia had as its aim to bring to life different film creations, developed and carried out entirely by the young Roma participants, numbering approximately 30 teenagers. The workshop held by Romedia had as its aim to bring to life different film creations, developed and carried out entirely by the young Roma participants, numbering approximately 30 Roma teenagers.
Copyrights: Romedia Foundation
http://romediafoundation.org/

3. Pablo Vega is a Spanish Romani film-maker. His love of cinematography grew in time and he eventually started his own production company called “DIKA” which in Romanes means “SEE”.
His first documentary is called “Romnia” in which he documented the life of four Roma women living in Huesca aiming to reflect another reality of Roma women, breaking the stereotypes so often present in society. Women who have struggled to get where they are trough education, women of different ages portraying similar realities.

See his impressive works’ showreel, followed by an exclusive interview for the Romedia Foundation

4. Spanish-Romani radio programs on an array of fascinating topics! Gitanos – Valencia, sede de la exposición’Vidas Gitanas’

http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/audios/gitanos/gitanos-valencia-sede-exposicionvidas-gitanas-22-03-14/2464295/

5. THE WRITTEN ROMANI LANGUAGE – NEVER SAY “NEVER”

“IN the light of the Romani situation in present day Europe, the history of the Romani language- Romanès, as we call it- may not seem like an especially important issue. Arguing about whether or not this language has a history of being written down might seem less important still. Yet the claim that the Romani language has never been written down until very recent times remains untrue, and this claim is dangerous for precisely the reasons that people assume it to be correct….”

by Damian Le Bas

for the rest of the fascinating article on the history of written Rromanes: http://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/the-written-romani-language-never-say-never/

For more like this, “Like” Lolo Diklo: Romani against Racism on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lolo-Diklo-Romani-Against-Racism/134328566635942

 

An array of fascinating videos, radio programs, and articles!

Being a “Gypsy”: The Worst Social Stigma in Romania

Being a “Gypsy”: The Worst Social Stigma in Romania

The roots of systemic antigypsyism go deep, not just in Romania, but everywhere. This article explores the current political movements, journalism and media practices, and education curriculum in Romania that cultivate ‘Vladian’ attitudes toward the Roma, calls for “extermination” and all. It’s easier somehow to forgive the ignorance and hatred of many centuries ago, but little has changed. This is much harder to forgive.