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Exploring Europe at the British Library

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29 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 2)

This is the second of our blog posts about the Roma community in Europe to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Roma French authors

Our collection of French Roma authors is not, as yet, as developed as it as it could be, but we hold books by some of the most prominent Roma advocates of the Roma culture and way of life in France: Sandra Jayat and Alexandre Romanès.

Sandra Jayat was born in Italy, or France, in 1939. She came from the Roma group called “Manouche” or “Sinti”. At the age of 15, she fled to Paris to escape a forced marriage. She sought refuge with her cousin Django Reinhardt, the jazz musician, taught herself how to read and paint, and soon became the muse of Parisian artists and writers. Herbes Manouches, her first collection of poems, was published in 1961 and illustrated by Jean Cocteau. In 1972, she produced a recording of readings of her poems, accompanied with original music by Reinhardt. In 1978, her semi-autobiographical novel, La longue route d’une zingarina, became a success, selling more than 40,000 copies, and being read in schools. Jayat still lives in France today. Her entire artistic oeuvre is inspired by the world and symbolism of Roma.

Jayat is also a renowned painter, and has always been committed to the recognition of Roma artists. She organised the exhibition ‘Première Mondiale de l’Art Tzigane’, which ran from 6 to 30 May 1985 at the Conciergerie in Paris. We have her Moudravi, où va l'amitié, published in 1966 and illustrated by Marc Chagall (X.908/14070.)

Photograph of books for sale by Alexandre Romanès

Books by Alexandre Romanès, photo by Fabienne Félix, Flickr 

Born in 1951, Alexandre Romanès comes from a famous family of circus artists. Thinking that the circus was losing the values of the Roma, he quit in the 1970s to create his own travelling show. He met the French poet Jean Genet, who became a friend, and Lydie Dattas, who taught him to read and became his first wife. Romanès went on to create his own “Tzigan Circus”, the “Cirque Romanes”, in 1993.

This prompted a writing career, dedicated to poetry and the defense of Roma values and ways of life. After publishing Le Premier Cirque tsigane d’Europe, in 1994, Romanès wrote Un peuple de promeneurs in 1998 (2011 edition, BL YF.2013.a.16398), Paroles perdues, published in 2004, (2010 edition YF.2010.a.32293) and Sur l'épaule de l'ange (Paris, 2010; YF.2011.a.5.). His two latest publications, Les corbeaux sont les Gitans du ciel (2016) and Le luth noir (2017), will soon be at the library.

His style consists of short poems, aphorisms, memories and scenes of Roma life and wisdom:

Si on pouvait noter…
Si on pouvait noter
toutes les phrases magnifiques
qui se disent chaque jour dans le monde,
on pourrait publier chaque matin
un live exceptionnel.

(If one could take note, if one could take note, of all the magnificent sentences, which are said everyday in the world, one could publish, every morning, an exceptional book.)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

 

Diary of a Young Roma Traveller

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka with a drawing of a young man

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (Uzhhorod, 2017) YF.2019.a.9992. The BL’s copy is signed by the author.

Two years ago, the Roma writer Mykola Burmek-Diuri caught the attention of the Ukrainian media following the publication of his book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (‘Diary of a Young Roma Traveller’). Writing in Ukrainian, Burmek-Diuri provides a unique window into the daily life, culture, traditions and history of the Roma community in Zakarpattia, the region in southwestern Ukraine where Burmek-Diuri and the majority of the country’s Romani population live, through a mixture of autobiographical stories, fairytales and ethnographic sketches. Given the rise in violent attacks against Roma communities in the country in recent years, this book is particularly timely and important for its presentation of the world through the eyes of a young Roma writer. Burmek-Diuri has since published two further books: Mama kazaly pravdu (Uzhhorod, 2018; YF.2019.a.7579) and, most recently, a collection of poetry and prose entitled Honir dykoi troiandy. All three were published with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation’s Roma Programme, which works with NGOs and activists in Ukraine to involve ‘representatives of the Roma community in social processes and combating discrimination’.  

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

 

Romani authors in Czechoslovakia

In her foreword to the English edition of the book A False Dawn: My Life as a Gypsy Woman in Slovakia by Elena Lacková, Milena Hübschmannová, one of the founders of the Roma Studies as an academic discipline in Czechoslovakia, wrote: “What can I say about Roma better than the song of a lone Romani woman’s life experience?”. And this is true indeed. This book is available in English, and is a really fascinating account of Romani traditions, customs, ceremonies and superstitions, seen though the life of someone who grew up to become the first Romani author in post-Second World War Czechoslovakia. Elena Lacková (Ilona Lasko, 1921–2003), born in a Roma settlement in Veľký Šariš in eastern Slovakia, was the only girl among the 600 children in the settlement to complete primary education and in her 20s became the first author to give the Romani people a voice in literature. Many consider her to be the Roma equivalent of the writer Božena Němcová, who played a prominent part in the Czech National Revival movement. In her works Lacková transformed and refined original folk tales opening a whole new world of the people who had been almost invisible before. Her first literary work was a play written in Slovak, Horiaci cigánsky tabor (‘The Gypsy Camp is Burning’, 1947) about the local Roma’s collective experience of the Second World War. Later she chose to write in Romani and founded a Romani periodical, Romano L’il (Gypsy News).

Elena Lacková is probably the best-known name, but definitely not the only one in Romani literature. Tera Fabiánová was the first person in the former Czechoslovakia to write poems in Romani. The Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna recorded her reciting her poems in Romani.

Photograph of four Romani women. Three are sitting on a bench and one is standing

Romani women in Czechoslovakia in 1959, a photo by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Zsanda Zsolt, Wikimedia Commons 

Ľudovít Didi (1931–2013) was a Czechoslovak dissident, chartist and Romani Slovak author. His first book Príbehy svätené vetrom (‘Stories of the Holy Wind’; Bratislava, 2004; YF.2006.a.19867) is considered to be the first ever authentic Roma novel. His other three books Róm Tardek a jeho osud (‘Roma Tardek and his destiny’; Bratislava, 2013; YF.2016.a.3251), Čierny Róm a biela láska (‘Black Roma and white love’, 2011) and Cigánkina veštba (‘The Gypsy Prophesy’; Bratislava,2008; YF.2010.a.8945) also tell the story of the Roma community.

Viťo Staviarský, a well-known name in Slovak literature, is the author of the short story ‘Kivader’ (2007) and the novel ‘Kale topanky’ (2012), which are set in a Romani settlement. In 2014, the publishing house Knihovna Václava Havla in Prague published a book of Romani women authors called Slunce zapadá už ráno (‘The sun sets in the morning’). Irena Eliášová, Jana Hejkrlíková, Iveta Kokyová and Eva Danišova contributed to it. I hope that we will see more of these books translated into English, so that they can get a wider readership.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Elena Lacková, Narodila jsem se pod šťastnou hvězdou (Prague, 1997) YA.2003.a.9308 (English translation by Carleton Bulkin, A false dawn: my life as a Gypsy woman in Slovakia (Paris; Hatfield, 1999) YC.2000.a.8592

Helena Sadílková, ‘Romani Literature in the Czech and Slovak Republics’. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/literature/literature-countries-and-regions/literature-czechoslovakia/

Jana Horváthová, Roma in the Czech Lands. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/roma-civil-rights-movement/roma-in-the-czech-lands-abstract/

Radka Steklá, Elena Lacková – romská publicistka, spisovatelka o média. Bachelor's thesis. Univerzita Karlova v Praze. 2006. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://is.cuni.cz/webapps/zzp/detail/1444/?lang=en

 

Bódvalenke

How did a tiny settlement of around 230 souls and 60 houses in northeastern Hungary put itself on the map? Bódvalenke, a community of Romani majority, became renowned as the ‘fresco village’ thanks to a remarkable initiative some ten years ago. A charitable organisation started to invite Romani artists, both from Hungary and abroad, to use the dull windowless walls in the neighbourhood as blank canvasses for giant colourful paintings.

Mural on the side of a building by József Ferkovics

Mural by József Ferkovics. A colourful album dedicated to the work of the artist and published recently is among our recent acquisitions. Image by Pásztörperc - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0 

The aim of the project was to pull the village out of deep poverty: each house volunteered by its inhabitants was given new plastering before being decorated, but the community as a whole would also benefit in a variety of ways from any income generated by the arrival of visitors to this unique open-air display. Today, one can see 33 magnificent murals by 18 painters on Romani and Gypsy themes: old legends, traditional life, family, grief and dreams. Sadly however, with the lack of infrastructure it is proving difficult to attract tourists and the village is still struggling economically.

Mural on the side of a building by Rozi Csámpai depicting everyday life in Bódvalenke

Everyday life in Bódvalenke. Mural by Rozi Csámpai. Rozi Csámpai features in a book on Romani women painters in today's Hungary: Színekben oldott életek: cigány festőnők a mai Magyarországon (Budapest, 2011; YF.2011.a.11388). Image by Pásztörperc at Hungarian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

References:

Ferkovics József festőművész. ([Gencsapáti], 2019). Awaiting shelfmark.

26 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 1)

Believed to have left India in the Middle Ages, the Romani people are one of the biggest ethnic minorities in Europe that has traditionally suffered from prosecution and discrimination. Since they often choose not to disclose their ethnic identity, the exact number of Roma in Europe is unknown and is estimated at about 10-14 million. On the occasion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, we present a few selections of publications written by or related to members of the Roma community in Europe.

Pieśni Papuszy — The songs of Papusza

Photograph of Bronisława Wajs

Bronisława Wajs, Wikimedia Commons 

Bronisława Wajs (1908 or 1910-1987), most widely known by her Romani name Papusza, was one of the most famous Romani poets of all time. She did not receive any schooling and, as a child, she paid non-Romani villagers with stolen goods in exchange for teaching her to read and write. At the age of 16 she got married off against her will to a man older than her by 24 years. Papusza survived the Second World War by hiding in the woods and became known as a poet in 1949, as a result of her acquaintance with Jerzy Ficowski, a poet and a translator from Romani to Polish. Her poetry, dealing with the subject of yearning and feeling lost, quickly gained her recognition in the Polish literary world.

Ficowski convinced Papusza that by having her poems translated from Romani and published, she would help improving the situation of the Romani community in Poland. However, Ficowski also authored a book about Roma beliefs and rituals, accompanied by a Romani-Polish dictionary of words, which he learned from Papusza. He also officially gave his support to forced settlement imposed on Roma by Polish authorities in 1953. As a result, Papusza was ostracised from the Roma community. Her knowledge sharing with Ficowski was perceived as a betrayal of Roma, breaking the taboo, and a collaboration with the anti-Romani government. Although Papusza claimed that Ficowski misinterpreted her words, she was declared ritually impure and banned from the Roma community. After an eight-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Papusza spent the rest of her life isolated from her tribe. Ficowski, who genuinely had believed that the forced settlement of Romani people would better their life by eradicating poverty and illiteracy, later regretted endorsing the government’s policy, as the abandonment of nomadic life had profound implications on the Romani community.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References:

Bronisława Wajs, Jerzy Ficowski, Pieśni Papuszy. Papušakre gila (Wrocław, 1956). 11588.p.45

Angelika Kuźniak, Papusza (Wołowiec, 2013). YF.2017.a.16135

Valentina Glajar and Domnica Radulescu (eds), “Gypsies” in European literature and culture (New York, 2008). YK.2009.a.21165

 

Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Cover of Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Giuseppe Levakovich and Giorgio Ausenda, Tzigari: vita di un nomade (Milano, Bompiani, 1975), X.709/23552

Tzigari: vita di un nomade is an autobiographical account telling about the persecutions of Roma and Sinti in Italy during the Second World War and about the Romani genocide, Porajmos. Tzigari is the nickname of Giuseppe Levakovich. Born in 1908 in Istria, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Levakovich became an Italian citizen after the First World War and joined the fascist army in the invasion of Abyssinia, in 1936. When the Italian racial laws were promulgated, he and his people became discriminated and prosecuted. His wife was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, and Tzigari joined the Italian resistance movement. There aren’t many written accounts shedding light on these events from a Roma perspective, and this book is certainly an early example, published in 1975.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections


Gypsies by Josef Koudelka

A photograph of a Roma man holding a cockrerel

A photograph of a Roma man by Josef Koudelka from Gypsies (New York, 2011) LD.31.b.2995

Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies is an unprecedented documentary photography book on Romanies. Born in 1938 in Moravia, Koudelka is a Magnum photographer still active today. The original Cikáni (Czech for Gypsies) was first prepared by Koudelka and graphic designer Milan Kopriva, in Prague in 1968. The book was not published, because in 1970 Koudelka fled from Czechoslovakia to England to seek political asylum. However, the first edition of Gypsies was subsequently published in 1975 in the United States.

It was Roma music and culture that initially drew Koudelka to start taking photographs of the people. By immersing himself into their lives he managed to capture the intricacies of their everyday existence. Leading a nomadic life, they were like him in a way. “For 17 years I never paid any rent. Even gypsies were sorry for me because they thought I was poorer than them. At night they were in their caravans and I was a guy who was sleeping outside beneath the sky.”

Gypsies offers an unbiased and honest insight into Roma people’s lives. It consists of 109 black and white photographs, taken between 1962 and 1971 in what was then Czechoslovakia (Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia), Romania, Hungary and Spain. During this time, Koudelka lived, travelled with, and documented Europe’s Roma communities. His masterful storytelling is bursting with emotion and the realism of people caught up in everyday situations, from individuals and family portraits to suited musicians, funeral processions or weddings set in rural landscapes. The unfolding candid images draw the viewer in and make them feel as if they are there with them, experiencing their lives. This rich and inspiring source of Roma iconography and self-identity is a timeless document of the community in its heyday.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References:

Koudelka Josef. Cikáni (Prague, 2011). LF.31.b.8497

Koudelka Josef. Gypsies (London, 1975). LB.37.b.367

Quote taken from: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/01/30/street-photography-book-review-gypsies-by-josef-koudelka/


“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue”

Cover of O Devlikano Ramope

O Devlikano Ramope (‘Gospel of Luke’) (Belgrade, 1938) W2/6259.

“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue” is a simple and powerful message attributed to Rade Uhlik, a great researcher of the Romani language and culture from Southeast Europe.

Rade Uhlik (1899-1991) was a Bosnian and Herzegovinian linguist and curator at the National Museum in Sarajevo. He was the first Romani scholar in the Balkans and a pioneer in Romani studies. His scholarship was varied and prolific in multiple disciplines: from language and linguistics to history and ethnography and culture in general.

Uhlik was noted for his scholarly study of the Romani language and its many dialects. Most of his research was done away from the office. He devoted his time mainly to fieldwork and to collecting stories, poems and customs of the Romani people from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which was his greatest scholarly achievement. His first book published in Prijedor in 1937 was a collection of Romani poems (We hold another edition of his Ciganska poezija (‘Gypsy poetry’; Sarajevo, 1957; 011313.m.48).

Uhlik collected about 1200 Romani stories in 20 volumes of which four have been published, three outside Yugoslavia and only one in Sarajevo in 1957 as Ciganske priče (‘Gypsy stories’; 11397.dd.53). In 1938 Uhlik translated the Gospel of Luke into Romani as O Devlikano Ramope. His Srpskohrvatsko-ciganski rečnik. Romane alava (‘Serbo-Croatian-Gypsy dictionary’) was first published in three sequels in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, with whom Uhlik actively collaborated, and then as an independent edition in Sarajevo in 1947 (012977.b.33. Revised edition (Sarajevo, 1983) YA.1991.a.7953).

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns. The printing of the Gospel of Luke in Romani in Belgrade in 1938 was supported by the Bible Society.

Uhlik as a non-Roma did great service to Romani language and culture, passionately committed to the cause, almost independently and with little or no support of the Yugoslav academy and society. To preserve the memory of a great scholar, the Serbian Academy is helping the establishment of an international “Rade Uhlik” institute for the Romani studies under the sponsorship of the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

23 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Pardaad Chamsaz, responsible for the Nordic collections, shares his selections. 

It’s coming up to three years that I’ve been responsible for the Nordic collections and I learned early on that, while most of what we inherit comes with an explanation, there will always be something unexpected. For me, it was the unmarked acid-free envelopes in the secure cupboard. After finally getting round to an audit, I discovered tied together a set of 18th-century Swedish official orders and privileges. Two of these concerned Sweden’s colonial activity in the Caribbean, something I had not really considered before but was now inspired to dig into further. Sweden’s acquisition of the island of St Barthélemy from France in 1784 featured prominently. The most interesting of these pamphlets was the notification ‘Til hämmande af obetänkte utflyttningar til Ön St Barthelemy’ of 2 May 1786. It effectively rows back on the previous year’s efforts to encourage Swedish traders to travel to the island due to unsustainable living conditions and the harsh uncultivated land, telling aspiring travellers to stay put and think about working the Fatherland. In this brief order we can almost read the whole story of Sweden’s colonizing efforts.

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean. Awaiting shelfmark.

One thing I’m happy my successors will inherit is a healthy collection of contemporary Nordic comics and graphic novels. After a conversation with the Finnish comics association and artist collective Kuti Kuti, they kindly agreed to send over their back catalogue of comics.

Illustrated covers of Kuti Kuti issues

Kuti Kuti issues, ZF.9.d.403

As a result, we started thinking about doing more work around Nordic comics, culminating in the Nordic Comics Today events. One of the artists who joined us, Kaisa Leka, donated an exquisite copy of her and Christoffer Leka’s Time after Time, which I am very happy to be able to hand down to whoever comes after me!

Cover of Time after Time

Time after Time. Awaiting shelfmark.