Stories in English

Roma culture and traditions

2012. január 5. | CJI - Románia

He ended up writing prose because he had no talent for poetry

He used to work as an inspector for the Roma minority. He wrote a book on Gypsy customs and traditions, and now he is about to have his second book printed. He  has taught policemen, which almost brought him expulsion from the community for reavealing the secrets to „the cops” and for teaching them Romani.

Hannelore Acârnulesei – Petrovai

He was born in the village Câmpuri Surduc, Gurasada commune, in Hunedoara county. He comes from a poor family: his father was an ironsmith, just like his father and grandfather. It is a traditional occupation in Roma communities. „My mother could read and write, but my father was illiterate. I taught him to write his name when he got his first job”, recalls Constantin Băţălan, a French teacher at the High School in Ilia, Hunedoara county.

He graduated the Romanian – French Department of the Philology Faculty of Cluj University. His parents were poor so he could only choose the Distance Learning Department, which he graduated with the highest grade. Then he taught French in several village schools that no longer exist. He taught French at the school in his native Gurasada for twenty years. For ten years he worked as an inspector for the Roma minority within the School Inspectorate of Hunedoara county. Since 2001 he has been a teacher at the High School in Ilia.

„Roma children are looked down upon, as if they were inferior beings”

„As a school inspector, my job was to promote Romani language teaching”, says Constantin Băţălan. When he started his activity, nobody taught Romani in the county. He created six positions for Romani teachers and four positions for primary school teachers, He also had to reduce discrimination and marginalization of Roma children at school and to stop segregation. That was written in his job description. „The main school problems for Roma children are: low attendance rate, school failure and drop-out. Poverty and parents’ lack of education account for that. Lack of culture and education represent the deepest poverty” Constantin Băţălan explains. Moreover, „Colleagueas and, sometimes, teachers look down upon the Roma child, as if he were an inferior being”.

Roma culture is thousands of years old

Yet, Constantin Băţălan says that the Roma society has its own culture. „If Roma culture is different, the majority population believes Roma have no culture, which is wrong. Roma culture stems from old Indian customs. Here are two relevant issues: Early marriages and the obligation to have children. According to the Laws of Manu – an ancient Indian sage – old Indians had several types of marriages. The worst was bride kidnapping. Later on, The Roma adopted this kind of marriage. If the groom did not have money to buy his bride, then he kidnapped her” the teacher says.  In the early ’90s he went to France for the first time. He was invited to spend a few days in a nomad Roma community. „Nowadays, nomad Roma no longer live in horse drawn wagons. Now they have luxury 4×4 caravans”. The former inspector also said that nomad Roma preserve old customs that have been almost abandoned by traditional Roma communities.

„You can separate from your wife only if she doesn’t give you children” says one of the oldest Roma traditions. „There is more morality in the Roma traditions than in the culture of the majority” believes Constantin Băţălan. He wrote about all that in Jewels of Roma folklore (Rromane Taxlaja) a book that  he wrote both in Romanian and Romani.

The second prize in a European Contest

The story of his book is not short. „When I was young it was my dream to become a writer. And, because I had no talent for poetry, I turned to prose” Băţălan cut a long story short. On the other hand, he has always liked to collect folk art in general. When he prepared his teaching certification examination, some colleagues encouraged him to find Roma folklore. And he did it. Most of the customs he collected from an old man in Pricaz, who is dead now. The he collected information from the traditional rich Roma community in Hăşdat neighbourhood, in Hunedoara.

He even encountered a problem in Pricaz: the people there speak the ‚Carpathian’ dialect, while Băţălan speaks the Caldarari dialect. But he managed, eventually.  „There are four Roma dialects in Romania. Three of them are older: the Ursari dialect – spoken mainly in Moldova -, the Spoitori dialect – spoken along the Danube and the Carpathian dialect – typical of Transylvania. I speak the caldarari dialect – which is newer and is spoken in Transylvania, too,” the teacher explains.

He worked three years to complete the book. He collected customs, songs and poems. „Doina[1] is widespread in the Roma folklore, but the ballad is rare. And I managed to find two ballads, which are included in my book,” Băţălan says. In 2002, the book won the second prize in a contest in Lanciano, Italy, which gather books written in Romani all over Europe.

About to be expelled from the community

Last year he taught Romani classes to the policemen in Hunedoara. The courses were successful, and enjoyed media coverage. But the Roma community disliked that. He was almost expelled from the community for revealing their secrets to the cops. „The community has their traditions. It is forbidden to reveal their secrets” the teacher explains.

At the moment he only teaches. He has two more years before retirement. He is preparing his second book. It is a book on folklore as well as a story book;  he wrote the stories himself based on his father’s war memories he heard as a child.


[1] Doina – a Romanian lyrical folk song

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