Stories in English

The first history of Roma people from Tismana, written by a woman from The Slum.

2012. február 12. | CIJ - Romania

By Petru Zoltan

Tismana is a small town at the edge of the Tismana Monastery, behind which it is hidden one of the darkest pages of  the Roma history. For centuries, between 1600 and 1800, the monastery was one of the biggest Roma slave owners. References about Roma slave trading from those times can be found only in old documents. After many years, a local, Elena Trîncă Buzneri, decided to gather the sotries of the Roma people. She put them in the book titled „The World and Time since I’ve known them”, rounded and completed by her memories. Thus emerged the first manuscript of the history of Roma people from Tismana.

Elena Trîncă, 56 years old,  lives in the middle of the slum, in a very modest house behind which she put together a small yard full of birds. The hens scatter from one side to another, followed by the still yellow chicks. The dog barks at them and Elena calmes them down. She goes down the stairs and sits down on a small bench next to the fountain in the yard, shaded by a walnut.

„I have no special education, but I felt that someone has to write this book”, Elena Trîncă starts her story. She holds the manuscript with one hand while stroking its blue plastic cover with the other. „It contains the history of the lives of Roma people in Tismana. I think it’s important for the Roma to know their history because it is relevent for our present situation”, Elena Trîncă says. The history is that the Roma were slaves at this Romanian Orthodox Monastery.  But the story isn’t unique. Throughout history, Roma people have worked as slaves on the estates of monastaries and nobility in most of the European countries. Tismana monastery freed the slaves in 1800, each family recieving a path of land.

She wrote the first words down in a small notebook. Then, she kept writing for two years untill she filled two notebooks with authentic stories. Elena Trîncă says that her father wanted her to study: „My fathers love was for me to study, to go to college. After he died, this thougt, of writing a book, kept haunting me. At first, I wanted to write a family journal, but then I realised that it wouldn’t hurt to write more. A journal of the village”.

The whole community supported her to finish her book, by telling her their families stories and also by providing a series of old photographs. Elena Trinca-Buzneri had stood out as a good writer ever since the first grade, by her main teachers and then by the teachers at the Tismana Elementary School. The woman says the teachers were a fountain of inspiration and guided her to the artistic side.

On the 8th of June 2011, the County library „Cristian Tell” from Târgu Jiu hosted the launching of the book. Her family helped her pay for the book, but because the money wasn’t enough, the woman took a loan. With enormous efforts, she managed to fulfil her childhood dream. She took a loan of 1200 lei, enough to print 200 copies. She was happy she was able to get the money and doesn’t regret spending it on the book. She gave a copy to the mayor and several others were given as prezents  to her friends.

Noawadays,  the monography of the roma people of Tismana occupies an honorable spot in the County library.

One of the memories transcribed in the book is about her father, who told her that when he was little, the abbot of the monastery gathered people to help with unloading a steam train. The people from the village were saying that the steam train was allegedly filled with part of the national thesaurus, which was deposited in the monasterys cave.

The woman also wrote about the families of fiddlers  from her Slum – the name of her street. Back in the day, Tismana was the fiddlers’ heaven. There was a musician in every house. Nowadays, this tradition faded away. Rarely can you find a fiddler every here and there. You can barely form a whole band, because most of them either left abroad or dropped music in favour of a stable job.

Browsing the book, she comes across an old photograph of traditionally dressed Roma men, with their sheep leather coats resting on their shoulders. „This is the way most men used to dress, because after being freed they started working as shepherds.”

Many of her books pages are dedicated to the association of Household Art of Tismana and its president, Burtea, who managed to develop it in such a way that it had employees all over the Gorj County. „In Burtea’s days there were hundreds of employees. When the shift ended the streets used to fill up. Even the fiddlers renounced playing and got jobs at Household Art, together with their wives. They also had orders from outside the country, Mister Burtea was the one arranging them. Nowadays very few people work there.  Now, the women weave traditional costumes  in front of their gates, but they aren’t as many as before. The fiddlers have gone as well. Only two bands left.”

A few women carrying on their backs firewood gathered form the forest pass by the front of her  yard. One of them shouts at Elena. She’s nervous because the police was down the street handing out fines to the women who were making traditional clothes.

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