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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Romanian Folklore
By Ron La Farge, 1955

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Rod La Farge

Romania Map The Romanian people have achieved in the course of its history a splendid treasure of works, of high artistic mastership, mirroring with a deep realism the sufferings of the past and the joys, the love of nature and homeland, the work, struggle and aspirations of the people toward freedom and life.

Linked closely with life, the Romanian people's art is undergoing a continuous process of evolution and enriching itself permanently with new contemporary creative contributions as a permanent, important means for expressing and knowing reality and especially as a powerful support and mobilizing incentive in the struggle of the people for building a better life.

That is why the Romanian popular songs, dances, tales, musical instruments, the wealth of classic creation such as weaver's work, embroideries, ceramics, sculptures, etc., are closely linked with the life of the people, drawing the source of creation and rejuvenescence from life and expressing in the language of art, the very ideas, sentiments, needs, and aspirations of the people.

Thanks to the eternal creative force of the people, to the realism of its artistic creations and their permanently filing, polishing, and finishing them along the ages, the Romanian folklore represents a progessive, combative, and optimistic tradition.

The variety in artistic manifestations of Romanian folklore is so great, that the various regions, valleys, water courses, and sometimes even localities not remote from each other appear as different ethnographic units, having specific songs, dances, and costumes of their own just as the conditions of historic development of the complex of life in the respective places have been different.

In todays Romanian folklore, one can trace archaic forms, remainders of ancient ceremonials and rites, together with evolved contemporary forms sprung from an advanced concept on world and society. Work, with its many aspects, such as hunting, fishing, and especially pastoral and agricultural life have always been seconded by manifestations of folklore and reflected in them with their respective specifics.

In Romanian folklore we find many songs linked with shepherd's life: tunes and musical signals performed with bucium (alphorn), various kinds of fluier (shepherd's pipe), or the cimpoi (bagpipe), as well as tales, merry jests, riddles, etc., which mirror the specifics of pastoral life and of the social relations linked with it. As examples we may give signals for setting the sheep going, returning the flocks from the pasturage, at cheese making, or lyrical and epical songs of shepherds. Well known everywhere is one of the most ancient and finest achievements of Romanian folklore, the ballad "Miorița" (lambkin), an ancient song about the magic lamb announcing to its master the tragic death kept in store for him, on which occasion he expresses his boundless love for nature and life. Other artistic creations are linked with agricultural life.

Almost all over Transylvania, the end of harvesting is celebrated by songs and dances. The harvesting girls bind the finest ears into wreaths. These wreaths are carried from the field to the village with great display. The central part of the ceremony is the "Song of the Wreaths" in which by beautiful poetical images the rich harvest is praised and plenty wished for the next year. In the village the celebration of the wreath ends with dancing. In the general glee of those present, girls and lads spend hours of happiness after having finished one of the most important tasks of the year.

In Muntenia, the growth of the soil is celebrated by two very ancient dances: the Călușul and the Drăgaica. The Călușul is a very vigorous men's dance, rather spectacular because of the picturesque costumes of the performers and the virtuosity and variations of the movements. The Drăgaica is performed by young girls adorned with field flowers. Accompanied by the song of the girls, this dance is preserved to this day as an air of ritual solemnity. These two dances are performed, according to tradition, on the eve of harvesting.

Among the various occasions for manifestations of folklore, the end and beginning of the year are exceptional moments for performing old rites accompanied by songs and dances bestowing a picturesque charm on the winter holidays. Groups of young people dressed in the most beautiful clothes go from house to house singing the colinde (carols), traditional New Year's wishes for plenty and happiness. They usually develop epic, heroic, domestic, and religious themes, couched in a poetic and idyllic form without being devoid of realism.

At the same time, the Plugușorul (little plough) is performed. Groups of lads accompanying a nicely adorned plough go from house to house presenting, in an allegoric form and in a long poem, the work of the field from the sowing to the harvesting and baking of bread and wishing plenty to the host. The recital of the wishes is accompanied by cracking whips, ringing little bells, and a roaring imitating the bellowing of an ox with a buhai (little plough). This sound is produced by a specially built instrument consisting of a kind of wooden wooden tub, bucket, or barrel covered over at one opening with a hide that is perforated in the center, a strand of horsehair being pulled up and down through the hole with wet hands.

Other groups circulate with the Capra (goat). This is a dance in which one of the performers is dressed in a large cloak and carrying over his covered head a nicely adorned wooden figure imitating the head of a goat. By moving the mouth of the animal through a device, the performer produces a rhythmic clattering with which he accompanies his jumps to the merriment of all the onlookers.

Funerals and weddings are events in which the richness of traditional customs is most exceptional. The moments of performing the respective ceremonies are combined with special manifestations of folklore. In all regions of Romania, the funeral is performed according to an ancient popular ceremonial. The most impressive moments full of artistic value are: "the song of the dawn," the "carrying of the fir tree," the "wake," and the "dirge." The song of the dawn is an invocation to the sun. At dawn, a group of women leaving the house and facing the sunrise, sing an ancient song in which the sun is implored to tarry a bit so that the parting of the beloved dead person might be delayed for some time.

In mountain regions, a tall fir tree adorned with flowers is raised at the head of the graves of lads and young men. The carrying of this fir is performed with a special ceremonial. Seven or nine lads go in the woods to cut the fir which they subsequently carry on their shoulders to the village. When arriving there, the fir is met by a group of women. A procession of the fir is formed with the group of women heading it. all along their way to the house of the dead person, the women sing the "Song of the Fir Tree." This song profoundly expresses the close links between man and nature. In the popular ceremonial of the funeral in many regions at the "wake,' the young people performing it while away their time with all kinds of jokes, humbugs, and other merriments. In the south of Moldavia, the Vrancea, there are still wake dances preserved, the performers of which wear masks.

The "dirge" is a popular wistfully mournful song. A relative, mostly a woman who has closely known the deceased, mourns that person. In these dirges, apart from facts about the life of the dead person, there are often reflected with great dramatic realism, valuable elements connected with various aspects of social life.

Another essential moment in the life of the family is the "wedding," whose popular ceremonial differs in the various regions of the country. Starting with the courtship until the young married couple settles down in their own home, there are numberless occasions for manifestations of folklore, such as nuptial orations and chiuituri (short, extemporaneous shouts). For example, all over Oltenia the ceremonial of the wedding is carried out nowadays during three or four days beginning on Friday or Saturday afternoon and finishing Monday in the morning. The main moments of the wedding ceremonial proper are:

1) Calling to the Wedding is performed on Saturday by one or several lads, near relatives of the groom, dressed in holiday attire, and carrying a flask of wine or tuica (plum brandy). They tour the village accompanied by a hand of fiddlers playing the song of "Calling to the Wedding," enter the houses of those whom they want to invite, have a drink with them, and convey to them the proper invitation.

2) Adorning the Fir Tree is performed at the groom's house Friday in the evening. To adorn the fir tree, the lads arrive shouting exultingly accompanied by the girls, and later on come the married and old people. The groom's mother puts in the middle of the room a low three-legged table, on which she places a pretzel or a bread, with a lit candle on it. She strews salt on that pretzel or bread. The son-in-law offers tuica (plum brandy) to those present, then starts "Adorning the Fir Tree." The twigs of a small fir are cut in such a way that the small tree assumes the shape of three spheres superposed on each other, a large one at the bottom, a medium one in the middle, and a small one at the top. Subsequently, the small fir is adorned with many colored ribbons, paper flowers, and tinsel. At the top of the fir a flowered handkerchief is hung. The adorned fir is fixed in the bread on the table alongside the put-out candle. Round it, a hora is performed. Then the guests spend the rest of the night till dawn eating and drinking.

3) Bringing the Fir Tree to the Bride's House. Saturday, at dawn, a specially chosen lad, the bradarul (fir tree carrier) arrives on horseback at the bride's house. The reins of the horse are adorned with flowers and ribbons and the horseman wears holiday attire and cracks his whip. Dismounting, he receives from the groom a flask with wine which he hangs over his shoulder, takes the fir, mounts on his horse, and rides back by many byways at a quick trot to the bride's house, taking every precaution lest he should encounter enemies of the bridal pair and give rise to a row. When approaching the bride's house, he cracks the whip to announce his arrival. The bride's father opens the door and bids him welcome. The bradar (brother) approaches the house reciting a nuptial oration. Then he dismounts, grasps the wine flask, takes a pull, and, holding the small fir, is tied to the lath and thus fixed at the eastern corner of the house. The fir-tree carrier and the wedding guests enter the house. They are treated with food and drink. The bride hands the fir-tree carrier a flowered handkerchief, a necklace of gold coins, and the groom's shirt. After feasting till the afternoon, the fir-tree carrier returns to the groom to whom he hands the necklace and shirt.

4) The Fedelesul (little trough) is a feast with a little number of invited guests, celebrated Saturday in the evening at both the bridegroom's and the bride's houses. The lads and girls dance. There is no special ceremonial.

5) Shaving the Groom. This is, in fact, the attiring of the bridegroom with the wedding suit. It takes place Sunday in the morning. The groom is placed on a chair in the middle of a room surrounded by lads, his friends. One of them shaves him while the fiddlers are playing the ceremonial "Song of Parting from a Single Man's Life." After being shaved, the groom dons his wedding suit. He wears the shirt sent by the bride and on the chest an artificial flower bought in the town and adorned with tinsel.

6) Fetching Water. Simultaneously, at the bride's house there are being prepared the handkerchiefs and little nosegays of tinsel for the lads, the shirts for the mother-in-law and father-in-law, and the gifts to be distributed at "the great feast." Then water is fetched. A handkerchief is fixed to a yoke bolt. This yoke bolt is passed through the metal rings of a bucket. One end is grasped by the bride and the other by the vadarul (foreman). They go to fetch water from the brook or the well while the fiddlers are playing the respective ceremonial song. After they have carried the water to the middle of the court the bride sprinkles the water with a nosegay of sweet basil to the four cardinal winds. With the water still left in the bucket, the girls besprinkle each other with a view to a sooner marriage. Then a merry hora spins round the bucket. The vadarul dances with the bride. At a certain shout of the fiddlers he must quickly grasp the handkerchief of the yoke bolt, lest others get the start of him and turn him into ridicule. The hora comes to an end.

7) Putting on the Tinsel. The bride and the girls enter the house. Here the girls start attiring the bride. They dress her in a flowered shirt, the bridal gown, the shoes bought by the groom, gird her with a waist belt, and arrange her plaited hair as a "chaplet" (garland) round her head. Then they have her sit on a chair facing a mirror and adorn her with tinsel, the sovon (bridal veil), and thyme. When the girls adorn her with thyme, the fiddlers are playing the "Song of the Bride Putting on the Thyme." This song is in fact the song of the girl's parting with her young unmarried life and the house of her parents.

8) The Groom's Procession to the Bride's House. The groom's procession is set up as follows: at the head the wedding guests, the colacerii (pretzel bearer) with the flask hung over his neck, the bradarul, and the other lads; all of them wearing holiday attire and riding horses adorned with flowers and ribbons. They crack their whips. In the first cart sit the best man and the groom, in the second the bridesmaid with the girls and young married women, and in the other carts the relatives attending the wedding and the fiddlers. Their number includes the lad with the medal necklace which he carries fixed to his cap or on his chest. The best man indicates the road to the colacerii; this way must never be the same as the one which they return. When the procession approaches the bride's house, the doors of the latter are shut and a mock "rape of the bride" is enacted. The struggle representing it is in fact a verified dialogue full of poetry between the two guests of the groom and those of the bride. After finishing this dispute, the carts drive up to the stairs, the wedding guests get out, and all enter the house.

9) Dance of the Fir Tree. The bradarul takes the small fir tree off the lath and round it a large hora is performed. The lads performing the hora get a handkerchief each and their chests are adorned with tinsel.

10) Putting on the Medal Necklace. The man carrying the medal necklace approaches the bride and leads her to the mirror. After "taking her in" three times, he puts the necklace round her neck. The bride presents him with with a handkerchief. All those present take place around the table and entertain themselves. During the feast, the fiddlers entertain the guests.

11) The Iertaciunea. After the meal the iertaciunea (pardon) of the bride takes place. In a tidy room a fine carpet is laid down and a pillow placed on it. The groom and the bride kneel down on the pillow facing the east. The best man and the bridesmaid stand in back of them. The fiddlers play iertaciunea songs. After the songs are finished the young bridal couple kiss the hands of their parents, the best man, and the bridesmaid, and the latter kiss them on their foreheads.

12) Loading the Dowry. Meanwhile, the pochinzareasa (mistress of ceremonies) prepares the dowry. A cart drives up to the stairs and she begins to load it. While the dowry is being loaded, the lads make all kinds of fun with the pochinzareasa. Round the cart a hora is performed and subsequently the pochinzareasa is lifted onto the cart which sets out to join the wedding procession.

13) The Wedding Procession. After the iertaciunea the bride leaves the house of her parents on a carpet covering her way to the cart. She is accompanied by the bridesmaid. In front of the cart stands a chair with a pillow. The bride steps on the pillow with her right foot and gets up in the cart. She is accompanied by the bridesmaid. In the following cart sit the groom and the best man, and in the other carts the wedding guests and the fiddlers. The procession is headed by the bradarul with the fir tree, the colacerii with the flask, and the lads on horseback.

At a sign given by the best man the procession sets out with exulting shouts and cracking of the whips.

After the wedding, the procession returns to the groom's house by a different way. This time the groom and bride sit in the first cart and the best man and bridesmaid in the second. Arriving at the groom's house they are welcomed with grains of rice or wheat showered over them as a symbol of the ability to produce an abundance of offspring. The cart with the bridal couple drives up to the stairs. Here too, a chair with a pillow and a carpet are prepared. The custom requires that the bride should be taken down from the cart by the groom's mother. After they have entered the house, the dowry is brought in and the bride kisses the hand of her mother-in-law and father-in-law. In the courtyard, the wedding guests perform the "Dance of the Fir Tree," after which the bradarul fixes the fir on a rafter of the roof at the eastern side of the house.

14) The Great Feast. If the house is spacious enough to hold all the wedding guests, the great feast is arranged in it. Otherwise, a fine tent adorned with carpets, leaves, and flowers is pitched. At the head of the table sit the bridal couple, the best man, and the bridesmaid. The wedding guests are seated according to rank and hierarchy. The "caterer" hands out food and drinks that are served by the "footmen" who see to it that all guests should be served and that the feast be perfect. One eats, drinks, and toasts. During the feast the fiddlers are playing merry tunes and old songs about brave warriors. Sometimes, mask dances are performed, such as the Capra (goat) or the Turcul (Turk).

The gifts are prepared and, with loaded arms, the mother-in-law approaches the table. She presents the best man with a shirt nicely adorned with silk embroidery and with a large towel made of unthrown raw silk (silk with no twist) and presents the bridesmaid with a vest of unthrown raw silk embroidered with beautiful flowers. She puts the gifts round the necks of the best man and bridesmaid. The other men who are heads of family get towels or embroidered veils.

Then follows the presenting of the wedding guests' gifts to the bridal couple. In front of the best man is placed a pretzel strewn with salt. On it the best man fputs down the gift in cash for the young married couple. Subsequently, the pretzel passes from hand to hand and everybody gives something. The gifts are made in cash but sometimes also in food or cattle. After the bandleader's announcing each gift in part, the fiddlers play a vivat (long live) song. The great feast sometimes lasts from four to six hours.

15) The Bride's Hora. After finishing the great feast, the "bride's hora" starts in the courtyard at a sign from the best man and is attended by all wedding guests. At a certain moment, the bridegroom and bride leave the hora and enter the house. The others continue the dance till the morning.

16) Doffing the Tinsel. In the house the bridal couple, the best man and bridesmaid, and near relatives assemble. The tinsel, thyme, and veil of the bride are taken off. The fiddlers play the song "Doffing the Tinsel."

The bride and her relatives weep. The groom and the lads laugh. The bridesmaid places tinsel, thyme, and veil on the head of another girl who wants to marry soon and subsequently on a table in front of the mirror. Outside, dancing continues and so does the feast. At a certain moment, the best man and bridesmaid leave for their homes accompanied by friends and a group of fiddlers. A song "Best Man and Bridesmaid are Leaving" is played (a similar ceremonial song is played at their arrival to the wedding).

17) Zorile. Monday morning, at zorile (dawn), the fiddlers play in front of the married couple's house.

The popular song and dance in Romanian folklore are not limited exclusively to exceptional occasions within the framework of ceremonials. People sing during their work and rest hours, at entertainments, meetings for communal work, and spinning parties. The lads and the youth in general dance every Sunday and holiday and the old people as well as people of glib tongue tell tales and funny stories whenever they have and opportunity to do so. This is why folklore assumes and exceptional social value.

Along the course of history the life of the people has always been full of uproar and struggle. The echoes of these heroic struggles or the reminiscence of any event in the life of the people, that by the dramatic evolution greatly impressed their consciousness. The beloved images and deeds of popular heroes have been transposed with exceptional dynamism and power of artistic expression into ballads, and large epic song developments that are called by the people "ancient songs." Even nowadays, they are listened to with great emotion, especially in the Danube plain and the sub-Carpathian region, after having permanently inspired for centuries on end the warm patriotism and heroism of former generations. The ballads include, apart from ancient fantastic elements of fairy tale or legend, scenes from the life of the shepherds, deeds of heroes in the history of the Romanian past who have fought the Tarter and Turk invaders, poetic narrations about the deeds of the Haiducks (popular heroes of social struggle), and social historical elements linked with certain events, etc.

In general, the ballads begin with an instrumental musical prelude. Then follows the text sung in recitative (musical declamation sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note), interrupted from time to time by instrumental interludes intended to stress more important dramatic passages, or to give the reciter a respite.

One of the most ancient forms of lyrical songs and specific to Romanian folklore is the doina (improvisational tune), known also under the name of "Song of the Leaf," "Long Song," "Song of Longing," "Song of Love," "Song of the Hill," etc., according to the place of origin. It has a slow melody of profound lyrical concentration and expresses deep sentiments of the people in connection with the longing for freedom, love, beauty of nature, or grief and alienation. Arranged in a free melodious form, the doina leaves to the singer great possibilities of improvisation around fixed traditional elements. It is either sung or played on the fluier (shepherd's pipe), the vioră (fiddle or violin), the cimpoi (bagpipe), the leaf of a tree, a piece of birch bark, a fish scale, etc.

Apart from the doina, ancient Romanian folklore includes many and various lyrical songs that differ from region to region. In the process of creation and development of Romanian folklore, they represent the stage at which the social and economic differentiations between the regions were well contoured. From these songs the contemporary popular song has evolved by the creative use of tradition. This song preserves in most of the places the essential feature of the regional melodies but has at the same time more precise melodious and rhythmic outlines and expresses in new forms the dynamism of today's life, the vigor and optimism of the people building the prospects of which in view they build a new life.

In Romanian contemporary folklore there have recently appeared and continue to appear permanently new creations enriching the huge cultural patrimony handed down. The political economical and social transformations in Romania have opened up new horizons of life to the Romanian people which is assuming day by day a new mentally and growning ever more conscious of the tasks assigned to it in building an new life in the country; this consciousness is fully reflected in the cultural and artistic activity and in folklore, inasmuch as song, literature, dance, and art have always been the culture of the people. Apart from numberless songs one may hear today in Romanian folklore, countless charming tales, funny stories full of glee and ingenious riddles continuously streaming from the inexhaustible source of people's creation.

On the other hand, one can admire at every step gentle dances of horas and swift brîus and sârbas, bătutăs, învîrtitas, and men's dances. Another wonderful feature are the Romanian popular costumes with an exceptional variety of coloring and flowering.

In Romania, the popular art enjoys countrywide cultivation and high appreciation. Continuing the healthy tradition of their artistic predecessors, the composers, writers, poets, painters, and artists draw their inspiration from folklore, passing it on by developing the traditional artistic inheritance, the culture of their homeland.

Within the framework of the houses of culture and the trade unions, youth organizations function as artistic amateur groups mobilizing around them hundreds of thousands of people. They carry on an enthusiastic activity of amateur artists to promote manifestations of folklore. Gifted elements are sponsored and encouraged to develop their talents up to consummate mastership. There are artistic amateur groups, choruses, dance, instrumental, and theatre ensembles counting more than a million members.

In Bucharești, a central house of popular creation was set up to which a great role is assigned in promoting, sponsoring, and developing all aspects of Romanian art manifestations. With a view to scientific research in order to turn into account the wealth of Romanian popular creation, an "Institute of Folklore" was set up in Bucharești as early as 1949. The Institute collects on the spot in various regions of the country, in town and countryside and on the big construction sites, songs, dances, and popular literature, and studies them scientifically.

This activity is carried out on the spot according to the latest scientific methods by teams of specialists and the yield of folklore is recorded and brought to Bucharești as documents for study and knowledge and material for countryside diffusion. The Institute collects and studies at the same time the folkore of the national minorities. The results of this research work are placed at the disposal of creative artists and artistic ensembles for achieving a new art. By its work, the Institute is an active factor in the cultural life of Romania and contributes a valuable share to the scientific research into the Romanion people's wealth of folklore.


Excerpts from Rosin the Bow, Vol. 5, No. 9, Autumn 1955.

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