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Information: A dance.

Translation: Woman of Rumelia

Pronunciation: ROO-meh-ligh

Region: Macedonia

Meter: 4/4




In February, 1994 the Rumelaj thread began with a message from Jan Root in response to a question from Jana Rickel. It was reported in various messages to be in some dialect of Rom, with perhaps some (mostly?) nonsense syllables.

Jana reported that Ian Hancock, the Romany Nation's United Nations Ambassador, had translated the words (which she says she got via Ron Houston) as being rather "dirty," and by popular demand, on February 10, she posted the translation:

Rumelaj (Warning: vulgar language) translation.

The words are apparently a mixture of Romany and Romanian:

Zetur minji maj
mundra kurva me
Zetur minji maj mada
mundra da meri

Rume- Rume- Rumelaj
hojdi hojdi hojdi.
Rume- Rume- Rumelaj
hojdi hojdi hojdi.
      Give me your pussy,
you beautiful whore.

Give me your pussy,
give it to me today.

Rume- Rume- Rumelia,
let's go, let's go, let's go.
Rume- Rume- Rumelia,
let's go, let's go, let's go.

Like I mentioned before, this translation is from Dr. Ian Hancock, the Romani nation's United Nations Ambassador/advisor, and currently a linguist at the University of Texas specializing in the variants of the Rom language.

In case you don't already know, Rumelaj is the Byzantine (and then Ottoman) name for the province we call Rumelia. It's located south of the Stara Planina (Balkan) chain of mountains and stretches from the Dinaric Alps to the Black Sea.

–Noel Kropf


Carol Silverman (c/o Mark Levy) sent the following message debunking this translation on April 28th:

Hello everyone. I am passing on the following message from Carol Silverman.

Dear East European Folklife Center (EEFC) net,

Return of Rumelaj

I have been trying to obtain a reliable translation of Rumelaj for over a year. After sending out Ian Hancock's translation and another one done by a University of Kansas Slavicist, I received the following message from Victor Frieman, a respected Balkan and Romani linguist at the University of Chicago:

Hi Carol!

I have Rumelaj on a Kalyi Jag compact disc and tried listening to it (I have tried before). All I can say is that I know enough Romanian and Romanes to know that the "translations" you have are wrong, but I can't make out what it should be. Ian's version is definitely mistaken since the syllables are clearly mini (could be a Vlach first person singular pronoun) and not some form of mindzh (cunt). He is clearly just playing around. Haydi is the Turkish form of the 'let's go' Balkanism. Rumelaj has nothing to do with Rumelia, which is in any case not Byzantine but Turkish Rum el-i (Rome land-its, that is, Land of Rome or the Eastern Roman Emprire). There is a Romanian word laie (Romani camp), which may be relevant. It does indeed sound like they're saying kurva and mundra, but that could just be a coincidence. Without knowing what it should really say or even what language it's in we can't be sure where the word divisions are supposed to be.

Consider another song title 'Isuse me le Dado', which looks like a dialectal Macedonian phrase meaning 'Suck me off Grandpa!', actually, it is an Ohrid Vlah song meaning 'Marry me off, Mother!" The other translation is completely wrong. Sorry I can't be of more help. I suggest finding someone who actually knows Romanian.
All the best –Victor

This was hopeful, but certainly not a definitive rehabilitation of the reputation of this song. Henry Goldberg found an alternate translation on October 24th:

More on Rumelaj (forwarded on October 14)

I was looking at rec.folk-dancing for the first time in weeks and weeks and I noticed the following post. I'm providing it for the benefit of groups who want to perform the piece, but don't like the racy version of the lyrics, but are not comfortable with the "I know that racy version isn't right but I'm not sure what it does mean . . ." response. Of course, I have no idea which comes closest to any abstract notion of "correct."

This one is just comfortingly authoritative.

Don't see anything not political correctness about it. It's an appeal to either a son-in-law or father-in-law to (presumably) let the bride's mother get her daughter back. (No reason specified.)

Here's the raw text (Geoff Husic provided the Romani guidance) and I've provided a more formal Macedonian rendition of the language.

Zetur! mini maj mundra kurva me (or Svekur – father in law – but pronounced as zvekur).

Zetur! mini maj mundra kurva me
Zetur mini maj ma da mundra da meri
Rumalaj, haidi
      Son-inlaw! (Give) me my beauty, my own blood!
Son-in-law give! Give! (full form of 'me' above)
Rumalaj, let's go!

Converted to Macedonian with the same word order

Zetur/Svekur! Mene mi hubava kurva me
Zetur/Svekur! Mene mi daj hubava na mene.
Rumalaj, haide!

Mark Levy.

(Now, who should come up with a better source and more convincing text than the East European Folklife Center's (EEFC) "first family" – Mark Levy and Carol Silverman. This pretty much ended the discussion. However . . .)

Rumelai with a different view

Hello everyone. I'd like to pass on some information which was sent to Carol Silverman from Rose Lange, an American researcher who has worked a lot with Roma in Hungary. Rose received the following info about the Kalyi Jag song "Rumelai" from Katalin Kovalcsik, a Hungarian researcher with expertise in the music of Hungarian Roma<.

The text is a mixture of and Boyash, an old dialect of Romanian (the Boyash are a sub-group of Roma). Katalin did not know where the group Kalyi Jag obtained the text or tune of the song, although there is some evidence that the tune may be related to a popular city song. The translation according to Katalin via Rose:

Rume, rume, rumelai, haidi, haidi, haidi hai.
Joc cu mîne ma mûndră curvă me.
      Hey, Romanian! Come!
Dance with me, my beautiful girl.

According to Katalin via Rose, Kurva here simply means that the singer is not in a marriageable relationship with the woman who is being addressed, or that the woman "has stepped slightly out of line." This term obviously has a spectrum of meanings in various East European languages, and isn't necessarily obscene or derogatory.

Well, now we're all free to sing this song in public again, without having to feel badly about it, although by this point probably everyone has lost interest!

Mark Levy, January 27, 1995

Regarding Rumelaj, I have a few things to add:

In Spring 1998 when I travelled with "The Romani Caravan: A Festival of Roma Music and Dance," I had a long conversation about Rumelaj with Gusztav Varga, the head of the group Kalji Jag (the group which introduced the song). Gusztav confirmed my information that Rumelaj is in the language of the Boyash Roma of Hungary, a dialect of Romanian (an archaic form of the language). Boyash Roma are the least numerous group of Roma in Hungary, and they are often ignored politically and artistically. So Gusztav's decision to inlcude a song in the Boyash language in a recording was a poltical move of pan-Hungarian Rom inclusiveness. Other Kalyi Jag recordings and the recordings of other Rom groups from Hungary now often feature a song in the Boyash language.

Having listened to field recordings of Boyash music, and having noticed that Boyash music sounds nothing like Rumelaj, I asked Gusztav about the tune. He said it was not a Boyash tune, but was "Balkan" (to a Hungarian, Balkan usually means anything south of Romania). More and more these days, Hungarian (and Romanian) Rom recordings are featuring at least one Balkan instrumental melody (see Kalman Balogh's and Taraf de Haiduks' recent compact discs).

Gusztav also said that neither he nor any member of Kalyi Jag speaks Boyash. So, he could neither dictate nor translate the words for me. It is certainly possible that Kalyi Jag is singing the song in mangled Boyash (Where are our Romanian language experts out there?). It seems that Kalji Jag basically took the text from one source and the tune from another source and put them together. Rumelaj is a unique Kalji Jag composition.

The dance Steve Kotansky taught to Rumelaj has nothing to do with Hungarian Roma. It is a very well known Macedonian Muslim urban women's line dance. Steve merely liked the way it fit the tune Rumelaj.

–Carol Silverman, June 20, 2000

Romanian is my native tongue. Of all the words in Rumelaj only "mundra" (actually mândra) is Romanian. In modern usage it means "proud" in its feminine form. In archaic Romanian and in some surviving dialects (Banat) it means "pretty." In dialect it also means "girlfriend" or "paramour." "Kurva" on the other hand means "whore" in Hungarian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, etc. Thus "Mundra kurva me" sounds like "Mândra curva mea" in Romanian, meaning "My beautiful whore." As noted, "Hajde" ("Let's go" or "C'mon") is pan-Balkan. The rest of the words could be Rom. If the "j" in the transliteration is always prounounced "y," minji cannot be mindj ("pussy"). "Rume" doesn't ring a bell, unless it's "Lume," meaning "everyone, the whole world . . ." in Romanian. "Lume" is sometimes used as an interjection in song.

It seems that unless we get a Boyash (in Romanian "Băias," meaning "Washer"?) speaker we will never know what the lyrics of Rumelaj mean.

–Virgil Speriosu, June 20, 2000

Thanks for your input regarding trying to decipher Rumelaj from your point of view of as a fluent modern Romanian speaker. It seems very likely that Boyash is so far from modern Romanian that it would be hard for you to obtain a perfect tranlsation. I agree with you and Matt that we need to find a Boyash speaker. I am absolutely sure that the song is not in Romani because both Gusztav Varga and Victor Friedman are fluent speakers of Romani and both of them assured me it was not. Another possibility (as I mentioned earlier) is that the Kalji Jag performers are mangling the langauge because they are singing in a language they do not speak or understand. On the other hand, as you say, kurva is whore in any Balkan language, and Gusztav certainly admitted that. Your translation "My beautiful whore" is rather convincing – of course this phrase could be interpreted as quite endearing rather than insulting.

I doubt that the performers would be confusing "Rume" with "Lume" because Lume in Romani also means world/everyone. Obviously, Lume came from Romanian into Romani.

Finally, "Boyash" means "washers" because this group of Roma might have been goldwashers in centuries past. From the 13OOs to 1864, Roma in the southern Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were slaves, belonging to the nobility and the church. There was an elaborate system of classifying Roma by their occupations (including gold washing) which affected how they were bought and sold. It is quite a grim and horrifying history.

–Carol Silverman, June 21, 2000

Except for "My beautiful whore," I am sure the lyrics I have seen are not Romanian, or if they are, they are mangled beyond recognition. I haven't heard the original Kalji Jag (only the Zlatne Uste rendition), and I have seen the lyrics only as posted on the East Europea Folklife Center (EEFC) listserve. Do you have a reliable transcription? Or do you know where I can get Kalji Jag's rendition?

Given the fluid meaning of kurva, I interpret the lyrics as "My unfaithful (or cheating, or promiscuous) beauty", which could be endearing or remonstrating. Speaking of the Balkan< and beyond usage of kurva, I note that it is also used in Yiddish (but not in German or Russian). It would be most interesting to map out the geographic distribution of such terms and to explore the historic, socio-economic, and ethnographic implications.

I am very comfortable with my knowledge of Romanian and Vlach, modern and archaic. I am also fluent in Serbo-Croatian, since I grew up in Yugoslavia. As a child I played with settled Roma (Tsigani at that time) and picked up a phrase or two. I have watched the performance of Rom Ursari, going from village to village with a dancing bear (on a chain and ring run through his muzzle). The payment for the show was one egg per child. I know of the Rom wanderings, from India, through Persia and the Balkans, to Central and Western Europe and later the New World. The condition of Roma in Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Balkans is a matter of disgrace for the host countries and much suffering for the Roma.

Yet they sure can play!

–Virgil Speriosu, June 22, 2000

Over the years we've had a lot of fun discussing the meaning of Rumelaj. Yet there has been no agreement on its meaning. We know it was collected and played by a Hungarian Rom< from Roma who had once lived in Romania.

The original collector didn't understand Romanian, so the transcription was phonetic. The song was later brought to America (by a member of the East European Folklife Center's listserve), and Rumelaj was made very popular by Zlatne Uste. Still, Rom and Slavic experts couldn't make out its meaning, beyond suspecting that it's a "dirty" song because of the pan-East European "kurva" ("whore"). What is more, "minji" (soft j) was misread as Rom "mindj" ("pussy").

I believe with Carol Silverman that the lyrics are mangled. As a Romanian native speaker and a lover of languages, I offer my interpretation of what the song might be in Romanian, and its English translation.

–Virgil Speriosu




Zetur minji maj,
mundra kurva me
Zetur minji maj,
mada mundra da meri

Rume rume Rumelaj,
hojdi hojdi hojdi
Rume rume Rumelaj
hojdi hojdi hojdi

Zetur minji maj,
mundra kurva me
Zetur minji maj,
mada mundra da meri

Ala lalaj la lalaj,
lala lala laj
lala lalaj lalaj,
lalaj lala la lala

Lume, hai

Sa-t fur inima
mândra curva mea
Sa-t fur inima,
m-o da mândro dav

Lume, lume, lume, hai
haide, haide, haide
Lume lume lume hai
Haide, haide, haide

Zetur minji maj,
mundra kurva me
Zetur minji maj,
mada mundra da meri


Come on, everyone

Let me steal your heart,
my cheating beauty
Let me steal your heart
Give it to me, pretty.

Come on everyone
c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
Come on everyone
c'mon, c'mon, c'mon

Let me steal your heart,
my cheating beauty
Let me steal your heart
Give it to me, pretty.

La, la, la, . . .


Printed in 1995 Folk Dance Problem Solver.

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