Kher

In some areas of eastern Slovakia (Humenné), the word khera (romane khera, amare khera – Roma houses, our houses) is used to mean a Roma settlement .

Kher also has a special socio-cultural meaning, particularly in the expression andro kher (inside the house, at home, to the house). What is inside a house is "cleaner" (ritually), and so more sacred than what is outside (avri). Even the most wretched homes are usually clean and tidy – in contrast to the neglected exterior surroundings that are avri (outside, beyond the responsibility of the interior space). A žuži romňi (ritually/ clean woman), in contrast with a degeška has a žužipen andro kher/khera (clean and tidy house/flat). Girls are brought up from a very young age to sweep and tidy up. If formerly, in a "Gádžo school" more than one Roma girl answered the question, "What do you want to be?" with the answer, "I want to sweep and tidy up," her answer did not imply an insufficiency of social aspiration, but, on the contrary, aspiration to the status of žuži romňi (clean woman), which was the highest status for a woman in a traditional Roma community.

The ancient formula "te sal lačho, av andro kher" ("If you are good, you will enter the house"), which is preserved today only in folklore, indicates that not everyone was invited into a "clean" (sacred) interior. A visitor – so long as he was not a close relative – always remained standing (without speaking) at the threshold and waited until or if someone invited him andre (inside). When Vasil Demeter relates that his crude uncle Petres came into the Demeters’ house to fight ("avľi pro mariben dži andr kher"), they considered that this rudeness showed the uncle’s unusual gall and bad upbringing.

As in Indian homes/flats, inside a Roma house/flat, rooms had different degrees of sacredness. The holiest was the place with saints’ pictures – the Virgin Mary or a non-crucified Jesus (the cross and death are repugnant symbols in Roma cultural tradition) -- on the walls.

Pat’ivale Roma (honorable Roma) never change clothes in these rooms. If a rich family had several rooms, it was fashionable to reserve the paluno kher (literally, the best room in the back) for special occasions. No one lived in this room; no one sat in its soft armchairs; the rug was covered with plastic, although no one would step on it because no one could enter this room. Distinguished guests led into the best room preferred to move out of the uncomfortable, unheated room into the pleasantly lived-in kitchen, where almost all of the family life was set. The "best room" custom was not connected with the traditional sacred nature of the different rooms in the flat; respect for it would rather have been influenced by village surroundings.

Image Printable version
Črensovci (Slovenia), 2002