Gav / Vatra

Gav (Sanskrit: gráma; Hindi: gáu; Marwari: gáv): village.

A place where those who earned their living from agriculture lived. Earlier, Gadže (prosti) lived in villages, and Roma had their own settlements – vatri (colonies, camps, little houses, "holes", pera) - within villages or entirely outside of villages. Only a few Roma actually lived in villages (maškar o gav) among Gadže. There are still Roma settlements in Slovakia today. On the other hand, there are villages where Roma and Gadže actually live side by side.

"Te phirel pal o gava" ("to look from village to village") is an expression with meaningful cultural content. It means to look for a livelihood. Earlier, Roma women went from village to village selling the metal objects their men had made (chains, nails, horseshoes, etc.) and collecting rags (old clothes) which they then sold in the towns. Some went shopping in town for pramaťi (small items such as mugs, needles, thread and dishes) and sold these wares to housewives. They carried their objects and goods in zajdi. A zajda might weigh as much as twenty or thirty kilos. Farmers' wives paid them with food: potatoes, cottage cheese, butter, sometimes eggs or bacon. Usually money was paid only for goods bought in town. Some Roma women would ask farmers' wives for domestic jobs (sweeping the courtyard, breaking branches, washing floors, etc.) or lining the ovens where they baked bread. If there was no work, Roma women went begging.

Roma women returned from the villages only when they had enough to bring home, sometimes before noon, sometimes at noon, sometimes only in the afternoon. And then they prepared the first meal of the day. In those days, most Roma did not eat breakfast in the morning.

The expression "pal o gava phirel" ("s/he goes from village to village") is repeated in many age-old Čorikane songs:

Odi mri čori daj
Pal o gava phirel
Pal o gava phirel
Kotor maro mangel.
My respectful mother
goes around the villages
goes around the villages
And asks for a piece of bread.

Young men went "pal o gava" to look for and court brides. They always went in groups. They went to two or three villages looking for girls who were not related to them because, among settled Roma, it was a great sin to marry one's "sister" – cousin.

Vatra (synonym: koloňija, taboris, romane khera – Romani: domky; romane chara; Romani: jámy; Ungrika Romani: pero) – "Gypsy settlement".

Servika and Ungrika Roma used to live in their own houses near villages or entirely outside of villages (comp. Gav). Gadže for the most part did not step foot in "Gypsy settlements". Gendarmes came in when there was some truly serious problem among the Roma. A liberal parish priest or a teacher would come. A terno (young man) who wanted to get married would come to well-known musicians and hire them to play at his wedding. When farmers or their wives wanted to hire a Rom to work (in the fields), or when postmen carried a letter, they would stop at the edge of the settlement and shout for the people they needed.

This old habit recalls a characteristically Indian custom. Still today in villages, each jati (caste) lives in its own basti and those who consider themselves "superior" do not enter the basti of people of "lower" castes.

On the other hand, it is important to say that, in more and more places, Roma and Gadže crossed the invisible barriers between villages and "Gypsy settlements". This was fortunate – because farmers needed "Gypsy work", and Roma needed food in exchange for their work. In the days when society was divided into classes, there were borders not only between Roma and Gadže, but also between the other social groups: between estate owners and poor Gadže, between aristocrats and farmers, etc.

Image Printable version
, 2002
Settlement of the Servika-Roma
Settlement of the Servika-Roma