Kirvo

Kirvo, m. (via Armenian, from Greek "kyrie" – lord), kirvi, f. godfather, godmother, more specifically, relationship of the godparent to the parents of the godchild. In some subdialects of "Slovak"Romani, the term kirvo, kirvi includes the godparent's relationship to the godchild as well as his/her parents; elsewhere the expressions krestno dad (from the Slovak "krstný otec" - godfather), and krestno daj, ("krstná matka" - godmother), are used for the relationship to the child.

The institution of godparenthood (kirvipen) is enormously important. It forms bonds between a family and someone who is not a member of that family. The family is expanded by a representative of the "outside world" who is committed to uphold the solidarity of the family. People used to choose godparents who were not even very remotely related; nowadays, a godparent can even be one of the child's uncles or aunts. That's probably because, among other reasons, the identity circle of the traditional famelija (three to five generations of kin on the father's and mother's side) is narrowing down to the nuclear family.

The relationship of the godchild’s parents to the godparents is nearly sacred. As soon as a family chooses the newborn's godfather, the parents and godparents begin to address each other in the polite form even if they had used the informal form of address earlier. The polite form impedes possible arguments, insults and improper behaviour. In the community of the Roma journalist Gejza Demeter of Dlhý nad Cirochou (district of Snina, eastern Slovakia) children were often chosen as godparents. The family of the newborn then used the polite form with the children and also with their parents, who represented their children in the performance of a number of duties required of godparents.

The main duty of the godfather and godmother is to support their godchild (krestňatkos) economically and socially. The forms of this support, which may include ritual practices, can differ somewhat from region to region.

The first ritual the godfather performs is the baptism (boňa) and christening in church (boľipen). The godparents buy the child clothing, a little duvet and a layette. Nowadays they also buy a baby carriage (pram). Apart from this, the godfather gives money. The size of the sum is a matter of prestige. The godparents carry the child to the christening and hold him in their arms ("ľikerel le čhavores" – literally, "they hold the child") during the ceremony. In the past, while returning from the church, the godfather recited certain words that were taken over from Slováka and translated into Romani: "Židocis kheral iľam, krestňatkos khere Andám." ("We brought a Jew from home; we are carrying a Christian home.")

Another ritual still performed in some regions is the križma?. The križma is actually a gift that the godparents give on some important occasion. According to Gejza Demeter, it can be on the child’s first day of school, or when a boy reaches the age when he starts looking for a bride ("dikhel peske romňa") or it may be a gift to a girl to make her a desirable bride. In earlier times, mainly in poor settlements (čore/bokhale vatri), it took place at that socially important age when, for the first time in their lives, girls and boys began to wear shoes instead of papuči. At a križma the godfather and godmother presented shoes and a whole set of clothing to their godchild.

The godparents clothe their godchildren for their wedding (bijav). According to Gejza Demeter, the godmother buys not only the dress and shoes but also the veil (šlajiris). The godfather may not buy the veil because that would bring bad luck.

If the godfather or godmother dies before the godchild’s wedding, the godchild brings his/her partner to the godparent’s grave and pours a bit of liquor on it.

Apart from rituals, the godfather and godmother are obliged to help their godchild’s family, mainly if the family should be in need.

In the past, Roma who lived in Slovak villages often chose Gadže as godparents. Thus the traditional paternal relationship between Slovak farmers and "their gypsies" was strengthened. A Gadžo godmother, apart from her ceremonial duties, had to offer her godchild work in the farmyard, in the house or on the fields, and she had to help out his/her family with food. The godchild and his/her family, on the other hand, had to do any required jobs for the godparents.

The function of godparenthood adds prestige to a person’s social standing. The more godchildren a person has, the more highly s/he is respected. Refusing a request to be a godparent used to be absolutely reprehensible.

Many Roma who remember the sanctity of the godfatherhood in past times complain about how it is deteriorating. An eloquent illustration was the sketch Kirve (Godparents) that members of the folklore ensemble "Perumos" performed in Prague at the Na Chmelnici theater in the 1980’s. Two contrasting pairs of godparents are portrayed, one traditional and the other contemporary. When the traditional godfather and godmother come to visit, their kirvo and kirvi treat them with the utmost respect, starting with a ritual embrace and lofty welcoming formulas and ending with a sumptuous dinner. The modern godparents come to the apartment where their kirve are sitting in armchairs and watching television. They hardly get up when the godparents arrive; they wave to them briefly to acknowledge their arrival, nod to them to sit down, and then all four watch TV. The kirvo relationship is still not quite so bad as the sketch performed by the "Perumos" ensemble showed. In any case, the sketch depicted more than just nostalgia for the good old days; it was also a warning about the gradual dehumanisation of beautiful human culture and ethnic traditions, not only among the Roma, but everywhere.

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