Craft

One of the most important and oldest trades of the Roma is the smith trade. [Blacksmiths / Coppersmiths] The best-known representatives of this trade are the Kalderaš. In the pool of original Indian terms there are no definitions for metal working professions. Most expressions derive from Greek, Armenian or Persian, which may lead to the conclusion that the Roma have learnt the smith’s trade only in the course of their migration.

Roma smiths enjoyed a high standing due to their special knowledge and were one of the most important service traders. A Greek proverb tells that every village needs a church and a "Gypsy" – in other words a priest and a blacksmith. In particular, in southeastern Europe for a long time the Roma were identified with the profession of smith. Originally, Roma smiths were mainly working for the nobility and the military, and produced horseshoes, riding tools, cannon balls, swords and stirrups. The first documents found, dated already at the end of the 15th century. In 1496 Wladislaw II (1490-1516), King of Hungary and Bohemia issued a letter of safe-conduct for one Roma group; on the basis of this letter the Roma group was assigned the monopoly for the production of the whole shooting requirements for the Bishop Sigismund of Fünfkirchen (Pécs).

It can be assumed that in terms of working techniques and production the Roma were more flexible than the members of the majority population working in the same field. Due to their mobility and multilingualism they came into contact with different peoples, they passed on their knowledge and in return they learnt new production procedures and got to know new tools. This is the reason why they considerably contributed to the diffusion of the cool-hammer techniques in Europe.

Due to the fact that the Roma and Sinti have always been forced to adapt to different conditions, it was easy for them to adjust to different necessities in the relative regions. In the course of time they extended their range of activities and soon they were working in metal working professions. The range of metal working professions reaches from the work of boilermaker to nails and drill makers up to coppersmiths, goldsmiths and silversmiths. The most appreciated and richest are the coppersmiths and the boiler-makers. In Romania there are many Roma communities, (esp. the Kalderaš), who still work in this branch.

"The strongest group of the former ”Kortorara“ maintained their original profession of boiler-makers even when they became settled. We mainly work with copper and in Transylvania we were also called "Nemtoi"(Neamt-Germans), maybe because we, the coppersmiths were the richest of all Roma groups. A boiler-smith earned as much as he wanted, provided that he knew well his trade. This reputation has remained. When for example at the beginning of the Seventies the industrial boiler of the Independenta-Factory in Hermannstadt (Sibiu) was damaged and the experts did not have any advice anymore, the foreman had called the Gypsy Mihutescu. My father came and looked at the damage and promised to overhaul it on the condition that he could work behind closed doors; and he succeeded." (Remmel, p. 189-190)

Other Roma groups (e.g. Bugurdzje) specialised in the production of different tools, like wood drills from hardened iron. The Roma from the Rumanian Toflea reached an international reputation and could hardly cope with the orders, even in the communist era. They worked with conceivably simple means and trusted in their ears and their eyes. The goldsmiths and the silversmiths offered their work mostly on markets. They melted coins on charcoal and in the shortest time produced the most varied jewellery.

Like in the field of metal working professions the working tools for the other traditional craft professions had to be simple, easily transported and functional. In the course of history the Roma and Sinti always had to be prepared to move on quickly, and using heavy devices would make this impossible. Roma workmen had to rely on their flexibility and on their skills to a larger extent than the respective workmen of the majority population.

In view of their craft skills, besides the smiths, the basket weavers (Sepečides), spoon makers (Lingurari), and the trough makers (Balajara), enjoyed a high standing. The latter produced big slaughter troughs, and well troughs, as well as troughs and containers for the conservation of different kinds of food; this profession requires a high extent of skill and even the most marginal mistake is not excused. It is essential to have a detailed knowledge of the type of wood and to deal professionally with the tools. If there was a hole in the thin outer wall of a large trough, the tough work of many days as well as the expensive material were meaningless and destroyed.

References

Fonseca, Isabell (1996) Begrabt mich aufrecht. Auf den Spuren der Zigeuner, München.
Fraser, Angus (1992) The Gypsies. Oxford.
Gilsenbach, Reimer (1998) Weltchronik der Zigeuner. 2500 Ereignisse aus der Geschichte der Roma und Sinti, der Luri, Zott und Boza, der Athinganer, Tattern, Heiden und Sarazenen, der Bohémiens, Gypsies und Gitanos und aller Minderheiten, die "Zigeuner" genannt werden. Teil 1: Von den Anfängen bis 1599 (= Studien zur Tsiganologie und Folkloristik 10), Frankfurt.
Mayerhofer, Claudia (1988) Dorfzigeuner. Kultur und Geschichte der Burgenland-Roma von der Ersten Republik bis zur Gegenwart, Wien.
Remmel, Franz (1993) Die Roma Rumäniens. Volk ohne Hinterland, Wien.
Stojka, Ceija (1988) Wir leben im Verborgenen. Erinnerungen einer Rom-Zigeunerin, Wien.
Vossen, Rüdiger (1983) Zigeuner. Roma, Sinti, Gitanos, Gypsies zwischen Verfolgung und Romantisierung, Hamburg.
Image Printable version
Image Trough maker (Baranya megye [Hungary])
Image Roma making ropes (Bujanovac [Yugoslavia])
Image Dragan Jevremović and Mišo Jevremović producing a copper kettle (Vienna)
Image "Amen sijam kovačija ..." – "We are blacksmiths ..."
Image O Dragan Jevremović mothol, so o krpač kerel – Dragan Jevremović on the tinker’s job
Image Fatma Heinschink on cutting rods and the best baskets
Image Tinkerer
Image Processing of Sieve and Tambourine
Chair maker (Deutsch Kaltenbrunn [Bgld.]/Austria), 1934
Sieve maker family (Afghanistan), 1977