Kovačis (Kováři)

Charťas, m. (Gr.); syn. charťas, kovačis, kovaľis: blacksmith.

The blacksmith trade (charťiko buťi [Buti]) was one of the two most traditional and basic means for Roma to earn a living. Some Roma jati had already lived by their blacksmth work in India. Historic sources mention settled Gypsy blacksmiths in the Byzantine empire. Roma blacksmiths characteristically did their work in a sitting position . After musicians, blacksmiths enjoyed the greatest respect. In prewar Slovak villages, they held an irreplaceable position because they specialised in a series of small services and products that non-Roma blacksmiths did not do, e.g. romano karfin (Slo. "Cigánsky klinec" – nail with a broad head), S-shaped objects for connecting links of chains, etc. Many blacksmiths produced special technical and high-quality steel (apsin) and steel objects such as knives and axes. The advantage to farmers was that Roma blacksmiths offered their services in exchange for food (potatoes, cheese, sour milk, fat, etc.) while Slovak blacksmiths asked for money.

Some Roma blacksmiths even lived outside Gypsy settlements, in a village maškaral o gav.

Usually every member of the blacksmith's family took part in all the work the blacksmith trade demanded. The father and one of his sons (in some cases his wife or daughter if there were no sons in the family) marelas pro trast (literally, hammered iron, i.e. worked at the forge); the wife or children phurdenas pišot (operated the bellows).

The material with which they worked was puranetrasta (old iron, pl.). Either the children collected this old iron in farmyards or the blacksmith received it in exchange for new articles. The wife went pal o gava (from village to village) to sell new articles. Sometimes she carried them in a zajda – a cloth on the back – holding twenty or thirty kilos of horseshoes, chains, clamps and hoes. Sometimes she covered four or five villages in one day.

The blacksmith's family produced its own angara (charcoal). On a convenient spot in the woods they built a charcoal pile and during the time when the waste wood carbonised, the members of the blacksmith's family lived in a temporary hut.

With industrial development, the blacksmith trade declined. Only the most skillful could live by their trade. On top of that, as a condition for blacksmiths to practice their trade, a certificate of apprenticeship was required. Some Roma blacksmiths turned to producing art metalwork. In Podunajské Biskupice near Bratislava they even founded an art cooperative in the thirties. Those who did not make a living at their trade tried to learn bašaviben – the musical profession. Many, then, worked as blacksmiths during the week and on Saturdays and Sundays played music. ("Perdal o kurko marelas, sombat kurko phirelas te bašavel").

Image Printable version
Image "Amen sijam kovačija ..." – "We are blacksmiths ..."
Image O Memiši buki kerel pišotesa ... – Memiši is working the bellows ...
Roma blacksmith with a helper, 1600
Garden fence made by Alojz Šarközy (Dunajská Lužná [Bratislava]/Slovakia)
Roma blacksmiths characteristically did their work in a sitting position