buťi, f. (Ind.): work, physical labour; te kerel buťi: to do physical work.
In some dialects it has a specific meaning: to work as a blacksmith, to run a blacksmith shop. More often, though, it is specified with the adjective romaňi/charťiko: te kerel romaňi/charťiko buťi – literally, to do Roma/blacksmith work.
The term buťi signified exclusively physical labour which - apart from blacksmith work – had a basically lower status than, for example, a career as a musician or a tradesman. People who touched unclean objects or materials had an especially low status. In India and in some traditional Roma communities, included among these objects were animal skins; excrement and trash of course, but also soil. The types of working/non-working activities then determined the borders between individual clans (castes, jati [džati]) and their positions on the hierarchical ladder of the entire society (whether Indian or Roma).
If we ask a musician, "Savi buťi keres?" ("What kind of work do you do?"), he answers (and often aggrieved), "Me na kerav buťi, me bašavev." ("I don't work; I play music for a living.") A tradesman would object in a similar way: "Me na kerav buťi, me šeftinav." ("I don't work; I trade.")
When, during the war, Roma musicians did physical labour (te kerel buťi) in forced labour camps, or, under the German occupation, dug trenches for Nazi soldiers, the mere fact that they were "forced to exchange their bows for picks and shovels" was a psychological trauma for them. The hope that they would again have the opportunity of playing music and enjoying the prestige afforded to musicians was definitively buried by the Communist regime. If, under socialism, a musician wanted to make a living with his music, he had to take specialised and political examinations. However, only musicians educated in Gadžo institutions – not Roma musicians educated in specific age-old Roma tradition – could pass those examinations. Surrounded by music from birth, they had kan (lit., an ear, i.e. a musical ear) and they had no need to be able to read music. Some of the oldest musicians – even those with le Devlestar (lit. [a talent] from God) – could not read or write. They did not need literacy to be professional musicians. The Gadžo Communists, however, required this knowledge – and much more – of them. Only a very small percentage of Roma musicians passed institutional examinations. For the majority, their fate in Communist society became buťi – hard physical labour on construction sites, in digging the Prague Metro or in stables and on the fields of national farms or cooperatives.
Neither the extent of the semantic field nor the sociocultural value of the word buťi corresponds to the English word "work" or the Czech word "práce". "Work" often implicitly contains in its broadest sense the idea of the work ethic and diligence. In agricultural European society, work is highly valued. In traditional Roma societies – as in India – people honoured professions which have nothing in common with buťi (physical work, labour), they valued playing music, trading, etc.
On the other hand, always next to the age-old contemptuous attitude toward buťi (physical work), is the principle expressed by Romani sayings such as: "Manuš dživel, dar pes del" ("Man lives as he can"), "Andre bida sa sikhľoha" ("Necessity teaches you everything"), "Feder te tut marel buťi, sar te tut marďahas bokh," ("It's better to suffer from work than to suffer from hunger"), "Te na kereha buťi, na chaha" ("If you don't work, you won't eat.") In times of crisis, unemployment or social change, when Roma could not exercise their age-old Roma professions, many families became used to any kind of buťi that allowed them to survive - and "tel del le čhaven te chal" (to feed the children). Thus the status of physical work or, rather, steady employment connected with physical labour was elevated.
New castes were constituted: clans - or even settlements - of so-called buťakere Roma (Roma doing physical labour) – e.g., miners (in Slovinky u Krompachů), bricklayers, lime burners, etc. The status of buťi rose all the more as steady work/buťi brought greater material advantages.
Still today, in many Roma households, you can find on the walls prizes awarded to a "model worker of socialist work", (vzorný pracovník socialistické práce), testimonials about members of "socialist work brigades", etc. On one hand, these certificates show the shift of the value of buťi. On the other hand, they show that not all Roma were "lazy" or "loafers", that "they didn't feel like working."
Unfortunately, today, what befell Roma so often in their history is being repeated. They had hardly begun to overcome innumerable barriers, and with tremendous effort, become integrated into the socioeconomic structures of the general society, when the Gadžo social structure again deprived marginal stigmatised groups of their place in society. ("Rom site šelvarbiš pes te mocinel, te kamel pre ajso than te avel sar gadžo" - "A Rom must try 120 times as hard to reach the same place as a Gadžo.") And so the Roma were the first who, through restructure of the economy, lost the buťi (work/jobs) to which, under socialism, they had begun to be accustomed and which they had gradually begun to value. [Racism and human rights]