Garude Lava

Garude lava, (pl.) (garudo lav, m. sing.) – riddle (literally, hidden word), is often used in the plural even when designating only one riddle; synonym: "hadka" (Slov.), phenav tuke ajse garude lava, so len na džaneha avri te učharel – "I'll give/ask you a riddle that you won't be able to solve".

Riddles are a very popular genre of traditional oral culture of the Servika Roma. Adults as well as children enjoy them. Guessing games can spontaneously "burst out" at a large storytelling session (family or community), or they can make boring time go by more quickly for two people who, for some reason, are spending time together - on the road or doing physical work or while relaxing, etc.

In contrast to specific cultural events which are often prepared in advance, such as storytelling sessions or musical, singing, dancing or drinking parties bašaviben / mulatšagos, guessing games are unprepared. If some event reminds someone of a riddle, s/he will ask it, and then the others will either begin to compete with further riddles, or the riddle will not be picked up and the vakeriben (storytelling) or pherasa (joking) or another type of entertainment will continue.

Sometimes people guess for money and make bets on riddles. Keci thoves pre stavka? (literally, "How much will you put on a bet? What will you bet?") This, of course, makes the guessing game more exciting.

One special formal characteristic of the riddle is the introduction. The object we ask about is characterised as a close family member: čhavo (son of Romani parents), čhaj (daughter of Romani parents), phral (brother), or phen (sister). The introduction goes as follows: Hin man ajso čhavo/phral, so… ("I have a son/brother who…") or Hin man ajsi čhaj/phen, so… ("I have a daughter/sister who"):

Hin man ajsi phen, so phirel tele le šereha.
"I have a sister (1) who walks upside down."
(e gomboška andre topanka – a hobnail in a shoe)
Hin man ajsi čhajori, cinňi, nangori, e pori lake džal, kaj kames.
"I have a daughter who is small, thin and naked; a tail pulls her as far as it can."
(e suv le thaveha – a threaded needle)
Hin man ajso phral, so džal andro foros u ačhel odoj.
"I have a brother who goes to town and stays there."
(o drom – a road)
Hin man ajso čhavoro, so o guľi pal peste mukel.
"I have a little son who leaves droppings behind him."
(o šošoj – a hare)
Mor phen djese džal, phirel, raćasa pala vudar sovel.
"My sister walks during the day and sleeps outside at night."
(e motura – a birch whip)
Mor kalo kak, si les phak, zala vaćarel dža, ala phenel cha.
"My black uncle has wings. Sometimes he says, Dža, (Go) and will sometimes say, Cha (Eat)."
(o grvano – a raven)

Rade Uhlik even has riddles (typed material; unpublished) which have very similar variations in Slovak Romani folklore.

Si ma phen, kaj pi pojrori sa crdel pala pe. (from the collection of Rade Uhlik)
"I have a sister who pulls a little tail behind her."
Hin man ajsi phen, so e pori pal peste cirdel. (Servika Roma riddle)
"I have this sister who pulls a tail behind her."

The introductory formula is not "compulsory". In fact, it is impossible to begin some riddles with one (example given below). Sometimes the person who asks the riddle simply leaves out the standard incipit.

Although Slovak Roma do not put sub-groups of riddles into specific categories, we can categorise them according to various criteria.

We can say we have so sako džanel riddles – ("riddles everyone knows") – and mek ňiko na šunďa riddles, ("riddles no one has heard yet"). On one hand, there are standard, traditional, "old" riddles. On the other hand, there are new riddles, very often improvised on the spot. Riddles are usually improvised during a community gathering when someone is inspired to "fire off" a riddle. This inspires others to think up more and more new garude lava.

Among so sako džanel riddles belong, for example:

Štar phrala tel jekh staďi.
"Four brothers under just one hat."
(o skamind – a table)
Hin man ajso phral, so ča jekh kalapa hordinel.
"I have this brother who wears a hat."
(o karfin – a nail)
Hin man ajso čhavo, thoves les tele, rovel, hazdes les upre, rovel.
"I have this son: Put him down, he cries; pick him up, he cries."
(o lancos – a chain)

The author of this entry recorded the birth of an improvised riddle among the relatives of Bertin and Helena Demeter (1976). When Bertin Demeter's older sister Friška could not think of a single traditional riddle, she came up with an unusual problem based on the current social situation of the Roma, i.e. their migration from Slovakia to the Czech Republic. Her riddle belongs in the category of "mini-story" riddles.

Hin man pre Slovensko kher. Džav te bešel pro Čechi, kamav te thovel mange o kher pal e Praha. Savoro mire kherestar, so hin pre Slovensku, šaj anav manca, ča jekh na. So hin oda?
"I have a house in Slovakia. I move to the Czech Republic and want to build a house outside of Prague. Out of the house I have in Slovakia, I can take everything except one thing. What is it?"
(o paňi andal e vakovka, bo imar šuťiľa – water in the plaster because it has dried up)

Everybody there guessed bricks, tiles on the roof, door- or window- frames, but "dried water in the plaster" didn't occur to anyone – to the great pleasure and pride of Mrs. Friška.

Another improvised riddle was heard at a Romani children's camp in Kladno (1977) while people were sitting around a fire one evening. At that time we were collecting garude lava and we were trying to have the children think of riddles they knew by asking them to guess riddles we knew. Some riddles of the standard štar phrala… type came up. Then a screeching bird flew over our little gathering - and a riddle was born. Its first uncorrected version went like this: Denašel upre tele, gil'avel peske. ("It flies here and there and sings to itself.") The group made it sound more elegant:

Upre tele denaškerel, gil'i peske gil'avkerel.
"I flutter 'round the whole day long, while to myself I sing a song." (2)

Riddles are a test of wit. That is probably the social function of riddles in every culture on earth. Standard riddles so sako džanel ("that everyone knows"), cannot really test wit because the "guessers" have heard them innumerable times and so know the answers.

Despite that, even such riddles are a test, i. e., they examine romipen, knowledge of "Romani culture".

They evaluate knowledge of standard symbols that are repeatedly presented, confirmed and passed on in social gatherings. Riddles so sako džanel are included among such symbols.

Apart from the previously cited "four brothers under one hat", other riddles fall into this category, e.g.:

Duj phrala pal peste denašen, jekh avres našťi chudel.
"One brother runs after the other but can't catch him."
(either: kereki pal e bicigľa – a bicycle wheel, or: o kham, o čhon – the sun, moon)
So barol upre koreňiha?
"What grows with its roots on top of it?"
(upruno dand – an upper tooth)
Hin man ajso čhavo, calo rat terďol andro paňi, cindo nane.
"I have a son who stands in water all night and still does not get wet."
(o čhon – the moon)

"Guessers" of well-known evergreen riddles usually offer both possible solutions if there are more than one, and they are praised for their erudition in romipen with the same satisfaction as when they are praised for their wit in solving unfamiliar riddles.

Examples of riddles of the type kada mek na šunďom. ("I have never heard that one.").:

Romaňi daj - raklo goro
"Romani mother – non-Romani son"
(e rat, o čhon – night, moon)
Jekh kaľi andro kalo veš,
Parne čhave šel the deš,
Pijel loľi mol,
šoha na maťol.
(e džuv)
A black female in a black forest,
one hundred ten white children,
drinks red wine,
never gets drunk.
(a louse (3))
So keras savore jekhvarestar?
"What do we all do at the same time?"
(phuruvas – we get old)
So kerel sako jekh čhavoro, kana uľol?
"What will every new child do when it is born?"
(kerel than avre čhavoreske andre la dakero per – it will make room for more children in its mother's belly)

Riddles that nobody guesses right away awaken awe and admiration for their sophisticated metaphor, beautiful formulation, philosophical comprehension of life and correct wording. Kada čačipen! – "That's true! It's really like that!" – is an expression of greatest appreciation.

Riddles with unexpected or absurd punch lines based on jokes are called pherasa – jokes. Here are two examples:

Ko hordinel jekhbareder kalapa?
"Who wears the biggest hat?"
(kas hin kejhbareder šero – the one with the biggest head)
Soske prastal o šošoj kijo veš?
"Why does a hare run to the forest?"
(bo o veš na prastal kijo šošoj – because the forest doesn't run to the hare.)

Riddles, like tales or songs have raised the same question to some Gypsyologists: Are they originally Romani or are they borrowed from non-Romani neighbours? But like many kinds of tales and motifs, many riddles appear in the entire Eurasian region and it is difficult to track down which nation thought up which riddle. Some "Romani" riddles bear witness to their socio-cultural structures rather than to a Gadžo origin. Some actually come from experiences of Romani life.

Riddles based on puns are undoubtedly Romani in origin. These are not translatable to other languages. If we explain them, the joke gets lost. Nevertheless, we will present such riddles for the sake of clarity:

Phen jekhe laveha, so hin the lolo the kal'i.
"In one word, say what is red and black."

(rat: lolo rat, kal'i rat – The word rat in the masculine gender means blood; in the feminine, it means night. The riddle is therefore based on two homophones with different meanings and different genders.)

Pijes les, pijes la, jov cindo, joj šuki.
"You drink him; you drink her; he is wet; she is dry."

(o paňi, e cigaretl'a – The word pijel, in its first meaning to drink, means to smoke in connection with a cigarette. It means to take when it is connected to medication. Paňi – water – is masculine, therefore, he; cigarette is feminine, therefore, she. The riddle comes from different meanings of one word.)

There are also interesting riddles based on Romani-Czech/Slovak bilingualism. The riddle asks for a homophone which means something different in Romani and in Czech. In this category would perhaps be included the Czech word jak – how (Romani: sar). The phonetic equivalent in Romani has two meanings. Both, according to the principles of morphological spelling, are written differently from the way they are pronounced: jakh (pronounced yock) means eye; jag (also ronounced yock) means fire.

Phen mange s'oda hin jak?
"Tell me what a jak (yock) is."

If the person who is guessing does not give all three Romani-Czech words (how, eye, and fire), the person who asked the riddle always "gets" him/her.

Another bilingual riddle is based on homophones. The Romani word tato (read "totto" – warm) is pronounced like the Czech word "táto"! (Daddy! Father! – dado). Asking as well as solving function very much the same way as in the preceding riddle.

A very special kind of "test" which is not a riddle is the "test of Romani words". This word play or language test is an enormously beloved social pastime. The audience tests one type of Romani knowledge. Knowledge of Romani is limited to particular words, phrases or sentences. The person asking the question introduces it either with a Romani expression which is to be translated into Czech (phen mange, s'oda hin… – "Tell me what …is") or a Czech expression which the audience has to say in Romani (Sar pes penel romanes ... – "How do you say in Romani…")

Language riddle games also test two aspects of knowledge. If the riddle falls into the category of oda sako džanel ("everyone knows this one"), romipen (Romani culture) is being tested. If it belongs to the type oda mek ňiko na šunďa ("no one ever heard this one"), knowledge of the language is tested.

For a long time, the following two popular test words and expressions were circulated throughout all the Romani communities: kotorošno cel'atos (mottled calf) and o melalo džal opre la phirduňaha te šulavel avri o thuvalo ("the chimneysweep climbs up the ladder to clean the chimney"). The familiar word kominaris – taken from Slovak, is replaced by the neologism melalo (literally, dirty), while the borrowed word drabina (ladder) is replaced by the neologism phirduňi. (This word has several regional variations and means a nomadic woman or, elsewhere, a loose woman.) Thuvalo (literally, belching smoke, sometimes a cigar replaces the borrowed word kominos.

If someone did not know those two expressions at the time they were going round all of what was then the Czechoslovak Republic, he failed in romipen. It was doubted whether he was a čačo Rom – a real Rom. He exposed himself to the danger that people would say, Na phirel maškar o Roma, ("He doesn't walk with Roma" - he doesn't participate in Romani gatherings), or even čhinel pes le Romendar, ("He shuns Roma"). If he had gone around with Roma, he would necessarily have thought of "mottled calf" and "the chimneysweep climbing the ladder".

Forgotten archaisms, newly created neologisms and words from other Romani dialects are not included in assessing knowledge of romipen. It is rather the knowledge of the language, of linguistic imagination that is tested. At various gatherings, the author of this entry recorded test words such as: bešt'i (chair, from bešel – to sit – a neologised archaism instead of the usual stolkos) paraput'a / paraput'i (generation – it was not possible to verify the etymology), mothod'i (unjustified absence from work – a slang expression apparently borrowed from what was then Yugoslavia), mulaňi bar (cemetery – regional expression for the more usual cintiris), ričh (a bear – archaic/dialectal word for the more common medved'is), nakhvadž (elephant – neologism, literally, person with a large nose), šingvadž (rhinoceros – neologism, literally, horned animal), slang expressions like lol'i d'ind'ard'i (literally, long red – carrot); phagerd'i / dandval'i (literally, broken/toothy – corn), etc. etc.

Just as in the folklore of other nations, "riddle-stories" appear in the folkore of Romani stories. Most belong in the category of pherasune/charne paramisa (funny/short stories). A riddle (one or more, usually three) and its solution create a plot joining fairytale opponents. The "hero" - he is the good, clever, and funny person the listener roots for – usually has to solve the riddle posed by his adversary. Understandably, he guesses it right and thus wins. But it can be the contrary: The hero wins by asking his adversary a funny riddle that the adversary doesn't guess and is defeated. One of this type is the very original story, La Romňakeri hadka, which was told in 1954 by Mr. Laci Tancoš (1923-1997) from Petrovany near Prešov (4).

It is hard to say what the future fate of Romani riddles will be like. Meanwhile they are a constantly living and favourite genre of folkloric creativity. Thanks to Roma and non-Roma collectors, books have been published recently. These will be kept for future generations not only of Roma but of all who want to enjoy some fun and sharp wit.

1 Romani nouns, animate and inanimate, have two genders: masculine and feminine. The use of male family members is a hint that the answer to the riddle is a masculine word. If the family member is feminine, then the answer is a feminine word. When translating riddles into other languages that also have genders, these genders do not necessarily coincide with those of Romani nouns. This makes translation difficult. When the genders are not the same, the translator might use "sibling" for brother or sister so that the reader is not confused. For example, in Romani, the word for door (o vudar) is masculine, whereas the French word (la porte) is feminine. Hin man ajso phral, phirel okle arde, stukinel."J'ai un frère. Il fait des va-et-vient et il grince." ("I have a brother. He goes back and forth and he squeaks."). In French, the word "frère" (brother) would be misleading, as the answer is "une porte". (The Romani door groans, but French doors squeak.) Several riddles Romist Rade Uhlik and Romani poet, politician and journalist Rajko Djurić (1980, p. 54, no. 177; p. 30, no. 83), collected in the former Yugoslavia begin with a similar incipit, i.e., introductory formula.
2 Paraphrase by translator of this entry.
3 When, in 1973, Mrs. Helena Dz. of Skalice near Česká Lipa, heard this riddle, she liked it so much that she instructed her husband to write it down. She herself was not good at writing.
4 The author of this entry wrote down the story as it was dictated to her. At that time, she was a beginning student of Romani language and culture. She published it in "Romské pohádky" (1974) in the form in which she had transcribed it. Since some Romani folkloric groups - e.g. "the children's ensemble of Mrs. Čonková of Ostrava" – seek material for their members to present on stage, we tried dramatising the story La Romňakeri hadka ("The Romani woman's riddle"). The illustrations in this entry are excerpted from that play.


Djurić, Rajko (1980) Romane garadine alava – romske zagonetke (= Balkanske narodne umotvorine 2). Beograd.
Hübschmannová, Milena (ed.) (1987) Čeho je na světě nejvíc – So hin pro svetos jekhbuter?. Praha.
Kyuchukov, Hristo (2001) Amari Romani Lumja. Sofia.
Image Printable version
Image La Romňakeri hadka