Academic journal article Romani Studies

Wearing Gypsy Identity in a Gábor Gypsy Community in Tîrgu Mures

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Wearing Gypsy Identity in a Gábor Gypsy Community in Tîrgu Mures

Article excerpt

The article is based on research conducted in Tîrgu Mures, Romania, among a Vlax Gypsy group, the Gábors. I was struck by the Gábors' characteristic dress codes and the significance they attach to them. As one elderly man emphasised: "We haven't changed our dress, not at all [. . .] for the Gábors, this is ancient and has existed since there are Gábors . . ." This initial impression inspired me to write the present article, in which I begin with a brief outline of the method used, after which I move to the ideological framework around which my argument is built. Following this section, I describe the apparent facts, including Gábor Gypsy dress codes and public behaviour and then make an attempt to draw consequences as to the relationship between Gábor identity and ethnic dress, how Gábor self-consciousness and its variations of content and meaning are related to dress, what symbolic role clothing plays and what this medium communicates.

Keywords: dress codes, identity, ethnicity, Vlax Gypsies, Gábor Gypsies, Gypsy self-identification

The fieldwork

The article is based on one-year long fieldwork that I started in the summer of 2003. I contacted a Romanian Gábor family in Budapest, who were doing business in and around the city, and, accepting their offer, I tutored the children in basic reading and writing. For two months, I paid regular visits to their home, accompanied the family to the nearby Adventist church, helped them whenever I could - especially by giving them information and advice on how to navigate through the bureaucracy in Hungary In return, I asked them to assist me in collecting information for my university studies. Starting with this fruitful co-operation, in August 2003 I went to Tîrgu Mures, Transylvania, where I embarked on a one-year-long field trip, paying frequent visits to the neighbouring village, Budiu Mic,1 as the family members and their extended kinsmen lived in these two settlements. For ten months I lived in a different district in the same town, commuting to and from their living quarters, Unirii, every day, or met Gábors at my home or in the city centre. In the last two months of my field trip I lived in the home of one of my closest Gábor acquaintances.

I cultivated strong relations with certain members of the extended family, which were manifested in our frequent mutual visits, mutual assistance in various matters, and the roles they assigned to me. The nature of our relationship resulted in numerous informal and unstructured conversations, which later proved to be my major source of information. Thus, the data obtained in this way was supplemented and supported by information obtained through participant observation and interviewing. Depending on the situation, I applied a range of data-collecting methods, including recording the interviews on audio tape or video tape, or by taking notes. The tape recorder was not very popular, unlike the camera, which I could use often, especially when several members of the community were present on a certain festive occasion, and some of the participants could present the "mainstream" idea of the group in front of the camera.

Research context

Various ideas have influenced me throughout the analysis. First, when analysing Gypsy culture we should not forget the internal structure nor the group's relations with the outside world. The two spheres influence one another and cannot be separated, nor can the individuals who are the actual actors. As the concrete actions of the individuals and their practices maintain the connection between the ideal constructions of the group and the outside world, the differences between the two spheres, as well as a group's distinctive traits, are maintained by the members in interaction.

Second, I have incorporated Patrick Williams's symbolic interpretation and put much emphasis on analysing the relationships that members of the ethnic group cultivate with non-members. Remaining on the individual's level, I have also made an attempt to understand how ethnicity is reflected in their economic, cultural and social behaviour. …

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