Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Stories with and about Wall Carpets. an Anthropological Account on the Inhabitation of Ursari Romanian Roma

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Stories with and about Wall Carpets. an Anthropological Account on the Inhabitation of Ursari Romanian Roma

Article excerpt

Story goes that sometime in the eighteenth century, a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire by the name of Pasha Selim bought three Europeans from slave-trading pirates. They were Constanze, a young Spanish woman from a wealthy family, her English maid, and Pedrillo, who was the servant of Belmonte, Contanze's fiancé. After managing to trace them, Belmonte attempted to free them, by ways of a scheme in which he gained the Pasha's trust. Together with Pedrillo, he attempted a daring escape from Pasha Selim's estate, only to be caught in the act by the Pasha and his guards.3 The haste and panic of the run were immortalised as one of the most iconic images that can be found on the sort of wall carpets that became popular in the communist and early post-communist Romania. Apart from this visual and material representation, the whole story has also been enacted under names like "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" (The Serian Kidnapping) or "The Abduction from the Seraglio", as a three-act opera signed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, successfully performed for the first time in 1782.

What is the story that a wall carpet which depicts the Serian Kidnsapping tells? Would it be a story of the endangered love between beautiful Constanze and brave Belmonte, or would it be about Pasha Selim's anger and retribution? Perhaps it is but a visual representation of the plot of Mozart's first success. It might be that, for Romanian people, none of these stories would be anyhow linked to a dangled wall carpet illustrating Belmonte, Constanze and Pedrillo. They are associated with late communism years and, mostly, with the early post-communism years, recalling stories of Nicolae Ceausescu4's good relations with countries like Libya, which facilitated the entrance of these carpets in Romania.

The following analysis is an attempt to make justice to the context and the material framework in which, and about which, stories are articulated and enacted. The basic premise is that the way in which houses look like and are made to look like is also part of the narrative expressed by people about who they are. Thus, the notion of place will be of paramount importance, as the small stories which will be referred to are verbal acts through which tellers negotiate their belongings and claim their place in the world.

In pursuing this analysis, houses and domestic objects will be seen as the material frame which has the aptitude "to prove to itself and to others, through the objectivation of practice, its competences and status as an element of collective life" (Rosales 2010: 516). Paraphrasing Clarke and Garvey, houses will be looked at in terms of áctualisation', meaning that they enable occupants to actualise the vision they have of themselves in the eyes of others (Clarke 2001: 42, Garvey 2001: 49). The wall carpets dangled by Roma people in a north-eastern Romanian town constitute the main focus of the analysis and will be assessed as visual elements of the verbal narrative which assist people in telling experience-centred small stories.

Taking a cue from Georgakopoulou, this paper appreciates narratives both as discourses and as activities, constituting, thus, a type of shared resources that have the potential to create and maintain "communities of practice" (2007: 9). The social and domestic practice of hanging wall carpets is crucial here, as it enables me to discuss the importance of objects in the act of story-telling. In this fashion, acknowledging that narratives emerge from interactions between people, the aim of the paper is to show that in the emergence of stories, an important role is played by interactions between people and objects. In brief, the wall carpets will be analysed here as material presences in storytelling events and as objects of experience-centred stories that assist Roma people in negotiating and enacting their identities and belongings.

My empirical data regarding the practice of hanging wall-carpets consists of 12 semi-structured interviews about wall carpets, mentions of these items which emerged spontaneously in discussions which had a more general scope, and field notes I produced as participant observer who took part in ethnographic episodes at home (mainly within household activities such as cleaning and wall-liming walls sessions). …

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