Academic journal article Romani Studies

Barbu Constantinescu, the First Romanian Scholar of Romani Studies

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Barbu Constantinescu, the First Romanian Scholar of Romani Studies

Article excerpt

* o. Introduction: The international context

The end of the nineteenth century witnessed dynamic activity in the folklore movements in Europe, amounting to the formation of the first Folklore Society (1878), followed one decade later by the Gypsy Lore Society. There was a time of intense exchange of views and information, ushering in momentum for the field and collecting Romani folklore, not only with the aim of amassing material, but also for scientific use and critical evaluation for the study of European folklore in general.

It was Francis Hinde Groome, founding member of the Gypsy Lore Society and its first editor, together with David MacRitchie, of the society's journal, who bridged the path between folklorists and the scholars of Romani studies. Groome is credited until today as having offered a so far unchallenged theory of folklore diffusion (Jones 1967: 72), having acknowledged the Roms as the disseminators of many beliefs and tales. His theory epitomizes a synthesis of two contemporary different disciplines, one represented by Theodor Benfey, the German translator of the Sanskrit fable collection Pañcatantra, in the introduction of which he expounds his theory about the story's migration theme and the wandering Roms bridging the gap between India and the European traditions. The second approach is represented by the linguistic and philological studies of Franz Miklosich who could determine, based on lone words in current Romani dialects, the routes of the Romani historical migration. Groome's diffusion theory was strongly opposed in the epoch by the mythological and anthropological schools, who assigned prehistoric antiquity to folktales, as seen, for instance, in the Transactions of the International Folk-lore Congress, a congress held in London in 1891 (Transactions 1891, vol. II: 374). However, Groome was then supported by a very prominent member of the Folklore Society, and a contributor to the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Moses Gaster.1

In the first issue of the first volume of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (JGLS),2 Groome rendered in English a Romani tale collected and published by Barbu Constantinescu in 1878, "The bad mother," and described it as "one of the best Gypsy folk tales that we have, and ... probably the best known among the Gypsies themselves."3 In the sixth issue of the first volume (345-9), Groome published his English translation of another tale from Constantinescu's collection, "The red King and the witch," described as "the very best Gypsy folk-tale that we have." Groome went on to publish an English translation of two other tales from the same collection, "The Vampire" (JGLS 1891 II (3): 142), and "The Master Chief" (JGLS 1893 III (3): 142-52). Notably, Groome knew all the Romani and sometimes non-Romani variants of these stories available in published collections. The reason for selecting the variant recorded by Barbu Constantinescu is explicitly discussed by Groome in the respective articles in JGLS, as well as in his anthology of Gypsy Folk-tales (1899), wherein he includes 13 tales of the Romanian scholar, out of which 11 are rendered in full, and only two are summarized, along with the full version recorded in other "better" variants. Groome considered the tales collected by Barbu Constantinescu as the best-preserved variants, accurate as transmitted by the Romani raconteurs.

Regarding the role of the Roms as lăutari or "wandering minstrels," thus described by E.C. Grenville Murray, the first English translator of Romanian popular poetry (Murray 1854: xxviii), Groome aptly quoted it in the introduction of the anthology of Gypsy Folk-tales (1899: xlv) in support of his transmission theory. E.C. Grenville Murray's first anthology of Romanian folk songs draws hugely on the collection of the most acknowledged Romanian poet and folklore collector of that time, Vasile Alecsandri. Quite recently, a manuscript was discovered of Vasile Alecsandri's Romanian folk songs collection with the musical notation of these songs, by the hand of Barbu Constantinescu and his brother. …

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