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Andrej Giňa: Paťiv. - We Still Know What Respect Is.

Prague, 10.4.2014 22:43, (ROMANO VOĎI )
Andrej Giňa. (FOTO: Lukáš Houdek)
Andrej Giňa. (FOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

It is no exaggeration to say that without Andrej Giňa (born 1936) there would be no Romani literature. At the very least it would be deprived not only of a number of excellent texts that can absolutely be compared to the better works of Czech literature, but also of a distinctive author who has brought to Romani writing an irreplaceable variety of styles, themes and topics.

Giňa's life essentially covers the complete story of the Romani minority here during the dramatic 20th century:  The author was born in a Romani settlement in eastern Slovakia, experienced harassment and threats from the Hlinka Guard there during the war, and lived with his parents during the postwar years as some of the first Romani settlers in the industrial areas of Bohemia - specifically, in Rokycany. He was one of the leading figures active at the end of the 1960s in the Union of Gypsies-Roma (Svaz Cikánů-Romů - SCR) and made his debut on the pages of its bulletin, Romano ľil, with his transcription of a traditional fairytale "About the Roma and the Black Lady" (O Romovi a černé paní).        

Giňa remained active in the Romani movement even after the SCR was banned, and during the 1980s his home was one of the central places where the Romani intelligentsia gathered, some of whose meetings were even reported on in the mainstream press. After the Velvet Revolution, Giňa was an active member of the Roma Civic Initiative (Romská občanská iniciativa - ROI) and also published a great deal in the emerging Romani press while dedicating himself to music at the same time.  

Today, despite his advanced age, he is still in business, selling Romani people the animal intestines, onions and potatoes needed to make "goja", as viewers of the biographical film portrait of Giňa made by Jaroslova Hovorka ("Goja jedou" - 2006) already know; those who have seen the relevant 1999 episode of the television cycle "I'm Still Here" (Ještě jsem tady) by Tereza Brdečková and Zdeněk Tyc will have learned this about him as well. He has also been a direct witness to this most recent, contemporary chapter in Romani history,  one of exclusion, pauperization, and social decline.

The bilingual Czech-Romanes anthology Pat'iv, which has been complied from Giňa's works by Romani studies scholars Karolína Ryvolová and Helena Sadílková, is intentionally organized so that the reader experiences all of these twists and turns of history through the author's texts. The introductory trio of stories - "Phuro" (Dědek - Old Man), "Pal o Škiparis" (O Škypárovi - About Škypár) and "Bijav" (Svatba - Wedding) - describe the years just before and during WWII in Slovakia, showing Romani society during the final moments of its integration into rural Slovak society.

Other pieces here represent the genre of open-ended narrative memoir, capturing moments from wartime - for example, the stories "Sar mušinďam te rozčhivel o khera" (Jak jsme si museli zbourat vlastní domy - How We Had to Raze Our Own Homes) or  "O Rusi kij’amende" (Rusové jsou tady - The Russians Are Here) are doubtless also of documentary value and could serve as reading material for teachers who want to discuss the Fascist persecution of the Roma specifically, but not schematically:  The passage from one such memoir in which a Slovak mayor refuses to hand a Jewish shopkeeper over to the Guard is a moving illustration of the classic Romani studies lesson that "some mayors stood up for their persecuted citizens", and when the narrator says at the end that "Pal o mariben pes phundraďa e luma a sako šaj geľa, kaj kamelas. Tolčemešiste le Romendar na ačhiľa aňi jekh." ("After the war the borders opened and anyone could go wherever he wanted. Not one Roma remained in Tolčemeš."), the reader has a very detailed notion of the kinds of gulfs these wartime events  exploded between the non-Roma and Roma neighbors in the village, what those ruptures looked like and how they were forged.   

That detailed view, the intimacy of the characters and the moments, is also characteristic of other texts in this collection, whether they introduce the reader to the environment of the Rokycany smelting works ("E Maruška" / Maruška), bring him into a neighbors' chat in a park ("Pre lavkica" / Na lavičce - On the Little Bench) or into a contemporary gaming room in the ghetto ("Sam diline, či nasvale?" / Jsme hloupí, nebo nemocní? - Are We Stupid Or Sick?). Giňa has mastered his ability to capture the nature of a mood or a situation, and he achieves this elegantly and with ease in just a few words or phrases of direct speech, which is unusual in the context of Romani writing.

The same goes for the character-types in the folk fairy tales included here from Giňa's transcriptions:  Even though these are well-known, widespread themes, the author's versions turn them into fresh, imaginative little pieces with no lack of piquant humor, as a Czech reader is accustomed to expecting from Romani fairy tales. Even the more didactic, moralizing pieces in the collection (such as the title story "Na bisterďam pre peskeri paťiv" / Ještě víme, co je úcta - We Still Know What Respect Is) are communicative and readable thanks to the author's ability to amuse and tell a story - they are genuine entertainment that reveals their originator to be an experienced, immeasurably kind, and wise person, and the author's father Andriš is presented as such in the anthology.   

The volume is edited according to the best Romani scholarship traditions, the foundations of which were laid here by Milena Hübschmannová. Most of the pieces in the collection have been previously published (the first three stories came out in 1991 in the collection Bijav/Svatba - [Wedding] as Giňa's sole book publication to date and won the Open Society Fund's literary prize in 2003), but the translations have been newly revised and the language of the original has been edited for uniformity.   

The introductory study to the collection by Karolína Ryvolová is valuable, as it places Giňa's works in a broader social context and includes a great deal of less well-known information about the author's life, the Romani movement, and this developing culture in general. I'm not going to argue with Ryvolová's stereotypical claim that Giňa is "not an established writer in the usual sense of the word", but I would just add that the course of his life, as portrayed in this study, is a model form of authorship among Czech Roma, and most certainly a contribution toward understanding the background and forms of Romani authors' writings.  

An appendix to the collection includes a selection of Giňa's letters to Milena Hübschmannová, the founder of Romani scholarship in our country who was an editor and friend to Giňa for many years, a valuable document that provides further insight into the context of the Romani movement and Giňa's works. The copious footnotes here are somewhat disruptive, as they explain what are sometimes generally-known things (such as what the National Front of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was) and go off into confusing, redundant and unnecessary cross-references and details; perhaps it would have been better to have included this interesting explanatory information at the very end of this section, or to have replaced it entirely with its own study, as such pieces in comprehensible, easily-accessible forms (e.g., as an article in one of the more prestigious magazines here) are desperately needed.    

However, it is likely that researchers seeking more detailed instruction will read these footnotes, and they will also appreciate the bibliography at the very end of the volume. It would be ungrateful to require more work of the editors, but it would be a great service to this Romani author's work and to his readers if we could soon see release of similar quality of the work of other significant Romani literary figures - Paťiv has shown us that the archives and low-budget magazines are still keeping secret a great deal that is more than worth reading.

Andrej Giňa: Paťiv. Ještě víme, co je úcta. Vyprávění, úvahy, pohádky, [Paťiv. We Still Know What Respect Is. Stories, reflections, fairy tales.] Triáda: Prague 2014. Translated from the Romanes by Milena Hübschmannová, Jana Kramářová, Denisa Miková, Karolína Ryvolová, Helena Sadílková, Alena Smutná and Martina Vyziblová.

ANDREJ GIŇA: "Trin jandre" (Three Eggs - excerpt)

E Romňi, e Kachňi, zageľa ke peskeri sušeda, ke Kohutaňa, phureder Romňi. „San khere?“ phučľa.

„Sar dikhes, ta sam. A vandre, ma terďuv maškar o vudar,“ odphenďa lake e Kohutaňa. „So pheneha, Romňije, koda miro baro šero mek na avľa khere pal o balos – sombatatar!“ „Ma vaker! A kaj geľa?“ zvedanones phučľa e Kohutaňa.

„Te ma džanás! Kaj šaj geľa. Ta ča pal kodi, so late o šero sar la Angela Davisonate.“

E Kohutaňa ča bonďarlas la šereha. „Ta kaj me leske kada cerpinás! O murša sa jednaka. Aňi miro na has feder, sar has terno. Me somas khere la čhajoraha a jov paš o slugaďa peske udživlas. Akana te mange kada kerlas, takoj les otravinav!“

O rom bešelas paš o skamind a ča dikhelas, sar leskera romňa zaiľa e choľi. Andal o jakha lake mište o jaga na chuťkernas.

„No me imar džav,“ phenďa e Kachňi. „Dikhen, bisterďomas soske avľom! Nane tumen khere trin jandre? Jov sar avel kavka nasigo khere, ta kamel švirža kerade rizki.“

+++

Eva, who was nicknamed Kachňi, rang the doorbell of her neighbor, an older Romani woman nicknamed Kohutaňa. "Are you home?" she asked.  

"As you can see. Come in, don't stand in the doorway," Kohutaňa summoned her.

"So, girl, what do you say to this:  That smart guy of mine isn't back from the party yet - and it was Saturday!"

"You're kidding! Where did he go?" Kohutaňa asked.

"Do I know? He probably went after that girl with the Afro, the one who looks like Angela Davis."

Kohutaňa shook her head in disbelief:  "I wouldn't put up with that! Guys are all the same. Mine was no different when he was young. I was at home with our little girl and he was enjoying himself in the Army. If he were to do that to me today I'd show him no mercy!" 

Kohutaňa's husband was sitting at the table, amazed at how angry his wife was. It was a wonder flames didn't blaze from her eyes.

"Well, I'll be going," Kachňi said. "You see now - I almost forgot why I came over here! You wouldn't have three eggs for me, would you? When he comes home late he usually wants freshly fried cutlets."

Alena Scheinostová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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