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The Gábor in Transylvania / Romania
The Gábor belong to the wide spectrum of Romani-speaking ethnic groups in Transylvania. Beyond their home region around the city of Tîrgu Mureş (Hungarian: Marosvásárhely) they have been economically embedded and recognised as craftsmen and tradesmen for many generations. Over time they have developed their own specific Roma culture. While this entails the passing down of traditional characteristics from one generation to the next, external factors – such as the current influence of neo-protestant missions – bring visible changes to this culture.
“But, we Gábor. Do you know what do we do? We travel. We travel throughout the year, from spring until Christmas. We travel to Hungary, Germany, England and within Romania. And everywhere we look for decent work, do business or build and repair gutters. But we do work properly. We don’t beg and don’t steal. We are big business. Even the police know who we are, the entire Hungarian government knows that we Gábor men with our moustaches and our women in long skirts, we don’t take anything from others and they also know that we believe in God. They know that we are businesspeople. We don’t steal, we don’t hit each other and we do not kill. We don’t do these things. Among all Gábor in Transylvania you won’t find a single person who is not a businessman.” (Teréz Burcsa, Gábor romni from Tîrgu Mureş, Romania, in summer 2000)
“We Gábor” means a network of hundreds of Roma families who all refer to a certain common ancestor called Gábor (English: Gabriel). Although the network of Gábor families stretches across many large European cities and even as far as San Francisco on the edge of the Pacific, most Gábor consider their home in Transylvania, in the region around Tîrgu Mureş. The Gábor are hard workers and traders. Currently one will meet them at almost every weekly market in Transylvania where they prefer to sell used clothes, jackets and leather shoes or antiques. In line with their traditions, the men wear wide-brimmed hats in addition to their moustaches. The women dress in their long, mostly floral pleated skirts. They claim to arrange marriages only between themselves. It is the traditional duty of any married Gábor woman to wear a headscarf. In this sense, they have long been part of the public image of ethnically heterogeneous Transylvania.
The region of Tîrgu Mureş in Transylvania is today regarded as the central settlement area of ?the?the Gábor. Names and occupations of the ancestors of today’s Gábor were found in an old Greek-Catholic parish register from a village nearby. At that time they had the same family names as they do today which are closely linked to their occupations. Thus, the Rostás family name is synonymous with Csurar, which is translated as sievemaker. The children to be baptised whose family names were Gábor and Burcsa on the other hand usually had their fathers’ occupations indicated as Căldărar and Faur, translated as boilermaker and blacksmith. All three family names still make up over 90% of all Gábor family names. The Gábor say that their ancestors came to the region with tents during the 19th century and then settled. They believe their ancestors to have been tent gypsies who had previously travelled across the country in caravans, offering their services and goods to the local population for centuries. Old, preserved tax registers prove that these tent gypsies used to even pay an annual tax to the Hungarians, Austrians and Turks who ruled Transylvania in turn. Sievemakers, copper boiler makers and iron forgers travelled in these caravans, as well as locksmiths, knife grinders, goldsmiths or shoemakers. All these professions were useful to the farmers and herdsmen of rural Transylvania for centuries and were only carried out by these mobile tent gypsies. Yet the settlement of the Gábor forefathers in the 19th century in the region of Tîrgu Mureş did not mean that they no longer left their homes. They had solid winter quarters and were on the road only during the summer, as they are to this day. The time of their settlement also saw the era of modernisation approach and the gradual change in their social environment advanced. This had an impact particularly on their range of goods and services, as some handmade products were replaced by industrial production. Additionally, the local markets became richer and more accessible for the settled population and modern media completely changed the previously more mobile entertainment sector.
The principle of independent niche economy characteristic of so-called tent gypsies and the Gábor prevailed, even after the change of the product and service range in the 20th century and was also preserved during the Ceauşescu era. The only difference was that the Gábor now increasingly moved by car instead of horse and tent throughout Romania, and specialised in procurement, brandy distillery and gutter construction. Many Gábor used the opportunities for international travel with the borders opening after the fall of the Ceauşescu regime in 1989 to do new and sometimes very lucrative business. The profits from trading in foreign goods led to a strengthened economy for many families. The earlier separation between sievemakers and smiths based on the family names Rostás and Burcsa and Gábor no longer exists today. Trade and gutter construction are currently the most important occupations which are carried out across family names.
Hence the Gábor can today be found at every market in the region where they sell inexpensive second-hand clothes or shoes that they obtain in large quantities from western Europe, as well as a few antiques. Many families even have regular weekly cycles of market visits to the region, which proves the high demand for the goods offered by the Gábor. Some Gábor families even travel to far away markets in other regions of Romania if the promised gains outweigh the effort of getting there. Some families also specialise in the lucrative role of intermediary for certain products, provided this role is not yet occupied or the necessary capital and appropriate contacts for international business travel are still lacking.
In addition to modern business trips at home and abroad, the migrant craft and labour of gutter construction is done regionally, domestically or internationally. When and where jobs are available, profitable trade is executed. The market businesses are then taken over by other family members.
CONTINUITY AND CHANGE IN GÁBOR CULTURE
The individual Gábor families are the building blocks of Gábor culture where the specific dialect which distinguishes them from other Romani-speaking groups is spoken. The families also establish kinship networks through marriages, which they arrange among themselves, and by the young who emerge from newly formed families. The marriage usually follows a certain pattern, known as patrilocality. Only the brides, who are usually married at a young age, are mobile and are equipped with a dowry before moving in with their in-laws. Over time, newly founded families move – except for the youngest son who inherits his father’s house if possible – into their own houses in the area. Sometimes the relocation of families creates new settlements and economies in other regions. This patrilocal practice means that the chances of a family establishing themselves in a place depend mainly on the male offspring because their own offspring will in turn stay in the family. Thus, kinship networks of entire family clans have been established in different villages around Tîrgu Mureş. Large and wealthy families in particular often have distinguished men and women who will be honoured as Baro or Phuro Rom and Bari or Phuri Romni even after their death. These “great elders” are respected beyond their own extended family and are called in for jurisdiction in the krisi romani to settle severe, internal disputes within the group. They are also held in high esteem by the Hungarian and Romanian neighbours in the villages. In addition, these families often have one or more silver cups and jugs in their possession, which are generally called taxtaj and all have a specific name. These taxtajs were considered valuable heirlooms even during the time of the tent gypsies. Lucas J. Marienburg’s “Geography of the Grand Duchy of Transylvania” of 1813 already claims that the “tent gypsy’s passion is one, and often several, silver cups.” (1987 : 107). Today’s Gábor determine the price for these taxtajs themselves. Their estimated value within the group can exceed its physical value by a multiple.
The influence of modernity has a striking effect on the settlement patterns of Gábor families. In earlier times, the Gábor settled in ethnically and geographically relatively closed housing developments in so-called “Zigani” at the edges of villages which are not exclusive to Transylvania. In recent decades, however, a growing influx of families from these areas at the edge of villages has moved to the villages’ main streets and to homes at the towns’ outskirts. It appears that the trail from the rural to the urban context is increasingly taken by many young Gábor families. Despite the inhabitation of some very stately homes, the Gábor’s flexible approach to the sedentary life and/or being mobile remains.
Another important influence on the Gábor culture which in recent years has led to changing lifestyles concerns the missionary activity of neo-protestant churches. As a result of the successful proselytising by, for instance, the Pentecostal church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially the Seventh-Day Adventists, many Gábor now visit church regularly, sometimes even several times a week. The transformation from rather passive church members to active believers led devout church-goers in the case of the Gábor living in Craciunesti, the village where most Gábor live and where most of them have already become Adventists, to a run separate, self-funded Adventist prayer house.
Significant conversion rates and a growing and ever more dominant role of these new religions occurred particularly after the political changes of 1989. Although neo-protestant missionary successes among Roma and gypsy groups is no exception in Romania, a specific adoption and influence of the Adventist worldview on Gábor culture cannot be denied. For example the influence on clothes where “white” is considered newly fashionable, the celebration of Holy Saturday combined with several hours of visiting the Adventist prayer houses or turning away from alcohol, pork, dance and magic make traditional cultural patterns appear in altered and partly brand-new clothes.
The Gábor have a historically grown relationship with other Roma and gypsy groups and the local majority population of their home of Transylvania. Their independent and mobile economy as well as the high flexibility and creativity in finding new niches in a changing surrounding society demonstrates that they flexibly adapt to the circumstances of their geographical and social environment until this day. Moreover, Gábor families organise themselves internally by large transregional kinship networks in which they maintain their traditions by adopting new influences and moulding them for themselves.
Berta, Peter (2007) Ethnicisation of value - the value of ethnicity: The prestige-item economy as a performance of ethnic identity among the Gabor of Transylvania (Romania), Romani Studies 5/17: 31-65 | Greek-Catholic church register Crăciuneşti 205 (1825-1901) Archivele nationale Tîrgu Mureş. | Jacobs, Fabian (2008) Reich, aber ohne Rang – Mittel und Wege sozialen Aufstiegs bei den Gábor in Siebenbürgen, in: Jacobs, Fabian / Ries, Johannes (eds.): Roma-/Zigeunerkulturen in neuen Perspektiven. Romani/Gypsy Cultures in New Perspectives, Leipzig: Universitätsverlag: 243–266. | Marienburg, Lucas Joseph (1987/1813) Geographie des Großfürstenthums Siebenbürgen, Köln. | Zsupos, Zoltán (1996) Nomadic Tax-Paying and Gold-Washing Gypsies in Transylvania in the 18th Century /
Az erdélyi sátoros taxás és aranymosó fiskális cigányok A 18. században, Budapest.