Romania Ethnology and Folklore – Romanians

The Romanians living in today’s Romania appear from the ethnic point of view as a very mixed people. In the mountainous parts of the country, elements of Alpine and Dinaric races prevail, while in the southern part, in the plains, strong Mediterranean penetrations can be noted. We must also add the influences of the Turkish and Slavic peoples, who are also sensitive to Romanian cultural life. The Romanians can be divided from a geographical-economic point of view into: Munteni (i.e. residents of the mountains), Pădureni (i.e. residents of the forests) on the slopes of the Carpazî, Câmpeni (i.e. residents of the plain), or Podgoreni (i.e. vine growers hill dwellers), as well as the Mozi, wood workers and miners in western Transylvania and the Moldavians in Moldavia, Bessarabia, Bucovina and the Ukrainian border area. Romanians are farmers, cattle breeders, sheep species, and fishermen. The conditions of the pastures often oblige shepherds to wander far away and in the past the sheep shepherds of western Transylvania brought their flocks to the Black Sea in the winter to overwinter there. For herding, huts are needed during the summer (stâne) with two or three rooms, and places for milking outdoors, sheltered from the winds. At night we sleep outside. The huts are rectangular wooden constructions, with a hipped roof. Approximately in the middle of the compartment used for making cheese there is a horizontal wooden pole, revolving around its axis, with a transverse beam, from which a copper boiler hangs over the open fire. On the walls there are wooden benches and others that make up the office of tables, primitive presses (Grind ă), wooden troughs, vats, churns, roughly squared stools, and, among other household utensils, flat grinding stones to crush the salt for the cattle, cups, often beautiful, of carved wood, spoons also in worked wood, salt shakers and jars, which testify to an ancient popular art. The cheese, produced by coagulation, is then pressed into sheep skins or into containers made of ox skin, and is stored in a room of the stân ăespecially intended for this purpose, placed on special boards to dry, to be then taken to the valley in autumn. The clothing of the shepherds is similar to that of the sedentary peasants. Shepherds and farmers on the one hand, and large landowners on the other, have well-defined and legal relationships with each other. Shepherds have to look after the sheep for these and are rewarded on the same basis as is used by cattle breeders in Western Europe. Only a few villages, eg. Poiana Sibiului in Transylvania, are dedicated exclusively to sheep breeding; and therefore their residents could be considered as true and proper shepherds. In the rural population, centralization is rare. Villages concentrated around the streets are originally unknown to Romanians, while they are with the Saxons in Transylvania. In the poorer districts one often encounters houses with a single room, made of wooden beams or pieces of wood mixed with clay or woven wicker. But usually the peasant houses are small, yellow or blue or white, with roofs covered with shingles or straw and equipped with a wooden balcony that spans the entire front of the house. In several places, large doors with an adjoining door show beautiful inlays. In the houses of the wealthiest peasants, instead of this wooden balcony, there is a brick one completed by a colonnade (Moldavia, Old Kingdom). Usually a few steps lead to the wooden balcony and from there into the house. The first room you reach contains the hearth. On the right is the “best room”, on the left the daily living room. In the Danube plain there are still ancient clay houses and houses made of earth (bordei, hrub ă). Poor huts made of woven wicker covered with earth (coliba) are still in use. Once they were used as for wheat, maize or millet, holes dug in the earth; now, on the other hand, corn cobs are preserved either in large woven wicker baskets, as among the Slavic peoples of the Balkans, or even on slatted shelves (similar to what the Transylvanian Saxons practice). The maize imported and imposed by Serban Cantacuzino (1678-88) forms today the main element of the Romanian nutrition, for the preparation of the usual m ă m ă liga (polenta). A very weak plum brandy is preferred as a drink (ţ uica). In the Romanian peasant’s living room there are benches running all around the walls, litter boxes close to the walls, chests and cabinets, which tell us about an influence of Western culture. The walls are often adorned with mirrors and sacred pictures, with beautiful carpets and embroidered blankets, as well as with painted plates and vases. The benches are also covered with rich blankets and beautiful ornamental carpets hang from rods. Household products are kept in the “best room” in the form of home-woven linens, hand-spun wool, woolen blankets, bags, etc., and are of great importance, also because they serve as a dowry for the brides. Despite the gradual disappearance of all the original cultural heritage of the peasants, a consequence of the influence of civilization, still in use today in certain localities the wooden plow without wheels with the point hardened by the fire, clay ovens for cooking puff pastry and focaccia, as well as hand mills for grinding millet. In the Trajan’s column in Rome, we find the first representation of the Dacian costume; the Dacians depicted there wear the same costume that is still in use today by the Romanians. Men wear long tight white trousers, with a shirt tight at the belt that falls over, and depending on the season a sheepskin vest or bodice lined with wool inside and embroidered on the outside, sheep fur with sleeves long, short wool socks,opanche or heavy boots, and in the winter even a lambskin cap. The women wear handkerchiefs (while girls usually have bare heads), more or less richly embroidered shirts, and double aprons (c ă trin ţ a), so that you can see the shirt from both sides, with long belts of woven wool passed several times around the hips, woolen socks, opanques and ankle boots. Of course, the costume differs from this general type depending on the locality.

Social life takes place in truly patriarchal forms. The man is the master and lord of his wife and his family. In the Old Kingdom, the ancient nobility of boyars played an important part, made up of high officials, civil servants and large landowners, serving a large percentage of the Romanian rural population.

The Romanian folklore has very interesting aspects, since over time Byzantine, Slavic, Hungarian, Turkish and Greek influences have been added over time, so that in addition to the interest presented by the fusion of pagan elements with Christian ones, we also find the contamination of certain heterogeneous elements, which often take on bizarre forms.

Romania Ethnology