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How Roma are portrayed in Ukrainian proverbs and sayings

Let’s try to understand further what images of Roma communities and their individual groups emerge in perception of everyday life, and often of the cultural context, traditions, history and worldview in general.

Perception of the components of the surrounding world at the basic level occurs through the prism of good and evil, which in turn form our stereotypes and attitudes about the future. An important component of this process for every person is the knowledge of folklore. It first explains to a person the life of society, the world of interpersonal relationships and feelings. Proverbs and sayings are a part of folklore that we encounter almost every day in everyday communication, books or from TV screens and smartphones.

Ukrainian paroemias are full of examples with depictions of Roma. In particular, it is a solid layer that depicts ideas about economic life, family relationships, and collective character traits. It was not difficult to find several examples. After re-reading more than one source, it became obvious that one part depicts interest in Roma life and reflects such positive qualities as freedom-loving, ingenuity, expertise in blacksmithing and horse-breeding, love of music and dancing. Instead, the second highlights negative signs: tricks, deception, poverty, laziness, family and class inequality, godlessness.

Paroemias with a negative connotation are represented by the most common group with the meaning “Cunning”. The category is very common, because it is one of the most widespread stereotypes about representatives of the Roma community:

‘A Gypsy said, ‘’There is no truth in the world: only God and I have a little” – about cunning; “turns like a Gypsy in the sun” – about manipulation and the desire to mislead; ‘while collecting hay a Gypsy says, ‘’I will sharpen the ax’’, as he has already collected it he says, ‘’I will do it’’, and as soon as he gets out of the gate he says, that it is enough for him’ – about failure to keep promises, deception; “The soul is Christian, and the conscience is gypsy”, – about the lack of conscience, about fraud.

The second, also large group spreads such a stereotype as “Godlessness”.

“His faith is like a gypsy measure” – about godlessness; “a Gypsy makes a promise as easy as he whips a horse”, – godlessness and deception; ‘a Gypsy said, “believe in God, but do not believe in God, because God will advise, and God will betray”,  irreligion, godlessness.

A group of paroemias that reflect the life of Roma and the love of music is represented by the following examples:

“The gypsy dance caught fire from the fire”, “a Gypsy dances and sings until he dies”, “a Gypsy sings when he is hungry”.

Horse trading and the occupation related to blacksmithing are also reflected in proverbs, because these two trades were considered characteristic of the Roma community: “Gypsies do not plow, because they do not have oxen, but they eat bread, because they trade in horses”, “he trades like a Gypsy in horses”, “as a Gypsy trades in”, “every Gypsy praises his mare”, “he charges a high price as a Gypsy for his father”, “a Gypsy pulls his (carrion) over the fence and boasts that it was good”, “a Gypsy whistled – the horse ran up”.

In other cases, the community was displayed as a non-productive element. At the same time, it should be understood that these proverbs and sayings are used in specific situations, but do not indicate its individual elements. Thus, they draw a parallel and establish a connection with a common, well-known regularity. Although all paroemias are conventionally divided into those that reflect positive and negative qualities, but still do not show a positive attitude, they are more like anecdotes from humorous stories, which, unfortunately, support the spread of ethnic stereotypes.

Author: Ruslana Polianska

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