May 04, 2011

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

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I was recently invited by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to write a poem on the subject of wedding vows. I decided to open the subject to Romani language and culture. The poem was published in The Guardian before the Royal Wedding, alongside a number of other poems which can be found here. Enough time has passed now since the wedding and publication for me to reproduce the poem and notes below, and also to show some of the source material from the Patrin website. If anybody has a copy of the actual Guardian in which the poems appeared I would love to have it as I was away walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path when it was published...

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

To all of you at this pliashka, we are one
Until the shadows steal our horses home.
To thee, romni, lightest lace across thy kocsh,
For the treasures of lon and gold marò.
Break the bold marò, Borì – salve it
In the blood and salt upon thy knee.
Share this salt, this bread, this blood.
Let us leap low over the candles' glow.

Mi dèhiba, I feed thee and thou will feed me
Even as our hearts slow, our tresses sewn with suy.
Our unlike hands will untangle. We shall
Gather up kookoochìn for your balà.
Sorì simensar sì mèn, we cry as one.
All who are with us are ourselves.

Rom: Romani man; Gadji: Non-Roma woman; pliashka: Romani ceremony preceding the 'abiav' or wedding (see below); romni: wife; kocsh: knee; lon: salt (n); marò: bread; Borì: bride; mi dèhiba: my beloved; suy: grey; kookoochìn: snowdrops; balà: hair; Sorì simensar sì mèn: We are all one; all who are with us are ourselves.

Romani vows: At the pliashka the symbol of celebration is a bottle wrapped in a coloured silk handkerchief, brought to the ceremony by the man's father. Gold coins on a necklace are looped on the bottle. The future groom's father takes the necklace of coins and puts it around the future bride's neck. In the subsequent Roma marriage rite, the bride and groom might each take a piece of bread and place a drop of their blood on the bread. They then exchange and eat each other's bread. Sometimes a small amount of salt and bread is placed on the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of the bread, puts salt on it, and eats it. The bride does the same. The recent depictions of 'Gypsy weddings' on television are a travesty of what happens at these occasions.

- 4 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Nima Seifi

    It was great to see your piece included in that selection, David – probably the only interesting thing to have happened as a result of the Royal Wedding.

    04 May 2011, 15:04

  2. The Coffee Lady

    We took the girls to a printing workshop the other day. The tables were all spread with newspaper, and suddenly – there you were.

    I remembered the candle leaping from your wedding speech.

    05 May 2011, 09:31

  3. Anthony Wilson

    Hello David, love the blog, great work!
    With best as ever

    10 May 2011, 20:41

  4. Dick Jones

    The poem jumped out when I read it in The Guardian, both as a lovely piece in its own right and as an exercise in Anglo-Romani. It captures beautifully the sense of exotic ethnicity within British culture that is so much a feature of those rich accounts of Romany life that derive from George Borrow and later Francis Hindes-Groome, Scott Macfie and co. In its elegant archaised form it reads as something that either Borrow or Charles Leland might have recorded during their travels amongst the tent-dwelling Gypsies. Although Anglo-Romani is still in use, relative literacy has to an extent standardised pronunciation – ‘gorgie’ or ‘gorga’ for ‘gadji’ – and nearly all of the words used in the poem have pretty much passed out of currency. I’m an enthusiastic amateur rather than a dedicated scholar, but such vocabulary – or versions of it – won’t have been Romany lingua franca since the passing of the last of fully inflected Romani from North Wales, as recorded by John Sampson.

    Enough nerdery. I very much enjoyed the poem and the dignity that it restores to Romany culture in these times of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and the shrill bigotry of the Dailies Mail and Express.

    23 May 2011, 18:21

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