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Early references to Banat călușeri

It seems probable there was some form of ritual healing căluș that took place at rusali in the Banat region before the popularity of the late 19th century national revival of călușeri. From the very limited information available it would appear that the Banat custom was not exactly identical to the Transylvanian or Oltenian custom. Viua discussed possible links to the southern Balkan Aroman traditions [1], although there is nothing substantive to support this, however such links are a common underling thread in the Banat hills region.

The earliest know reference of a Banat custom dated from 1832 [2], and was written by Bojincă who came from Gârliște in the Caraș valley and attended school in Oravița. He describes a traditional ritual căluș, where a group of men led by a vătaf, walk through local villages at rusali time. His comments and descriptions in the book are from personal observations, so we might assume he is discussing traditions in his local Banat, but as Neagota points out he does not supply any concrete locational data [3].

The most quoted reference for căluș in Banat is a description by Sofronie Luiba [4] dated 1898, which does not explicitly list the location for his description. He came from Maidan (now called Bradișor, just north of Oravița), where he was the local the local teacher, and according to newspaper reports was active in promoting cultural activities in his village. There is an earlier, and more clearly written, description written by the priest in Maidan, Aureliu Iana (brother-in-law to Luiba), that confirms the locations as Maidan (Brădișor) and Gădiș (Agadici) [5].

Luiba and Iana use a local name of căluceniul, which is otherwise not documented, although in Grebanaț (west of Oravita, now in Serbia) the revival styled călușeri that takes place on the day of the local carnival, and incorporates an older house-to-house tradition, use the name călucerii thus either intentionally or to demonstrate continuation linking the national revival călușeri with an older local tradition.

Ritual Căluș at Maidan

1. After the oath the cărăbuși play the marșul sfintelor (march of the saints), the vătav leads in front, followed by the six căluceni, then the ceiuş and last the bloj.

2. Ciocana or ciocanul is danced in a circle around the sick person and includes beating sounds made by the heels. Iana says this dance resembles the 3rd figure in the modern Călușerul.

3. Zbătută (stamping) is danced in a circle, walking high on the toes with beating sounds made by the heels.

4. Sărita (the jumping) is danced in a circle one behind another, with the căluceni beating their heels on the ground. The figures resemble the figures from bătută of the current călușeri.

5. Ursul (the bear) is danced by the voivode with a woman, especially a sick woman, who wants to dance under the sword. The bloj (mute) takes the vătav on his back to the audience, where the vătav tries to sell the hideous mute but fails to do so.

6. Ciora (the crow) is the dance of the ceiuș who jumps like a crow.

7. As the sun sets the cărăbașii play jocul soarelui (dance of the sun), while all the dancers pass under the sword and hammer.

From Iana we learn about the characters in the căluceni custom, the dances and the sequence of actions [5]. Căluceniul, required eleven people; six călușeri, two cărăbuși (bagpipers), one voevod (prince) or vătav (priest/leader), one ceiuş (from Turkish for the lower rank messenger) and one bloj (mute). They take an oath that they will keep the law of the saints restrain themselves from the worldly things, not look women in the face, and they will dance tirelessly.

The călușeri all have spurs on their heels and dance to the sound of the spurs. The vătav is the commander, he carries a sword and pistols at his waist. The ceiuș has a stick whose head is a hammer (negiac) and has the plants such as dwarf elder (boz which is an old medicinal plant) and garlic in his belt. The bloj has a white goat skin coat and carries a whip. The cărăbuși are the musicians (bagpipers). Mostly in Romania the bagpipe is called cimpoi or a derivative from this. The long pipe is called the bâzoi and the shorter pipe with the finger holes (chanter) is called the caraba (also karaba in Serbian and Croatian). In southern Banat the name of the chanter is use for the whole bagpipe cărabă [6].

Luiba says that the călucenil danced 12 dances with 21 figures, of which three dances were also for women. Collating the information provided by Iana [5] we can generate the list of dances (shown in the box opposite).

There are also descriptions of the ritual custom which resemble the căluș in Oltenia, including: the voivode makes the cross behind the sick man once with the sword, then repeats this and passes his right foot over him. In the evening, when they go to bed, the bloj beats each one with the hammer on the soles of their feet three times.

The only other historic references to a ritual type of căluș in Banat are recorded in Ciclova Română and Borlova. Hedeșan [6] said that in Ciclova Română at rusali the căluș sometimes had a rabbit skin in which wormwood, garlic and some others items were put, then it was sewn up and hung at the top of a stick that was carried by the most respected călușer [7].

At Borlova, in the mountain region, a musician was documented as saying that the ritual căluș between 1935-1942 at rusali included one or more mutes and a flag with medicinal plants [7].

Both appear to have similarities to the ritual in Oltenia, but neither are exact in details. The musician in Borlova could be recalling a memory from elsewhere, and a căluș team in Ciclova-Româna could be an Oltenian team from neighbouring Ciclova-Montâna where Bufeni from Oltenian had immigrated.

Călușeri as a performance

The Romanians from Foenu […] have the tradition that the second, the third of Easter, and other festivals are danced on the road. This public dance, it is known as the big dance (jocul mare).

After lunch, the lads and men on the one hand, the girls and wives on the other hand, began to gather near the place of the dance, and waited intently for the pene (“feathers”) leader to signal that the dance should begin. The musicians then go to the dance space playing music – the dancers follow them, it is the girls who meet everyone in the dance space.

Once the dancers were chosen, and made a big circle, then the musicians remained in the middle. The dance begins and the musicians go around the circle, and those who were close the music began to jump and spin as much as possible […]. Those who know how to dance well and make more figures in the dance are called caluseri.

The music was for violins (lăute), cello (lauta mare) and drum (duba).

anon 1859 [12]

It is assumed from early potential references for Transylvanian călușeri that there was a performance aspect prior to the 1851 revival (not just a ritual at a particular custom date) . In Banat, there are two interesting documents about performance călușeri. The first is from Sofronie Luiba who discusses a written document found in his grandfather’s library.

On the occasion of a party arranged by the officers of our Austrian army and other church leaders in Italy, eleven soldiers, Romanian Transylvanians, dressed in căluceri clothes, danced the căluceri [8].

In the book “Topografia Maiden” [9] we understand that Sofronie’s grandfather was Jurgiu Liuba Marcu, and that his father Miuță Liuba Marcu (who died in 1872) had two uncles that were forced to serve in the Austrian military and fight against Napoleon in France (around 1785). From a list of those serving in 1785 we can see the names of George Liuba and Trăilă Liubia. This tells us that they recognised the Transylvanian călușeri as căluceri and not as an unrelated custom.

The second is an 1859 report of the two days of Easter celebrations at Foeni, a village in the Banat plain area, at that time four hours travel from Timișoara. Foeni has a Romanian majority with a Serbian minority and is separated by history and geography from the other locations referenced which are in the Caraș valley.

The anonymous author confirms the good dancers are called călușeri, but prior to this mentions pene (feathers) which probably refers to the long feathers on the men’s hats, and says there is a leader of the pene who indicates that the event can start. The călușeri dancing at the start of village saint’s days (Nedeea, Ruga) and Easter celebrations was typical in Banat later in the 19th century. It seems unlikely that the national revival călușeri of Iacob Mureșianu first performed in Brașov in 1851 would have been performed in a small Banat village some 20 to 30 years before the wider popularity of this choreographed Salon dance. More probable is that there was already a non-ritual călușeri, possibly related to the connections to Transylvania via immigration from some century earlier.

Kalush teams in Bulgaria

Baikal (Байкал), Pleven region

Калушари от с.Байкал 2001 г

The folklore group is based at the village culture house. The dance themes are similar to both Harlets and Zlatia in terms of the dance circling to the right and followed by a dancing in a line, and the use of the sticks held high and pointing forwards. These themes are consistent with elements in the Căluș from Dolj regon north of the Danube.


Belene (Белене), Pleven region

Kalush - Belene (Белене), Pleven, Bulgaria

Kalush dancers from Belene (Белене), Pleven, Bulgaria. National Festival of Folklore at Koprivshtitsa 2000.

Калушари (Белене), Călușari (Belene) – 1995

The men performed at National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshtitsa in 1995 and 2000.


Harlets (Хърлец), Vratsa region

Калушари (Хърлец), Călușari (Harlets) – 2019

There is a long history of exchange between either side of the Danube. Village interviews say that in 1821 a group of fugitives, who possibly left in the 18th century, returned and settled around the existing village of Hartlets. Some of the villages they returned from are known Căluș villages in Dolj. Later, 36 families left Harlets after the Russo-Turkish War of 1828/29 finding refuge in Romania. The house-to-house tradition stopped after 1946. The village dance group continued performing the custom without choreography or change. They presented at the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshtitsa in 1995, 2000, 2010, and 2015.


Zlatia (Златия), Montana region

Калушари (Златия), Călușari (Zlatia) – 2019

Up until the end of the 1930s, some of the villagers used to go to the neighbouring town and perform the Kalushari for money. Yet in the village of Zlatia itself there have been no Kalushari since the middle of the 1920s.

Iliev 1999 [1]

The custom of Kalush existed in the village from at least the 1870s and continued until around 1945-6. After the Second World War there was a  small folklore dance group of Kalushari that performed during the 1950s. From 1964 to 1994 an amateur Kalushari dance group based at the village culture house was guided by memories of an informer from the old Kalushari team. This team performed at the National Festival of Folklore in Koprivshtitsa in 1966 and 1981, then disintegrated in 1994. A new Kalushari team first performed on June 29, 2010 at the village fair and in 2014 at the Caracal Căluș festival in Romania [1].


Debovo (Дебово), Pleven region

Kalush - Debovo (Дебово), Pleven, Bulgaria

Kalush – Debovo (Дебово), Bulgaria

The team last performed at the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshitsa in 1986. The small clip of video suggests a dance in pairs, very similar to the current tradition from Gurgița in Romania and that in Cherkovitsa in Bulgaria.


Ovcha mogila (Овча могила), Veliko Tarnovo region

Căluș, village Ovcha Mogila, Veliko Tarnovo region – 2000

Many years ago I found Ovcha mogila on a list of places in Bulgaria with a Căluș tradition, at the time I could find no evidence and the location looked unlikely, but to my surprise I found I had recorded a performance at the Koprivshtitsa festival in 2000. The performance includes many of the features typical of a Căluș but also much that appears to be choreographed. We see synchrony of gestures as part of the choreography, a section with four dancers around the “sick” person clashing sticks above, while the remaining dancers beat a constant rhythm on the ground with their sticks. None of these choreographically attractive features are in any traditional forms.


Cherkovitsa (Черковица), Pleven region

Калушари с.Черковица – 14.06.2014г.

There are films of this group in the village of Cherkovitsa including at a local festival with dates of 2008 and 2014. Iliev says the team did not dance between 1980 and 1990, only meeting for special events and festivals [1]. Comparatively the dance looks most similar to Giurgița in Dolj, Romania and to the little we know about Debrovo.


The Căluș ritual

Căluș - Giurgița, Dolj, Romania
Conțești, Teleorman, Romania

Mute, vătaf with the flag – Conțești (Teleorman, Romania)

The Căluș ritual takes place during the period of Rusalii (Pentecost) which occurs fifty days after Orthodox Easter, and lasts for seven to nine days. This transitional period from spring to summer is when, according to Romanian and Slav folklore, malevolent fairies, known as iele are at their most active. During Rusalii the villagers were subject to certain work interdictions. They must not clean their houses, work in the fields, or with animals. If they broke these interdictions they could become possessed by the iele which resulted in a mysterious form of nervous illness which could only be cured by being ‘danced’ by the Călușari (dancers), the main ritual actors of the Căluș tradition.

The period of Rusalii was a liminal period in villagers lives [1] as during this time normal relationships within the village were suspended. The traditional Căluș ritual had three distinct stages which equate to those in Turner’s extension [2] of Van Gennep’s Rites of Passage. The Căluș tradition commenced on the evening of Rusalii with the taking of the ritual oath, which formed the stage of separation or pre-liminal period. For the period of Rusalii itself the Călușari danced in the village, performed ritual dramas and carried out ritual healings (the transition or liminal period). The final, post liminal stage, was the unbinding of Căluș which formed the reintegration of the Călușari into their previous roles within the village.

Giurgița, Dolj, Romania

Garlic and wormwood – Giurgița (Dolj, Romania)

The leader (vătaf) of the Călușari had special powers. Once appointed, he kept his role throughout life. During Rusalii the Călușari were bound by a set of ritual laws, which included obedience to the vătaf, they must never be alone, and must have no contact with women (if they broke this they lost the ability to dance). They had to wear garlic and wormwood in their belts to fortifying their powers and protect them from ‘spiritual’ harm.

Pre-liminal stage

Flag raising (Ridicarea steagului) and oath taking (depunerea jurământului)

Goiești, Dolj, Romania

Căluș – Goiești (Dolj, Romania)

The secret oath (jurământ) was taken on the eve of Rusalii, at sunset (a liminal time between day and night), at a liminal place; a crossroads or mound, on the edge of the village. Once the oath had been sworn the group were bound together for the period of Rusalii, and the Călușari were bound to dance the Căluș for nine years. The flag (steag) was raised. This was made of a wooden pole, with a white cloth tied to its top. The cloth contained a bunch of green garlic and wormwood. These were vital elements in the ritual as they were considered to have magical curative powers. This ceremony represented the ‘Rite of Passage’ setting the Călușari apart. During Rusalii their normal social relationships within the village were suspended, and they took on a supranormal existence, thus coming under the iele’s possession, being ‘betwixt and between’ [1]. This gave them the power to mediate between the spiritual world and the real world and to cure anyone inflicted with iele sickness. A complex spiritual relationship existed between these fairies and the Călușari built on oppositions (see Table).

Călușari Iele
Male Female
Diurnal (sun) – dance / heal by day Nocturnal (moon) – active at night
Real world Spiritual world
Performed within the village boundaries Found outside the village boundaries, in woods, near water, or in uncultivated places
Life (healing) Death (illness)

Liminal period of RusaliiJocul călușarilor

Căluș - Dabuleni, Dolj, Romania

Fainting – Dabuleni (Dolj, Romania)

During the days of Rusalii the Călușari went from house to house performing a suite of Căluș dances in each courtyard (liminal places between street and house). In south Muntenia dramatic plays similar to mummers plays were also performed. Parents also invited the Călușari to dance with their children in their arms as this was considered to bring good luck and good health. The performance finished with the onlookers joining with the Călușeri to dance Hora Călușului. In South West Oltenia and northern Bulgaria ritual healing (Vindecarea) took place when necessary. This commenced with the diagnosis by the vătaf, who had to be certain that this illness had been caused by the iele, hence could be cured using the powers of the Călușari. This was done by playing the tunes for the Căluș dances to see if the sick person reacted. If he did, then the cure could take place. The ritual cure was performed by the Călușari danced round and over the patient, in silence. Once the healing was successful the patient was lifted up by two Călușari. In some cases a ritual enactment of death and resurrection took place. One of the călușari would fall to the ground in a trance (doborâre), at the exact moment of the healing, symbolically taking on the illness.

Role of mut

Comasca, Giurgiu, Romania

Mute – Comasca, Giurgiu, Romania

In Muntenia the Călușari are accompanied by a transvestite figure called the Mut (mute). This character plays a comic role. He wears an ugly mask, dresses in a mixture of men’s and women’s clothes and carries a red wooden phallus, which he used to revive ‘dead’ Călușari. He is not allowed to speak during the period of Rusalii, but communicates via comic mime, humorously poking fun at any Călușari who dares to make a mistake in his dancing. His role as of ‘anti-vătaf’ plays out symbolic reversals of accepted norms of behaviour, and contains a complex interchanging of identities.

Post liminal stage

The burial of flag (Ingroparea Steagului) & breaking up of Căluş (dezlegarea căluşului)

On the final day of Rusalii the flag was ceremonially taken down and buried ready for the next year at the place where the oath had been taken. This ceremony was a reversal of the initiation ceremony and signalled that the Călușari were released from their oath. At the end of the ceremony the Călușari ran away without looking back. They re-entered the village and greeted each other as if they had not met for a long time.

Extracts from the essay: “Mellis, Liz (2006). The Romanian Căluș tradition and its changing symbolism as it travels from the village to the global platform

Călușeri as national emblem post-1851

Călușeri, as a group men’s dance for special occasions, was practiced by Romanians in villages in Transylvania in the 19th century, and we can only presume this practice goes further back in history.

The development of Călușeri dancing took a parallel path from 1850 which led to a “national” identity portrayed through dance performances. This may well have re-enthused local variants of the old Călușeri in villages where the practice was declining or in the latent repertoire.

This page is only to give a hint of Călușeri as a national symbol and popular performance in the late 19th century and early 20th century through newspaper and journal reports.

The choreographed dance for the ballroom

In 1851 Transylvanian intellectuals, Iacob Mureșianu (composer) and Ștefan Emilian (professor), from Brașov presented a choreography of the Călușeri dance, Romana [2]. During the late 19th century Romana and Bătuta were performed in the ballrooms of the city elite as a performance item either within the programme, or before social dancing commenced. This was very often as a sign of Romanian national identity, that became a virtuoso dance in the spiritual life of Romanians [1].

Romana was a Romanian national dance added to the ballroom salon dances which typically included polka, waltz and the French quadrille [2]. By the early 20th century, some 50 years after being choreographed, the enthusiasm for Romana had faded [3].

At local events

References including the word Călușeri in journals (revista) date from the 1880s. The dance names are always Călușerul and Bătuta, the original name of Romana for the dance created by Iacob Mureșianu being replaced by Călușerul by 1866 to the dislike of Emilan Ștefan.

The earliest reference we have found is in a church paper dated 1883 published in Arad regarding a concert of mainly classical works on 10 November 1882, but at the very end of the programme Călușeri are listed on the programme [4]. An event in the comuna of Seliște (on the way to Sibiu) in 1898 included five youths dancing Călușerul and Bătuta. The list of dancers gives their professions as local trade’s people [5]. In 1895, the Saint Vasile (New Year ’s Eve) celebrations in Caransebeș included students dressed in Romanian costume who danced Călușerul and Bătuta [6]. In 1899 two Banat villages (un-named) are mentioned with troupes of youth Călușeri connected to the local church [5]. 1904 in Brașov-Șcheiu, ten Călușeri dance “our beautiful national dances Călușerul and Bătuta” followed by hora mare [7]. In 1900 during a popular festival in the village of Șoimuș, Bistrița region, the formal concert was followed by popular dances of the salon and Călușeri dancers from the village of Ragla [10].

Clothing businesses

From 1897 the clothing shop in Orăștie was advertising for sale, “Haine de Călușeri” [5]and in Brașov in 1910 a leather seller advertised opinci for Călușeri [8].

Orăștie in Hunedoara region

Hunedoara region is still the region with the most older style village Călușeri teams, but their performances were not limited to the traditional winter custom complex, there is evidence that they also often provided performances at local events.

The 1897 Rusali celebrations in Orăștie on Monday after the church service included Călușeri dancers dancing Călușerul and Bătuta during the Nedeia (traditional saint’s day fair)  [9]. The 1898 Rusali celebrations in Hațeg included Călușeri after the formal programme [5]. In Orăștie, the 1903 Christmas party at a hotel included the Călușeri dancing with sticks and without sticks, in national costume with scarves, followed at midnight by Hățegana. Also at New Year the ball of the Călușeri took place in a different hotel [8].

In 1903 in Orăștie, a concert for national reunification during the two days of Easter, included 11 or 12 Călușeri, dancing during the intermission,in the same way as in Brașov, who presented the national dances bătuta, brâul alunel and Călușerul, wearing scarves and national belts (tri-colour) [8]. This concert is interesting as they mention “as the way in Brașov” which must be referring to the created salon dances, the inclusion of brâul alunel as a national dance, and the national statement of the “tri-colour” belt representing the Romanian flag.

Central Transylvania

The programme and photos from the 1910 men’s dance competition at Ibașfalău (now Dumbrăveni, previously Elisabetopole) in the Târnave region of central Transylvania shows that the traditional dances were still know by the dancers. The list of dances includes Călușerul, Jocul fecioresc, Țigăneasca, Joc de bâtă, Banul Mărăcină, Hodoroaga, Zrângăita and Restelu. The winning place was shared between Cerghidu Mare for an original dance and Mediaș for “artistic” dance [11].

Away from Transylvania

The 1899 exhibition of shoes in Bucharest included a performance of Călușeri by the Junii (traditional youth group) from Brașov [12]. In 1909 a group of Romanian solders danced Călușeri in Bosnia (near Knin in Croatia now) during the anniversary celebrations of the 1866 war with the Turks [11]. In 1910 the New Year party for the Romanian community in Vienna included Călușeri dance by the youth from the university [11].

Conflict

The national symbol of the Călușeri and the tri-colour belt became part of the struggle by the Romanians against the Hungarian regime after Transylvania became incorporated into the Hungarian state.

In 1904 the two days of Easter celebrations included eight Călușeri from Batiz (Hunedoara), but there was conflict about wearing the tricolour belt on a costume with narrow closed sleeves that was deemed to be Hungarian and not the Călușeri costume [8]. In SânMiclăuşul Mare (now Sânnicolau Mare in Banat) a fund raising event in 1904 for the local Romanian church ended up with fines and the priest imprisoned [5].

The Călușeri from Vaidei arrived in Orăștie on election day in 1905, but the police stopped them and they had to put their flag under wraps [8]. In 1911, in Arad county, wearing the tricolour led to nine men from the Zeldișiu (now Iacobini) Călușeri to be fined and imprisoned for two days [5].

The Bufeni and Oltenians of Banat

Bufeni is a nickname used for a group of Oltenians that moved to the Banat mountain region in the 18th century to work for the mining industry that was reinvigorated by the Austrians following their acquisition of the Banat region from the Ottoman empire.

Before this, during the 17th century, some 13,000 migrants came from Oltenia to work as woodcutters, charcoal burners and coal miners. By 1690 there were some 28 households of Oltenians living in the village of Sasca Română [1]. This period was a turbulent time with changes of authority between Ottoman, Austrian and Transylvanian rulers for much of the Banat mountain region.

In the 18th century some 15,000 families [1] joined the colonisation of the plain of Banat as agricultural workers [2] moving into the villages of: Bucovăț in 1723; the locality of Comloșu Mare which was founded in 1734 with families from the area of Craiova, Slatina and Polovracilor; from 1739 there were groups of both Muntenians and Oltenians in the village of Boldur (Nicolae Iorga [1]); and also in Satul Nou, Sân-Mihai [3] and Straja [4] villages which are now situated on the Serbian side of the border after the 1920 division of Banat.

The mountain areas of Banat have had mining for copper, silver and gold since ancient times plus supplies of coal and forest wood. Following the acquisition of Banat from the Ottoman Empire in 1716 the Austrian administration reinvigorated the ancient mining operations using workers from Oltenia. Additionally for just two decades (1718-1738) the mining at Majdanpek was also worked under Austrian rule by miners originating from Oltenia [5].

The origin of the name Bufeni is uncertain (Dex online), but some suggestion are:

  1. from the Germanic term buch (book) for the passport to cross the border that leads to bufean as the holder of a free pass book [1]
  2. from bufă (owl or night bird) due to restrictions on movement which only allowed the Oltenians to only travel from their villages at night [5]
  3. from bufă (owl or night bird) due to them working at night like forest owls to produce charcoal [6]

There was a clear distinction in terms, the older Romanian communities (such as Ciclova-Română) referred to themselves as frătuți (brothers) and to the new immigrants as bufeni such as at Ciclova Montană [7] or at Sasca Montană [6], or as bribeți[2] coming from the many sparrows that live around houses and were always hungry (Tăutu, 2010). The Bufeni called themselves țereni [1] which probably refers to peasants (tărani) but also refers to the country they have left, Țara Româneasca.

Many of the new villages were given the ending Montană when there was already a Romanian village ending in Romană, or if there was an older village then they were given the ending Nouă [8]. Others were named after the occupation of the villagers [8] such as Știnăpari (in 1755) and Cărbunari (in 1785) [1].

In 1849 miners referring to themselves as Bufeni from Moldova Nouă moved south and restarted the mining at Majdanpek which was by then part of Serbia [5].

For a period Oltenian dress, language and customs continued [4] [6], but a century later there is little to be seen differentiating old Bufeni villages and the Banat villages in terms of local dance and music.

The origin of the migrants can only be assumed from the family names that reflect place names in Oltenia, each reference gives slightly different lists, which have some ambiguities where there are several places with the same name in Oltenia.

Banat Bulgarian minority

During the times of the Ottoman occupation, in the 17th to 18th centuries, there were a number of relocations of Bulgarians (both Catholic and Orthodox) to regions north of the Danube. Some relocated further west into the then Hapsburg Banat region, and some subsequently relocated again to modern Bulgaria.

During the following centuries the Bulgarians living in a few villages in Romanian and Serbian Banat have maintained their Bulgarian identity whilst those that returned to northern Bulgaria took with them elements of their specific Banat-Bulgarian identity in their costumes, customs, music and dance.

There are two locations of origin, two time periods and two histories of the Banat Bulgarians: the Catholics from the town of Chiprovitsi in north western Bulgaria, and the Catholics (previously Paulician/Pavlikeni) from the villages of north central Bulgaria, although these two histories have become intertwined.

Chiprovtsi Bulgarian Catholics

Singers from Asenovo

Asenovo men’s costume 1991

The area around Chiprovtsi (Chiprovtsi and the villages of Kopilovtsi, Zhelezna, Klisura and Kutlovitsa [1]) has been an ore mining region since antiquity. In the early 14th century Saxon miners arrived in the town and were granted special privileges. The miners adopted the Bulgarian language, but continued their Catholic religion. The town and some surrounding villages became a centre for trade with connections into the wider trading networks of the west Balkans and a centre for the Catholic faith (see also the local Chiprovtsi museum).[2]

Following problems with their privileges during Ottoman times there was an unsuccessful uprising in 1688 against the Ottoman rulers. After the destruction of their town some 2000 Catholics moved across the Danube into southern Romania. They initially settled in Oltenia around the cities of Craiova, Râmnicu Vâlcea and Brădiceni with their rights endorsed by Constantin Brâncoveanu the Prince of Wallachia.[2]

Asenov folklore group 1986

From 1690 some moved to south-western Transylvania (Vințu de Jos and Deva[2]) receiving privileges such as civil rights and tax exemption from the Habsburg authorities. Vințu de Jos was a prominent town based on the salt trade dating back to before medieval times. The town and surroundings have a long history of multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition as various changes in ownership and waves of people arrived. In 1711 the Bulgarians formed a Bulgarian community and in 1726 a Franciscan monastery was built in Vințu de Jos. Subsequently many of the around 500 families of Bulgarians moved on to Sibiu, Deva and Banat (predominantly the village of Vinga) that was resettled by around 125 families of Bulgarians originating from Chiprovitsi in 1741.[3] A Franciscan monastery was also built in Vinga that is currently the mayor’s office.

Catholic “Paulicians” from north Bulgaria

Dudeștii Vechi dance group in 2018

There were a number of Paulician villages (a Christian sect dating from the 7th century) in Bulgaria at the time of the start of the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 15th century. Some locations converted to Catholicism in the early 17th century, some people later converted to the Muslim faith.

Nicola Stanislavich, based at Craiova and the Catholic bishop of Nikopol, organised the passage of Catholics (around 300 families) between 1726 and 1730 from locations in northern Bulgaria to Oltenia (which was at that time under Habsburg rule), until the Ottoman rule blocked further passage.[4] In Ramnic (Râmnicu Vâlcea) these Bulgarian “Paulician” arrivals built a new church, but following the Hapsburgs withdrawal from Oltenia in 1737 this was destroyed by an Ottoman invasion in 1738. Subsequently in 1741 a number of Bulgarian “Paulician” moved westwards from Râmnicu Vâlcea into villages on the Banat Plain within the Habsburg Empire including Stár Bišnov (Dudeştii Vechi) in 1738 and Theresiopolis (Vinga).[5]

Dudeștii Vechi dance group in 2018

In the 19th century some of these Bulgarians also moved into other villages and towns in the Banat region and south of the Danube into Vojvodina.

The village of Cioplea (near Bucharest) was founded in 1812 under Russian protection and the bishop of Nikopol arranged for Bulgarian “Paulician” from northern Bulgaria to move there during the Russian-Ottoman war.[6] In 1828, also during the Russian-Ottoman war, he negotiated in Bucharest for about 20 to 30 Catholic families from Beleni, Orash, and Tranchovitsa in northern Bulgaria to cross the Danube who founded the commune of Popesti Leordeni (near Bucharest).[7]

After Bulgaria was liberated from the Turks in 1878 many of the Bulgarians living in the Banat region decided to return to north Bulgaria. They settled in the area around Pleven and Vratsa.

Main villages of Banat Bulgarians

Dating from the early 18th century there are a number of villages in the Banat region (at that time part of the Hapsburg Empire but now divided between Romania and Serbia) where these two groups of Bulgarian relocated. From the late 19th century there are a number of villages in central northern Bulgaria that were repopulated by some of the Chiprovitsi and Paulican Bulgarians following the Ottoman defeat.

Now in Romania

Dudeștii Vechi -Stár Bišnov (formerly Beșenova Veche) 1738 The comuna of Dudeștii Vechi comprises three villages: Dudeștii-Vechi, Cheglevici and Colonia Bulgară. The village of Cheglevic was first mentioned in documents dating from around 1000, and by 1238 this area belonged to the citadel of Cenad. Dudeștii-Vechi (Stár Bišnov) was founded in 1738 and was inhabited by 3,200 Bulgarians. Dudeștii Vechi is the modern cultural centre of the Banat Bulgarians.
Vinga (formally Theresiopolis) 1741 The village of Vinga was first recorded in 1231. It was destroyed by the Turks around 1737 and was subsequently resettled by around 125 families of Bulgarians from Chiprovitsi in 1741. Vinga was given the status of town on 1st August 1744. After the First World War many of the Bulgarian families moved to the towns of Arad or Timișoara, and since the Second World War there has been more migration to the nearby towns, while others emigrated to the US so subsequently Vinga lost its town status.
Colonia Bulgară (formaly Telepa) 1845 Colonia Bulgară was first settled in 1845.
Sânnicolau Mare – Smikluš Sânnicolau Mare became an administrative area in 1724, and was settled by Germans (Swabians), Banat Bulgarians, and Hungarians.
Breștea – Bréšca 1842 The village of Brestea was founded in 1842. It was inhabited by around 110 families of Bulgarians, who moved from the village of Dudești Vechi. Many returned to Bulgaria in the 1880s to found the village of Bardanski Geren in northern Bulgaria.
Denta – Denta 1842 The Ottomans withdrew from Denta in 1716, and the village came under the Austro-Hungarians. The first German (Swabian) colonists arrived in 1720, and the Banat Bulgarians in 1842.

Now in Serbia

Ivanovo 1867 Ivanovo was first settled by Banat Bulgarians (Paulicians), and fifteen years later by Germans and Hungarians (Székelys of Bukovina).[3]
Konak (Kanak) 1820 No trace of Bulgarians nowadays
Jaša Tomić – Modoš 1779 Very few Bulgarians
Skorenovac (Gjurgevo) 1866 The majority of the original settlers were Székely Hungarians from Bucovina, but also some German families from Plandište and Pločice and Bulgarian families from Dudeştii Vechi.
Belo Blato 1883 Belo Blato was settled in 1883 by Slovak people from the village of Padina (in south Banat). Later Hungarian and Bulgarian settlers arrived in Belo Blato.
Stari Lec 1820
Banatski Dvor 1842

Banat Bulgarians in Bulgaria

Pleven region
Asenovo, Nikopol district 1892 The village of Asenovo (Nikopol district, Pleven region) was founded in 1892. It was settled by 203 households of Bulgarians who moved back to Bulgaria manly from the Banat village of Vinga, but also some from Dudești Vechi, Konak and Breștea. The houses they built were in the style typical of the Banat Plain (Guide-Bulgaria, 2006).
Dragomirovo, Svishtov Municipality 1878 The village of Dragomirovo (Svishtov Municipality) was founded in 1878. It was settled by 141 households of Catholoic Bulgarians from the village of Dudeștii Vechi and one from Breștea. They were joined by a further group of Catholic Bulgarians known as “Bucharesters” who moved from the villages of Cioplea and Popești-Leordeni close to Bucharest. The village was divided into three sectors called the “Banatian”, the “Bucharestian” (both Catholic) and the “Vlach” (Orthodox).
Gostilya
Dolna Mitropolia Municipality
1889 In the village of Gostilya (Dolna Mitropolia Municipality, Pleven district) 133 families were joined by several families of Banat Swabians
Bregare
Dolna Mitropolia Municipality
1889 83 families settled in Bregare (Dolna Mitropolia Municipality, Pleven district)
Vratsa region
Bardarski Geran, Byala Slatina muncipality 1887 The village of Bardarski Geran (municipality of Byala Slatina, Vratsa region) was founded in 1887. It was settled by 185 families who moved from the Banat village of Dudești Vechi. They were joined in 1893 by 7 families of Banat Swabians, then later by 83 more Swabian families.The Swabians left in the 1940s and their church was deserted (Bozhinov, 2018).
Voyvodovo, Mizia district 1900 The village of Voyvodovo (Mizia district, Vratsa region) was founded in 1900. It was settled by a mix of Banat Bulgarians, Banat Swabians, Slovaks and Evangelical Czechs. Following the First World War conditions in Bulgaria led to some of these people returning to Banat.

Our rational for depiction of ethnographic zones

There are a few basic concepts behind our depiction of ethnographic zones based around our interest in traditional or folk cultures, not nation and national history.

  1. Music and dance in the community can change with fashions, however customs change less rapidly. So we are interested in the present and the not so distant past situations.
  2. We examine from the present into the past through an anthropological lens rather than tracing history from the past to the present.
  3. In the present time frame we are interested in the concept of ethnographic zones as some type of geographically bounded community and its relationships and communications with surrounding communities.
  4. We show the extent of ethnographic zones as the geographic area where the community actually lives nowadays rather than a historic or political boundary.
  5. Where a geographic zone has two partially ethnic population distributions we have overlapping zones for each ethnicity and do not show the “greater” zone.
  6. For place names we (mostly) follow standard academic practice of the current place name in the current country (the alternative ethnic name in brackets), but this can become troublesome, for example where an area is/was monoethnic with long standing place naming that has been changed by recent politics. Eventually alternative naming functionality will be added to the map code.
  7. We are only interested in “nation” where this influences the local traditions. Our use of ethnicities (Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hungarian etc.) does not indicate a “nationality” with respect to a modern nation state construction, it is a statement of the community’s (past) mother tongue or ascribed identity.
  8. We do not see any credibility in the concept of relating current local folk traditions to a past national ‘empire’ and hence to the modern ‘nation state’. Previously this was part of the construction of many ‘nation states’ following independence from the Ottoman empire. Such myths are still propagating even though international academia has largely dismissed any such perspectives.

Ethnography: presented as bounded geographic zones

Țara Oașului ethnographic zone

The concept of ‘ethnographic zones’ can be argued academically to be flawed in many respects in terms of cultural parameters and the reality of geographical borders. However geographically based cultural zones remain a concept that insiders use to position music and dance in terms of people’s locational identity and locational dependent ideas in music and dance styles.

Traditional ethnography

When considering ethnography of rural ‘traditions’ and ‘customs’ it is common to document the location of the observation. In some cases a ‘tradition’, or a particular version of a folk artefact, is attributed to that location, but more often ethnographers look to make a relationship to the wider area around the location in order to identify some predominant parameters that are similar. Thus ethnographic researchers have for a long time used the idea of “ethnographic zones” as some type of bounded group of settlements that are in some way united by ethnographic data.

I suggest the terms cultural cohort or identity cohort to refer to social groupings that form along the lines of specific constellations of shared habit based in similarities of parts of the self.

Turino 2008:111

In the case of rural traditions the geographic region has long been the focus of attention as cultural elements appear to most closely relate to their geographic neighbours. This can be the case as agricultural peasants in the past mostly only travelled a limited distance, so life was based on the local, and influences from urban fashion were only slowly adopted.

Outside the study of rural traditions, geography is not necessarily the prime factor. For example popular music and rock music is most often grouped by the “decade” indicating that a time period of a number of years close to ten is an appropriate scale. Or when studying a dance phenomenon such as Argentinian tango or “international folk dance” these are trans-national scenes in ‘urban’ contexts of cultural cohorts[1].

Border and identity

The critical focus of investigation from this point of view becomes the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses.

Barth 1969:15

The understanding of borders is best understood following Barth[2] and his conception of ‘identity’. There are situations where the people internal to a region (insiders) ascribe to a certain identity, and there are situations where outsiders describe the others by an identity, but these may or may not relate to clear cultural differences or any clear geographical boundary.

Some ethnographic zones can be relatively clearly defined on the basis of a natural boundary, political boundary or ethnic separation, but more often in reality there is a continuum from one ethnographic zone to the next zone. For these reasons the Romanian ethnographers often use the term “interference zone” which in reality allows any area to be a mix of the adjacent areas.

Please note that our interest on ethnographic zones is the culture of peoples with an ancestry in speaking limba română (a form of Latin left in southeast Europe from the Roman times) and the other geographically co-located ethnicities. We are not implying or referring to the complexities of current “nation state” politics, particularly the concepts of ‘Romanian’, ‘Moldavian’ or ‘Vlach’ as terms that are used in various national political agendas.

Asymmetric rhythm dances in Romania

Asymmetric rhythm dances in Romania

Asymmetric or uneven musical rhythms are rare in western classical music, and western rock and popular music, but are not so unusual across Europe in the older forms of traditional dances; the Springar and Polska of Scandinavia, Slovak songs and dances, Albanian dances, Slavic dances from Macedonia, Bulgaria is particularly well-known uneven rhythms, Anatolian dances of Greeks, Turks and Armenians, and Romanian dances and songs.

Bulgarian uneven rhythms are formed from combinations of near exact two and three count beats, but wider European dance music is not so metronomic. Even melodies that are not technically considered as asymmetric such as the slow Hore from Oltenia and Bucovina are normally notated in 3/8 but are actually played towards 5/16 (3+2). Traditional Romanian Colinde (pre-Christian carols) can have unpredictable combinations of long and short beats.

Danubian asymmetric rhythm dances

Romanian musicologist, Constantin Brăilou, termed these rhythms as “aksak” using Turkish medieval music terminology, but only the term is borrowed and it does not indicate a Turkish origin for these dances. These rhythms use beats of unequal length, the long beat being around 1½ times the length of the short beat.

There are many features of Romanian folklore that are common to both the Romanian and Bulgarian sides of the Danube. These uneven rhythm dances are part of this shared tradition.

Asymmetric dance rhythms are used in the southern regions: southern Moldavia, Dobrogea, Muntenia, Oltenia;

  • Rustemul has two beats, short-long, usually written in 5/16. The timing is not perfectly in 5/16 (2+3), sometimes it will drift nearer to 3/8, and in some areas it loses the asymmetry, becoming close to 2/4.
  • Geampara has three beats, short-short-long, written as 7/16 (2+2+3), and is found in Dobrogea and the Danubian plain in south east Romania.
  • Șchioapa is notated as 9/8 (2+2+2+3) but has a four beat rhythm; short-short-short-long. The southern Moldavian Șchioapa, southern Transylvanian Hodoroaga and East Serbian Vlach Sokcili have a musical rhythm of 5/4 (2+2+2+4) and similar choreography.
  • In Dobrogea 9/16 (2+2+2+3) has all 9 notes played, is known as Cadâneasca and closely resembles the Bulgarian Daichovo.
  • There are some compound rhythm dances from Dolj county in southern Oltenia, such as Tepeșul and Dianca.

Transylvanian asymmetric rhythm dances

Many of the dances within the Romanian repertoire of Transylvania have stretched beats which are difficult to notate, but are mostly divisible into four dance counts.

  • Purtata walking dance:
    • Transylvanian plain Purtata dances are based on two slow beats per measure, with much stretching and hesitation in the music.
    • Southern Transylvanian Purtata are danced to their local typical music in 7/8 (3+2+2 ) or 10/16 (4+3+3).
    • De-a lungul (along the way) dances in eastern Transylvania are danced to slow and stretched 10/16 (4+3+3) or 11/16 (4+3+4) music.
  • Învârtita from southern Transylvania, including the Mureș region and westwards to Sălăj and Cluj regions and in the Banat plain, is danced to an asymmetric 10/8 (2+2+3+3) rhythm.
  • Feciorește from Southern Transylvanian is adapted to the asymmetric nearly 7/8 rhythm.

Banat Brâul

The many Banat Brâu dances have fixed choreographies with a musical rhythm is 2/4 or asymmetric 7/8 (3+2+2). This “long-short-short” rhythm (notated either as 3+2+2 or 4+3+3) is counted in three from a dance perspective, with the first count being a bit longer. This links closer to the Balkans, similar examples being Žikino from northeast Serbia, Chetvorno from west Bulgaria and some melodies used for versions of Maleshevka on the Bulgarian/Macedonian border region.

Moldavian Capra dance

In Romania the 7/8 short-short-long (2+2+3) rhythm is widespread particularly through Moldavia with the Capra custom as well as for a social couple dance with called figures known by various names such as Spic de Grâu or hop și alta or Kecsketánc (Csango minority). It may be that the 7/8 (2+2+3) rhythm has been around the Black Sea regions from early times.

Welcome to our website

The name ‘Eliznik was based on an amalgamation of the authors’ names which they had previously used for dance teaching booklets and notes.

This website has two parts: the reference ‘fixed pages’ and the newer Blog. These are interlinked through the context dependent menus on the left sidebar, so posts will have links to related reference pages, and references pages will have links to posts.

This Blog is divided into three subject areas:

  1. Ethnography – our continued research and interest in the customs, music and dancing in the Balkans
  2. Academic – subjects from the perspective of academic study
  3. Photos – the latest uploads

History

The “Eliznik” web pages (www.eliznik.org.uk/), an English language website based in the UK covering Romanian music, dance, and costume, were first uploaded to the worldwide web in May 1999. Since that time the site has expanded to over 700 pages.[1]

The main sources used were Anca Giurchescu and Sunni Bloland’s book on Romanian Traditional Dance, Tiberiu Alexandru’s Romanian Folk Music, and Petrescu and Secoșan’s ‘Romanian Folk Costume’.