Revisiting Romani gravesites in Skopje, Macedonia, May 2012

By Elsie Ivancich Dunin

Following the Notes for Romani (Gypsy) gravestones in Los Angeles, November 2011 as one of my extensions of dance research, six months later I am reporting upon Romani gravestones in Skopje, May 2012.  This year’s revisit to a cemetery in Macedonia is related to a long-term dance research project that tracks continuities and changes of a spring holiday, Djurdjevden (in Slavic Macedonian as St. George’s Day), also referred to as Erdelezi (in Turkish as Coming of Summer). Many years ago I learned about Roms tending family gravesites on May 5 or May 6 as part of their most important annual holiday recorded in Skopje in the 1960s–1970s with communal dancing. Macedonia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) until its secession in 1991. The Republic of Macedonia has an overall population of about two million, and Skopje, its capital and largest city is estimated at about a third of this total in 2002.

Map Macedonia bw 2011

Figure 1. Map of Macedonia in southeastern Europe

The third largest population in Skopje are the Roms. They follow the Slavic Macedonians who tend to profess Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Albanian population who tend to follow Islam. After the Roms, the fourth largest numbers are those ethnically identified as Turks. All four populations were under Ottoman Turkish administration from the 14th into the 20th centuries. After the devastating 1963 earthquake in Skopje, the reestablished municipal cemetery in Butel at the outer edge of the capital, is mixed with respective grave markers: the Yugoslav communist period (1944 until 1991) non-religious markers are identified with the five-pointed star. These burial markers are found next to gravesites shown with Christian crosses). The Islamic gravesites are identified with a crescent and star.

A minority of Roms in Skopje profess Eastern Orthodoxy, while the majority profess to be Moslems; the holiday itself was celebrated as a Romani holiday by both Christian and Moslem Roms with the same customs (collecting curative spring waters and green branches to hang from their roofs for good health on May 5; tending to grave sites on May 5 or 6; sacrificing a lamb on May 5 or 6 with feasting on May 9; dancing communally to tapan (drum) and zurla (reed) music after sunrise on May 5 at the site of spring waters; dancing late afternoons in open areas of May 6, 7, 8; and feasting/picnicking/dancing in an open green vegetation area on May 9 until sunset as the finish of the five-day holiday cycle.

Gravesites (Christian or Moslem) tend to be grouped in the large cemetery by their ethnic identity rather than religious following. In a broad sense, the Macedonian gravesites are grouped separately from the Moslem gravesites, separated only by walkways. The Macedonian gravemarkers can be identified by the Slavic surnames that tend to end in “ski” such as Višinski, Dimoski, Spasovski, and so on. In addition, they have Christian crosses or Partisan five-point stars as symbols, as well as photos of the deceased. (See Figure 2.)

Macedonian gravestones 2007

Figure 2. Macedonian Christian grave markers with crosses and photos of the deceased (photo by E. Dunin 2007)

The gravestones with Moslem names show the crescent and star symbol, and these grave markers tend not to have photos of the deceased. Within the Moslem burial areas of the cemetery, the graves tend to be grouped by their ethnic identities, so that the Romani graves (Christian or Moslem) are in their own grouping. Although the Moslem Romani names are the same as for Turks or Albanians, the Romani gravestones more often have photos, and their gravestones are similar to the Christian style instead of undecorated Moslem style grave markers.

Romani grave markers 2007

Figure 3. A grouping of Romani grave markers (photo by E. Dunin 2007)

Why these Notes in the Field? After my report on Romani gravestones in Los Angeles in 2011, I was sensitized to the family gravesite visitations by Roms during their annual spring holiday in Skopje. I learned about their gravesite cleaning of weeds during the 1990s (see Figure 4 with a photo from 1997).

Gravesite cleaning May 5 1997

Figure 4. Romani family gravesites being cleaned (photo by E. Dunin 1997). Note the crescent and star identifying the faith, and a photo of the deceased.

Marking a 45th year of recording this holiday related to the dancing component, I revisited the large municipal cemetery (in Butel) this year (2012) on May 6, to see if there were continuities of the grave tending I recorded fifteen years earlier  – there was not. The Romani gravesites were not cleared of weeds. However, during this 2012 visit I paid more attention to the photos on the Romani gravestones, which is more in keeping with the Christian and past Partisan Communist style grave markers, rather than the absence of photos on the traditional Moslem grave markers. (See Figure 4 of another Romani site.)

Romani grave markers 2012

Figure 5. Romani gravesites with the crescent and star, as well as photos of the deceased (photo by E. Dunin 2012)

Romani grave marker with lamb 2012

Figure 6. A lamb is a major component of the annual holiday (photo by E. Dunin 2012)

I also came across photos related to the Djurdjevden / Erdelezi holiday.  This is significant since Islamic religious pressures after the 2000s have diminished this holiday with its public communal dancing or any other public expression of the holiday. The gravesite markers made with expensive marble with photos of the deceased, by those who can afford the cost, defy this restriction. (See Figure 6 with a lamb.)

One Romani couple with a large double-sided marble grave marker show themselves observing the holiday. On one side of the marble slab they show a photo where they are holding green branches (Figure 7). On the opposite side of the marble, there are three photos with two that are clearly related to the holiday — one with dancing and another with picnicking feasting. (See Figure 8.)

Romani gravemarker green branches

Figure 7. Pose of a Romani pair holding green branches that symbolize the spring holiday event (photo by E. Dunin 2012)

Romani grave marker with dance

Figure 8. The same couple in a dancing position. Here she is wearing the čintiani outfit, which clearly identifies this couple as Romani (photo by E. Dunin 2012)

This report shows that most Romani graves in Skopje’s municipal cemetery can be located within the Moslem burial areas, but that the Romani deceased tend to be identified with photos (as are the Macedonian Christian and Macedonian Partisans on their grave markers). Later that day, in discussing the gravesites with a Rom, he indicated that the Romani names are so similar with other [Moslem] names, that a photo gives a sense of identity of who that person was in life.

Furthermore, photos show musicians (tapan drummers or accordion players), Romani female attire, or sacrificial lambs depicted on the stones, and even at least one photo posed in a dancing position clearly for the Djurdjevden / Erdelezi holiday.

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Revisiting Romani (Gypsy) gravestones in Los Angeles, November 2011

Submitted December 31, 2011 by Elsie Ivancich Dunin

Revisiting Romani (Gypsy) gravestones in Los Angeles, November 2011

This “Notes from the Field” report about Romani (Gypsy) family gravestones is not directly about dance, although the visit to a cemetery in Los Angeles was motivated by observations of religious dance societies in northern Chile in 1986. This report begins with a dance/costume context in the 1980s leading to a revisit of gravestones in 2011. While still fresh with this recent experience, I am inspired to describe the cemetery context in Los Angeles with the intent of eliciting younger scholars to study tangible visual spatial relationships of Romani families among Romani outsiders (who are gadži to the Roms).

The initial dance context:
While conducting fieldwork within a Croatian Diaspora in northern Chilean cities (Antofagasta, Iquique, Calama, and Arica), I took time to observe Chilean fiestas at Catholic sanctuaries, events that involve large numbers of dance associations referred to as Los Bailes Religiosos [Religious Dance Groups]. The groups are identified by costume and choreographic themes, and one of them is Los Bailes Gitanos [Gypsy Dance Groups]. The Gypsy (Romani) dance theme happens to be another of my research interests since my graduate studies at UCLA in the 1960s.

Photo 1. Banner for a Baile Gitano group in northern Chile. (Photo by E. Dunin 1986 July 16 during the La Tirana festival.)

In Chile 1986, I observed Gitano groups that perform alongside other theme groups, such as: Los Bailes Pieles Rojas [Dance societies of the Red Skins], Diablos [Devils]; Pastoras [Pastorals], Osos Blancos [White Bears], Morenos [Browns] see Photo 1, and many other theme groups. My interest in the Gitano theme group was to see what relationship its theme might have to my study interest with Romani dance occasions in “former” Yugoslavia. These northern Chilean dance societies and their dances are structurally described by J.J. M.M. van Kessel, 1982, in his Danzas y estructuras sociales de los Andes), a priest from The Netherlands who served for an extended time in northern Chile. I learned that memberships and activities with these dance groups were by religious vows, much in the same manner as membership to Matachines, religious dance groups in Mexico and in the southwest of the United States, groups that perform for the December 12 Guadalupe Feast Day and for other Catholic Saints days.

Photo 2. Banner for a Sociedad Religiosa Morenos and the group's portable altar. (Photo by E. Dunin 1984 July 16 during La Tirana festival.)

My observations of dancing at Chilean Catholic festivals revealed that there is no dance relationship between the Roms (Gypsies) of my comparative research and these religious Gitano dance societies in northern Chile.

HOWEVER, what I did uncover, is that Cigani (Roms or Gypsies) emigrated from Serbia into Chile (and to the United States, with families in Los Angeles) in the early 20th century. I found demographic information with registration records in the northern Chilean port city of Antofagasta, substantiating immigration. I reported upon this information with a research paper “Serbian Gitanos in Chile: immigration data” to the Gypsy Lore Society meeting held at UCLA in March 1987. Circumstantially intriguing is that all the Bailes Gitanos groups were wearing costumes that reminded me of the Cigani in Serbia of “former” Yugoslavia and of Kalderaš and Mačvaja Gypsies in Los Angeles. In contrast to the costumes of famous Flamenco Gitanos of southern Spain, it appears that the immigrant Serbian Gypsies in Chile influenced the model of costume of their Gitano religious societies.  I reported upon this Serbian Cigani costume factor in northern Chile in a research paper (unpublished) presented to the 46th International Congress of the Americanists held in Amsterdam, July 1988.

A Chilean Gitano costume piece as a link to Gypsies from Serbia in the U.S.
One of the costume pieces worn by the females of the Gitano Baile groups in Chile is a small purse worn at the side of the waist. (See Photo 3.) This small item was not significant during my observations in Chile until I returned to Los Angeles.

Photo 3. Baile gitano group performing in plaza of La Tirana church. See small purse tied on the left side of the waist of female dancers in foreground. (Photo by E. Dunin 1986 July 16.)

The research paper for the Americanists in 1988 is a result of an observation made in the New Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Los Angeles in 1987, after my return from fieldwork in Chile. I had a fortuitous occasion (October 1987) to attend a funeral of a Los Angeles Mačvaja Romani matriarch. The burial was in the New Calvary Cemetery, which turns out to be one of the oldest established cemeteries in Los Angeles and the choice of many Romani families to bury their deceased. On one of the Romani tombstones (near the burial site), I noted a photo of a Romani female with a small purse at her waist side.

Photo 4. Based on the years of birth and death, photo of a Romani female in her youth, 1920s–1930s. (Photo by E. Dunin 1987.)

Seeing this costume piece in the Los Angeles cemetery was one of those “light bulb moments.” I searched further for other evidence of this “purse.” One of my Gypsy Lore Society colleagues, Sheila Salo, who specializes in Gypsy immigration data in the United States was not familiar with the purse costume piece, but she found a photo of a Gypsy woman telling a fortune in Rochester, New York, 1932 (located in the Carl de Wendler-Funaro photo collection), and she is wearing this type of purse at her waistline. Later I found an article about Gypsies in Mexico (1966, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 45(1–2):15), where David Pickett describes their costume, and notes a “papcérko (or kisí as it is called by some), which is a type of wallet on a belt that may be worn either outside the katrinsa [a long apron], beneath it, or between a slip and the skirt…” No other description of Romani dress in the Americas includes this purse detail, but the Rochester 1932 fortune teller, a gravesite photo in Los Angeles, and my photos of the Gitano dance societies provided comparative data.

This mode of dress from at least the 1920s and 1930s, is apparently now obsolete dressing among the Gypsies themselves in the United States and Chile; however, the purse item continues on in northern Chile via an adaptation of Gypsy dress of the religious dance societies, that was likely modeled after the Gypsies who had emigrated from Serbia within a generation of their arrival into Chile. Seeing this purse item, worn by a dance society in Chile, on a photo of a Romani female in the Calvary Cemetery in 1987 is the motivating link for these Notes.

Return to the Calvary Cemetery twenty-four years later (1987 – 2011).
I made an impulsive visit to the Calvary Cemetery while in Los Angeles during the Thanksgiving holiday period. Could I find the purse tombstone photo again in this cemetery?  ……….  Yes, she was found, and as I roamed through an older section of the large cemetery, I found more interesting data related to Romani grave markers, exposing a pattern of gravesites, not noticed when I was there in 1987. David Nemeth (2002, The Gypsy-American, an ethnogeographic study, page 157) discusses an indication of social solidarity among the local Roms through their gravesites, and that there are burials covering at least three decades. I see already seven decades represented, and I am in hopes that my latest observations and questions in these Notes from the Field will provide a basis for further ethnographic contact among the Romani families living in Los Angeles or to inspire research related to social stratification or familial relationships extended into cemeteries.

Background on the New Calvary Cemetery.
The 19th century Catholic Calvary Cemetery was located near central Los Angeles (that is currently the site of a boy’s high school, and near the Dodger’s Baseball Stadium), and was relocated to East Los Angeles, which in 1896 was at the edge of growing Los Angeles. The cemetery is known for burials of Cardinals and Bishops, for influential old families in Los Angeles history, and for Hollywood celebrities, such as the Barrymores, comedian Lou Costello, actress Irene Dunne, and parents of former President Ronald Reagan [Calvary Cemetery & Mausoleum information sheet (no date); and see online   <,_East_Los_Angeles (accessed 2011.12.5)].

Photo 5. Overview of an older section of the cemetery. Two Romani tombstones are shown in the foreground.

It is not known when the Roms born in Serbia arrived in Los Angeles, but some of the oldest tombstones show birth years in Serbia in the second half of the 19th century, and the earliest dated burial with a tombstone is 1935.

Photos 6 and 7. First generation born in Serbia.

The feature that makes these tombstones recognizable as being of the Roms (Gypsies) in this cemetery is that each grave marker includes a photo of the deceased, usually in their younger years. For the first generation – those likely born in the region of Mačva in Serbia — and for the second generation — of those who are born in the United States — the females are seen to be wearing long skirts and a headscarf (diklo), that indicates their married status. All of the upright monuments for the older generations show photos of married pairs. The males are usually seen with brimmed hats and females with a headscarf. It is the headdress and the long skirts of the females that identify these stones as being of the Romani population.

Photo 8. Photograph of husband and wife

Photo 9. A cluster of four upright monuments with Anglicized names. The photos identify these elaborate markers as being Romani.

Other grave markers of individuals from “former” Yugoslavia (that include emigrant regions of Serbia, Croatia, or Hercegovina) of the same period do not show photos of the deceased. My eye caught the Krilanovich surname from the Dubrovnik area, and there was no photo attached to the gravestone.

Photo 10. Deceased from the Croatian Dubrovnik area, and no photos on stones.

Another interesting feature is that the Gypsies from Serbia have maintained their Serbian Orthodox rituals in Los Angeles, such as burial customs during funeral ceremonies, feasting at the gravesite, post 40-day and post-one-year pomana feasting, and family slava celebrations, and yet their deceased families are buried in a major Catholic cemetery. The Dubrovnik-area family burial will have followed Roman Catholic customs in contrast to the Serbian Eastern Orthodox customs. The early 20th century Calvary Cemetery accepted funeral observances and burials of any faith.

After the mid-1990s, burial markers were restricted to grass-level bronze plaques. (This restriction came after the 1994 damaging earthquake in the Los Angeles area.)  Adding a photo of the deceased continues, but they are single persons, rather than a husband-wife family unit. The burial site is not dominantly visual, as was with the large upright monuments.

Photo 11. Bronze ground-level memorial plaque.

Anglicized family names started very early with these families. Adamović became Adams, Nikolić became Nicholas, Marković became Marks, and so on. Two surnames were not Anglicized: Todorovich and Uwanavich. One might not know which names are the Romani family names, but the photos on the grave markers are the identifying cues, whether on the large upright monuments, or on the ground-level memorials as seen in Photo 11.

Prior to the time of the Cemetery restricting burial markers to ground level, the Romani tombstones dominate this older part of the cemetery, even near the All Souls Chapel, with its adjacent gravesites of Catholic orders and sisterhoods.

Photo 12. Adams upright memorial near the All Souls Chapel, that is across the road from an older section of the cemetery with Romani gravesites.

Not only do they dominate, but there appears to be a spatial relationship of the Romani monuments. Many are placed at the perimeter near the road, and in facing relationships to other Romani plots.

Photo 13. all of these foreground grave sites belong to Romani families (near the road). The Dams marker at the road near the All Souls Chapel is seen in the distance in a dominant straight line position facing these foreground grave sites.

There are tombstones that are close to the road, while others are clustered, several facing each other and appear to cross in a line across the center of this part of the cemetery.

Photo 14. A cluster of Romani families facing one another in the center of this cemetery section.

Is there an intended spatial relationship of these Romani family gravesites in the Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles?  The oldest stones are on the periphery, and there appears to be the form of a cross from north to south, and a cluster of graves that mark an east – west crossing through the center north-south line of the cemetery. If the burial markers were all at ground level, this pattern would not be obvious, but the large upright tombstones from the pre-1990s make a visual pattern.

The Adams surname is clearly a presence with gravesites on both the north-south visual line as well as a crossing east-west line, and alongside the circulatory road in this area of the cemetery. The most dominant Romani grave marker is for G… Adams and his wife, an influential family that the news media identified as the “King of the Gypsies.”

Cemeteries may offer tangible evidence of social and family relationships of Roms who are often little understood by the gadži. However, more genealogical and statistical etic information must be related to emic information from the families themselves. Hopefully these written Notes with visual tangible markings in a cemetery will act as a catalyst for someone to study social spatial understandings of certain families in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

(All photos shown in these Notes are taken by Elsie Dunin, and may not be reproduced without her permission.)

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Salonsko Kolo in Croatia and Chile into the 21st century

Submitted September 2, 2011 by Elsie Ivancich Dunin

The 19th century Salonsko Kolo in Croatia and Chile into the 21st century

“Notes from the Field” is a tool for writing up research in process with impressions, data, connections, and interpretations that often would not have been revealed or have appeared in any other form. Furthermore, one’s past might connect in the present with unexpected paths in life. Such is the case below.

On 17 July 2011 as I was greeting a dance group in Zaton, a seaside village near Dubrovnik, I was suddenly realizing a special link between this group and my experience in a library four decades ago. This Chilean-Croatian group from northern Chile would not be traveling to Croatia had it not been for an accidental “discovery” (or was it meant to be?) during casual browsing through a 19th century Croatian language magazine in 1972. While I was doing another literary search in the UCLA Research Library, the pages of an 1872 volume on its own, fell open to a dance description.

The visiting group, named Hrvatska Jeka [Croatian Echo] had been invited by the organizers of the 45th International Folklore Festival in Zagreb. The festival theme this year is about dance and music performed by Croatians and their descendants living outside of Croatia, such as in Austria, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States. The many communities outside of Croatia’s borders were due to various reasons, such as emigration for economic reasons, or forced displacement caused by military occupation or wars (Ottoman period, World War One, World War Two, and the recent Homelands war in the 1990s). The immigration into Chile was economic and began in the late 19th century principally from the central Adriatic coast of Croatia when the coastal strip was under Austrian administration. In Chile these early immigrants were called Austriacos, but they maintained their Croatian names and surnames, much Croatian vocabulary in their speech, and many identifiable customs, especially in food ways, and families gathering together in a physical and social space “Sociedad Croata.” In multi-cultural festivals in northern Chile since the 1980s, they represent themselves in music and dance as Croatas (before the 1990s as Yugoslavos, and never as Austriacos).

Interestingly the Jeka dance group appears to be the only group in the Zagreb Festival that has maintained in their performance repertoire a dance that had been part of their intangible heritage coming with the first generation immigration. Most of the other Croatian diaspora groups perform a range of repertoire introduced to them later by “folklorists” from Croatia who were performers in professional or amateur “folklore” ensembles with choreographed or rearranged repertoire (such as taught to the Croatian group in Los Angeles), or groups perform the dances of their adopted country (such as the tango by Argentinian Croatians).

Back to my terrace in Zaton with an extraordinary visit by the Chilean Croatians. How is it that there is such a group visiting me in Zaton? (See map of Croatia.)

Zaton is near Dubrovnik

The story begins in 1972, when I accidentally uncovered a written dance description in a 19th century magazine in the Croatian language. (The UCLA Research Library happens to have the finest collection of literature of all types outside of the “former” Yugoslavia, collected by anthropologist Joel M. Halpern during the mid-1950s, not long after World War Two, and shortly after diplomatic relations were established between the U.S. and Communist Yugoslavia). The hardbound volumes of the Vienac magazine did not exist in many libraries outside of Zagreb, and I was looking through them in Los Angeles. The pages fell open to a “new” ballroom dance [Dvoransko Kolo], described by Franjo Kuhač. The dance is performed in pairs in a circle formation, with several figures rather than the more typical single figure of a circular, non-partner kolo, and these figures had names and appeared to be related to the quadrille (from which the square dance evolved in the US during the late 19th century). Because of the 1872 year of this issue of Vienac I was thinking of preparing a small article, since I had uncovered the article a century later, in 1972. I did not pursue the writing due to other professional deadlines, and I stored a reference of the article in my card catalog (this is in the days before laptops, and photo-copying machines in libraries).

The next connection leading me to the present encounter with the Chileans was a survey trip in 1975 to meet families in Croatia that were related to families I had interviewed in California. The project was to trace continuities and changes of dances and dancing of immigrants and their descendants in California with the same time period in their source emigrant areas. I found myself in the village of Ložišće on the island of Brač (central coast of Croatia), where I asked what family members were in America, and expecting to get an answer about a place in California where there are large numbers of Bračani. I was given an answer of a city in America, which I did not recognize thinking that the elderly Croatian person in front of me, was mispronouncing the name, and I asked for a mailing address. An envelope was presented with a return address in Antofagasta, Chile. The family on Brač had relations in the Americas in both California and in Chile. Finding this pattern with other families, I then decided to extend the comparative research into three prongs: source area in Croatia, California, and somewhere in South America (for there were families with relations not only in Chile, but in Argentina, and Peru overlapping the time period I was studying in California). Antofagasta was added to my list of towns to visit in the future. (See map of Chile with Antofagasta in the north.)

Antofagasta in northern Chile

Ten years later, 1985, I took a month’s travel leave from the university to survey South Slavic communities in Argentina, Chile, and Peru, to decide where I would spend my next sabbatical period (1986) for this comparative project. Dropping in out of the sky to the Antofagasta airport, I was met by a travel guide. On the drive from the airport toward the town center I asked about Yugoslavos and dance groups. Well yes, his good friend was a leader of a group, and he drove me directly to his house. Asking about the dance group and their performance repertoire, I was told about a dance called “Davi Čiro” a name very familiar to me as a dance with two figures in a hand-held closed circle. When I asked what the dance looked like, a video recording of their last performance (in October 1984) was available to look at. The dance was not the Davi Čiro I was familiar with, but a dance in pairs in a circle formation, with figures that were similar to the quadrille. Was it possible? that this was a similar dance to the description in the 1872 magazine??? Within only two hours of my arrival in northern Chile, I had this extraordinary encounter, which set in motion a plan to spend my next research sabbatical time in Chile (rather than Peru or Argentina).

The following year (1986) I spent several months in Antofagasta, Santiago, and Punta Arenas. These three cities with major Croatian emigrant populations were also in a geographical spread with icy winds coming off the Magellan Straits in the south to the earth’s driest deserts in the north – the north/south Pacific side in the northern hemisphere replicates a similar terrain from Juneau, Alaska to the southern tip of Baja California (or by equal distance in another direction, from Los Angeles to New York City).

Members of the dance group Daleki Akordi (Distant Sounds) did not know the origins of their dance, nor when the dance had been introduced into their community. Major city fires had destroyed library collections and private archives in Antofagasta, so I traveled south to the newspaper archive of the National Library in Chile’s capital, Santiago. I found when and who introduced the dance, in a 1917 newspaper originally published in Antofagasta in the Croatian language. With this “Bingo!” finding, I was able to trace the rest of the history, which was shared with the leaders and members of the dance group, and an article “SALONSKO KOLO” AS CULTURAL IDENTITY IN A CHILEAN YUGOSLAV COMMUNITY (1917-1986) was published in 1988 in Zagreb by the Institute of Folklore Research.

The uncovered history about their Davi Čiro dance gave a sense of pride, and due to my findings about Salonsko Kolo (as it was called in the 1917 newspaper) was taught to the Rasadnik group, the next generation of young dancers in Antofagasta. In 2002, the 36th International Folklore Festival in Zagreb had as part of its theme, dance and music of Croatians in old and new diasporas. I was asked for my opinion, and I immediately recommended the Antofagasta group to be invited, for they performed a dance that was no longer in living repertoire in Croatia. The group was invited to Croatia. In Notes, see “CHILEANS OF CROATIAN DESCENT IN ZAGREB, 17-21 July 2002.”

And once again in 2011, the theme of the Zagreb Festival is related to Croatians living outside of Croatia. The third generation of dance groups in Antofagasta comes to Croatia in 2011, the Hrvatska Jeka (Croatian Echo), with some members who were young children in the Rasadnik group in the 1990s, or young adults in the Daleki Akordi group in the 1980s. One of the young dancers in the Rasadnik generation, Pablo Sepulveda Rosso, who is now the leader of the Chilean Jeka group, had come to Croatia earlier in 2002, to study the language, to learn more dances, and while in Croatia had taught patterns of the Salonsko Kolo in a dance workshop. His teaching became a basis of the dance as performed in 2007 by KUD Zadok. This group had been performing a version taught by Goran Knežević who had interpreted the dance only from early written sources. The Antofagasta version as taught by Pablo in the workshop and the Rasadnik dancers on stage in 2002 had given a human example.

When I heard that the “Chilianci” were coming through Dubrovnik on their way to Split and Zagreb for the Festival, I invited them to my garden terrace in Zaton. While greeting them, I reflected that they would not have come to Croatia with Salonsko Kolo, had I not accidentally found the dance description in the UCLA Research Library in 1972, followed by an address on a saved envelope while I was in a village on the island of Brač in 1975, and asked about a dance group in Antofagasta in 1985 when there was a new technology video recording of the Davi Čiro dance by the Daleki Akordi dance group, and a needle in the haystack newspaper clipping of an invitation to young people in Antofagasta to learn the Salonsko Kolo in 1917, taught by Gjuro Roić.

In Croatia, after the 1990s war, there was a strong interest in identifying Croatian heritage and expanding repertoire in “folklore” sections of a Cultural Artistic Society (KUD). One of the director/choreographers, Goran Knežević turned to urban-based ballroom dances, such as his arrangement of Salonsko Kolo. [See KUD Zadok in a 2007 performance (YouTube accessed July 18, 2011)]. Interestingly Pablo’s teaching in 2002 had become a basis for the current version of the KUD dance. In addition, as a dance enthusiast, Knežević initiated a project in 2007 to teach his fused version of Salonsko Kolo to high school graduates, who would perform en masse across the country at noon, on the same mid-May date [Knežević (2010). The teaching and the May dance event spread to more schools by 2010 and 2011. [See YouTube for 2010/2011 events.]

Salonsko Kolo has been reintroduced into Croatia in a major way in the 21st century. It was to be performed in the Zagreb International Folklore Festival by both the Antofagasta group Hrvatska Jeka and by the KUD Zadok, but unfortunately due to rain, the two groups did not perform as planned, and the Jeka group has returned to Chile. An opportunity was lost to a recording of both groups with a performance on the same day on the same stage, the Jeka group with a continuity of “their” dance in their diaspora community since 1917, and a 21st century reconstructed version of the Salonsko Kolo in Croatia.

It seems that the 1972 opening of pages to a dance description was not accidental, but somehow “meant to be” bringing this group of Chileans to Croatia. Since Davi Čiro was the name of “their dance” in the 1980s, the teaching of Salonsko Kolo by Roić in 1917 in Antofagasta, Chile would not have been uncovered, and now in the 21st century via YouTube we see the dance performed by hundreds of teenagers in Croatia……

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La Danza, Violencia, and Los Pobres in Honduras (Part 3)

submitted February 14, 2011 by Andrea Mantell Seidel, PhD

The studio at El Central Cultural de las Artes y Amistad is luxurious in sharp contrast to the dilapidated studios of the fifty-year-old National School. One enters the school through two iron gates into a narrow hallway congested with students and parents. At the end of the hallway, two local vendedoras (vendors) sit at a small table throughout the afternoon during the duration of the classes. One sells small bags of chips and candies for the equivalent of 10 to 25 cents, and the other peels mangos and puts them into little bags to sell for 10 lempiras, about 50 cents per bag. To the left of the hallway are stark, run-down offices furnished with the bare essentials of a computer, folding chairs, old desks, unpainted walls, and several bathrooms for which one must bring his/her own toilet paper, paper towel, and soap. The main, large studio, small by comparison to an average American dance studio, is to the right of the offices. Upstairs are two smaller studios in a state of even greater disrepair and little ventilation.

While there are three national schools of the arts meagerly supported by the Ministry of the Culture—dance, music, and visual arts—support for the arts and cultural awareness, either public or private, in general throughout the country is at a bare minimum. There are no dance programs in the public schools nor a degree in the national university. In Tegucigalpa, presently, there is only one independent dance company directed by a man from El Salvador, and my hosts here are not too confident that he will survive for very long. He supports the company through his own personal funds, generated through teaching like many choreographers in Latin America. The Escuela Nacional supported a national company for three years in the late l990’s; but, it was too costly to maintain and the effort was abandoned. The school presents two performances each year at the Manuel Bonilla Teatro Nacional: one for its young students, and another more professional performance for advanced students and alumni. The Teatro Nacional is a grand theater built during the late colonial period, with elaborate box seats for dignitaries and a gilded ceiling. Unfortunately, this area is also surrounded by some of the poorest and most dangerous parts of the city, and many people in Tegucigalpa will not go to the theater for this reason. Concerts start at 6:30 pm so that the audience leaves early in the evening, and tickets cost an equivalent of $6.00 for all seats, even the box seats. The grandeur of the theater belies the relative simplicity of their production, consisting of outdated contemporary dance and ballet choreography.

The dancers in the community, most of who teach at the Escuela Nacional or in private schools, face interminable odds to accomplish their goals. There is so very little awareness for the arts, and they earn meager wages through teaching. Like most dancers, however, they are passionate, dedicated, and would not choose to have done anything else.

During the first week, my hosts take me to observe classes in ballet, tap, and preballet/creative movement at the school; rehearsals for an annual concert at the national theater; and then to two concerts, one by the independent company. While the students are disciplined and well-focused, the quality of teaching and level of technique of the advanced high school students and alumni is poor in contrast to even mediocre American schools. The teachers and school suffer from isolation and lack of diversity in practice. Most of the teachers were trained at the National School and perpetuate the same, outmoded techniques and ideologies of the director. While, periodically, they receive visiting teachers from the United States and other countries in Latin American, they have little opportunity to see touring companies, engage in experimental work and improvisation, and experience the wealth of other opportunities available to dancers in more well-developed countries.

After two weeks in Tegucigalpa, I feet like I have been in the city for over two months. Days seem long without fresh air or the ability to walk anywhere, as one goes from locked rooms to taxis or cars and to other walled in buildings. My hosts, Norma, the director of the school, and Isadora Paz, a lovely energetic dancer who works for the UN in developing cultural programs throughout Honduras, are very gracious. Isadora wrote the proposal for my visit, co-sponsored by the US Embassy Fulbright program as well as the Ministerio de Arte, Cultura, and Esportes. Isadora, her name an apt metaphor for her passion and commitment to art as a vehicle for peace and social change, feels much like a kindred spirit. Her perspective on dance is broad-minded and pragmatic. She is acutely aware that dance may be a mechanism to transform young lives enmeshed in the violence and poverty of the culture. I, too, feel that this is their best path for development of potential programs in the schools. Norma, on the other hand, while open-minded, has maintained the traditional perspective of the school serving as a vehicle to train professional dancers. In Honduras, this amounts to a mythological ideal, as there are virtually no opportunities to dance professionally. I advocate for much of the first two weeks that, while her great dreams to found a national school of the arts are wonderful visions, they have to be grounded in the harsh realities of economic, political, and social instability.

While the government has little concern for art and culture, they could possibly understand that new strategies must be created to deal with poverty and violence, and dance can be a powerful tool for inculcating respect, discipline, and character. In my opinion, shared by Isadora Paz, dance as a vehicle for social change is their best hope for the creation of any degree or licensing for potential teachers.

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La Danza, Violencia, and Los Pobres in Honduras (Part 2)

submitted February 14, 2011 by Andrea Mantell Seidel, PhD

My welcome packet from the US Embassy includes thirteen pages on security precautions, including: three pages of personal security measures; two pages of information about robbers on motorcycles; two pages on vehicle security and riding in a taxi; two pages on street security and potential “hostiles”; a page describing take-out food security precautions; three pages on kidnap threats and victim profiles; and a page of recent warnings to Americans in Honduras. This information paired with warnings from my hosts that it really isn’t safe to walk anywhere makes me feel a bit like a prisoner. There is an oppressive air in the city, exacerbated by all the barbed wire, walls, and armed guards in front of banks and buildings housing expensive goods or services.

While the outside walls of Central Cultural de las Artes y Amistad are colorfully painted, the building, like many of the others in the city, is surrounded by massive walls and gates topped with barbed wire. At the front gate, we are greeted by one of the 24-hour security guards, who leads us through a locked entrance door. Ricardo, the young, vibrant administrator of the center, presents me with a set of seven keys: one for the main entrance; three others for each of the double gated terraces; others for the gates and doors to each floor and hallway, and the last, finally, to my room. The room, while clean, well-lit, and with good window ventilation, is sparse and austerely furnished with only a bed, a small night table, and small shelf. The walls are also bare of decoration or paintings. Fortunately, during the day, Ricardo doesn’t lock all the interior doors, so I am very grateful for that.

My two luxuries are internet access and full access throughout the week to the pristine year-old dance studio straight across the hall from my room (through two more doors). The studio is perfect with beautiful wood floors, ample light pouring through a wall of large, modern windows, and a full wall of mirrors. I am grateful for access to the studio this first week as I need to prepare for five hours of teaching in the second week. Having transferred in the last year to the Department of Religious Studies at Florida International University, I have not taught that many hours in a day for a long time; and, as none of the students nor teachers would have any familiarity with the Duncan technique, I would have to demonstrate everything.

Central Cultural de las Artes y Amistad houses three small bedrooms, a kitchen, a music room, an art room, several multi-purpose rooms, and a simple outdoor courtyard for soccer and other games. The building is quite grand compared to most facilities in the city. It was built by a Honduran woman, who was adopted into a French family, to provide art and culture to poor children in the community. The facility is only a year old, and during the week it is barely used. I am grateful for the quiet, but I also find it unfortunate that such a wonderful space is only used on weekends. Also unfortunate, the programs are limited to only 100 children. The teachers and administrators work closely with the families as well, and the intention is that by keeping the number small, they will perhaps have greater impact on the children’s lives.

Valle de los Angelos, Honduras

Valle de los Angelos, Honduras

Valle de los Angelos, Honduras

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La Danza, Violencia, and Los Pobres in Honduras (Part 1)

submitted February 14, 2011 by Andrea Mantell Seidel, PhD

Pilots landing on the short airstrip that is the main runway must be specially trained to maneuver the precarious landing at Tegucigalpa’s main airport.

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It is a harrowing and interminably long 20-minute descent as the plane flies impossibly low to the ground. I and most all the other passengers hold our breaths as the plane dips and dives in sharp angles and curves, barely skimming the rooftops of buildings and the tops of mountains. In this small valley surrounded by a rugged, mountainous terrain, there is no luxury of a slow, steady descent to the ground. In an instant, the runway appears and, as we touch the ground, the passengers burst into applause, partially in relief to be on the ground and, in part, at the incredible dexterity and skill of the pilots.

This aura of danger and instability heralding my arrival would be a pervasive theme of my month-long residency in Honduras as a Fulbright Senior Scholar. The program and plan with which I was presented was both multifaceted and daunting. I would teach the students and instructors of the Escuela Nacional de Danza; assist in the development of a high school degree program in dance at the 52-year-old National School of Dance; consult in the design and development of the curriculum for a degree program at the national university in Tegucigalpa; and advise on curriculum revisions for both programs.

On June 28, 2009, army soldiers entered then President Jose Manuel Zelaya’s residence, seized Zelaya, and expelled him to Costa Rica. The National Congress met in an emergency session that same day, declared that Zelaya was no longer president, and swore in President of Congress Roberto Michelietti as the new President of the Republic. Micheletti replaced all cabinet members who did not accept Zelaya’s ouster. As reflected in resolutions by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations General Assembly, the events of June 28 constituted a coup d’état against a democratically elected government. In January 2010, a new President was elected, but the current government is also tenuous and unstable. In this atmosphere, my hosts declare that I am “brave” to come to Honduras following the coup d’état. I am not sure if it is bravery or naivety.

Norma Zambrano, the Director of the Escuela Nacional de Danza, meets me at the airport. Her son would drive me to the Central Cultural de las Artes y Amistad where I will be housed. Neither Norma nor her son speaks English, so we make do with all of the formalities of introductions in my poor but serviceable Spanish. Extreme poverty, congestion, and omnipresent security gates, grills, and barbed wire distinguish the drive through the city. Periodically, one passes formerly resplendent colonial buildings and churches, now in disrepair. With a per capita gross national income of $1,845, Honduras, only slightly larger than the state of Virgina, is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. 90% of the population is mestizo, of mixed Indian and European/Spanish ancestry, with small minorities of people from African, Asian, Arab, and indigenous descent. The predominant indigenous groups include the Lenca, Miskito, and the Maya in western Honduras.

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Sulukule, Turkey (Part 2)

submitted August 6, 2010 by Danielle van Dobben

Istanbul, European Capital of Culture 2010

Istanbul is the European Capital of Culture this year – a city has been designated every year by the European Union since 1985, to impact socio-economic development – and scheduled events such as musical concerts, folk heritage, photography, art and architecture exhibitions, workshops and film festivals have been happening regularly around the city. (You can find a full schedule and explanation here: I have been excited to come to Istanbul this year, knowing that it would be full of the kinds of activities I love, mostly centered on performances of music and dance.

This month, a folk arts display is housed in a small tent in Taksim Square, where mannequins have been dressed in regional costumes and jewelry (see photo below). Next to the tent, a large stage holds continuous performances by hip hop dancers, jazz musicians, improvisational children’s theater companies, etc. I pass it almost daily on my way to somewhere else, and now it has become so normal to me that I sometimes don’t even notice it. But I am still grabbed by the spontaneous performances that have been a part of my experiences in this city since the first time I came in 2006: the buskers on Istiklal Caddesi, the street musicians who come to our table, the nightly concerts at Araf. For some reason, the staged versions of “culture” are less and less appealing to me anymore, next to the performances that are a daily part of the fabric of Istanbul’s city life and informal economy. I also find myself asking more questions about what is not included in the display than what is. For example, I have yet to see anything on the schedule that represents Istanbul’s Rom (Gypsy) culture.

So, I admit I have made less of an effort than I expected to attend the city’s sponsored events, and found myself seeking instead the local cultural practices that are not being celebrated on the stages of the European Capital of Culture. Last weekend, my friend, Sevi, and I took the bus out to Gaziosmanpasa to take a Roman oyun havasi (Rom dance) class with my teacher, a Rom dancer named Reyhan. The class always takes a few hours, because before and after dancing, we always sit together and eat something that Reyhan serves, catching up with her husband and daughters. This time, we discussed the recent changes in Reyhan’s life. She used to live in a gecekondu (shantytown), but her home along with thousands of others was demolished in one of the city’s recent clean-up projects. Now, a mall stands where a large community of Roma once lived, complete with a movie theatre, a McDonald’s, and a Starbucks. Reyhan has moved to an apartment nearby, which is in many ways a step up for her. The apartment has two bedrooms, so that her daughters have their own room now (their previous home was just one room, where everyone ate, entertained, and slept together). They also have a bathroom inside, instead of having to share an outhouse with several of their neighbors. But, Reyhan lamented to me when I asked, now her family is scattered and she does not get to see them as often. The social activities that brought them together regularly are now few and far between.

The dance that Reyhan practices hasn’t yet been staged, or shaped into something that a concert hall audience can relate to from a distance, so its performative aspect is shaped inside of a social context where the meanings of the movements are not lost on the watchers. The hand gestures are sometimes arrogant, prideful, or rebellious, but always in a playful way. Reyhan often mimics the common motions of women in their daily lives: washing clothes, hanging them to dry, holding a baby, stirring a pot. The gestures towards the belly and hips are assertive, and seem to emphasize ownership and power. This dance is not sexy like belly dance, and sometimes it is even awkward, or aggressive, or simple. It is not showy, but it is arrogant in a deeper way, a way that comes from a people who have always lived on the margins of society.

In contrast, I went to dinner with friends that evening in Kumkapi, an area of the city known for its seafood restaurants and outdoor atmosphere. We sat at a table in the square, next to a stone fountain, neon signs and twinkling strings of lights lighting up the faces of passing tourists and waiters with trays of meze (appetizers). Rom musicians went from table to table playing fasil, an urban Rom style of music developed for the meyhane (bar-restaurant, or tavern). Like rembetiko from Greece or the early American blues, the music is associated with the seedy, the underclass, and the underground. Incorporated into the tourist scene in the last few decades, however, now Turks and foreigners alike enjoy the music on weekend nights with a raki sofrasi (literally, dinner accompanied by the Turkish anise spirit, raki). At the end of each fasil set it is traditional for the musicians to play rakkas for a belly dancer. That night in Kumpaki, I was disappointed to see that the dancer didn’t so much dance as shake body parts at the customers and play finger cymbals loudly in their ears until they gave her a tip (see video below).

The various manifestations of Rom music and dance are at the center of my dissertation research (see “Sulukule, Part 1”), with a particular focus on the famous Rom neighborhood known as Sulukule. Like Reyhan’s gecekondu, Sulukule was recently demolished in one of Istanbul’s urban renewal projects.  In fact, these projects are sponsored and partly funded under the umbrella of the European Capital of Culture, justified as restoration and the preservation of Istanbul’s cultural heritage. Prime Minister Erdogan has recently promised that, “There will be no Roman living in shanty houses anymore” (Radikal, July 7, 2010), and TOKI , the Housing Development Administration, has launched projects for over two thousand residential units for Roma in eleven cities around Turkey to be built in July and August of this year. Tarlabasi, a historical neighborhood in the old European quarters of Istanbul, is the next area that has been targeted for renewal by the city. A journalist friend was looking into buying some property in the area, and the real estate agent gave him a pamphlet that showed a photograph of the neighborhood as it is now, with horse-drawn carts, women in headscarves, and garbage in the streets, juxtaposed with a sketch of the plans for the new neighborhood, with clean streets and shiny new buildings, a playground and swimming pool, and men and women in business suits.

The Roma of Istanbul are aware of these kinds of discourses, and are not at all oblivious to what side of the pamphlet they are supposed to represent. The day after my visit to Kumkapi, I’m sitting in a smoky room, surrounded by walls painted in bright yellow and men shouting at the horse races on a big screen television set. We are drinking tea, and my interview with Sukru Punduk at the office of his Association has been put on pause so he can urge on his horse. He loses, and Sukru pounds his fist on the table. He turns to me and laughs: “I bet on the horses so that I can win big money and buy land to start Sulukule all over again!” he tells me.  But then his face turns serious. “No, we can never rebuild Sulukule, not like it was. It wouldn’t be the same anywhere else. To other people, maybe the Ottoman wall is history or archaeology, I don’t know. But to us, it was protection. We were safe behind the wall.”

Sukru started the Association in February 2006, with the goal of preserving and continuing the Rom culture and community solidarity, particularly via music and dance, under threat by the urban renewal project. Sukru’s father and grandfather were both raised in Sulukule, but Sukru didn’t have a deed to the house. He refused to sell it to TOKI, but they expropriated it. “I don’t have a village to go home to,” he told me. “Sulukule is my home. Where will I go now?” Sukru remembers the neighborhood as prosperous and independent, before the entertainment houses were closed down. “Busses loaded with tourists used to come here,” he remembers.

After an hour of discussing Sukru’s activities in the association and goals for the future, I turn off the tape recorder thinking the interview is over. But Sukru instructs me to turn the recorder back on, and gives me the following speech:

“Istanbul is supposed to be the European Capital of Culture this year, you know? But we are not included in that. . . . They think it is enough to exhibit culture in a museum: shaman culture in one museum, black culture in another museum, Indians in another museum. This is the world policy today. They imagine that people should be robots, and go to work every day from 9 to 5. But this is not life. Life is something other than working every day. In places like Tasoluk, the streets are dead. Early in the morning there is movement in the streets, everybody leaving for work. Then again in the afternoon, when people take a lunch break. And then again in the evening there is movement as people come home from work. Other than that, there is no sound in the streets. Only police and ambulance sirens going by. When I think of America, I think of it like that. Endless tall buildings, and nothing else. I’m sure there is plenty of diversity there, but I can’t see it. Like here, our culture is supposed to be the Bosphorus Bridge and the Aya Sofya. Tourists are not supposed to see us. If we were robots, that might work. But we’re not. So they can’t replace our culture, even if they want to. They cannot take our culture and put it in Tasoluk. Everything is beautiful right where it is.”

Neoliberalism, identity politics, and place intersect in particular ways in Sulukule. On one hand, urban renewal projects are introducing Turks to the global, commercial culture of malls, McDonald’s, and gated communities with swimming pools. At the same time, although perhaps less obvious, resistance to such projects is generating an engagement with global discourses about minority and human rights. Although the Roma of Sulukule, generally thought to occupy the periphery of the city and its social life, are not on display on the stages of the European Capital of Culture, as it turns out, communities like Sulukule are actually central to the political-economic processes underway in Turkey today.

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