Baxtalo Ederlezi!

Image by Judy Paris

Image by Judy Paris

Ederlezi, the Romani (Gypsy) Spring Festival, is one of my very favorite holidays. It’s celebrated with dancing, eating, singing a hauntingly beautiful folk song, and literally throwing flowers everywhere. Flowers in your house, flowers on your lawn, flowers in the river, flowers in the sea…. How could anyone not love this?

My favorite rendition of the Ederlezi folksong is performed by Tatiana Eva Marie of the Avalon Jazz Band. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with the very smart and talented Tatiana in Quail Bell Magazine.

Another exciting Quail Bell surprise just in time for the holiday– Rita Banjerjee’s mistranslation poems were just released, including one poem inspired by my lackluster performance of Ederlezi at our last Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Writing & Yoga Retreat in France. Speaking of which, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop summer retreat deadlines for both Paris and Granada have been extended to May 25th. So Baxtalo Ederlezi! Have a beautiful and fortune-blessed Spring– hope to see you this summer!

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Today, Roma celebrate the Goddess-Saint Kali Sara

St. Sarah, Kali Sara, Sara Kali, Sara-la-Kali, Sati-Sara, The Black Madonna, The Black Mother… many names for one Goddess-Saint sacred to Roma all over the world. Today is her festival– she is the Goddess of Fate, good fortune, fertility, and protection– and Roma honor her in pilgrimage, by worshiping her statue, through dance and community… so many ways, so many incarnations of the goddess who accompanied the Roma all the way from India.

Take a look at these articles below for more information about the Goddess-Saint, Romanipen/Romani religion/spirituality, and her celebration. Be sure to click the links for the whole articles.

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

 

“Until recently it was widely believed that this worship of Kali Sara, the Romani Black Madonna or Goddess was unique to Les Saintes Maries de La Mer. My own recent research among Romani refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and in countries of the Balkans has uncovered the little-known fact that other Black Virgins are worshipped by Roma in central/eastern Europe and that Roma from these countries perform similar rituals. These rituals include laying flowers at the feet of the statue, adorning the statue with clothing of the sick hoping for cures, placing requests to the statue, and lighting candles to the female divinity. To the Roma, Kali Sara is the Protectress who will cure sickness, bring good luck and fertility and grant success in business ventures.
The Romani ceremony at Les Saintes Maries, as elsewhere, consists of carrying the statue on a platform strewn with flowers (4) into the closest body of water such as a sea, lake, flowing river or even a large pond of clear water. The platform is then lowered to touch the water while the crowd throws flowers into the water. Indian scholars such as Dr. Weer Rishi (5) and others who have witnessed this Romani ceremony, as well as Western observers who are familiar with Hindu religious customs have identified this ceremony with the Durga Poojaof India. In Romani, Kali Sara means Black Sara and in India, the Goddess Kali is known as Kali/Durga/Sara. Like the Hindus, the Roma practice shaktism, the worship of Goddesses. In other words, the Roma who attend the pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries in France and in other related ceremonies elsewhere honouring black female divinities, are in fact continuing to worship Kali/Durga/Sara their original Goddess in India.

According to the Durgasaptashati (seven hundred verses in the worship of Goddess Durga and her various forms), chapter 5, verse 12, which mentions Sara, contains the following: “Salute to Durga, Durgapara, (Deliver of all difficulties), Sara, (Embodiment of everything par-excellent), Cause of everything, Krishna and Dhurma (Evaporated form in smoke).” Other references in this ancient Hindu scripture also confirm that Sara is one and the same with the Indian goddess Durga who is also another aspect of Kali, the consort of Shiva.” —“THE ROMANI GODDESS KALI SARA” by RONALD LEE

The Indian Goddess Kali

The Indian Goddess Kali

 

Some Romani groups in Europe today appear to maintain elements of Shaktism or goddess-worship; the Rajputs worshipped the warrior-goddess Parvati, another name for the female deity Sati-Sara, who is Saint Sarah, the Romani Goddess of Fate. That she forms part of the yearly pilgrimage to La Camargue at Stes. Maries de la Mer in the south of France is of particular significance; here she is carried into the sea just as she is carried into the waters of the Ganges each December in India. Both Sati-Sara and St. Sarah wear a crown, both are also called Kali, and both have shining faces painted black.  Sati-Sara is a consort of the god Ðiva, and is known by many other names, Bhadrakali, Uma, Durga and Syamaamong them.” —

“ROMANI (‘GYPSY’) RELIGION” by Ian Hancock

Sara, toi la sainte patronne des voyageurs et gitans du monde entier,
tu as vécu en ce lieu des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Tu es venue d’un lointain pays au-delà des mers.
J’aime venir te retrouver ici, te dire tout ce que j’ai dans le Cœur,
te confier mes peines et mes joies.
Je te prie pour tous les membres de ma famille et tous mes amis.
Sara, veille sur moi!

(Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over, you who lived in this region of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You came from a far-away country from across the seas. I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart and in you confide my sorrows and joys. I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends. Sara, come to me!) —Saint Sara-la-Kali: A Sister to Kali Maa

Saint Sarah

Saint Sarah

Alright bitches, this is what a #RealGypsyWarrior looks like

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In case you didn’t know, I really love fashion. I love it as an art form with all its complications. But I absolutely loathe the fashion industry’s exploitation of Romani people. I got an email today from LOOKBOOK, a mailing list I was subscribed to, about a festival they are sponsoring in partnership with the enormously racist Gypsy Warrior fashion retailer. This is their pitch:
“Calling all gypsies! Are you a true Gypsy Warrior? Do you love adventure, dance to the beat of your drum? Create your own trends and believe in the magical moments and never ending fun? If you answered yes to these questions, then hell yea, you are a true Gypsy Warrior! “
OH HELL NO. A true Gypsy Warrior is a Romani person (or ally) who rights for Romani rights, for representation, who faces systemic racism and perseveres, who educates, who works to see that Roma are no longer treated like parasites. A real Gypsy Warrior thinks that this is a bunch of racist bullshit. I wrote a letter to that effect.
To Whom it May Concern,
I was offended by the email I received “LOOKBOOK x Gypsy Warrior music festival.” The email begins, “Calling all gypsies [sic]….” First, the word “gypsy,” in the lowercase, is an ethnic slur for the Romani people, an oppressed ethnic group. The company Gypsy Warrior exploits harmful Romani stereotypes to sell a product. In light of the current Romani human rights crisis, which Amnesty International has called “Europe’s shame,” this is a very tactless and offensive move and I am disappointed that LOOKBOOK is joining in with the exploitation. For more about the Romani human rights crisis: http://www.amnesty.org/en/roma. To take the word “Gypsy” and turn it into a romanticized consumerist image, it makes a costume out of an ethnic group and a culture. “Gypsy Warrior” is as tasteless and offensive as “Jew Warrior” or “Asian Warrior.” This is especially problematic when so many Americans have no idea that Romani people are actually people and not some figment of fantasy or a lifestyle choice, as the media repeatedly suggests. Roma were murdered, en masse, in the Holocaust. They were slaves alongside African Americans in America. They were slaves for four centuries in Europe. Romani people today are denied safe housing, education, health care, and jobs. Antigypsyists bomb the settlements that Roma are forced to live in without electricity or plumbing. Police in Europe in America target and brutalize Roma because of their ethnicity. Romani women suffer frced sterilization at the hands of their government. Romani mortality rates are significantly higher than non-Roma. This is not the glamorous “Gypsy Warrior” that the media likes to draw, and the constant perpetuation of “Gypsy” costume, sexualization, and romanticization belittles and obscures the real and desperate fight for Romani rights. For this reason, I will no longer be part of LOOKBOOK’s mailing list. As a Romani woman and a humanitarian, I am offended and disappointed.
Sincerely,
Jessica Reidy
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If you want to hear more about this issue, here’s a link to my article in Quail Bell Magazine “Gypsy Soul: Romani Fashion and the Politics of Dressing Gypsy”. In it, I’ve included links to some great sources on the topic including Oksana Marafioti, Dr. Ian Hancock, and Erika Varga.
As part of the contest, they want you to “Just post your most festival worthy look with at least one Gypsy Warrior item to this contest and Instagram.” I have an alternative suggestion. Please, take a moment to post your most protest-worthy look with at least one sign that says “END ROMANI EXPLOITATION. #RealGypsyWarrior” via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and raise awareness. Remember the hash tag. Post and share if you believe in human rights and the importance of media representation. Post if you’re friends with me and want to show your support. Post if you love a Romani person. Post if you are a Romani person. Post if you love real “Gypsy” culture. Post if your hair looks good today. Post. And let me see what you posted via Facebook,Twitter, and WordPress. This is what a real Gypsy Warrior looks like.
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That raised eyebrow means I’m judging you, Gypsy Warrior.