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Gypsy stories: Narrative as a teaching stratagem

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Author(s): Čvorović Jelena

Journal: Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU
ISSN 0350-0861

Volume: 58;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 185;
Date: 2010;
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Keywords: Roma | naratives | cultural adaptations

ABSTRACT
This paper discusses the performance of narratives as adaptive cultural beha­viors among Gypsies in Mačva county, western Serbia. Storytelling is a universal activity and may well be oldest of the arts. It has always provided a vehicle for the expression of ideas, particularly in societies relying on oral tradition. Gypsies are present in Serbia since the Middle Ages, living within a larger Serbian culture as a minority group. Mačva, an agriculturally rich county in western Serbia, is a place where local Gypsy traditions are still alive and which help distinguish between Gypsy subgroups and the larger Serbian society. The stories analyzed are part of a collec­tion made from several different Gypsy groups exhibiting varying degrees of influence from Serbian culture. Gypsies in Serbia have no written literature, but possess a rich and varied storytelling tradition delivered by word of mouth through the generations. Their stories bear testimony to the evolutionarily important mecha­nisms employed by Gypsies to make their way in the world. Gypsy stories concern many aspects of the relationship between themselves and other social groups, both in the past and the present. At the same time, the stories deal with universal adaptive problems, such as origin/ethnicity, kinship and mate acquisition. By applying the concepts and folk knowledge from their own culture, Gypsies have managed to provide for themselves the guidelines to overcome these problems within a par­ticular environment. Thus it is that these stories reflect both human universals and cultural peculiarities - by utilization of localized cultural solutions to adaptive problems. The success Gypsies have achieved in surviving harassment, and their ability to sustain themselves and their cultures despite social rejection can be attributed, in part, to the power of the traditional stories to influence the behavior of those who hear them. For the Gypsies, telling and listening to the stories could be considered adaptive behavior: disseminating traits that were presumably successful in the past. These stories replicate and describe the environment in which the Gypsy ancestors struggled to survive. As a consequence, the narratives and the Gypsy real world are compatible in many constant and predictable ways, and many Gypsies are hence able to use narrative information/knowledge as a model for proper behavior which helps them to negotiate their social environment in their efforts to survive and reproduce.
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