Roma Food and Housing: Comparison over Time

Created by: Michal Kozubík

We compared housing and the eating habits of Roma. Contemporary findings (2013) were compared with those from the first monothematic work on Roma (1775), which depicts their housing and eating habits, especially regarding the differences between social classes.

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Roma Food in 1775

Information describing Roma eating habits comes from Samuel Augustini's work Zigeuner in Ungarn (Gypsies in Hungary) from 1775-1776.

Augustini’s contribution is not only a depiction of the living conditions of the Roma in Hungary in the 18th century, but also an attempt to break down many of the stereotypes about them and the criticism of contemporary reports about this ethnic minority. He wrote that Roma who earned a living by their own hands were evaluated as being significantly different from the others. Social stratification existed among Roma, also regarding food.  If the wealthier families could not procure meat, they ate mostly flour dishes, which they prepared in the embers directly in the hearth. While the better-off families normally ate bread and meat, the poor had to settle for carrion. Roma did not eat horses as they were important for their life (travelling), and they used only the skin of dead animals for fur.

Augustini’s statements could be seen as further stereotypes and prejudices, however they have to be understood in the context of the period in which they were written. Nowadays, Augustini’s attitudes appear as scathing criticism. His work as a whole, however, is the greatest contemporary defence of the Roma.

Roma Food in 2013

The eating habits of Roma and the foods they consume represent the life strategies of people living in poverty and are not a traditional characteristic of the Roma culture. One of its most significant features is hospitality, not the food itself. Typical Roma dishes such as gója or marikľa were also the traditional diet of Slovak peasants living in poverty in the country. Marikľa (flour mixed with water baked on a fire) is a symbol of poverty of the poorest families in the community. The foods of the wealthiest Roma families do not differ from common Slovak foods at all. Family parties or ceremonies, however, are significantly richer in food choice in comparison with the majority. Eating habits are an important link between the food of poverty and traditional Roma foods. Slovak ancestors knew these foods and consumed them normally. The life strategies of the poor Roma focus mainly on the present and bare survival, which is typical behaviour in socially excluded communities.

Roma Housing in 1775

Information describing Roma housing habits came from Samuel Augustini work Zigeuner in Ungarn (Gypsies in Hungary) from 1775-1776.

Roma, in the time that Augustini described them, were either settled or nomadic. Roma in Hungary and Transylvania settled solely in the places that were selected for them to live in. Augustini mentions the towns of Sibiu (now Romania), Debrecen (still Hungary), Bystrica, Prešov, and Košice (now Slovakia). These groups of Roma mostly lived a settled way of life. The nomadic groups of the period around 1775 included the Moldavian (Lach), German-speaking Roma, and the Lyngurars. Nomadic Roma lived in tents. They liked those dwellings the most as they enabled them to move from one place to another very quickly. They travelled often, but never far away. Usually they stayed near the county where they were born. In the cold months, they built winter dwellings, which were spaces dug in the ground, supported by logs, and lined with straw. The entrance faced the south or the east. When the weather became warmer, they demolished these dwellings and lived in tents again. Roma living in towns and their vicinities were richer and perceived themselves as better and more distinguished. A nomadic way of life was typical for poorer Roma communities. The region of Poprad, studied by Augustini, is a mountainous area. Before 1800, Roma lived in specially-dug dwellings in the ground in winter. Augustini described their construction in detail. In summer, they stayed in tents.

Roma Housing in 2013

Radicova et al. (2002) and Kozubik (2013) depicting the housing of the Roma differentiates between integrated and separated communities, and segregated settlements. This differentiation indicates the heterogeneity of the Roma community in general, not only regarding housing. We conducted our field research in the Poprad district, northern part of Slovakia. Most of the Roma living “integrated” live in blocks of flats and family houses in parts of a town, in our case Poprad. Roma and poor families of the non-Roma majority live next to each other. The living conditions are rough. There are often multi-member families squeezed into small “flat units”. In villages like Kravany, the Roma live concentrated at the edge of the municipality in a separate settlement. In the separated and segregated localities, like Hranovnica, houses for three Roma social classes exist. Members of the high class live in common brick houses, the middle class also live in brick houses, but they are more neglected and crowded while the lowest class live in modest wooden huts. This is an image of poverty in the 21st century. Many brick houses, wooden huts, and sheds, of considerably different quality, can be seen in the settlements.

In present, Roma do not set up any tents or winter dwellings. One might be confronted with garden statues or vastly decorated facades. This is mostly a demonstration of the higher social status in the settlement or separated locality. Despite the fact that only a few houses are connected to the municipal sewer system, all of them have a toilet and bathroom connected to the municipal water supply. The wooden huts, however, do not have these facilities. Thus, families with children living in such accommodation face a great risk of many diseases. The ghettos in towns are characterized by the monotony and homogeneity of concentrated poverty, which exists regardless of ethnicity (common social housing for both the Roma and the non-Roma).

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References

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