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Roma stories - one of the most significant publishing ventures in the past two decades

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The book Roma Stories (Collection I) has been published. 864 pages containing 187 stories in Romani and their translation into Bosnian were bound in hardcover. The book was published thanks to the financial support of the Open Society Foundation Bosnia and Herzegovina (FOD), which is also one of the publishers. In addition to FOD, the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina has also been signed as a publisher.

It is a part of stories collected in the period from 1928 to 1968 by Rade Uhlik, a famous Romologist, one of the most important from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia, who dedicated 70 years of his life to the study and research of the Romani language. In this first collection, as already mentioned, there are 187 of them, and these are stories collected until 1952. The stories were collected mostly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and were told by Bosnian Roma men and women. At the end of the story, the name and surname of the narrator, his or her age and the place where the story was recorded are stated. Uhlik used the stories for linguistic research, but he also recorded them with the aim of preserving them. He considered the speech of the Roma from Bosnia and Herzegovina, more precisely the Chergash Gurbet dialect, to be the best preserved and thus the most attractive for researching the Romani language.

Uhlik classified the collected stories into books, so this first collection, contains a total of five books.

The editor of the Collection is Dr. Hedina Tahirović-Sijerčić, also a Romologist, who transcribed, processed and revised the manuscript in Romani, as well as revised the translation of texts into Bosnian. The translation itself was done by Ruždija Russo Sejdović.

 The transcript of these texts in Gurbet was made without changes in the content, only the letters were adjusted to the Roma standard. In the translation, the solutions used were the ones that enable the most literal transfer of the story into another language, its authenticity, sentence structure and meaning. The literalness of the translation was avoided only in the case of vulgarisms, but even there also only partially.

Dr. Tahirović-Sijerčić defines this translation strategy as "raw meaning-for-meaning translation strategy”, and comments it: the translation created using the 'raw meaning-for-meaning' translation strategy is characterized by a language that naturally flows with the original Bosnian language, but does not change the specifics of the Gurbet dialect expression, but retains them. "

The collection is therefore primarily a translation endeavor. Its goal is to provide insight into the original and, through the original, to provide insight into translation, which aims to transfer one culture to another as authentically as possible. Of course, the insight into the original does not serve translators and, in general, connoisseurs of the Romani language only to compare it with the translation, but also to notice the characteristics of the Gurbet dialect and compare them with other known dialects of the Romani language. This collection also has a certain linguistic historical value, because almost a hundred years have passed since the first story in the book was recorded, so certain linguistic changes inevitably took place in that period, which will be interesting for Romologists to research.

When it comes to translation, it is explained in detail in the introduction to the collection, in the text by Hedina Tahirović-Sijerčić entitled "The importance of translation in the Roma context." Her text is also at the end of the book "Observations along the way" which contains valuable notes on the linguistic characteristics of individual stories, but also a series of information that is not exclusively related to linguistics, such as the time frame and space within which stories were collected, then about narrators, characters in stories, etc.

Apart from translators, the Collection will surely be interesting for everyone who deals with oral literature. These are stories that are among the latest stories collected (first half of the 20th century) and definitely the latest to be presented to the general public (2021). This greatly affects their reception but also their characteristics. For example, several stories mention travel through other countries. Considering the content of the stories themselves and the many fairy tale elements that run through them, the stories are older than the very notion of the statehood. At the time of their creation, they were probably kingdoms or lands, but at the time of the narrator the word state seemed quite natural to use in the context of these stories.

Also, the stories are interesting to comparative literature researchers. Thus, in one story, we have a character who presents himself as from “that world”, in order to get the money he carries to the deceased son of a woman, which is comparable to the famous story of Era from that world. In the second story, we have a mill that grinds whatever the mill-owner wants. Probably the most famous such mill is Sampo from Kalevala. There is a whole constellation of characters characteristic of oral literature: giants, savages, kings, snakes, etc., but also original: Serb, Croat, Bald, Gologuzi, etc. In addition to the characters, there are also typical motifs for oral literature: death, poverty, magic, etc.

There are also many erotic stories that are characterized by passion, vulgarities and exceptional imagination. Such an opus of erotic stories is rare in the oral literature of any nation, and if we take only the southern Slavs, given that they are the majority in the community with which the Roma, the narrators of these stories, shared space, the most famous erotic folk literature is presented only in one songbook collected by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. Also, at least when it comes to this Collection, it is interesting that in the stories there is no Roma land or some famous Roma, for example kings. It is about the fact that this has not happened in history either, but this topic will certainly attract the attention of researchers, because the oral literature of other peoples abounds in important historical figures of those peoples as well as their mythical countries or origins.

The fact that these stories were collected in the first half of the 20th century, and that we only have them today for the widest readership, will be interesting to both literary historians and sociologists because it says a lot about the attitude of local majority cultures towards the Roma minority. However, the Roma themselves should not be fully amnestied for neglecting their cultural treasure. We can only thank a few people, such as Rade Uhlik and Hedina Tahirović-Sijerčić, and a few institutions, such as the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the opportunity to enter the rich culture of oral storytelling among Roma. Of course, without the understanding and financial support of the Open Society Foundation Bosnia and Herzegovina, we would have waited a lot longer for this Collection.

And, finally, it should be especially emphasized that reading these stories does not require any scientific or research ambitions. The book will be interesting to any reader interested in oral literature.

Given that three more collections like this await us in the near future, through which almost the entire Roma oral narrative in BiH will be presented, it is not pretentious to say that we are facing a publishing venture that will be among the largest in the first two decades of the 21st century in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Apart from being important for the Roma themselves, this project is also important for the majority community because it will foster mutual understanding. A particularly valuable thing, which will need to be emphasized, is that this collection, as well as those that follow, will shed light on the work of extremely hard-working, self-denying people, Romologists, whose scientific endeavors are as valuable as anyone's, but have so far been neglected, as well as Roma culture itself. This project opens the possibility for Romologists in Bosnia and Herzegovina society to gain the recognition and importance that other scientists have.