Food taboo insults and power relations in peasant kitchen: Folktales on the begging Roma
Eija Stark (University of Helsinki)
Paper short abstract:
Using Finnish folktales as my source data, this paper explores the power relations between the peasant majority and the Roma minority dealing with food and eating. Narratives poke fun at the Roma’s strict customs of ritual observances connected to pollution, such as avoiding certain kinds of foods.
Paper long abstract:
Using Finnish folktales as my source data, this paper explores the power relations between the majority members of the peasant society and the Roma dealing with food and eating. Narratives were collected during 1880-1950 at the time when acceptable folklore included ethnic tales, oftentimes exclusive and mean, and folklore was considered to serve as the cultural heritage of the majority members of a society. Historically the Roma groups across Europe have been identified as the 'cultural other', which, such as the Finnish Roma, upheld age-old customs, food taboos and rules of cleanliness. Although the main feature of the Finnish Roma was their vagrant style of life, they lived in close proximity to rural farmers, who provided a livelihood and temporary shelter. Therefore, encounters between the peasant majority and the Roma minority occurred in peasant dwellings and the settings in tales typically consist of the Roma entering a farmhouse trying to beg for food. The tales poke fun at the Roma's strict customs of ritual observances connected to pollution, such as avoiding certain kinds of meat or as eating peculiar or inferior foods. The narratives about the Roma were deliberately collected to illustrate how dissimilar "gypsies"—as they were labelled in the materials—were and how the majority population viewed the minority group. This paper focuses on both the use of folklore (and its food motif) as a rhetorical means of sending messages outside the community and as a vessel for constructing insiders' sense of belonging to a majority community.
Food for thought (and dwelling) in uncertain times