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The Traditional Peasant Costume

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The Traditional Peasant Costume

While visiting the villages of Maramures (especially those situated on the Mara and Iza valleys) on a holiday, you will have the privilege of attending a genuinely poetic fashion show full of colour offered freely by the local people. But this “parade” has nothing ostentatious in it and for the villagers it does not represent an opportunity to attract the tourists with com­mer­cial intentions. The costumes have the mark of authenticity and are worn as a reminiscence of the traditional society’s life style.

There are only few other regions where the peasants have preserved this tradition, most having abandoned a long time ago the habit of wearing their folk costume even occasionally (on Sundays, holidays, weddings etc.). The folk costumes are becoming just items in the wardrobe of folk assemblies or museum exhibits.

In Maramures, tradition – a sign of antiquity – and the pride of one’s origin resulting in ethnic dignity that does not allow any compromise have become provisions of an ancient testament that each generation feels obliged to respect almost with piety.

It is remarkable that all the elements of the folk costume are exclusively products of the domestic textile industry having at its origin the cultivation of textile plants (hemp and flax) and sheep breeding (for the production of wool), the processing of fibres and the weaving of cloth in household micro-workshops, tailoring and embroidering. Worth mentioning are also the craftsmen specialized in the manufacturing of sheepskin or fulled wool coats, peasant sandals and hats.

Nowadays, globalization has set its imprint also on fashion design and the famous fashion houses impose their seasonal designs on all continents in a stunning rhythm.

In the past, the cut and colours used to be preserved by each community and imposed a local dress code through which messages were transmitted with the help of certain symbols: “the trained eyes of the local people perceived the motifs, colours, ornamental patterns, specific to a certain village and in many instances not only could they read the message, but they could also recognize the redundant elements in the way they had been formulated” (Corneliu Mirescu, 2006).

The main chromatic element used to play a decisive role in the identification of the ethno­graphic zone, especially in the case of the aprons on which the black stripes alternated with light yellow or green in the Mara valley, orange in the Vişeu valley, red for the Iza valley.

Women’s costumes consist of a flowery head kerchief (black for older women), a blouse with a square neck opening and three-quarter length sleeves, a skirt over which two aprons (front and back) are worn, a vest made of grey fulled wool cloth or a jacket, a coat made of white fleecy woollen cloth, and as an accessory, an “expensive collar” (made of corral beads) or collarettes (made of small woven beads).

Men’s costumes have as principal piece the white, short, large sleeved shirt, white drawers to the middle of the calf, in summer, and long trousers made of white woollen cloth in winter, a wide leather belt, and a coat made of fulled wool fabric. Among the accessories we mention the hat and the vividly coloured woven peasant bag (T. Bănăţeanu, 1965).

An examination of the metope on the Adamclisi monument as well as Trajan’s Column (in Rome) can prove the antiquity of at least two of the component parts of the costume the peasants of Marmures wear with such pride: the fulled wool coat and the hood.

Săcel Pottery

As archaeological discoveries have shown, pottery used to be one of the ancient occupations of human beings. It appeared at the same time with the development of an economy based on cattle breeding and with the improvement of farming techniques (the beginning of the Neolithic, c. 9000 BC). Two millennia later, pottery was generalized, but the invention of the wheel is dated only c. 3700 BC. As a consequence of this revolutionary discovery a real industry of pottery sprang up, and the production of earthen pots became serialised due to the first “machine” invented by man – the potter’s wheel.

There is no doubt that the native Dacian population had developed their own unmistakable style, the ceramic vessels being easily recognized due to their form, decoration, and colour. Perhaps the Roman technology was needed to bring this art of pottery to perfection.

Two millennia later: Romania, Maramures. At Săcel, a settlement on the Iza Valley, red, unglazed ceramic objects are made in a rudimentary workshop set up in a peasant homestead. The earthen pots made by the craftsman preserve the Dacian technical and aesthetic characteristics and are burnt in a probably 300 year old Roman kiln, the last of its kind in the historical Land of Maramures.

According to specialists, the pottery from Săcel “holds a unique place among the ceramics produced in different centres in our country” not only because the ceramics of red clay are burnt unglazed, but especially due to the techniques of decoration – polishing and painting. “What catches the eye is especially the technique that had been used in ancient times of history – the Dacian La Tène” (Florea Bobu Florescu, 1963).

The painted ornaments consist of horizontal (rows) or wavy (serrated) lines, which sometimes form an acute angle. The ornaments are on the upper part of the pots, close to the meeting point with the handle (see Janeta Ciocan, 1980).

After the pot is cut down from the wheel, the exterior surface is rubbed with a white river stone in order to reduce the porosity and make it glossy. It is only after some days that the pots are burnt in the kiln for a day and a night (I. Vlăduţiu, 1973).

One must not forget that the pots are made to serve functional purposes (for cooking food, storing water or milk, carrying food to people working in the field etc.); only tourists buy painted pottery for decorative purposes, without having any idea of their therapeutic gains or their use in the art of cooking.

Discussion forum: “The pottery made in Săcel gives you the same feeling of age and purity as the old wooden houses and churches from Maramures. It is a real favour to possess such a pitcher or pot that have passed, from the moment they were just a piece of clay up to becoming a perfect object, through the hands of a craftsman endowed with the pious and good soul of the people who have lived in these places for ever. And it would be of great use to you if only each mouthful of water (or wine) you drink from the mug inspired you with the dignity and kindness of those who toiled to make it” (Călin, 2004-08-12).

The magic of the objects made of clay is only natural, since all the five fundamental elements have entered into their making: the earth from which the clay comes, the water with the help of which the potter moulds the clay, the wind (air) that caresses the pots, drying them before they are put into the kiln, and the fire that burns them. The fifth element, love, is the spirit that the potter puts in each and every pot, in order to “animate the red clay”.

Remember. This alchemical combination is based upon a Dacian decorative style and a Roman technology. And this has been happening for 2000 years in a simple peasant homestead from the Iza Valley.

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