Dorin Ştef Maramures – a cultural brand name contents

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The Folklore Archive

More and more tourists come to visit Maramures each year, sometimes with a mysterious excitement, being attracted by the splendour of landscape, the reserves of folk architecture (homesteads, churches) and by the exemplary way in which the traditions, customs and folklore have been preserved. The fact that the component elements of folklore are (still) part of the population’s active fund (and not of the passive one) in this region, has to be considered a model and a justification for the identification of a new and valuable brand.

“Maramures. Here’s a region, a famous zone, considered both by Romanians and strangers unmatched as regards the preservation of customs, traditional folklore, and costume, alive and important in the inhabitants’ life” (J.M. Marrant, USA, 1982).

The determinant aspects of the specificity of the zone are the historical and the geographical ones. These two elements have given the region the status of “cultural enclave”. Moreover, the region has shown a stability of traditions able to generate cultural productions irradiat­ing in other zones as well, qualities thanks to which it can be considered one of the so-called by Ernest Gamillscheg “nuclear territories”, or what Nicolae Iorga and Ion Cernea called “popular Romanias”, and Nicolae Dunăre – “ethno-cultural settlements”.

In these conditions it is only natural to regard the folkloric universe of Maramures as an institution representing us in relationship with other regions in the large European family. And it is also natural to focus on a project of founding an Archive of the folklore from Maramures. At the moment this Archive is a virtual one, scattered in a great number of collections and anthologies published along the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Besides, there are numerous unpublished private folklore collections and also the results of researchers’ field work: recordings, photographs and video recordings. The archive should be enriched also with the materials held in the custody of the Cluj and Bucharest Institutes of Folklore.

In Maramures there are also institutions which at a certain moment gathered significant collections: The Ethnographic and Folk Art Museum of Baia Mare, The Faculty of Letters of North University, The Ethnographic Museum of Sighet and, evidently, The County Centre for the Promotion and Preservation of Traditional culture in Maramures (the former House of Popular Creation).

The first step in the foundation of the Folklore Archive of Maramures should be the unifi­cation of the existing funds. After this the archive should be systematized by the realisation of a Typology and of a Corpus of folkloric texts. The third stage would evidently have in view a competent and exhaustive analysis of the themes, motifs, and key-words for the elaboration of the fundamental books of the spirituality of Maramures: Magic, Mythology, Folk tales and legends, Religion, History etc.

If folklore is recognised as a brand, it goes without saying that the Archive gains its recognition. An important starting point in the recuperation of these values should be that the important published folklore collections be declared “patrimonial books”.

Memoria Ethnologica

Memoria Ethnologica is the ethnological patrimony and cultural memory review, edited and published by the County Centre for The Preservation and Promotion of the Traditional Culture of Maramures (director Ştefan Mariş). First issue: December 2001. The latest issue of the publication was No.24-25 (July-December 2007), it is accredited by the CNCSIS (code 615) and the members of its editorial board are prestigious scientists from Romania and abroad.

The review is one of the most prestigious publications of this kind in the country, being appreciated by outstanding intellectuals and researchers from many continents.

The premise of the review is “Maramures is the still living ancestral memory of Europe”.

The review publishes collections of folk poetry (carols, lyrical and epic poems, folk sayings, riddles, and proverbs), humorous tales, folk tales, legends, and also studies of ethnography, anthropology, and folklore history, illustrated by photographs with a documentary character, glossaries of regional and archaic terms.

Along the years notable personalities have expressed their appreciation about the exceptional performances of this publication: “I think I am not mistaken when I say that this is an extre­mely original review, having a subtle personality. Besides the over one thousand pages of the tomes published until now, there are the two force-ideas guiding it: the intensive publication of information concerning the traditional world preserved in many private collections of Maramures and, what metaphorically could be called the ‘homecoming’ of some already classical texts about the traditions from Maramures” (Otilia Hedeşan, 2004). In Alexandru Ştefănescu’s opinion (2002) the review published in Baia Mare is “an encyclopedia in continuous expansion of the Romanian folklore”. Constantin Eretescu (2003) “I dare say that it is one of the most interesting cultural and not only folklore publications I have had the opportunity to read”.

It is incontestably a brand from Maramures that excels in the context of the developments of European multiculturalism, in accord with the cultural policies of modern Europe.

Let us not forget about the activity of the “Ethnologica” publishing house, coordinated by the same institution, having published till now over 15 volumes.

The Repertoire of Traditional Folk Music

As Mihai Pop had observed (1980), the peasants of Maramures have a special word for their songs: “hori” and hence the verb to sing “a hori”. For them, the word from the standard Romanian language “a cânta” means actually to mourn for someone, to lament. Mainly lyrical, the repertoire of traditional music is completed with carols, lullabies, wedding songs, laments, and ballads.

As a rule, the melodic line accompanies the lyrics, but there are also individual instrumental pieces or even for orchestral accompaniment. In this case, there is a particularity to be observed in the folklore of Maramures: the interpretations of instrumental music can attain in certain cases real virtuosity, the sound of the music and the tonality of the words attaining a perfect symbiosis.

Thus, a legend collected a the beginning of the 20th century, on the theme of “the plundered sheepfold” (considered by all the Romanian ethnomusicologists as the oldest Romanian folk­song, about a millennium old) is about a young girl who announces the villagers that thieves have plundered the sheepfold just blowing a horn: “trâmbiţă” – a three metre long archaic pas­to­ral musical instrument: “In the sounds of the horn they could distinguish the following words: ‘Come, father, come! /our sheep are gone, / stolen by thieves / I’ve been bound by these / come, father, come / our sheep are gone!’” (Collected in Sat Şugatag, in 1923; see T. Papahagi, 1925).

Besides the traditional pastoral musical instruments (horn, shepherd’s pipe or flute), there is the four-stringed fiddle – “cetera” in the local vernacular. This is usually accompanied by what they call “zongoră”, a guitar with two, three or four strings. Recently, they have added also an artisan made, middle size drum (“dobă”), with two heads. The folk music band (“taraf”) has a second fiddle (“contră”) and a small double bass “gordună”.

In the absence of musical instruments, the rhythm is marked by the dancers’ stamping or by clapping, something that makes these contemporary cultural acts similar to the ancient ritual acts or even manifest a kind of transcendental character.

“Among the folksongs of Maramures the foremost is, no doubt, the ‘horea lungă’ (long song) or leaf song” (M. Pop, 1980). The world famous ethnomusicologist Béla Bartok (1923) mentioned it as found in the historical Land of Maramures. But nowadays it is sung only in the Land of Lăpuş. The melody has no fixed contour and the length of the song depends on the context and on the interpreter’s mood.

Refrains play an important part in the development of both music and lyrics. Repeated several times, at regular intervals, the refrain has the power of transferring to the audience the state of mind contained in the lyrics and underlined by the melodic line. Thus, a special psychological effect is obtained; the words are transformed into incantations (rather magical than religious) through which a passage from the profane, lay universe to the sacred (mystic) is achieved.

Thus, we identify in the refrains of certain songs, lullabies, and especially in those of carols, a relationship with the sacred. It is believed that in ancient times incantations and music had a therapeutic function, used in curing different diseases (mainly psychic), as the medical process of recuperation had in view both body and mind.


Almost ritual in the architecture of its steps, the naturalness of gesture and the transfigured mimicry of the interpreters, “the dance from Maramures, compared to other dances in the country, is characterized by extremely rich and varied rhythms and is unique as concerns the quality of it musicality (...). The natural beauty of the irregular matrix of the musical phrases is set into value by the combinations of rhythms with different values, nuanced stampings and small steps, with counterpoint accents and syncopated at the pitch beat of the music. The stamped rhythm is pregnant in all the dances from Maramures.”

The dance specific to lads is “Bărbătescul” (or Feciorescul). The pair dance is called “Ĩnvârtita” (De-nvârtit) – because while the young man continuous his stamping, the girls walks (around him) with small steps, to the right or to the left A dance specific for the zone is: “The dance of Vili”, a men’s dance coming from the haiduc’s tradition.

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