Roma youth hark back to nomadic life

On Friday two covered caravans drawn by horses and carrying 30 young Romanies started a three-day journey leading from the town of Kladruby in eastern Bohemia to the village of Brezova. The journey was designed to simulate the nomadic way of life that many Roma people lived until the not-so-distant past. Alena Skodova has this report:

The three-day journey marked the end of a year-long project called The Roma Summer. Its participants told the press that they wanted to step into the shoes of their predecessors who simply climbed a caravan and set out on the road. Travelling with the young Roma secondary-school and university students from around the country was MP Monika Horakova, who is also chairwoman of a civic association called Antiganoi which organised the project using finances from abroad.

The young Roma nomads are dressed in colourful replicas of clothes their grandparents used to wear, simulating two typical Roma clans. Each clan has its head, called 'vajda' who makes all the important decisions, which have to be obeyed by all the members of the family. The young Roma people speak two languages - those who can speak the Roma language are forbidden to communicate in Czech, so that the others can hear how their predecessors spoke.

The spiritual leader of the whole group is a lady Marta, who taught the young participants the Roma history, old customs and traditions for more than a year. The two 'vajdas' were fighting for her presence in their caravans because of her reported supernatural abilities, and finally the one who offered Marta the permanent place in his caravan and a maximum care for all her needs emerged as the winner.

The Roma nomads returned to Kladruby on Sunday. Their horses were lent by the local stud farm, which boasts an outstanding international reputation. "We chose the route of the nomadic journey carefully, so that the caravans did not obstruct traffic," the director of the farm, Norbert Zalis explained.