O Haodha & Acton 2006
On the interpretation of a word: Porrajmos as Holocaust
Holocaust scholarship came late to the Romanies, and even now, the Romanies who died in Hitler‚Äôs Europe are usually grouped together in published studies with those referred to as ‚Äúother non-Jewish‚ÄĚ victims: the Poles, the Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses, homosexuals and so on.¬† I have always regarded this as a mistaken categorization, if such must be made at all, because I interpret the word holocaust to mean the implementation of the ‚ÄúFinal Solution‚ÄĚ directive, viz. genocidal action intended to eradicate entire populations from the sphere of influence of the Third Reich.
There were only two such directives: The Final solution of the Jewish Question and The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question1.¬† Not one other targeted group was slated for extermination, nor was the focus of a ‚Äúfinal solution.‚ÄĚ¬† That being the case, this awful chapter in the European Romani experience‚ÄĒan event that has become part of our very anthem Gelem Gelem‚ÄĒhad to be moved away from the shadow of another people‚Äôs history, and the first step towards achieving that was to give it a name, and the most widely used word for the Romani Holocaust now is Porrajmos.
It has recently been claimed that this is an interpretation of my own invention2: it isn‚Äôt.¬† It was offered as a possible word for ‚ÄúHolocaust‚ÄĚ by a Kalderash Romani whose name I regrettably haven‚Äôt remembered, at an informal lunchtime gathering in the conference centre bar in Snagov in Romania in 1993. ¬†A number of us were discussing what to call the Holocaust in Romani.¬† I thought porrajmos was particularly appropriate, but have modified it to Baro Porrajmos (‚Äúgreat devouring‚ÄĚ) in my own writings since the word alone could be applied to other genocides besides the Holocaust.
Other suggested words for the Holocaust have included (besides holokausto)¬† maripen which means ‚Äúkilling,‚ÄĚ mudaripen and murdaripen, both of which mean ‚Äúmurder,‚ÄĚ and samudaripen, a creation by a linguist which translates as ‚Äúall‚ÄĚ (sa-) + ‚Äúmurder,‚ÄĚ but which violates the rules of Romani morphology.3¬†An earlier publication wholly in Romani referred to it metaphorically as the BerŇ°a Bibahtale, the ‚Äúunhappy years‚ÄĚ (Puxon & Kenrick, 1988);¬† Dosoftei (2007: 37) lists the expressive Kali TraŇ° (‚ÄúBlack Fear‚ÄĚ).
Porrav- is the Romani word for ‚Äúdevour,‚ÄĚ and the noun porrajmos means ‚Äúdevouring.‚ÄĚ¬† There is no other word in the language that means ‚Äúdevour‚ÄĚ specifically; there is xa- ‚Äúeat,‚ÄĚ nakhav- ‚Äúswallow‚ÄĚ and parvardjov- ‚Äúbe fed,‚ÄĚ but only porrav- means ‚Äúdevour,‚ÄĚ i.e. to eat wolfishly.¬† Like nakhav-, the basic meaning of which is ‚Äúmake (something) pass,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúdevour‚ÄĚ is the extended application of the basic meaning of the verb porrav- which is ‚Äúopen wide.‚ÄĚ¬† It descends from Old Indo-Aryan sputa-, through Middle Indo-Aryan phuta ‚Äúto open up,‚ÄĚ and its commonest application in the related languages spoken in India today is to blossoming, as of flowers (Turner, 1966:800), a non-metaphorical meaning it can also have in Romani.
The root has survived in a number of Romani dialects with various interpretations, both literal and non-literal.¬† Thus in Kalderash Vlax it means among other things ‚Äúopen up, rip up, gape, devour, show the teeth, yawn, glare, stare, scream, cheat, pitch a tent‚ÄĚ and ‚Äústick out the tongue‚ÄĚ (Boretzky & Igla, 1994:222, Gjerdman and Ljungberg 1963:322, et al.).¬† Demeter & Demeter have only ‚Äúopen wide (the eyes or mouth)‚ÄĚ for porravav (1990:122; 263), also the only meanings provided by Barth√©l√©my (n.d.:116) and Calvet (1993:277).¬† In Bosnian Vlax porav- means ‚Äúforce open, disjoin, devour, open the eyes, open the mouth,‚ÄĚ while the noun poravipe means ‚Äúan opening‚ÄĚ¬† (Uhlik, 1939: n.p.).¬†¬† Uhlik‚Äôs later dictionary, however, has only nakhavimata for ‚Äúdevouring‚ÄĚ (1983:304) and ‚Äúrape‚ÄĚ as the sole meaning of poravipe (1983:336), although in that same dialect porradi beŇ°el means ‚Äúshe‚Äôs sitting with legs akimbo,‚ÄĚ with no allusion to ‚Äúrape.‚ÄĚ For Macedonian Romani Petrovski & Velińćkovcki have poravipe ‚Äúgape‚ÄĚ (1998:428).¬† Czech Romani has naŇ°av- for ‚Äúdevour‚ÄĚ and zgvalcin- for ‚Äúrape‚ÄĚ (H√ľbschmannov√° et al., 1991: 189; 288).
Metaphorically it has the extended meanings as dissimilar as ‚Äúto rape‚ÄĚ and merely ‚Äúto bother someone.‚ÄĚ¬† In Sinti, its derived noun poravipen means ‚Äúa widening or opening up,‚ÄĚ and by extension ‚Äúfreedom‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúaccess.‚ÄĚ
In various Vlax dialects, derived verbal and adjectival forms include porradjov- ‚Äúto stretch, widen, extend,‚ÄĚ porrado ‚Äúspacious,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúroomy,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúgape-mouthed,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúlegs astride or akimbo,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúengulf‚ÄĚ and ‚Äústepping.‚ÄĚ Derived noun forms as metaphors include porradi ‚Äúvagina‚ÄĚ (also with the adjectival meaning of ‚Äúdeflowered‚ÄĚ), and porravipe ‚Äúrape.‚ÄĚ It is in the sense of ‚Äúdevour,‚ÄĚ however, that Porrajmos was offered.¬† Gjerdman and Ljungberg (loc. cit.) give the example te dikhleasas o sap ke prea xantsi xal, poradeasas les atuntŇ°i ‚Äúif the snake should see that the man ate too little, then he would devour him‚ÄĚ (NB not ‚Äúrape him‚ÄĚ!).
The word has been objected to by some because of some other possible meanings, specifically its use as a euphemism for ‚Äúrape‚ÄĚ4.¬† I happen to think this further interpretation, together with ‚Äúscream‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúgape‚ÄĚ and ‚Äútear asunder‚ÄĚ simply adds to the overall force of the word, for what the Romani genocide did to our people.¬† The two words have been used together in the same context before, cf. Iris Chang‚Äôs book The Rape of Nangking: the Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. There is in fact a whole website devoted to ‚Äúholocaust and rape analogies‚ÄĚ (http://twentysixh.wordpress.com/2006/10/27/on-holocaust-and-rape-analogies/).My own objection, if I had one, would be that in the Sinti dialect it has quite the opposite meaning, and the Sinti Romanies suffered especially harshly in the Nazi genocide.
‚ÄúRape‚ÄĚ can be expressed in Vlax Romani in a number of other ways; silov-i- as a verb, silovimos or s√¨la as a noun (l- pe s√¨la¬† ‚Äútake by force, rape‚ÄĚ with the Slavic word sila‚ÄĒalso with its Slavic meaning meaning of¬† ‚Äúforce‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúpower‚ÄĚ in Romani). The more vulgar expression kurr- pe s√¨la, is also heard, both expressions no doubt originating with forced concubinage during the centuries of slavery. For ‚Äúto rape‚ÄĚ Boretzky & Igla (1994: 237) list phuńćar- (lit. ‚Äúmake someone ask‚ÄĚ). ¬†In Vlax, porrav- can also refer to male sexual arousal.
But these objections from the few lack weight.¬† I‚Äôm reminded of the humorous Monty Python ‚ÄúWankel Rotary Engine‚ÄĚ sketch on television many years ago about ‚Äúsuggestive‚ÄĚ words and phrases in English. Those who object to Porrajmos are either demonstrating the same sort of schoolboy sniggering, or else are objecting purely in order to object, which is after all a fundamentally Romani response (although we can expect reaction to the arguments being made here from the non-Romani ethnic police too). The same Romani speakers have no qualms about using such phrases as xav tj‚Äôo kar, xav tj‚Äôi mindŇĺ, xav tj‚Äôe pele for ‚Äúplease,‚ÄĚ and which are not metaphors or euphemisms in any sense.¬† By this reasoning, such common English words as ‚Äúpussy,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúcock,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúprick,‚ÄĚ ‚Äútit,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúbum,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúdick,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúass,‚ÄĚ and so on should be condemned and replaced by ‚Äúkitty,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúrooster,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúpierce,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúparus,‚ÄĚ ‚Äútramp,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúRitchie‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúdonkey,‚ÄĚ etc.¬† Some people actually promote this kind of word-avoidance; for marketing purposes rape seed oil is now being sold as ‚Äúcanola oil‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒ which should particularly please those worried by the word Porrajmos.¬†
The same argument would lead us to avoid using the word for ‚Äúheavy‚ÄĚ (phari) because it is a common euphemism for ‚Äúpregnant,‚ÄĚ and is used to save one from having to utter the real word for this condition (khamni); likewise, should we never use the proper word for a fig (sm√≤ńćina), or even the word for ‚Äúbefore‚ÄĚ (angluni), since they are also words for vagina? Xutavipe (from xut- ‚Äújump‚ÄĚ) also means ‚Äúmasturbation.‚ÄĚ Do we say than (‚Äúplace‚ÄĚ) to avoid saying pato for ‚Äúbed‚ÄĚ? It seems that we now need euphemisms for our euphemisms.¬† A modified term has been introduced with the word Pharrajimos in the title of a new book by Barsony & Daroczi, (2007) from the Central European University Press in Budapest.¬† Like porr- this also stems from a word meaning ‚Äúspread apart,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúsplit,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúburst,‚ÄĚ but that too has provided the source for the Romani words for ‚Äúachieve orgasm,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúvagina‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúprostitute.‚ÄĚ
We have now four different books by four different authors using four different words for the Romani Holocaust in their respective titles (Puxon & Kenrick 1988, Auzias 1999, Gabor 2000 and Barsony & Daroczi 2007); this is quite in keeping with the overall imprecision of materials relating to Roma generally, a vagueness we contribute to ourselves.¬†¬† Nevertheless the recognition and use of the word Porrajmos is spreading.¬† It turns up in the texts and titles of numerous articles and chapters, a book, and to date it is the name of one documentary film. A Google web-search has nearly 58,000 text entries for Porrajmos/ Porraimos/Porraimos/Poraimos, and about one thousand picture images listed for the word. Amazon.com lists 25 books on the Holocaust that use the word. It has given an identity and a name to the most tragic event in our entire history, and moves it from the collective into the particular. Whether the word will stand the test of time remains to be seen.
1. The earliest Nazi document referring to ‚Äúthe introduction of the total solution to the Gypsy problem on either a national or an international level‚ÄĚ was drafted under the direction of State Secretary Hans Pfundtner of the Reichs Ministry of the Interior in March, 1936, and the first specific reference to ‚Äúthe final solution of the Gypsy question‚ÄĚ was made by Adolf W√ľrth of the Racial Hygiene Research Unit in September, 1937.¬† The first official Party statement to refer to the endg√ľltige L√∂sung der Zigeunerfrage was issued in March, 1938, signed by Himmler.
2. Presumably meaning me, gypsilorist Michael Stewart (2004:564) says ‚Äúan American Romany intellectual has coined the term Porrajmos, the ‚Äėdevouring‚Äô, but one is still more likely to find this term on the internet than on the lips of Roma in the lands occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.‚ÄĚ¬† Speaking for most of Hungary‚Äôs nearly one million Romanies he adds ‚Äúin fact since the term porrajmos has also an obscene meaning, it has recently been rejected by most Hungarian Romani speakers who use the calqued term holocausto‚ÄĚ (op. cit., 578, n. 7.¬† But see also G√°bor, 2000 and Barsony & Daroczi, 2007).¬† As a correction to these assumptions, (a) I‚Äôm not American, (b) I didn‚Äôt invent the word, and (c) holocausto (correctly holokausto in either Hungarian or Romani orthography) is not a calque but a loanword ‚Äď a calque is the translation of an idiomatic use, not a direct lexical adoption.
3. Objecting to a proposed victim-specific word for the Holocaust is not just a Romani issue; a debate over the use of Shoah for the Jewish Holocaust and calls for its disuse have recently been ongoing in the French press (Meschonnic, 2005).
4. Romani does not have prefixing except in some dialects heavily influenced by non-Romani syntax, e.g. Czech Romani de-naŇ°el, ‚Äúflee,‚ÄĚ English Romani for-del ‚Äúforgive.‚ÄĚ¬†¬† Like samudaripen, the word for ‚Äúinternational‚ÄĚ (sathemengo) is a creation by a non-Romani linguist.¬† The one morpheme usually regarded as an enclitic, viz. bi (‚Äúwithout,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúun-‚ÄĚ), is in fact an independent word, and can be separated from its referent: bi murro mob√¨li ‚Äúwithout my car.‚ÄĚ
I want to thank Ronald Lee and Donald Kenrick for their useful comments during the preparation of this essay.¬† I am aware that the inclusion of certain words in this essay will offend some.¬† Te jertin ma, Rromale, rrudjiv tumendar jertimos, trubutno si te sikavav len ta Ň°aj inkerav murre gundurja pa‚Äôl alomaste kadale svatoske.
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Barth√©l√©my, Andr√©, n.d.. ¬†Dictionnaire du Tsigane Kalderash. ¬†n.p.
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