The Danube Delta - Places, People, Customs

Institute for Ecomuseum Research in Tulcea
Ethnographical research in relation to this habitat allows us to distinguish between the various particular aspects regarding lifestyle and traditional culture, which prove the importance of the human factor in defining the features of the entire habitat throughout time. In its dialogue with nature, man expressed his willingness to adapt to the environment and to connect with it, both here and elsewhere. The archaeological vestiges and the historical documents represent evidence of man's permanence in this land. The Danube Delta appears to be an area of inter-ethnic cohabitation. In order to present these civilization aspects, we must make some reference to the geography and history of the habitat, without describing, in too much detail, the issue which represents the subject of other studies on the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. Constantin Giurascu in his work Notes on the Dobrujan population in medieval and modern maps (Constanta, The Museum of Archaeology, p. 5) refers to the sources attesting the Romanian presence starting with the Middle Ages. The Chronicle of Ducas (1461) and the Chronicle from Nuremberg (1493) are also quoted and the latter states that "Romanians also live on the Danube Islands, between the Peuce Island, famous among ancestors; and they are also settled in Thrace". The Peuce Island mainly represents, entirely or partially, the Danube Delta, while Thrace meant, for the German chronicler, the right bank of Danube, and therefore, also Dobruja. The maps of the 14th century mention a series of human settlements in the Delta, but their names cannot lead to conclusions about the Romanian population. We must also mention that between the 15th and the 18th centuries, due to the fact that ethnographical information was only available in written documents and could not be confirmed by field research, or the respective data were scarce and general, or the time lapse did not allow for the remembrance of ethnographic facts by the population as a whole, these do not constitute the subject of our analysis. The testimonies from the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (cartographic sources, studies) referring to the Dobrujan population explain a series of social and obviously socio-ethnographical phenomena, while, on the other hand, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the ethnographer could corroborate the data from written documents with those stored in the memory of the population. Among the cartographic sources from the 19th century, of greatest interest is the Russian statistical map representing Dobruja, drafted in 1828-1829, before the Treaty of Adrianople, and published in 1833. The respective map illustrates a series of Romanian toponyms, some of which are quite eloquent (the Danube Islands: Cap di drac – the devil's head, Ivanesti – Ivan's place, Tataru –Tatar man, Chiper – pepper, Matita – trawl, Papadia – dandelion, Peris – pear grove). The Danube Delta habitat acquires a special ethnical configuration following the arrival of Slavic populations (Lipovans, Ukrainians). Therefore, we must study and accept the issue of the acculturation between the Romanians and the other minorities as an anthropological phenomenon in the Danube Delta. The geographical environment, the types of settlements, the arrival of the other minorities starting with the 17th and 18th century determined a peaceful cohabitation, leading, besides acculturation, to the cross-influences which in time materialized as isomorphisms of civilization and cultural factors. These sociological aspects, the similarities, have been determined by the natural environment, by the similarity of religion (Orthodox), by their outlook on world and life, at the same time by the social and historical development. The cohabitation of Romanians with the other minorities (Lipovans, Ukrainians), even before the 19th and 20th century determined, in the Danube Delta habitat, certain similarities in terms of the manifestation of traditional life facts and aspects, but also maintained differences/contrasts, which became distinct features thus individualizing one or another minority, which lived, and still lives, in the same environment (natural and social). The presence of the Slavic population groups (Ukrainians, Russo-Lipovans), due to their gradual arrival, even before the 18th century, determined the shaping of special and unique socio-cultural life forms, also in relation to the rest of Dobruja. The common elements, the similarities are due both to the cohabitation in the same habitat when we consider the material civilization, and to that ancient, mythical stock of archaic conceptions, which the mental human evolution shaped into beliefs and customs when we consider the spiritual culture. The differentiating elements from the traditional culture of each minority are related to the very forms of representation of those archaic beliefs, forms which are related to: religion, the time sequence when the custom was shaped, and the place of origin of the minority. But the differentiating elements did not hinder the cohabitation based on tolerance of all minorities. Each of them contributed to the shaping of the traditional civilization within this habitat and also within the entire Dobrujan territory. Modern society took over this tradition of tolerance, which led to the concept of the inter-ethnic Dobrujan pattern. Due to the fact that the memory of the community only includes data from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it is difficult to define the archetypes of some traditional life aspects (garments, performance of certain traditions, folk motifs). The natural mutations which occurred in terms of traditional life were present here and also throughout Dobruja, exerting an early influence on the city, which resulted in the purchase of more objects or materials, both by Romanians and by the other minorities from Ismail, Tulcea or Kishinev. Therefore, the appearance of lifestyle isomorphisms from the very beginning of the 19th century was natural. THE HOUSEHOLD AND THE HOUSE In the traditional village, man adapted to the environment and together they formed a harmonious unity. In time the humanization of the environment was performed without destroying it, by living inside the ecosystem. From this perspective we emphasize the fact that the dwellings and the households from the Danube Delta habitat are characterized by a certain structure and texture, mainly related to the geographical environment and only partially related to the minority which inhabits the respective dwelling. Therefore, we must mention the settlements formed of dispersed households, which are located along the river banks and those of grouped households, gathered on small islands. From an economic point of view, we can mainly distinguish dwellings with mixed functions. In the Danube Delta, farming (the cultivation of land and the breeding of animals) is combined in various proportions with fishing, the cultivation of vegetables and the processing of natural resources. The socio-ethnographical reality bears witness to the fact that irrespective of the ethnical configuration of the settlement, it fits into a particular type according to the conditions under which its occupation developed. The structure of the household is determined by a series of factors, which act independently, meaning: the habitat which hosts it, the age of the settlement, the type of settlement in terms of structure, texture and economic function, the basic occupation of the inhabitants, the phase in which the dwelling was built and the adding of one or several outbuildings and the ethnic minority to which the owner belongs. From the perspective of our study, we must mention the phenomenon of similarity. It is shaped within the structure of the household, and it is the same in case of all populations which have lived in this area, under the coordinates of the oscillation of the major population percentages, which we have previously emphasized. It is important for us to mention a few of the features of the household, from the point of view of both the similarities and of the differences. a) Construction materials and techniques: we must underline the fact that within this habitat, the used materials are: clay, wood, reed, while in terms of construction techniques, these include the following: houses built on forks with oak or acacia pillars, houses made of clay mixed with chaff and houses made of adobe. b) The planimetry of the house: from the point of view of the similarities, we must mention the development of the house front and back in relation to the basic core: the median salon and two rooms, irrespective of the minority to which the owner belongs. c) The wooden architectural decorations (the fretwork technique and the applications): the houses from this habitat have simple decorations, which include only a few elements: the fronton, the fascia board, the crest made of fretted planks and the pillars. The decoration techniques are: fretwork, saw carving and application of motifs. Generally, the ornamental motifs can be classified in two geometrical categories, which include semicircles and stylized and geometrical flowers. The latter appear on the fascia board of a house and the fretwork depicts various types of flowers, which are arranged in circles or in flowers hotchpots, adorning the fronton of the house. The decorations from above the reed cover draw the attention, due to the fact that it represents a crest made of planks with fretted motifs, mounted for the protection of the cover. The pillars are adorned with capitals with motifs obtained by sawing on a pattern. In the case of the traditional civilization from this habitat it is interesting to mention the manifestation of acculturation as a phenomenon of co-ethnicity. For this purpose, the interior of the house includes one constituent element, the so-called lijanca. It is a type of bed placed near the stove which is kept warm during winter due both to an original construction and to an ingenious invention. The heat of the hearth is directed through a circuit of smoking tunnels made in the clay bed (which is in fact a highly built platform); the construction materials used for the heating system are: clay mixed with chaff and adobe, stone, bricks, iron bars and wood. Typical of the Slavic population (Ukrainian and/or Lipovan), the lijanca is still present in the Romanian houses and it represents an assumed and adopted element, which meets daily necessities. TRADITIONAL VERSUS CONTEMPORARY GARMENTS The entire Danube Delta habitat was familiar with garments made of industrial fabrics and which were somehow influenced by urban fashion. The collective memory no longer retains the fact that at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century people did not wear homemade folk costumes. This ethnographical aspect was due to the cohabitation under the same socio-economic conditions, which began quite early in time. It is not by accident that we use the term garments rather than popular costume, as in the field of ethnology the latter was associated with other manufacturing features, with different functions and significations. Field research emphasizes the fact that we have one Romanian and one Slavic term; for instance shirt (camasa vs. rubashka), skirt (fusta vs. iubca), dress (rochie vs. platia). From the perspective of the urban influence, we underline the fact that after 1930, the garments of this population from this micro-habitat and from the Danube Delta (especially in relation to the Romanian and Ukrainian populations) register new elements: the dress made of home-woven wool is replaced by the one made of industrial fabrics, which was sewn mainly in Ismail, Chilia (actually Chilia Noua), Tulcea; the dress begins to be replaced by the creased frill skirt and the simply cut blouse. In terms of male garments, the cut of the pants was "German", the same as today, but they were larger in the lower part; the thick winter jacket also had a cut similar to the modern one. These aspects reveal the fact that already at the beginning of the 20th century, the costume of this population was marked by the influences of urban garments, and the phenomenon became even more obvious around the 1925-1930s. In relation to garments, we must also mention an aspect which is different when comparing the garments from the Padina-Ceatalchioi habitat to those from the C. A. Rosetti habitat. The results of the comparison and the distinctive aspect from the studied habitat reveal the followings:· similarities – in respect to the garments of the three minorities (the very early urban fashion influence, the industrial fabrics) and in the light of these similarities we only highlight a few particular elements of the Lipovan garments (the pois = the belt, the chicica = a woman's head scarf worn directly on the head), while the others were replaced, frequently by contemporary garments. · differences – it is represented as a special note within the general picture of the similarities and is not present in the case of the garments of the three minorities, but in the case of the microhabitats, and only lasts for one sequence. For instance: in the C. A. Rosetti habitat, the Lipovan population only preserves – as mentioned above – a few elements: the pois (the belt) or the chicica (the woman's head scarf) which marks her new status as a wife. Here, the Lipovan population embraces more and more the contemporary garments. The field research reveals the fact that on festival days, they also wear contemporary garments. This is due to the fact that in these villages, the Lipovan population did not represent a powerful core, was not isolated (such as in Sfistofca) and the population movements, and the proximity of the urban area, determined the disappearance of some of the components of the traditional garments (fabrics, but especially of the morphological structure). The differences also include, at the level of the micro-habitats, and not at that of the minorities, a feature deriving from the influence of Ukrainian garments. In some villages (Chilia, Sf. Gheorghe), which have a mixed population (Romanian and Ukrainian), male garments are added the manishka shirt (which has a piece of cloth, manishka, applied on the front of the shirt and at the cuffs), which originally belongs to the Ukrainian population, but which the Romanian population accepted. Unlike the afore-mentioned villages, the Ukrainian population from the other analyzed villages did not reveal any information on such a garment.

by Steluţa Pârâu