Fairy tale places in Romania. The stone haystacks of Maramureş

Each place is characterised by a specific topography, which gives it personality, but which also determines the manner in which people use it: a fruitful place will always have an agricultural destination, the places that are good for trees will be orchards, and the meadows will be perfect for hay. People work each piece of land according to its characteristics, using both the knowledge about nature, environment, and the practices they know and which they acquired from their ancestors, or developed by adapting their experiences or the recent technologies.

But a place is not limited only to its geographical properties, because, in any community, the occupied territory is personalised: the locals know all places, by their names and especially by their stories. The name of each place may be the reflection of the landform, as I recall, for example, the place where my grandparents from my mother’s side had the land, and which was generically called, “Behind the hillside crumbling”, term which just meant “a big hill”. The name of a place could also be associated with an important event, or with a special element found there. Another example comes from the family of my other grandparents, who had their house ”Before the Oak”, and every time I was going there to visit, I was imagining a big oak that should have been there somewhere, but which I never found. The name of the places recall of old practices, as the deforestations made in order to obtain agricultural lands, so that most of the times, the places called “Clear place” indicate the practice of desiccating the trees, later on being cut and the place cleaned.

So the space is qualitative, loaded with the recollection people assign it, the remarkable recollection of the events that occurred there, of the owners, of the curiosities, or of some special elements with which it was associated. Each place is symbolic and significant through its story, perpetuated in a community and which personalizes it in the eyes of the locals. This is essential, afterwards, because this makes people belong to a place: knowledge of the stories and of the events occurred on the territory of their community; knowledge of the specific immaterial patrimony, which makes a space unique.

Each place is symbolic and significant through its story, perpetuated in a community and which personalizes it in the eyes of the locals

Any member of a community will know very well the good places and the bad ones, because the space is particularised through its qualities and moreover, it participates actively to the events taking place there, it is a qualitative space, and a familiar place, especially. That is why, perhaps, people who live in such recollection – communities, or traditional communities, have a restrain from travelling and leaving the village: they could not be able to part the good places from the bad ones, as Ernest Bernea confirms, at the beginning of the 20th century, in his book Cadre ale gândirii populare românești. Contribuții la reprezentarea spațiului, timpului și cauzalității, published in a first edition in 1985.

This is how, for the individual of the traditional communities, each place has a spiritual value, as well, and, sometimes, it is imbibed with supernatural characteristics, as is the case, for example, of the places where it is said the fairies danced, places considered, afterwards, bad places, by this contamination with the sacred.

This makes people belong to a place: knowledge of the stories and of the events occurred on the territory of their community; knowledge of the specific immaterial patrimony, which makes a space unique

The characteristics  of the spaces are known by each member of the community and if we think how this knowledge has been perpetuated, we bring in discussion the problematic of communication of the oral tradition through narratives, stories told by protagonists, as direct witnesses of the events, or as indirect witnesses, who, in their turn, have heard the story from someone else, perhaps by the protagonist of the stories, or from another person who found out about it from another one… This entire phylum of persons might be confusing at first, but it is a good way to explain how legends or myths appear in a community. The stories told from one person to another refer to extraordinary events, worthy of being told, events that are out of line and that, in the case of the stories associated to places, redefine and symbolically particularise each space.

For the individual of the traditional communities, each place has a spiritual value, as well, and, sometimes, it is imbibed with supernatural characteristics

The legend of transforming the hay into stone

I give one example, a place I believe is extremely remarkable and about which I heard, from many villagers, a very unusual narrative, which explains the name of the place and its topography. It is about a place known in Şurdeşti village, Chioar region, Maramureş County, as being the “Stone haystacks”. First, I have to mention that the site is located at the feet of Gutâi Mountains and it is a volcanic region, which gave birth to a special landform. At the feet of Piatra Roşie, named like that due to the reddish chromatic shades, caused by the region’s deposits of iron, one can see in somebody’s yard – a place usually used for hay – two rocks, quite big, apparently round, in the form of haystacks. Obviously, the explanation of geologists who determined the formation of these rocks due to volcanic eruptions, volcanic lava petrified thousands of years ago is not enough. The locals call such rocks “bubbles” and it is said in the village that they have been like that since Noah’s time. The unusual form of the two rocks at the foothills of Piatra Roşie has stirred the imagination of the locals by their resemblance with the haystacks, because the village, being located in a mountain region, their main activity is raising animals, which makes the work with hay part of their lives, throughout the year.

At the feet of Piatra Roșie, one can see in somebody’s yard - a place usually used for hay - two rocks, quite big, apparently round, in the form of haystacks

I have gathered, together with my colleagues, with my family, a few etymological legends about this place, synthetic, or better-developed legends, which tell the story of a man punished by Saint Peter because he worked during a feast day. Most often, I was told the story in a very short manner, without too many details. Only the essential things are usually told. It is not something unusual: in many areas where I travelled and where I asked about the name of a certain place, I received short explanations, synthetized in an unbeatable manner. This is what they usually say about these stone haystacks: “The elders said they had gathered the hay in haystacks during a feast day. On Sunday or something. And then they transformed into stone.” (A.F., 78 years, 2006, selected with Georgeta Iuga).

The same event is much more complex in the case of a story registered by V.P. (75 years old, 2005) and selected with Viorela Avram: ”The story goes like this: Piatra Roșie is called Piatra Roșie, but I do not know where the name comes from. There at the feet of Piatra Roșie, at about 600 meters […] are plains, and on those plains, people were usually making haystacks in June. And they worked during a feast day. […] they were making haystacks… This happened around Saint Peter’s day. And an old woman asked them why they were working, because it was an important holiday! and someone answered: «It may be a feast day, but I have to finish my haystacks». He was in a hurry, because rain was coming and so the woman said to get down that haystack and to get on the other one, to finish the other one. But rain came with lightning and thunders, not being able to finish the other haystack. […] and the old woman said […]: «God will punish you. Why are you working on this important day?» «It may be a feast day, but I finished gathering my hay». And he went under an oak to drink water from a wooden vessel and the woman told him: «Peter, go see what was left from your haystack! Go and finish it».

People who live in such recollection – communities, or traditional communities, have a restrain from travelling and leaving the village: they could not be able to part the good places from the bad ones

The woman joked and said: «Go and finish the haystack». Then he fell on the ground in fear and he did not want to believe what had happened with his haystack. He got up, he left the water and he went to touch the haystack, which was transformed into stone. And it is still there today. One is as a haystack and the other is half a haystack. It remained unfinished. […] And the woman said: «Peter, you had to work today, on a feast day». He worked without caring that it was a feast day. He acted against God and God punished him and transformed the haystack into stone. And then he tied the oxen to the carriage and he came home, then coming home, he kept hitting the oxen, saying: «Now you are going to eat stones in the winter, because those stone haystacks were made for you». And that was it. […] the stone haystacks are still in a man’s yard.”

The stone haystacks from Șurdești village (Maramureș), and their fascinating legend

The stone haystacks from Șurdești village (Maramureș), and their fascinating legend

People in the village of Şurdeşti link the origin of the stone haystacks with divine intervention

People in the village of Şurdeşti link the origin of the stone haystacks with divine intervention

It is useless working during a feast day

The narrative is important not just through its complexity, the fact that there are two characters shaped quite well, a dialog and an activity far from being dull, but also through the fact that it is part of the rich immaterial patrimony present in the community  and which is associated  to the religious holidays “not friendly with the hay”. Meaning holidays in July when it is forbidden to gather the hay: starting with Saint Elijah – July 20, holiday highlighted in red in the religious calendar, a celebration of command, but other holidays also, which are not of command, as: Saint Mary Magdalene – July 22, Saint Phocas – July 23, Death of Saint Anne – July 25 and Saint Pantelimon – July 27.

The work with hay is part of the everyday lives of villagers, throughout the year

The work with hay is part of the everyday lives of villagers, throughout the year

These feasts are usually associated with narratives told by protagonists, but also by acquaintances of the protagonists, which emphasize the accuracy of the events. These are moralising narratives, because in all of them, breaching the interdiction of gathering hay ends with a punishment, as in the story of the stone haystacks. Sometimes the protagonists themselves are being punished, as is the case of a person who got struck by lightning because he gathered the hay in the mountains on Saint Mary Magdalene’s day; but most of the times the final product of the work is the one affected, somehow emphasizing the fact that working on a forbidden day is useless: a powerful wind is getting started spreading all the hay in a minute, or when the owners are coming in the winter to get the hay home; or when a powerful storm is getting started and a lightning hits the prop of a stack, or the stack, burning it to the ground.

The fact that, during the contemporary period, tradition and a specific lifestyle are still considered important strengthens the bonds between the community members and secures the cohesion of the community itself

The story of the stone haystacks is just strengthening and certifying the authenticity of the other events told around the village. Perpetuating these stories inside the community emphasizes the importance of the traditional values among the locals. The fact that, during the contemporary period, tradition and a specific lifestyle are still considered important strengthens the bonds between the community members and secures the cohesion of the community itself. Complying with a system of norms and values equally strengthens the connection between generations.

Perpetuating these stories inside the community emphasizes the importance of the traditional values among the locals

As long as these values are still present inside a community, it will keep being strong and solid, with a particular identity, unlike those communities in which cultural continuity has been eroded, sometimes interrupted by dramatic recent events, as was the case with collectivization, which lead to the depopulation of the villages and the interruption of the communal activities specific to social groups.

Anamaria Iuga

Anamaria Iuga

Ethnologist, Chief of the Ethnological Studies Department at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant
Anamaria Iuga

Ultimele postari ale lui Anamaria Iuga (vezi toate)

Raluca Băncioiu

Raluca Băncioiu

She's a graduate of the MA program in Translation of the Contemporary Literary Text. She's an optimistic person and a true familist
Raluca Băncioiu

Ultimele postari ale lui Raluca Băncioiu (vezi toate)

     

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