Maramures has many beautiful traditions surrounding the principle moments of life. In birth, in marriage and in death great care is made to honor the people and the traditions of the region. The traditions here followed are with exacting care, for these rites of passage are seen as more than symbolic steps, but as portals from one stage of existence to another. From one stage to the next, one's behavior, social standing, one's very existence is altered.
As in most cultures birth is one of the most magical parts of life. In Maramures it is seen as the passing of the soul from the unknown world of before to the "white" or known world where we live. During the first days of an infant's life, the baby and the mother are entrusted to another woman's care. The "moasa" or midwife conducts the rite of separation, the cutting of the umbilical cord. She is also responsible for the baby's first bath and the swaddling of the baby. If the baby's life is in danger she must also name the infant. A baby who dies without a name has no hope of salvation.
In Maramures the baby is named at the same time as the child's christening. In the past the child was taken to the church for the christening by only the god mother and the midwife. When they returned home all the child's relatives, family friends and neighbors would be gathered for a big party. This party or "botejunea" consisted mainly of singing, dancing and having a good time.
Traditionally the midwife held a position of great importance in the community. To be the midwife of a village was very prestigious, yet the midwife was never paid for her services in cash or trade. All women who the midwife helped through pregnancy became her "nieces."
Once a year these women would gather at the midwife's home in celebration of her service. The nieces praised the midwife and sang songs of beauty in her honor. Only after midnight were men allowed and this was only to retrieve their wives from the party.
The second great milestone in a villager's
life is marriage. Today's ceremonies blend ancient and Christian
rituals, economic support, legal union and traditional folk customs
in a fantastic show of ceremony. This is very important to the
continued life of the village. The founding of a new family brings
out the entire community in support. Everyone has a part to play
in this new beginning.
There are three important moments in the wedding ceremony: the engagement, the religious ceremony and the wedding reception. The engagement takes place at the new bride's home. The young man asks for the young woman's hand in marriage as her family looks on.
The wedding ceremony actually begins at the homes of both the bride and the groom. Each prepares for their joining separately, the bride with her friends, the groom with his friends. The two groups make their way to the church separately. There they are bound as one in the laws of the church by the village priest. The couple leave the church together. The two groups of friends and family become one as well.
The couple is not truly considered bound until all the guests are enjoying themselves at the reception afterward. Traditional music is played by a folk band. Everyone eats, drinks and dances until the end of the reception the next morning. At dawn all the guests and the band accompany the newly married couple to their home.
In Maramures the customs surrounding a person's death are still very traditional. There are three main events in a persons dying: the severance from the living, the preparations for the passing into another world and the mending of the social fabric broken when the person died.
If a person knows he is dying he must sever his contact with the living amicably. The dying must ask forgiveness from their family, friends and neighbors. This will ensure their death will be easier. The last wishes of the dead must be fulfilled. Bad fortune awaits those who do not heed the requests of the dead.
When the person dies the body is washed, dressed in clean, festive clothing and laid out in their home. The body is displayed in the home for three days. On the last evening, just before the funeral, the deceased's family, friends and neighbors gather in the home and recall the person's life and deeds.
The next day the entire community takes part in the burial service. The cantor sings "the verse." This is a poetic recounting of the most important acts and deeds in the dead person's life. After the burial everyone returns to the deceased's home where traditional food and drink is served in memorial.
When an unmarried boy or girl dies the burial ceremony becomes a wedding and the service contains elements from both. After the body is buried a symbolic wedding takes place to assure the person's life was full. The wedding is filled with singing and dancing, food and drink. There is a great celebration, just like the dead person would have wanted on their wedding day.
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