National Heritage and the Norwegian Romanies

Mary Barthelemy, Atle Lien Jenssen og Gjermund Kolltveit. In Z. Jurková og L. Bidgood (red.), Voices of the Weak: Music and Minorities, Prague: Faculty of Humanities, Charles University: 94–102 (2009)

There are calculated to be several thousand persons living in Norway today who identify themselves as Romani People (Taters/Travelers), the descendents of families whose wanderings brought them to the Nordic countries around 500 years ago. The music of these people is only rarely found in collections and archives of traditional Norwegian music. They have not been accepted as a natural part of the nation’s cultural heritage. Only during the last decade or so there has there been some change in this situation. Romanies and other national minorities are now recognized as a part of the national cultural heritage of Norway, at least officially. Recently, various funding programs aimed at preserving and supporting minority cultures and multi- cultural activities have been established.

Our present project, concerned with documentation of musical expressions of the Romani People in Norway, was initiated as a part of this. However, as researchers paid by the State and in the interest of the Nation (“Norwegian Collection of Folk Music”), we find that represent the very powers that, in the memory of the Romani people, have never taken their culture seriously but rather systematically destroyed it. Several important issues arise from our position at the interface of the state and the minority. First, can we, as researchers, convince the Romanies that we share interests and basic ideas about preserving and cherishing their music culture? Secondly, are they willing to see their music as a natural part of the cultural heritage of Norway?If we look at history, it is only a qualified truth that the Romani people have not been a part of the Norwegian national culture. They have lived in Norway since the 16th century, and spread music and other cultural impulses that are adopted now as Norwegian. Still, they have always insisted on their distinctness, as being apart from the established Norwegian culture, representing something foreign, sometimes also exotic. The Romanies are “familiar strangers”. We should accept their right to identify with the Norwegian cultural heritage, at the same time as they deny to identify with it.