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Trough-Scooping Gypsies

Gemenc Reflection, Roaring stag

Trough-Scooping Gypsies

Before we quote the story, it will be helpful to say a few words about the locality.

Gemenc National Park is a protected, mostly wooded floodplain alongside the Danube in the southern part of Hungary between Szekszárd and Baja. The area is regularly flooded which is unique not only in Hungary but Europe as well.  Willow and poplar forests close to the waters are typical.  Large oak, ash and elm forests with thick undergrowth harbor a variety of animals, among them herds of deer, wild boar and stag, famous worldwide for their impressive, huge antlers.  Protected birds, many varieties of fish in the lake, butterflies, stag beatles, and many other animals live in the Gemenc forest and waters.

Now for the gypsies of our title, as described by a local:

”A large lake is located in the middle of the forest of  Gemenc.  When the lake floods, it covers the surrounding area.

”Gypsies happened to be in the area, and the forest ranger needed a boat.  They went looking for a suitable tree (poplar/topolyafa) to cut down, using hatchets that they also used to carve out the boat.  These hatchets were similar to the ones used in beheadings, and these were made by gypsies. 

”They went looking among the huge poplar trees that don’t soak up water and began cutting one down using the small-bladed, razor sharp hatchets that could even be used for shaving.  Two men pounded and shaped with such precision as those practicing kung-fu with swords, who can split an apple on one’s head or hand.

”This is how the gypsies carved out a boat from a poplar tree that was about 8 meters (26 feet) long.  Their aim with the hatchets was accurate to a hair’s width, and their hatchets (of the two men working) never touched.   They didn’t learn this craftsmanship from anyone, not even from the Hungarians.  They brought this knowledge with them, from wherever they came from.  They had tools, like the “karaszoló, kabirc” by name, which they used to hollow out the boat.  Its tip was bent, and with this they achieved a mirror-like finish.  They were teknÅ‘vályó cigányok – trough-scooper gypsies.  And they lived in the outskirts of Hajós and Havas.  It was a pleasure to watch them work.

”Nowadays an educated person would not be able to copy their expertise.  Not even by chance.  But those  gypsies who could not read or write, they accomplished it (the boat) beautifully, oars and all, and  turned it over to the ranger, in the middle of the forest.

”The sap of a certain kind of tree was tapped, and smeared on the boat and the oars.  The poplar tree is such that it will  soak up only a little bit of water, and will not soak up more even if it stands in water a meter high, but will expel any excess.  This is why these trees have a long life-span, even if their center is missing, and as long as the bark is there, they can survive.  These are the trees the gypsies make use of.

"They use the twigs of the willow tree to make baskets and ornaments.

”There is not one thing in the world God created, that a gypsy could not make.  And why were they able to make it?  Because they were not common people.  They were able to solve anything, with their special knowledge. They have wandered all over the world.  Their expertise was accepted everywhere.  They could do anything.”



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