“The World of the Haiduks”: Bandit Subcultures in the 19th Century Romania and Their Ballads

Vătavu, Bogdan-Vlad (Articol)

“Banditry in 19th century Romania, as in all early modern societies, is quite a frequent phenomenon. Traditionally called haiduks, the men that resorted to robbery in the era are the subject of various historical accounts but also of a rather rich popular culture, especially in the form of folk balladry that celebrates their exploits. Usually analyzed in ‘class struggle’ terms by most Romanian historians and folklorists, these haiduk ballads were interpreted as manifestations of peasant discontent and social protest. However, on a careful inspection, these folksongs rarely, if ever, paint such well-defined bandit portraits, quite frequently the outlaws in these ballads being favorably depicted as robbing those closer to their social status. In this paper, I argue in favor of a more sociological interpretation of such balladry that accounts for these discrepancies. Instead of seeing them as expressions of class tensions, these folksongs should rather be regarded as indicators of a delinquent subculture (or subcultures). The main assumption of this hypothesis, as subcultural theories developed by criminologists in the past century maintain, is that such subcultures elaborate distinct lifeways that celebrate, justify and encourage delinquent behavior. Independently of the social status of the victims and the purpose of the robberies that the bandits perform, the ballads that sing their deeds are almost always favorable to them. This is because the production of the folklore around the bandit is rooted in the very same subcultural milieu where he originates from. However, when in conflict with other distinct segments of society that also employ folklore as the social expression of their lives, bandits are often represented as hostile and threatening to the values of such groups.”

Cuvinte cheie: Ballads, delinquent subcultures, folksongs, haiduks, popular culture, and social bandits

Revista de etnografie și folclor / Journal of Ethnography and Folklore

2016, nr. 1-2, p. 139-164