Dancing for the Dead – Joc/Hora de pomană; Banat, Oltenia (Romania, Serbia, & Bulgaria)

The following four paragraphs (all in italics) are copied from the definitive book in English on Romanian dance, Romanian Traditional Dance by Anca Giurchescu with Sunni Bloland, 1995, Wild Flower Press, Mill Valley, CA. The first three paragraphs describe folk customs which may be extinct (or at least for which I can find no YouTube evidence), but are included to give context for the ritual described in the fourth paragraph, which YouTube evidence shows is very much alive.

The final passage rite in the life cycle is the funeral.  Dancing in the funeral ceremony reinforces the ancient belief that death is a transition from this world to a world beyond – one which shares the same attributes as life on earth.  The worlds of the living and the dead represent two dimensions in a universe in which indestructible bonds exist between ancestors and their descendents, according to this world view. The funeral ceremony has three distinct stages: parting, transition, and integration of the dead with their ancestors. (Van Gennep, A 1909). The parting is the period between the moment of death and the removal of the body from the house. In Transylvania, Moldavia, and Banat, wake dances take place during the three nights that the corpse is in the house. Performed during this period are dramatic masked plays, dances such as Chiperul, (the pepper) — an ancient ritual purification dance performed around a fire ( j. Vrancea) — and party games and dances from the common repertoire (Stahl, H. 1939 vol. II: A.G.and C. Ertescu, 1974). A humorous and crude dialogue in the style of commedia dell’arte ensue between the mourners and people masked as the devil, a priest, a doctor, a bride and groom, and, most significantly, an old man and woman. The latter two masks symbolize the presence of the family’s ancestors just as they do in the wedding ceremony. These dances are no longer performed for their original reasons but survive purely as diversion during the long nights of the wake. (Ertescu, C. 1968; Pop, M. and Ertescu, C. 1967).

The mourning period that follows coincides with the notion that the soul of the deceased takes a long journey before reaching his ancestral family in the world beyond. Dance is very important during this long transition period — the interval between the burial and the moment when mourning is allowed to cease, usually one year later. It used to begin with a men’s circle dance which was performed around the grave immediately after the body was interred. This virtually extinct ritual dance existed only in Banat, however. There it was believed that the circle of the dance provided magical protection for the dead against all harmful influences and wicked spirits which could possibly penetrate from the outside. For the living it magically neutralized the supposedly contagious effects of death by containing the dead in their graves.

The ritual dance slobozirea jocului (releasing dance) or desjelit (cease to mourn), also performed in Banat and Oltenia, mark both the end of the soul’s journey and its integration into the great family of ancestors in the world beyond. This in turn signals the cessation of mourning and the reintegration of mourners into the normal social life of the community. The person who wishes to end mourning must dance either a Brîu or a Hora according to a special ritual. This involves stepping three times in succession on a white handkerchief placed on the floor by a woman who has no deceased in her immediate family. This action has the function of purification and separation.

Banat – click https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/ethnicity-history-geography/banat-region-romania-serbia-hungary/

One particularly interesting custom is still practiced during the transition period even today — that of giving a dance as alms for the dead. (A. G. 1972). In Banat and Oltenia it is called Jocul de pomană, a local variant of Brîu or Hora. It is performed three weeks, six weeks, six months, and again one year after the burial, usually close in time to one of the major calendar holidays or on a wedding day. A candle trimmed with flowers and handkerchiefs is given by the family of the deceased to the dancer who leads the line (a relative of the deceased), a dancer in the middle, and the last dancer. Two bottles of plum brandy, ring-shaped cakes, as well as bouquets of flowers are shared by all participants. Having started the melody and having received money from the family to play a dance as an alms, the musicians stop and shout, “Be this dance as an alms for [the deceased person’s name]”. All present reply “Bogdaproste!” (God bless you). This call-response is repeated three times. The power of Jocul de pomană and the energy expended in its performance establishes a nexus with the deceased which is intended to offer him the same satisfactions and pleasures which he enjoyed on earth, thereby insuring their continuance in the hereafter. Lighted candles carried during the ritual are meant to signify the presence of the dead among the living.

The dances used for this custom are usually the most common dances of the area – the same used for weddings and other celebrations. For more current information on these customs, see https://eliznik.me.uk/2020/02/13/dancing-for-the-dead-joc-hora-de-pomana/

Romanian YouTubes

Mehadica, Banat. Sep 9, 2013. Hora Banateana step.
Brabeti, Dolj county, Oltenia. April 26, 2011. Dance – T-4 Hora;
Svinita, Easter, 2013. Dance, Hora Banateana.
Unknown location in Romania. Part 2 of 3. Dance; Hora T-4.
Caption under this YouTube documentary from Dolj county, Google translated. “It is related to the Easter celebration and represents a ritual dance dedicated to the cult of the dead. It was practiced throughout the Oltenia area. However, it can be seen that in poorer villages or in the city, no more hours of pomana are made. Generally, the pomana hour is held on the first or second Easter day in the communes of Bechet, Calarasi (Sapata), Desa, Galiciuica, Gângiova, Gighera, Ostroveni, Mârsani, Orodelu but also in the third (Afumati, Bulzesti, Bârca). or one week after Easter (Pietroia, Brabova). Those who have had young or dead people in the family without the “candle” (candle) are playing lautari, and on the days and in the appointed places, they invite the villagers at this ritual time where they share coles, coliva, red eggs, mugs with wine.”
Here’s a performing group with a memorial for their deceased choreographer.
Even TV shows commemorate the custom. Singer is Petrică Mâţu Stoian.

Serbian YouTubes

There is a significant ‘Vlach’ population in Serbian towns near the Romanian border. Though the title Joc de pomană and Hora de pomană are used in Serbia for this ritual, other titles also include Ora de pomana, Ora d’e pomana, Oro dje pomana, Kolo za mrtve, Kolo za pomen, Kolo za secanje, and Pomen kolo. I found 17 Serbian and 9 Romanian YouTubes, (plus many other YouTubes of Romanian performing and music groups) so considering the much smaller Serbian population, I’d say the custom is more alive among Serbian Vlachs.

July 17, 2007, Krivača, Serbia. First dance Vlasko kolo, then Hora Banateana
April 24, 1995. Mihajlovac, Serbia, First of 12 separate YouTubes!
Apr 12, 2004 Mihajlovac, Serbia. Text acccompanying the YouTube, by Miroslav Rajcic, says the event occurs after Easter fasting, usually the second day of Easter. The decesed is ‘present’ in the form of an image, usually a large photo. If the deceased was a man, his image is carried by a man, if a woman, a woman. The deceased’s family donates towels, flowers, etc, and provide drinks – ususally the deceased’s favorite. After extended dancing, a dinner is served.
Duplanje, 2004
Negotin village Dupljane
Posted Dec 27, 2017, Jabucovac
Pomen Kolo, May 30, 2010, a four day affair in Plavna
Oct 2, 2018. Brza Palanka
Aug 28, 2019. Brza Palanka

Bulgarian YouTubes

All I could find was this documentary – Хорото на мъртвите (Документален филм) – The Dead’s Horo

Vidin, Bulgaria. Dancing can be seen at 12:00, 15:21, 16:40, 19:40.
A caption under the YouTube says: “The ritual of Thracian times survived only in Vidin. The sick people are sleeping on the lawn before the dance to find healing. Every year on the second Easter day in a place not far from Vidin there are people relatives to those who died in the period from the last Easter day to the present one. They come together to play the “Dance of the dead”. It’s a sad, lousy, the melody is at 2/4. The place is Albutin, and the dance is on a picturesque meadow surrounded by low mountain ridges. At 25 m above it stands a rock, where until the 14th century there was a monastery. It was called “Lord’s Ascension,” so people have gathered at his footstool just at Easter.”

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