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Issues of Identity: The Dress of the Csángó Minority in Romania


The Full Cleveland: Dress as Communication, Self-Expression, and Identity

The Costume Society of America, 42nd Annual National Meeting

Cleveland, Ohio, May 25-28, 2016


After experiencing two world wars, the Soviet Union’s domination and subsequent disbanding, and the emergence of the European Union, the complementary issues of nationality, nationalism, and ethnicity have remained at the forefront of Eastern Europe’s concerns. These issues have been particularly crucial for the Csángó people of present-day Romania, whose complex, contentious history has left them in the crossfire of a debate about their identity. Although scholars generally agree that the Csángó are ethnic Hungarians who settled and remained in Romania, such theories have not prevented these two nation-states from engaging in a public spat, leaving Csángó communities the victims of state-sponsored persecution. Living in highly religious, often insular communities, the controversy over Csángó identity has largely manifested around one method of communication, while neglecting another highly important one. While their oral language repertoire, which includes an archaic form of Hungarian, is often referred to as a clue to their national and ethnic identity, their system of dress, a form of nonverbal communication, has not received much scholarly attention.

The Csángó system of dress is paradoxical. They have to a large extent preserved many aspects of their Hungarian heritage, including spoken language, but their folk garments, (still worn frequently by elderly and young alike), are extraordinarily similar to those in the Romanian system of dress. This paper will address the slew of questions emanating from, and the possible reasons for such a contradiction. I will present a study of primary historical and material culture sources, such as the Codex Bandinus, a report prepared by a member of the Catholic clergy after this extended trip to Moldavia from 1647 to 1648. I will also present images of Csángó women’s skirts, which I have examined and catalogued as part of my ongoing research. Documents and objects examined in this paper will speak to the Csángós’ adoption of Romanian dress to achieve critical communal goals. By dressing in the garments of their oppressors, the Csángós attempt to gain power to oppose their continued marginalization, (a concept examined in length by philosopher Michel Foucault and dress theorist Gwendolyn O’Neal), a practice that sociologist Nathan Joseph asserts serves a cathartic function, while further integrating them into Romanian society.

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