‘Mioriţa’ is a Romanian folk tale in the form of a ballad. The ballad describes a scenario in which two shepherds plan the murder of another shepherd, the central character. A ewe lamb, or ‘mioriţa’ in Romanian, warns the innocent victim of the wicked plan. Curiously, he decides not to defend himself. Instead, he launches into a strange, poetic flight of the imagination.
I have been told that the ballad has a religious sub-text that alludes to Christ’s fulfillment of God’s Will by accepting His role as a sacrifice. The shepherd in the ballad also accepts his coming death with the same equanimity as Christ. However, despite continuing academic debate about the ballad’s true meaning, people can agree on the basic events of the story. Remarkably, the ballad has become a cultural blazon, richly deserving its place in the pantheon of Romanian folk Art.
Nevertheless, as a foreigner, I beg your indulgence while I re-work the ballad’s events in an effort to encapsulate the essence of a Romanian tragedy that is presently unfolding.
The following is a loose re-telling of the events in the original ballad, ‘Mioriţa’.
Long before ‘Romania’s got talent’ or ‘Dancing for you’, a handsome, young shepherd was tending his sheep on the lower slopes of the Apuseni mountains with two other shepherds. The ballad does not name him, so we’ll call him Ghiţă, shall we?
Although having lived their lives in the heart of the ‘Carpathian garden’, the shepherds were unaware that the leaves on the trees had been designed by a Spanish advertising company for a huge sum of money. But more ominously, unknown to Ghiţă, the two shepherds with him were planning to murder him. Their motive was greed. Ghiţă, the young, handsome shepherd owned a flock of sheep, fine horses and hunting dogs that, presumably, were also good for guarding sheep. There was also his land with gold deposits and reserves of shale oil and gas. Perhaps I should include the proceeds from his contract with a telephone company among his personal assets.
Anyway, Ghiţă noticed that a ewe lamb - or ‘mioriţa’ in Romanian - was not eating grass. In fact, the poor creature had spent three days bleating sadly. (Notice that the number 3 is important in folk tales or ballads; three days not eating grass, three shepherds, the 3G connection for Ghiţă’s iPhone, and so on.) So, either Ghiţă was a patient man, tolerant of endless annoying noises - which means he could listen to Manele without complaining - or he was too engrossed in sending and reading SMS messages to notice what was happening around him. Whatever the reason, it was three days before he noticed that ‘mioriţa’ was trying to tell him something!
When I say ‘tell him something’, I mean that literally. It’s common knowledge that animals can speak in ballads, folk tales and Aesop’s fables, for example. In any case, can you imagine a lamb using sign language to try to explain that two guys wanted to murder someone, or a lamb sketching the murder plan on the ground with a hoof? If a lamb could do that, it would win first prize on ‘Romania’s got talent’, for sure!
Anyway, Ghiţă was not surprised when she started to speak.
“Listen,” she said, “these two other guys, Chevron and Gold Corporation, they’re planning to kill you!”
“Are you sure? I mean, they seem so friendly.”
“Of course they’re friendly. You’ve got things of value that they want.”
“What?! A few sheep, some horses, a few hounds ........”
“No, no, no, they don’t want these, they’re after your gold, minerals, and shale oil and gas deposits.”
“Really? I must SMS my old mother and tell her. I had no idea I was so rich.”
“Never mind that Ghiţă, what are you gonna do about these guys? Your life is in danger!”
“What d’you suggest, Mio?” (Ghiţă was on friendly terms with all his sheep!)
“Hit them over the head! Set your dogs on them! Fight! Do something!”
“Mmmm ..... maybe I could just let them kill me and steal everything I have. How about that?”
“Are you cra-a-a-a-zy?!”
Well, call me a fool if you like, but when a lamb that hasn’t eaten for three days understands a dangerous situation better than a handsome, young shepherd who owns lots of natural resources, there’s a problem!
So, Mio’s shock was understandable. The question, ‘Are you crazy?’ was supposed to be rhetorical. But instead of saying, ‘Thanks for the info Mio, I’ll deal with these rogues,’ and reaching for a machete, Ghiţă launched into a poetic ramble that seemed to confirm that the answer to Mio’s question was ‘yes’. Despite the lamb’s attempts to explain the dangers of ‘fracking’, earthquakes, pollution and ‘cyanide lakes’, Ghiţă rambled on.
He said he was going to marry a Princess, sleep under the stars, and that his old mother would come looking for him, weeping. There was other strange stuff about the mountains being Priests, stars falling and trees being guests at the wedding!
The little ewe lamb scratched an ear with a hoof. ‘Ghiţă is completely out of his mind, or he’s been drinking ţuică,’ she thought. ‘Either way, it’s game over! Chevron and Gold Corporation will finish him off and take everything he has.’
But there, the ballad ends. It ends before the dreadful deed takes place. That leaves space for maneuver! Could it be that there’s a yet unwritten part of the ballad where Ghiţă comes to his senses and decides that saving his own skin is more practical than mumbling iambic pentameter, or occupying the moral high ground, or whatever? Maybe Ghiţă decides to demonstrate peacefully on the streets, organizes petitions, and gets his old mother to make posters criticizing the government’s decision to allow this tragedy to take place?
The future is not fixed, it can be what you want it to be. The next part of ‘Mioriţa’ can be written by Romanians who care about Romania and her future, and their children’s future!
After all, even a ewe lamb and a foreigner can see the danger.
By Angus McFarlane, guest writer
Parts of this guest post are a pamphlet and should be treated as such. This article expresses the author's opinion, and do not necesarily reflect those of Romania-Insider.com.