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Stories from Sârbova village

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In 1935, in Sârbova, a village from the Banat region near the city of Buziaş, a team of specialists of the Banat-Crişana Social Institute (Institutul Social Banat-Crişana) was arriving. For an entire month, they did research and gathered information from the locals, with the purpose of finding out the reasons for the depopulation phenomenon, which was affecting the Banat area during the interbelic period.

80 years later, during a February Saturday, we took the “Monografia comunei Sârbova” (the book subsequently published by the Institute, that contains the results of their 1935 research) and we left for this village, with the hope that we would find elders that would remember the specialists team. As such, we met Mrs Ioana Sfetescu (nicknamed Chiţa), who not only remembers perfectly the year 1935, but also appears in one of the photographs from the book.

A history of Sârbova

The first mention of this village’s existence dates to 1447, when it appears under the name of Zereb.1)WikipediaSârbova In 1459, it is mentioned with the name of Trokamyhalfalwa and, later, in 1473, under the name of Trokafalwa.  It also appears in Marsigli’s Conscription (1690 – 1700) under the name of Szerbova.2)Ioan HaţeganDicţionar istoric al aşezărilor din Banat: sec. XI – XX. Atestări documentare şi cartografice, Editura ArtPress, Editura Banatul, Timişoara, 2013;

Samu Borovszky said that the village would certainly have existed during the Middle Ages, because in the gardens of many houses old bricks and rocks were found. In 1693, the church blessing takes place, done by the Belgrade (or Bălgrad – Alba Iulia?) archbishop and the Arad bishop, Theophilus/Teofil. In 1717, after the Turkish chase away, the village is remembered as being inhabited by Romanians and having a number of 52 houses.3)Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913;

In 1935, elders from Sârbova used to say that the village had existed for only 150 years. Before, the village used to be located, as a scattered village and divided into grooves, on one of the Timiş river terraces, from where the villagers were forced to leave because of the many floods.4)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

In the Book of Gold, kept inside the Sârbova church sanctuary, the following quote is found: “In an Old Homiliary there is an old letter that can be read which says that, in 1754, the village was arranged.” This arrangement referred to reorganising the villages, project started by the Austrians in the second half of the 18th century, whose main purpose was exposing the villages to the main road, their alignment and arrangement after a well fixed and decisive model in order for the administration to have a good handle on the Romanians, just in case.5)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

On a map from 1761, the village belonged to the Ciacova District.6)Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913; This fact is first reminded by J. J. Ehler, who indicated the Syrbova inside the Timiş Circle from the Ciacova District, without actually giving details regarding the ethnicity that lived in the village.7)J. J. EhlerBanatul de la origini până acum (1774), Editura Facla, Timişoara, 1982.

The school in Sârbova has existed since the 17th century, the compulsory education being applied since 1868 (the Eötvös Baron law) and was presenting tendences of “magyarization”. In 1899 the teachers were obliged to teach, in a Romanian commune like Sârbova, 13 hours of Hungarian language every week, the repetition course being taught exclusively in Hungarian.8)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

The damming and channeling of the Timiş river took place in 1863 and 1870-1873. The road to Bacova was finished in 1898, during the time of “kinez” (mayor) Nicolae Ghilezan.9)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939; Today, in Sârbova, you can still see the house that bears the name of this old mayor.

In 1910, the Szirbó (Szirbóva) village was located in the Buziaş district, having 164 houses and 908 villagers, most of them Romanians of the Christian-Orthodox faith. The village had a post office, telegraph and the train station was in the neighbouring village of Bacova. In the same year, in Sârbova the steam mill of Chombeè Máthiás and the brick factory of Getiá János are mentioned. 10)Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913;

The Sârbova population number has seriously dropped in the last 100 years. If, during the interbelic period, 791 people lived in the village, the 2002 census indicates that there are only 320 locals left in the village.11)WikipediaSârbova Despite its name, Sârbova was always a Romanian village. The name of Sârbova does not come in any way from a Serbian population; because the commune never had a great number of Serbian villagers, just a few sparse families which eventually merged with the Romanians. A few first and last names that are Serbian have been kept – but they are used in a small number.12)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

Year 1848, drudgery, Quitrent and Barboncu in Sârbova13)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

In 1935, the elders of Sârbova knew very little about the 1848-1849 Revolution. Just that the patrols of the Hungarian revolutionaries were passing by, doing nothing to the villagers, just taking themselves what they needed for food.

On the other hand, they remembered that, until 1848, the drudgery (robota) functioned, which was forced work for each and every villager, by hand or using carts and horses. Those who didn’t had land, had to work 3 days a year, the ones who had ¼ (a quarter of a “paore”): 8 days; the ones with ½: 16 days a year and those who had an entire “paore” had to work 18 days a year. Those without land always had to go with a carriage when the command from the “Herr” came.

The labour day was considered from dawn to dusk. The man who was late, didn’t work properly or did something wrong immediately got corporal punishment in front of the other workers. The number of stick strikes would depend on the severity of the mistake. Besides the drudgery there was also the quitrent (“Dijma”) which involved the payment of 1/10 of the entire income, including the cereals.

The “Barboncu” (Varboncu, taken from Werbung) was a recruiting system. The people from commune hall would go around the village, with bottles of booze in their hands and those who would come and drink from their bottles were considered to be recruited. After that, they would be taken to the commune hall and from here they were sent – by policemen – to the unit, where they would remain under arms for 30 years.

The research results of the Banat – Crisana Social Institute on the 1935 Sârbova 14)Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;

In the summer of 1935, a team of the Banat-Crişana Social Institute leave for Sârbova in order to continue their research started in the Belinţ village (1934), as volunteers, regarding the aspects of the Banat depopulation and in order to examine the causes of this irritating phenomenon. Phenomenon that existed not only in Banat but along the West border also, without the causes of this social plague ever being discovered.

Part of this team were professionals (engineers, doctors, lawyers, priests, teachers etc), among which there were also a few personalities such as Iosif Nemoianu, Cornel Grofşorean or Emil Botiş. The information was later centralized in complex reports. Because of lack of funds, the Institute only published the collected data in 1939, in the book “Monografia comunei Sârbova”. The book spreads over 392 pages, in 20 detailed reports and includes a photo (illustrations) annex.

The report of the medico-social section stated the fact that, in 1935, the Sârbova birth rate was well below the country and the Banat average. In exchange, the death rate was well above the birth rate, the conclusion being that the Sârbova locals lived more than the average people from Banat or even the country, (…) the phenomenon of the population aging manifesting through a surprising longevity when it came to the Sârbova people.

There were several causes of the low birth rate among which there were the usage of contraception methods, the frequency of abortions (10% of the women admitted to having had an abortion), the decreased sense of motherhood or the influence of venereal diseases. From a dental point of view, the level of care is unknown. A single toothbrush, where, by accident, one existed, was used by the entire family. Regarding the personal hygiene, the normal practice was washing of the face, head, hair while the washing of the hands and feet was at a satisfactory level. But, 67% of the population doesn’t meet with a full bath excepting the “major holidays” (Christmas, Easter, etc.).  

70% of households buy their clothes, especially the holiday attires and, only 30% make their own clothes. A decline of the domestic industry and her corollary follows: the city luxury in women. Regarding the house hygiene, 93% of the houses were paved with clay, which is unhygienic. Most locals sleep in groups of 2 or 3 in a single bed (both children and adults). The windows are small and kept closed for too long.

The cultural section points out the custom of the Sârbova people to stand during Mass, where they participate for just a few minutes, in the church courtyard at “givan” (twaddle). Young people, especially, practice this habit (…) Magic is known and practiced in a large part through spells and witchcraft. Honoring the dead is done in an exemplary and impressive way. The cemetery is tidy. (…) The church is spacious and kept in excellent conditions. Inside the family there is almost no education done, the parents leaving this task for the school.

The findings regarding STDs and the sexual life mention that the problem of venereal diseases is not alarming. (…) The good situation of the Sârbova commune is due to the fact that the people don’t have direct and permanent contact with the city. Also, a precocity of the sexual life is noted: 70,80% (177) of the men from Sârbova (250) have started their sexual life before the age of 18. Out of these, 45 or 18% have started even before the age of 15. The cohabitation at an early age is often planned by the parents, who, having only a girl, take advantage of this to bring a worker in the family.

From the veterinary department, the stables are in a very good condition. In many cases they are even bigger and beautiful than some of the houses. On the other hand, veterinary medical knowledge that is so common and plentiful in many Swabians, definitely lack in Romanians. To these, the lack of trust in the veterinarian (who doesn’t even try to train them) is added.

Among the moral causes we can count: a) The decline of the woman from her role of mother. The decreased maternal feeling. The Sârbova women are contaminated with the city luxury. They are not good enough housewifes. They have not enough knowledge in raising of children. Many of them don’t even like children. That’s why they use contraceptive methods; b) The decline of family. The fatherhood authority is annihilated. Recognising the advantages of the familiar community wealth, its leadership should return to the younger man, not at all to the weak grandparents; especially to women.

The team has also identified psychic causes (mentalities and prejudices to be more exact): a) The imitation phenomenon. When in contact with the city environment and with other populations (Swabians, which in turn got it from the Hungarians) which practice the system of one or two children, the Romanian peasant, who takes good and bad examples from the cities, he began imitating this system; b) The selfishness of the peasant and his fear of poverty. The fierce materialism. In the Banat area a man is worth as much as his fortune. Well, if the parents while still alive, give a part of their fortune to their children, they become poor, disregarded.

At the end of the Sârbova (and Belinţ, in 1934) research, the Banat-Crişana Social Institute reached the conclusion that the depopulation phenomenon is not, or better said is not anymore specific to the Banat area. Many authors that have taken up this problem have reached the same conclusions, which stated that in other parts of the country, this phenomenon of depopulation through low birth rate and infant mortality is still sadly present and current. The fact is that the Banat area was the first to show this calamity that is threatening our nation.

Do you know how old I am? 90.

The Sârbova village of today is not as animated as it was 80 years ago. Some houses are empty, abandoned, others are collapsing, but the number of these is the same as those who are still lived in. People sit at “givan” even today in front of their houses, if not in the church courtuard. “I thought you wanted to buy (houses). But, aren’t you looking for old folks?”, we were asked by a few elders, after we told them the story and our intentions. We were actually searching for elders who could remember 1935 and the research team of the Banat-Crişana Social Institute.

Only two Sârbova people still live that caught the summer of 1935: a descendant of the Nicolae Ghilezan mayor (who, unfortunately, didn’t answer us when we went looking for him at home) and Mrs Ioana Sfetescu. Chiţa, because no one from the village ever called her Ioana (Sfetescu) excepting formal situations, we found at home.

“Oh my God! God help you and may He make you strong until your last hour, because this is how I pray. Do you know how old I am? 90.”

We wished her many years to come, but the reply we received caught us by surprise: “Leave it, it shouldn’t be more, children, because I have had enough! I am already troubled. Look, I even fell. And here, these were broken (fingers). And I went to the doctor. They were swollen and with boiles for three years. And the mister (her husband) had been dead for five. After that I fell. And now, I went to Buziaş and they sent me to Austria House (from Timişoara). And the boil was so big…”

“I went to the hospital in Buziaş. No one looks at the old people anymore, no one does! They said that only through surgery can they do something. Well, do you think I’m going to get surgery? I wouldn’t survive it. If I knew that I was gonna die, I wouldn’t go to get surgery. Let me die. They told me, lot of people said: <<Dear, don’t wish for death, cause it’s a sin.>> It’s just that this is no life: just sitting. If my hand would be good, I would work. All my life I made “chintuşe” (vests) from here, I made wool shoes. I worked with no problem. But now, to sit all day like this…? But I can’t even peel potatoes, to make myself a meal.”

“I have two nephews from my brother. I never had kids, I had but after birth they died. What can you do? That’s how it was meant for me…” told us Chiţa, after which she became silent for a few minutes with a lost look on her face. “Oh… say… I forgot. What was I saying just now? Oh, yeah, about my nephews! See how I forgot? Two children had my brother, in Buziaş. When on holiday, they were here all day. When they were free, they would also come here. Just like my children! And I took them with me. If I went to Timişoara, I took them with me, just for the sake of having children! And here’s how I don’t. How fond I was of children! I was fond even of the Gypsy ones! I kissed them. <<But do you kiss gypsy children?>> Aren’t they also from God?”

Did you see there, inside the book, a few pictures with some girls? I am in there too.

When we mentioned to Chiţa the visit of the Banat-Crişana Social Institute from 1935, her eyes just light up. Even if she has an old age, she easily remembers the happenings of 80 years ago. She dearly remembers the team of the Institute and she can’t believe that, after tens of years, some youngsters have come to her door to ask and show her the book.

“They were here too, in Sârbova. And they would come singing. God, the village would light up! And I still wonder now how many were there and how little there are now. My old folks, all of them have died. Me, a man from the village end and another lady – we’re the only ones left. I was a girl back then, how old could I have been? 10-11 (years)? It was really nice then. And it was good. We had it all.”

Even if we went to Sârbova with the intention of documenting the village and to find people born before 1935, we never thought for a moment that we would run into a person that actually appears in the monograph photographies. “Did you see there, inside the book, a few pictures with some girls? I am in there too. And my father is also photographed inside the book”, said Chiţa to us.

After she found herself in the photographs, also told us a bit about every person that could be found in 1935, because she knew all of them.

And then, God suddenly gave me a thought: let me write a letter to Ceauşescu!

“For 20 years I was a postwoman, since ‘68 until ‘88. And I didn’t end with a big pension. Now, that it’s gotten bigger, I have 412 lei. Oooo, my children, how much I did when I worked for the post office! I walked so much through mud and snow and rain and everything! And then, God suddenly gave me a thought: let me write a letter to Ceauşescu!”

“I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband, and I wrote a letter, as I could, peasantly! I wrote that I was afraid to go to Hitiaş, with the money, by myself. Then they brought the Cooperative money to me, and the local bar as well. That’s how I wrote, how I could. It has passed… God, how much time has passed!”

“Once, a car came around. My husband was here, out in the road: <<Does Sfetescu Ioana live here?/ Yes. / The mailwoman? / Yes.>> I went out right away when I saw the car, and I introduced myself to them. They said: <<You filed a complaint. To Ceauşescu.>> But mine (husband) almost died! But I said at once: <<But I didn’t complain to no one, I just asked nicely to make a road to Hitiaş, until the village entrance!>> The Roads Director from Timişoara and the Exploration chief from here, from the post office came around. And he says: <<Just so you know, he’s gonna do it! In two weeks you’ll have a car until here.>>”

“There, like that. He left but my husband said: <<Well!>> He started to reprimand me (told Chiţa, laughing): <<What did you do? Ceauşescu will kill you! / You’ll see that he won’t kill me, he’ll build a road! For the road I did what I did! / Well, have you gone mad? / If I have gone mad, I did. They are still gonna make the road!>>  I went into the village. The school principal was there and the guys from the Collective. I got there, gave them the papers. <<Do you know something? You’re not going to believe it: in two weeks we are going to have road from Hitiaş to Sârbova!>> And he tells me: <<How? What? Who are you?! / I wrote a letter to Ceauşescu. The Road Director..>> And then he said: <<Well done, Chiţa!>> And he comes and kisses me. But he was dying of envy! And, in two weeks, we had a road.”

In the end, we offered to carry water for her or peel her potatoes but she refused us, assuring us that she can handle it, because, every day, a neighbour comes to help her out with the household chores. After that, we said goodbye and we went on our way, but not before promising her to return with the next opportunity.

Useful information

Sârbova is in the Timiş county, at a distance of 48 km from Timişoara (see map) and 14 km from Buziaş (see map). The road that links Hitiaş from Sârbova, the one which was built due to Chiţa’s letter to Ceauşescu, is not covered with asphalt but it is in a good shape.

Inside the Village National Museum “Dimitrie Gusti” from Bucharest, a household from Sârbova is exposed. A photo album representing this objective can be seen here.

Photo credit: Flavius Neamciuc

Translated by Doiniţa Spuză

Surse   [ + ]

1. WikipediaSârbova
2. Ioan HaţeganDicţionar istoric al aşezărilor din Banat: sec. XI – XX. Atestări documentare şi cartografice, Editura ArtPress, Editura Banatul, Timişoara, 2013;
3. Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913;
4. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
5. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
6. Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913;
7. J. J. EhlerBanatul de la origini până acum (1774), Editura Facla, Timişoara, 1982.
8. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
9. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
10. Samu BorovszkyTemes vármegye története, Budapesta, 1913;
11. WikipediaSârbova
12. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
13. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
14. Institutul Social Banat-CrişanaMonografia comunei Sârbova, Timişoara, 1939;
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