Page:EB1911 - Volume 23.djvu/872

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ferries. Rumania has no canals, and the canalization of its rivers is impeded by drought and floods. The Pruth and Sereth are navigable for a short distance by small sailing craft; the conservancy of the Danube (q.v.) is controlled by a European commission, which sits at Galatz. Besides river services, the state maintains lines of sea-going ships from Constantza to Constantinople and the Aegean Islands, and from Braila to Rotterdam. In 1908 the ports of Rumania were entered by 32,888 vessels of 9,269,000 tons, of which 30,504 of 6,529,000 tons belonged to the river (Danubian) trade. The merchant navy of Rumania comprised about 495 vessels of 145,000 tons, including 88 steamers.

Population.—The population of Rumania numbered 5,912,520 in 1899, and about 6,850,000 in 1910. Fully 6,000,000 of these were Rumans or Vlachs (q.v.). The population of foreign descent comprises many Jews, Armenians, gipsies, Greeks, Germans, Turks, Tatars and Magyars, Servians and Bulgarians. The Jews increase more rapidly than any of these peoples except the Armenians. They usually congregate in the larger towns, though in northern Moldavia there are a few purely Jewish villages, recalling those of Poland.

The bitter feeling against them in Rumania is not so much due to religious fanaticism as to the fear that if given political and other rights they will gradually possess themselves of the whole soil. In many towns in northern Moldavia the Jews are in a majority, and their total numbers in Rumania are about 300,000, i.e. about one-twentieth of the entire population, a larger ratio than exists in any other country in the world. In many places they have the monopoly of the wine and spirit shops, and retail trade generally; and as they are always willing to advance money on usury, and are more intelligent and better educated than the ordinary peasant, there is little doubt that in a country where the large landowners are proverbially extravagant, and the peasant proprietors needy, the soil would soon fall into the hands of the Jews were it not for the stringent laws which prevent them from owning land outside the towns. When in addition it is considered that the Moldavian Jews, who are mostly of Polish and Russian origin, speak a foreign language, wear a distinguishing dress and keep themselves aloof from their neighbours, the antipathy in which they are held by the Rumanians generally may be understood.

The gipsies, who are mostly converts to the Orthodox Church, still, as a rule, cling to their vagabond existence, though their skill at all handicrafts finds them ready employment in the towns. During their centuries of slavery, they were organized into castes, as musicians, metal workers, masons, &c.; but after about 1850 the bonds of caste were gradually relaxed and gipsies began to intermarry with Rumans. The Greeks form a floating population of merchants and small traders, anxious to amass a fortune and return home. German and Austrian business men visit the country in large numbers, and colonies of German farmers flourish among the mountains of Little Walachia. In central Moldavia there is a large population of Magyar descent, and the Servian and Bulgarian elements are strong near the Danube. The interior of the Dobrudja is occupied largely by Turks and Bulgarians, with Tatars, Russians and Armenians, but here the Ruman steadily gains ground at the expense of the alien. At Megidia, a flourishing town of about 10,000 inhabitants, which sprang up after 1860 between Cernavoda and Constantza, the Tatars predominate. Russians of the Lipovan sect live in exile in Bucharest and other cities, earning a livelihood as cab-drivers, and wearing the long coats and round caps of their countrymen.

National Characteristics.—Two dissimilar types are noticeable among the Rumans. One is fair-haired, florid and blue-eyed; the other, more frequent among the Carpathians, is dark, resembling the southern Italians. Both alike are hardy, though rarely tall; both, when of the peasant class, frugal and inured to toil amid the rigours of their native climate. Proud of their race and country, they acquired, with their independence, an ardent sense of nationality; and they look forward to the day which will reunite them to their kinsmen in Transylvania and Bessarabia. They have been taught, originally in the interests of Transylvanian Roman Catholicism, to regard themselves as true descendants of the Romans. The peasants retain their distinctive dress, long discarded, except on festivals and at court, by the wealthier classes. Men wear a long linen tunic, leather belt, white woollen trousers and leather gaiters, above Turkish slippers or sandals. The lowlanders' head-dress is generally a high cylindrical cap of rough cloth or felt, while the mountaineers prefer a small round straw hat. Sundays and holidays bring out a sleeveless jacket, embroidered in red and gold; and both sexes wear sheepskins in cold weather. The linen dresses of women are fastened by a long sash or girdle, wound many times round the waist; the holiday attire being a white gown covered with embroideries, one or more brightly coloured aprons and necklaces of beads or coins. The standard of comfort is lowest along the Danube and in parts of the Dobrudja. As the land becomes higher, the dwellings improve; but, despite the presence of a doctor in each commune, disease is everywhere rife. Many villages are wholly built of timber and thatch, especially amongst the Carpathians, the floors being frequently raised on piles, several feet above the ground. The inner walls are often hung with hand-woven tapestries, which harmonize well with the smoke-blackened rafters, the primitive loom and the huge Dutch stove characteristic of a prosperous Rumanian farm. Many pagan beliefs linger on in the country, where vampires, witches and the evil eye are dreaded by all. The peasants reassure themselves by the use of charms and spells, and by a strict observance of the forms which their creed prescribes. A cross guards every well or spring; every home has its ikons or sacred pictures. Church festivals and fasts are kept with equal care. For months together a Ruman will subsist on vegetables and mamaliga, the maize porridge that forms his staple diet. Beef and mutton are rarely touched, and in some districts pork is only eaten on St Hilary's day (the 20th of December, O.S.). Veal is the one kind of meat generally consumed. Wine and plum-spirit, or the more powerful brandy distilled from grain, are drunk in great quantities by the townsfolk, more sparingly by countrymen; Rumans generally being more sober than the western Europeans. The ceremonies which accompany a wedding preserve the tradition of marriage by capture; a peasant bride must enter her new home carrying bread and salt, and in parts of Walachia a flower is painted on the outer wall of cottages in which there is a girl old enough to marry. Young men swear eternal brotherhood; girls, eternal sisterhood; and the Church ratifies their choice in a service at which the feet of the pair are chained together. This relationship is morally and legally regarded as not less binding than kinship by birth. The dead are borne to the grave with uncovered faces, and a Rumanian funeral is a scene of much barbaric display. All classes delight in music and dancing. Women hold spinning-parties at which the leader begins a ballad, and each in turn contributes a verse. A number of satirical folk-tales (largely of Turkish origin) are current at the expense of Jew, gipsy or parish priest. The Rumanian folk-songs, sung and often improvised by the villagers, or by a wandering guitar-player (cobzar), are of exceptional interest and beauty (see Literature, below). The national dances and music closely resemble those of the Southern Slavs (see Montenegro and Bulgaria).

Constitution.—In 1866, Prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was chosen prince of Rumania by a constituent assembly elected under universal suffrage. This body at the same time drew up a constitution, which remains in force, though modified in 1879 and 1884. In 1881, Prince Charles was proclaimed king. As he proved childless, the succession was accepted by his brother, Prince Leopold, on behalf of his son William; and in 1888 William renounced his claim in favour of Ferdinand his younger brother. Thus the monarchy became hereditary in the family of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. No woman may ascend the throne; and, in default of a male heir, the representatives of the people can choose a king among the royal families of western Europe.

Parliament consists of a senate, elected for eight years, and