In times of drought, when the sun burns the fields and hope for rich harvests is lost, a young girl walks the dusty street of the village. She’s wearing willow leaves around her waist, she walks and dances with a graceful pace, yet sometimes her movements are daring, erotic almost as her arms reach to the sky and her voice sends an ancient calling to Paparuda, the goddess of rain:
Vino de ne uda
Ca sa-nceapa ploaie,
Sa curga siroaie”
(Come litle rain, come and make us wet. When you come with the sieve, let it be a barnful.)
The girl walks on every street and stops to dance her pagan dance at every house in the village. Sometimes she is followed by other villagers who dance and sing around her, sometimes she performs the ritual alone. She has to please the goddess, who in return will bless the thirsty fields with heavy rain.
I watched the dance as a young girl – I remember I was 12 years old. That summer was particularly dry so the people in my grandma’s village decided it was time to call the goddess of rain. A pagan incantation, an heresy if you want, but even the priest of the village believed… A young gypsy girl was chosen to dance. She started the ritual at the village’s public fountain then continued on every street… at every house, as the tradition required.
It was in incredible experience, one of the dearest memories from my childhood and sure one of the most extraordinary, unbelievable, incredible. Do you know why? Because it did rain a heavy rain that evening. It rained a storm, it poured and I remember hearing joyful laughters in the rain, happy cheers, but in the end… the people were all thanking God for the rain. The rain goddess was forgotten…
I don’t know if they still perform this ritual in the village of my childhood. There are probably villages where young girls still dance the dance that brings the rain, but I doubt that the belief is still there. Yet… I think it would be a pity for such a beautiful tradition to perish…
In areas where rains suffice the ritual was never not known. Originally the dance involved partial nudity, but this has changed in the last 30 years. When I was young the girls wore popular costumes under the willow skirts. But in the times when this ritual was common to every village affected by drought, partial nudity was common and necessary, as people would pour water on the rain callers. The rain callers were rewarded for their performance with corn, eggs, grains, milk, bread, fruits or money.
The text of the incantation varies from region to region, from village to village. It has an official version but the text is not known in its entire form everywhere. Only the first verse “Paparuda, ruda” seems to be common.
The ritual was performed originally by native Romanians, and later by gypsies. It’s still unclear why the change of actors. Folklorists believe that since the ritual is performed by gypsies a lot of its essence was lost. They are probably right, especially when we consider all the variations in the text of the incantation. On the other hand, since it is customary for the rain caller to be rewarded with gifts of all sorts for her performance it is possible that the gypsies misused the ritual for material gain. There are however other explanations: as the dance involved partial nudity it makes sense that only gypsy girls would dare to expose their bodies. The Romanian girls, educated in strict Orthodox spirit, wouldn’t expose themselves.