Slovenski etnografski muzej

Številka revije 
Etnolog 12 (2002)
Mojca Ramšak
Članek v pdf obliki 
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Berači in odnos do njih na avstrijskem Koroškem v prvi polovici 20. stoletja

In the collection "The way we lived - Life Stories of Carinthian Slovenes" (1993–1997) the narrators referred to idleness in their memories of village characters (beggars, paupers). These were people who, in most cases, were not responsible for their condition, but lived materially and socially on the margin, or were excluded in other ways because of their age or because they were crippled.

In the narrow sense of the word, beggars and homeless people were unmarried, poor people with no family ties, who lived a specific vagrant life, which meant that they lived in destitution and had no permanent domicile or job; quite often they were physically infirm and needed help. Some wandered from place to place in Carinthia, while others were village poor. The concept of beggars and homeless people embodied different material conditions, social relations, privacy, emotional and physical feelings.
A more or less secret sphere of reality was the fact that there were also poor and homeless women. It was long believed that women were not affected by such conditions, because they were attributed to men`s impetuous nature and their vagabond streak. To be homeless was improper for a woman, and everything improper was hidden. The traditional views of homelessness derived from the prevailing sexual ideologies, and they discerned two groups of homeless people according to the reasons for their condition. Men were held to have become vagrants because they had failed in their occupation, and this failure was connected with their inability to provide for a family. Women, on the other hand, were thought to have become homeless because, among others, they could not cope with the roles of mothers and wives. According to the life stories, most of the beggars in Carinthia were men, but the narrators remembered that women were by no means exceptions. Women whose condition was close to that of beggars and the homeless used an informal network, through which they arranged for themselves a more or less temporary place to stay, and this makes them appear as a secondary group of homeless people in the village`s collective awareness and in the life stories.
The narrators of the life stories generally remembered the homeless by their nicknames or house names - e.g. Vodnikov ©iman, Pvavčev Rokej, Pekov Anza, Tomova Mica, Grosova Jera, Tinja, Smodl, Rebrc, etc. - not by their real names and surnames. The nicknames usually denoted something that was special about them. In the cases mentioned in the life stories, these names exclusively referred to the house they belonged to in the past, or the trade carried out in that house, or to the (present) status of a beggar or vagrant – that is to a person who belonged only to himself.
Though people responded to the pleas of beggars in different ways, they usually showed compassion. They fed them, washed them, cut their hair, deloused them, and gave them clothes (that is, if they had any to give away), burned the lice and the beggar`s rags, and let them stay overnight – in the barn in summer or in the stable in winter, and only rarely in the house, because they were afraid to get lice from them. When a beggar came to the house on a holiday, he was usually allowed to stay a or two longer. The festive days of the patron saints of churches were the best opportunities for begging and beggars wandered to the churches from far away, even from the other side of the Karavanke. On some big farms it was customary for beggars and children to have a special place in the entrance, though seated at separate tables, and the beggars could eat their fill of (almost) the same dishes as the other guests. Occasionally, they were also given money, usually a groschen, and flour and fat by the spoon, because people were short of either in those times. Beggars carried all their belongings in a bundle, and they died of old-age infirmity or other diseases. After the Second World War, they were no longer beggars, because they were given social, pension, accident, and care insurance.