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Istro-Romanian is by now a language of memory

Who were the Vlachs?

It is a fact that needs not to be repeated that Istria was during the centuries a crossroad of various peoples, cultures and languages. Still, if it were to be honest, little is known about the presence in this region of an entity -a cultural and linguistical one- that even to this day intactely preserves its peculiarities, distinguishable idiom, and which, though absorbed and melted during the times, is the proof of the existence in these parts of a population established in Istria for the first time in the distant year 1329, when the testimony of a Vlach habitat was recorded in the village of Pinguente.

Who were these Vlachs? Etimologically, this umbrella-term designates all the populations of Latin origin: for example the Oriental and Occidental Romanians, who as a result of the fragmentation of the Latin world and the ensuing barbaric invasions, were constrained to carve out and secure for themselves and their survival safe havens in the South-eastern areas of Europe. According to certain documents, the Romanian presence in the area is attested already at the beginning of the milenium in Dalmatia, and at 1181 as far as Friuli, where, after the population count made by Badessa Ermelinda on the property of his monastery of the Aquileia eparchy, results that certain plots of lands were given to settlers named Murunt, Radul, Singurel, names of clear Romanian stock. But, returning to Istria, after the first documentary attestation of Pinguente, there was mentioned another settlementat Buie in 1449, and in the same period, according to the Annales of the Venetian Senate, results that the Venetians openly favourized the settlement of Vlachs on their Dalmatian dependencies known as "Morlachia".

"Morlachs, Wallachians and Uskoks.."

The depopulation of Istria, caused by the invasions of 1412 and the pestilence plague of 1427 and 1466, encouraged the arrival in the Istrian peninsula of Morlachs, Wallachians, and Uskok peoples who were inhabiting the inland and who started to be denominated collectively as "Cici". Initially the name of Cici was restricted to those inhabitants of Mune and Žejane, two villages 30 km. off Abbazia/Opatija, but eventually, those Vlachs of Valdaras, Letaj, Jasenovik, Grobnik and Brdo on the foothill of Monte Maggiore by the Valley of Arsa, were to be rebaptised "Ciribiri".

In the second half of the 18th century, the economy of the the Istro-Romanians was based on the trade with vinegar, bought from various places and then resold. As Frane Belulović - a venerable native of Valdarsa - points out: "The Istro-Romanian is spoken exclusively by the old ones who are anyway a minority. The young generation understand Istro-Romanian but do not speak it, prefering instead to use Croatian. Our sole survival "anchor" resides in determining the children to study our language, at least by introducing at schools several hours of teaching of our dialect"

Croatian 1991 census: The last 810 Romanians and 22 Morlachs left in Istria

How many Istro-Romanians are left in the Istrian region? According to the census of 1991, results that only 810 persons declared themselves as Romanians and 22 as Morlachs. "In reality this number is categorically higher" - is assuring us Dr. Ervino Curtis of the recently reconstituted Association of the Romanians of Istria. "In many a case, Istro-Romanians living in Fiume or in other cities of Croatia, failed to declare their real national background hence their trace is lost. In these last years, the interest of the Istro-Romanians is to make their cultural plea heard in the scientific and academic ambience, so to make themselves heard and within the reach of the political and public opinion sight. We need to act concretely to save this moribund culture which is the fruit of a centennial tradition. With the death of a culture, something within all of us is dying as well, and it is indispensable to stop this process to become irreversible".


  • Giornale di Lingua Italiana di Parenzo, December 1, 1998

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Sunday, February 27, 2000; Last updated: Tuesday February 02, 2010
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