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Song of the Csángós
JUNE 2005
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Song of the Csangos @ National Geographic Magazine
By Frank Viviano
Photographs by Tomasz Tomaszewski
For centuries geography and politics isolated Romania's Csángó people—the professed heirs of Attila.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Bibi Koszan was a sorceress, an accomplished 23-year-old witch and fortune-teller, as well as a fervent Roman Catholic. At our meeting in the village of Arini, at the end of a rutted mule track in the eastern Romanian region of Moldavia, she rocked to and fro under a framed print of the "Last Supper," willing herself into a trance as she spread 41 kernels of dried corn on a table and arranged them in rows.

Her four-month-old son stared intently at us from a straw cradle perched on a chest, babbling his encouragement. "Here is the stranger," Bibi chanted, waving a hand over the first row of corn, then moving on to the others. "Here is your heart, and here is your house."

She had stolen her secrets from an older witch, pretending to be an ordinary client while she memorized the incantations and rituals of white magic. "Theft is the only way, our forefathers' way, to acquire these powers," she told me.

Then she went on with her reckoning of my prospects, divined in 41 kernels of corn. The details, which I'll keep to myself, were as enigmatic as Bibi's people—an ancient, restless tribe known as the Csángós, which roughly translates as "wanderers."

By their own account, they are the lineal heirs of Attila the Hun—a link to the nomadic ancestry of most residents of Europe, a window on the Asian origins of what we now think of as Western civilization.

Arini lies less than 300 miles (500 kilometers) from the European Union, from the world of genetic engineering, space exploration, and Internet surfing, a world that Romania is scheduled to join in just two years. But in their traditions, their absorption in magic, sorcery, and shamanistic charms—their consciousness—the Moldavian Csángós inhabit a timeless universe thousands of miles to the east, where the fixed assumptions of the 21st century have little force.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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