Ossiri and the Bala Mengro
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Hannah Tolson
Travellers have a rich folklore, that I know having taught many traveller children, as a primary teacher in an outer London borough school close to which was a traveller site. They are also fiercely proud and eager to learn and to prove themselves. These characteristics are demonstrated in this story told by a Romani storyteller and a picture book author. Its heroine is traveller girl, Ossiri who lived with her family who earned their living as ‘Tattin Folki’ (rag-and-bone people) and were wonderful recyclers. Ossiri loved to help her father and grandfather loading, looking after the horses and making things to be used in the recycling of items the grown ups collected.
The entire family were music lovers and Ossiri longs to play an instrument herself. Despite her father’s explanation as to why this can’t happen, the young girl holds fast to her dream and decides to make an instrument for herself. Thus the Tattin Django comes into being.
The sounds Ossiri makes on it however, are anything but music according to her family and even the birds take flight. Undaunted, Ossiri resolves to keep practising and improve her skill before her next performance.
Then comes the time for the whole family to take to the road again, destination Lancashire. “ … leave your Tattin Django here, ” her father advises but grandfather suggests otherwise and so the instrument goes with them. And that’s when Ossiri first hears mention (from a farmer’s daughter) of a huge hairy ogre said to reside in a cave near to where they’ve set up camp: An ogre who loves to sleep and woe betide anyone who should wake him.
Ossiri does wake the dreaded Bala Mengro though, with her playing; but his reaction is not what she expects.
Rather he demands she play again and what’s more, he sings and dances to the sounds she creates, handsomely rewarding her for so doing.
The tale doesn’t end there though, for the instrument is stolen: is that to be the end of Ossiri’s fame and fortune? Happily, not, for we’re told on the final spread that ‘she played from the heart …’ And so she does, until this day,
in very shiny leather boots!’