Kâli, the Black Sarah

The city of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, in the south of France, experiences a few times a year hours of intense fervor that accompany the Pilgrimages. Romanies, Manouches, Tziganes, and Gypsies come from the four corners of Europe and even other continents to venerate their saint, the Black Sarah.

In truth, no one knows who Sarah is, nor how her cult was settled at the Saintes Maries de la Mer, where she was prayed to from far away long before the Revolution. For the Gypsies, who recognized themselves in and adopted her as their protector, she is « la-Kâli »,a word meaning both « Gypsy » and « Black ». Gypsies, on the other hand, don’t ask themselves so many questions. They follow by thousands the astonishing Procession leading their idol from the Church to the sea; swell of heads and faces over which oscillates the frail statue carried on men’s arms, thousand times repeating « Long live Saint Sarah », then the Guardians on horseback, crowding over the narrow streets escort the Procession to the End.

Since when in 15th century their ancestors arrived in France, Gypsies presented themselves as penitents and eternal pilgrims, doomed to wander all over the world in atonement for their sins. Nowadays the Pilgrimage, so well suited to their innate nomadism, remains the main religious act of the Gypsies. Thus is expressed the beautiful prayer of the Roma people:

« Saint Sarah, put us on the right path, give us your beautiful chance and health. And whoever thinks badly of us, change his heart so that he thinks well »

[Worldnomads Contest 2019]