On Sunday February 23, I had the pleasure of joining CEU’s Center for Religious Studies (CRS) on an outing to the quaint town of Mohacs, in Baranya County in the south of Hungary, to witness the annual Busojaras Carnival. The event is an important cultural marker for the town’s Sokci community who celebrate the occasion by masquerading as the immediately recognizable Busos. Donning a traditional costume comprised of carved wooden masks with horns and sheepskin cloaks, the Busos parade through the town to the accompaniment of lively folk music, interacting enthusiastically with the local tourists who flock from all over to experience this unique display of communal pride.
The cultural memory of the Busojaras varies, but two traditional accounts remain popular. One legend traces the celebration back to the period of Ottoman rule, during which the people of Mohács were chased out and forced to reside in the swamp-laden moorlands on the opposite side of the Danube. One fateful night, having had enough of their oppressors, the people of Mohács set out across the Danube wearing their iconic animal-like attire. Under the cover of darkness, they appeared to the Ottomans as supernatural beings, producing a cacophony of demonic sounds with their wooden instruments. Convinced they were facing a threat beyond their means, the fear-stricken Ottomans fled the town. A less political legend associates the celebration with the expulsion of winter from the town as they usher in the first days of spring. The final event of the day features the burning of a strawman – the personification of Winter – in the town square.
Just after lunch, the students set out towards the village and fanned off into smaller groups to witness what the festival had to offer. The heavily populated streets, although difficult to navigate, were buzzing with excitement and there was a sense in which the whole event was bringing people together. Strangers danced with strangers to the jovial rhythm of musical performers, the Busos would seek out unassuming tourists and give them a good-spirited fright, and locals would sell their handicrafts to passers-by looking for a memento of the occasion. Making our way to the bank of the Danube, we were afforded an excellent view as the Busos set off a volley of cannon fire and deposited a coffin into the river, marking the departure of a period of metaphorical and literal darkness.
Special thanks must go to Esther Holbrook for organizing this excursion and to the Center for Religious Studies for covering the expenses. Thanks are also due to all of the students whose enthusiastic participation made this trip an especially memorable one.
Glenn Mills, Alumni Scholarship recipient in the Department of Medieval Studies
Image credit: Eszter Fruzsina Nagy