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Most Hungarians associate the name Mohács with the 1526 battle bearing its name, in which the Hungarian army suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. It was the decisive Battle of Mohács, in which thousands were killed and the 20-year-old Hungarian king Lajos II drowned in the Csele stream, that set the stage for 150 years of Ottoman rule of Hungary. Today, there is a memorial park outside of town, for which artists have created modern versions of traditional Hungarian wooden grave markers to commemorate the battle and honor the dead. However, there are also other, happier reasons to visit this 900-year-old southern Hungarian town on the Danube. Mohács has always been home to an ethnically diverse population, and its unique folk traditions reflect this heritage.

Donna with some friendly Busos - her high school English students


Mohács does have another important claim to fame besides the fateful battle: the winter festival called Busójárás. It takes place the week before Ash Wednesday, and therefore coincides with Carnival and Mardi Gras. However, its roots are different; Busójárás is said to be a descendant of ancient Slavic pagan celebrations of the arrival of spring, and Mohács is the only place in Hungary where it is celebrated. There may still be related festivals celebrated in Croatia and Yugoslavia. There is also a healthy dose of Hungarian legend and folk tradition thrown in, which I will explain later.

Busójárás begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday, when bands of children known as "jankele" begin roaming the street, dressed in rags (or their mothers' old clothes) and wearing stocking masks over their faces. They carry stockings filled with sawdust and carry bags of flour, both of which are used to attack any woman or young girl who cannot outrun them! As with many Busójárás traditions, this has its roots in ancient fertility rites. The city usually hosts folk dancing and music performances the whole weekend, but Sunday is the main celebration. The music and dancing start early, and food and craft vendors line the streets. "Forralt bor" (hot mulled white wine) is the drink of choice, especially on a cold day.


The main attractions, of course, are the Busós: men dressed in sheepskin costumes and horned wooden masks. Traditionally, only Sokac (a Slavic ethnic group) men could don the Busó gear, but now any Mohács man is allowed. The costume consists of black boots, off-white pantaloons, the large sheepskin jacket or vest, and the mask, which is attached to a sheepskin hood so that the whole head is covered. They usually carry large wooden noisemakers or cowbells, and make quite a racket. The Busó masks are works of art, hand carved and painted, each with a unique expression, topped with impressive-looking rams' horns. Master Craftsman Antal Englert is probably the best known of the Busó mask-makers, and his work has been shown in exhibitions and sold throughout Europe.

At around noon, all the Busós make their way to the opposite bank of the Danube, known for some reason as the Mohács Island. This is where the Hungarian legend comes in: it is said that after the defeat of the Hungarian army, many soldiers and residents of Mohács fled to the "island" to escape the Turks. After some time, they decided to attack and drive the invaders from their home. The men put on big coats made of furry sheepskin and horned wooden masks painted with blood, and stole across the Danube by night to surprise the Turks, who of course panicked and fled as soon as they saw these "devils" approaching. Therefore, every year the Busós cross the Danube in rowboats in honor of this legend. After the crossing, there is a Busó parade through town to the main square, which is usually an unruly affair. The Busó, along with the jankele, chase and harass women, but all in a spirit of good fun. The celebrations wind down at nightfall, with a huge bonfire in the main square.

While Sunday's events attract ever-increasing numbers of tourists, the smaller celebrations on Tuesday are more for the locals. There is another Busó parade in the afternoon and a gathering in the main square for a final bonfire to close out the festival. A "coffin" containing a Busó costume is set on the fire and burned, symbolizing the "burning" of winter and the welcoming of spring.


Black Pottery

Pottery is an important part of Hungarian folk art, as it was used both for practical and decorative purposes. Unlike embroidery, which was done by women for their own families, most pottery was done by professionals, who made pieces to order in towns and villages and also sold their work at fairs. Several regional styles developed, including the black pottery of the Mohács area. Laszlo Reininger, the artist who makes the pottery featured on our website, estimates that his family has been producing pottery in this style for at least 200 years. Black pottery is produced in other parts of Hungary as well, but the Mohács pottery is distinct in its decoration and in the fact that it is unglazed. The charcoal color is a result of a firing process in which the kiln is deprived of oxygen, causing the clay to carbonize. All the pieces are hand-thrown, and the simple decorations are done quickly by the potter while the piece is on the wheel. The pitchers and water jugs, once used for the practical purpose of carrying water to the fields, now make elegant vases, while the plates with their cutout patterns still serve their original purpose of decorating kitchen walls.


Another traditional use for pottery in this region is for cooking spicy bean soup over an open flame.  There's a cook-off held each summer (the Mohácsi Sokacok Babfozo Fesztiválja) to determine who prepares the best version of this Sokac recipe.  Local chefs search flea markets and attics to find old clay pots, because modern-day potters haven't met with much success in reproducing them.


Mohács links and information:

Read our article about potter Laszló Reininger, and shop for his black pottery.

Mohács homepage: http://www.mohacs.hu (mostly in Hungarian, some information in English). Go to http://www.mohacs.hu/webtar/buso2001/index.htm for pictures of Busójárás 2001.

Information about maskmaker Antal Englert can be accessed from the Mohács homepage, or directly at http://www.mocomp.hu/englert .