Busójárás: goodbye cruel winter

By Kiev Martinez

We all go through our lives waiting for the next summer – no matter what type of climate we are from. Summer is the party season, the socializing season, the going out season. To many of us, summer is all about new clothes and looking nice and traveling and holidays from school and work. We don’t often stop to think about what summer meant to those that came before us.

Summer for our ancestors was life itself. It was the time of year when you moved if you had too, when you grew your crops and fattened your animals. No matter how hot and how long the summer was, you always knew winter was coming. Across the world, humans came up with rituals and customs that helped Earth shake the mantle of winter; rituals that sped the coming of spring and hastened the budding of the flowers. During this time, our ancestors lit fires and danced in the cold night to shake themselves free of the shackles of the cold, believing that this sympathetically influenced energy would be translated into the earth itself.

The students of McDaniel Europe were able to witness one of these remaining, ancient rites recently during the annual Busójárás (walking of the Busó, or guardian spirit) festival in Mohács, Hungary. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Busó festival is visited by tourists from around the world. Catching an early morning bus was totally worth it as the scary, masked Busó came by, often robbing one’s hats or glasses and running off, causing you to run after them. Sometimes, you even had to pay the ransom of a kiss on the cheek. These scary, horned guardians are remnants of the local Šokci people – a mix of the local Croat, Hungarian and Serb tribes.

Mohács itself is an ancient town steeped in history, having already existed in 1526, serving as the site of a battle against the Ottoman Empire. Mohács would host the second round of that battle in 1687, when the Ottomans were finally defeated and fled Hungary. The Busó masks are hand carved, and most have been passed down from generation to generation in the families that have occupied this area for generations. Some Busó families come from as far as Poland to participate every year. Mohács is both beautiful and welcoming. One of the largest Serbian Orthodox churches in the world is here, along with a beautiful riverfront along the Danube. The town square is bounded by a stunning town hall and the beautiful Battlefield Memorial Church hosts the large sunset bonfire, lit by the Busó themselves.

The masks are adorned with horns, and the Busó carry pitchforks and are covered with sheep pelts. Some legends say that the residents of Mohács used these scary masks to frighten off the Turks. The mischievous Busó prance about town wearing cowbells of all sizes hanging from the small of their backs, announcing their presence to everyone around. As in much of the world, the animal skins and horns that adorn the costumes are said to invoke the fecundity of goats, who breed quickly and well. This is further evidenced by the lascivious dances that the Busó perform, often sandwiching a young women between two of them, grinding their hips into hers. Women who are accosted by the Busó are said to be blessed with fertility for the upcoming year (hopefully there won’t be a flock of McDaniel Busó babies…) and to do well in both business and love. Some businesses entice the Busó to come in and perform rituals of good luck, such as washing the walls and windows of the establishment. Now blended into the Christian Carnival, the Busó festival climaxes on Shrove Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent, much like other carnivals. Although you will have to suffer a little cold and a semi-long bus ride, don’t miss out on the Busó Festival next year!

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