{421.} III. Cultural Anthropology


So far we have tried to characterize the most important features of the social and material culture of the Hungarian people, the direction of their development, and the factors affecting them. In this chapter on the foundation of material and social culture, we shall introduce some important categories of folklore, folk poetry, the world of beliefs, and customs.

Folklore, cultural anthropology, or “intellectual culture”, as it is called in Hungarian, is a superstructure of material culture; it is based on this foundation, although at times the transpositions are difficult to follow. As a consequence of altered economic and social circumstances, significant changes may also be observed in folklore. To mention only a few of the many examples, ornamental folk art flourished and became colourful, and a new type of Hungarian folksong became increasingly popular: the dance called csárdás.

Naturally, the superstructure did not change immediately in response to social and material transformations. Folklore changed in accordance with a rhythm all its own. Certain elements were introduced into the new type of culture while the traditions of centuries or even thousands of years were preserved. Sometimes, as in the case of beliefs and superstitions, certain details can greatly hinder even the process of economic production, while at other times production might be stimulated by intellectual factors. We shall try to point out certain characteristic elements and peculiarities of this intricate relationship.

In the Middle Ages, the intellectual culture of the lords and serfs stood quite close to one another. The Italian humanist Galeotto Marzio writes as follows about the court of King Matthias: “The Hungarians–whether nobles or peasants-use almost the same expressions and speak the same language... Poetry written in the Hungarian tongue is understood equally by peasants, town people, middle and upper nobility.” During the following period, at the time of the unfolding and spread of Renaissance culture, a certain distance developed. This gap was increasingly widened by the spread of printing and schooling. Differences not only in the material culture of various social layers of the peasantry became increasingly apparent from the 18th century, but also in their intellectual culture as well. The reason is that upper social strata of the peasantry were trying to assimilate upward, but no such opportunity was available to the poorer strata of the peasantry. Since the poor and the indigent remained largely illiterate until the 20th century, they, if only for this reason, had to rely almost entirely on their traditional culture. That is exactly why the preservers, creators, further developers, and enrichers of, for example, folk poetry can be found among the poorest day-labourers, agrarian servants or small peasants.

Various professional groups also played a role in embellishing peasant culture and folklore as well. The small artisans of market towns differed even in their customs from the land-tilling peasantry, who, on the other hand, differed from the herdsmen, fishermen, pick and shovel men, and seasonal workers. We shall try to refer to these differences from time to time, but because of the unevenness of the available research, it is not possible to carry out a detailed analysis.