The name Transylvania (Erdély) indicates an area beyond the forest, so called since the 12th century because huge forests separated it from the Great Plain. This is also why its territory is detached, but in addition, from the 14th century, its history also developed differently as it became one of the independent parts of Hungary until 1848. Its western parts, called Partium, were not parts of Transylvania although they belonged under the authority of the prince of Transylvania. Here we shall speak of several smaller Hungarian groups, which in regard to their characteristics belong to the Great Plain, yet are all found in Rumania.

Strictly speaking the Érmellék is still part of the plains of Bihar, and its culture is also typical of the Great Plain, but its first-rate vine culture differentiates it from the latter. Szilágyság is a hilly area in the western half of Transylvania and so in many connections it is tied to the Great Plain, although traits typical of Transylvania already dominate. Only a few villages belong together. The others are surrounded like islands by the Rumanians (Désháza, Diósad, Tövishát, Várvölgy, Szer, etc.). Their rich decorative art, their traditions of folk music and folk poetry vary almost from village to village.

15. Calvinist church

15. Calvinist church
Magyarvalkó, former Kolozs County

{48.} A partly Hungarian linguistic pocket, consisting of 13 villages in the Valley of the Fekete-Körös, west of Belényes, deserves close attention if only because of its isolation. Their culture points in many respects toward Kalotaszeg and the inner part of Transylvania. The character of their costume is rather like that of the Great Plain, where they used to go in groups to harvest. By the time they returned home, the grain had ripened even in their colder climate. Among their former occupations forest-animal husbandry is worth mentioning.

Kalotaszeg lies west of Kolozsvár, almost by the Bihari Alps, along the rivers Kalota, Sebes-Körös, and Nádaspatak. The villages are situated in three groups. The people of Felszeg live along the Körös and Kalota and consider themselves as the most distinctive group of Kalotaszeg. The {49.} region of Alszeg is in the valley of the Almáspatak that falls toward the Szilágyság, while in the gradually narrowing valley of the Nádaspatak, toward Kolozsvár, nestle the villages along the river Nádas. Kalotaszeg consists of about 30 to 40 villages. The centre, and the settlement with the largest number of inhabitants, is Bánffyhunyad. From here also many people went to the Great Plain to harvest, and by the time they returned their own grain was ready to cut. Huge hay-growing meadows and mountain pastures served as the basis for their animal husbandry. Their home industry was remarkably highly developed, especially hemp processing. The rich folk costume of Kalotaszeg influenced the surrounding areas also (see Ill. 199). The chain-stitch or closed square chain-stitch embroidery with its ornamental foliage pattern designed on linen (írásos) has become known in faraway lands. Many beautiful relics of woodcarving may be found in this formerly forested region, for instance, finely wrought gates, distaffs, ornamental yokes, grave posts.

16. Men going off on a Sunday

16. Men going off on a Sunday
Jobbágytelke, former Maros-Torda County

The central, mildly hilly area of Transylvania is known as Mezőség. Many Hungarian linguistic pockets exist here, almost every one of which developed a folk culture specifically its own. Such are the few Hungarian villages of the Borsa Valley and Szék, whose rich culture of song and dance, still alive today, has become universally known. And even in Kolozsvár itself, the Hungarian inhabitants of parts of the town called Hóstát, Hidelve, and the adjoining villages of Kolozsmonostor and Szamosfalva have preserved many ethnological traits. Among the isolated {50.} Hungarian villages Szakadát is worth mentioning, distinctive from its neighbours by characteristic costumes, building style, and customs.

Torockó and Torockószentgyörgy in the former Torda County have been most important centres of iron mining and processing in Transylvania from the beginning of the Middle Ages. Their products travelled far. A specific type of costume and embroidery differentiated them even from neighbouring villages.

The largest Hungarian ethnic group of Transylvania is formed by the Székelys, most of whom live in the Eastern Carpathians. Their name and origin are equally subject to debate. Recent research shows that they occupied their present country as border guards when they moved there in the 11th and 12th centuries from the western borders of Hungary to defend the eastern borders from the attacks of Cumanian and Pecheneg tribes. This military organization also showed up during later centuries and determined the life circumstances of the Székelys. Socially they stratified into highest nobles (primor), followed the lófő or lesser nobles (equites). The latter went to war on their own horses with their own weapons. The foot Székelys (pixidarii), who did not possess a horse, went to camp on foot. Although there were differences of wealth among the Székelys, large estates developed to a lesser degree here than in other parts of the country.

The one-time military administration established its so-called szék (seat) within the Székelys. Udvarhelyszék was called anyaszék (the mother seat) by historical sources; its population is mostly Calvinist and Unitarian. Csíkszék is entirely Catholic, while the population of Háromszék–consisting of Kézdiszék, Orbaiszék, and Sepsiszék–is Calvinist and Catholic. The villages of Marosszék belong to several religions. Aranyosszék lies somewhat isolated west of Székelyland. Later on some smaller areas joined these units. Thus Miklósvárfiszék, consisting of ten villages, joined Háromszék, and Bardócfiszék and Kereszturfiszék joined Udvarhely. Furthermore, there are smaller ethnic groups and ethnological regions amongst the units, which often cross their borders. Thus Erdővidék designates the relatedness of Bardócszék and Miklósvárfiszék, each in a valley of a stream, to Udvarhelyszék.

17. Rural scene

17. Rural scene
Antalok-pataka, former Csík County

In its foundation and main characteristics the folk culture of the Székelys is as much identical to that of other ethnic groups of the Hungarians as is their language, and it is only as a consequence of their history and isolation that they have preserved many archaic features. Their life style is characterized by foresting, alpine shepherding, and agriculture. Forest gleaning is highly developed; most Székelys know how to process wood. Voluntary co-operative work (kaláka) is general, so that they built their houses and barns from wood with the help of neighbours, relatives and friends. Among their monumental woodcarvings, the Székely gate (see Fig. 21, Ill. 57 and Plate I) and grave posts stand out. Formerly horses and cattle played the leading role in the alpine husbandry, but have lately given way to sheep. The basins of Csík, Gyergyó and Háromszék are suited to agriculture, but in some places mountainsides are ploughed so steep that even to climb up is a difficult task. Besides woodcarving, homespun and stitched embroidery have {51.} gained important roles in decorative art. Their costumes differentiate them according to each seat.

Székely folklore is extraordinarily rich. Folksongs, especially folk ballads, preserve very fine versions. The folk tales and the different varieties of legends are still appreciated at peasant gatherings. Singing and instrumental folk music indicate a great past just as much as their dances do.

The Székelys in the course of their history were often forced to gather into smaller or larger groups to seek refuge out of the country. Thus in 1764, after a terrible massacre by the imperial military forces of the Habsburgs, several thousand Székelys fled outside the Carpathians into Bukovina and settled there amid great hardships. One segment moved from here in 1880 to the southern Danube banks. Almost all of those who were left behind set forth in 1941 and these Székelys of Bukovina (see also p. 67) found a new country first in the southern Great Plain, in Bácska, later on in Transdanubia, and the present Tolna and Baranya counties. The scientific examination of the integration of their culture in a new environment is an exceptionally exciting task.

The Hungarians who live outside the Carpathians in Moldavia are called Csángó. Most of them migrated here from northern Transylvania in the Middle Ages. They have preserved a great many archaisms in the completely Rumanian environment, but the influence of the surrounding Rumanians is felt both in their culture and in their language. Not {52.} infrequently, their folk music and their dances have survived in medieval form.

The Székelys also sent out swarming groups toward the Carpathians. Thus we can find near Brassó in the region of Barcaság the Lutheran Csángós of Hétfalu (“Seven villages”), who are not only excellent farmers, but formerly as carters carried the products of the Brassó artisans as well as their own products on the roads of Rumania and Transylvania. The Csángós of Gyimes moved into the mountain pass of Gyimes in the 16th to the 18th centuries, to the vicinity of the road that led towards Moldavia. Administratively, in the past they did not belong to Csíkszék (see Plates XV and XVI).


To complete the survey we should speak of the Hungarian groups living in America and in Western Europe as well. This, however, is almost impossible on the basis of our present knowledge. The immigrants originated from different ethnic groups and ethnological regions, and represented different social classes and strata. Thus it is difficult to speak of them in the same vein as above. Also, folkloristic and ethnological research aimed at elucidating this problem has only just begun. However, we can already observe that tradition lives vigorously in the customs of alimentation. Furthermore the immigrants consciously strive to keep alive traditions of folksong and dance. They have also preserved customs concerning baptism, wedding and burial.