No. 23 (2021): Untold Narratives, Invisible Marks

Published October 11, 2021



  • Hannā Diyāb’s “A Sultan of Samarcand”, an Eleventh-Century Old Georgian St. George Legend, and the Construction of an Early Modern Fairy Tale

    Of the sixteen stories Hannā Diyāb told Antoine Galland to help the elderly scholar complete his 12-volume Mille et Une Nuits (1704–1717) six were omitted. This article examines one of the six discarded tales, “A Sultan of Samarcand”. Rediscovered by Hermann Zotenberg in the late 1880s, translated soon there­after into English by Richard Burton, it was contextualized historically as a product of Eastern Christian narrative tradition by Joseph Szövérffy in 1956 and categorized typologically by him within the Aarne–Thompson tale-type index, as it then existed. Kevin Tuite’s recent research and translation of an eleventh-century Georgian religious legend supports my hypothesis that the Christian St. George legend supplied the story’s core episode. The role of reference works is introduced inter alia to illuminate their role within knowledge creation in general and in the discontinuities of “A Sultan of Samarcand” research in particular.

  • Marginalized Texts of a Glorified Genre: The Valorization of the (Folk)tale in Hungary

    Attention towards and interest in the genre of the tale began rather belatedly in Hungarian culture. The paper provides a concise overview of the history of assigning value to this narrative genre: how it transformed from a trivial genre of idle amusement of the uneducated people into a precious cultural item that is an essential part of national heritage being safeguarded and studied from a number of perspectives. Parallel with the rise of the genre, a decline of the earliest known tales has taken place due to certain authenticity criteria retrospectively applied by newly formed disciplines as well as the standardization and naturalization of a specific mode of narration.

  • Legends of a Transylvanian Shrine to the Virgin Mary

    My paper presents a legend tradition related to a well-known Hungarian (Transyl­vanian) place of pilgrimage. Csíksomlyó (Miercurea–Ciuc/Sumuleu) – cur­rently part of Romania ‒ has become a significant place of pilgrimage in the 20th century, similarly to Austria’s Mariazell, Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, the Orthodox Church’s Athos, or the main international shrines to the Virgin Mary (Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje). Around this famous pilgrimage place known from the 15th century a thematically rich legend circle has developed over the centuries, typical of Hungarian folklore, which abounds in historical and narrative traditions. At the centre of the group of legends stands the statue of the Virgin Mary, of gothic origin, the miraculous reputation of which is complemented by several historical legend themes (foundational traditions, wars, heroes and saints, crime and punish­ment and other legend motifs inspired by the sacred place). I highlight the most important historical perspectives, the chronological characteristics, the geographical distribution and, above all, the typological diversity of these legends. The legend circle of the shrine of Csíksomlyó in Romania is the totality of the related narrative traditions, that is to say, both the hundred-year-old miracle stories found in written form in different historical sources, and the recent folklore texts collected from oral tradi­tion. Although the time and the circumstances of the records differ significantly, the aim of the narration and the topic of the legends are the same. The legends about the shrine – separated into the given thematic groups – are an organic part of the Catalogue of Hungarian Historical Legends.

  • Post-UNESCO Effect: Chhau’s journey from Cultural Sentiment to Commercialization

    Chhau, a traditional masked dance form of West Bengal has been enlisted as ‘UNESCO- Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, 2010’. In 2015, UNESCO along with the MSME of Government of West Bengal developed a ‘Rural Craft Hub’ in Chorida village of Purulia district centring Chhau. Consequently, tourism in the area got international and national patronage. This entire phenomenon encouraged the commercialization of the traditional dance and craft form associated with Chhau as a result of heritagization. Unfortunately, the implication of the heritagization happened in a flawed fashion which eventually led to folklorization and institutionalization while compromising their contextual significance. The paper explores how heritagization ensures the sustainability of intangible tradition like Chhau while leading to folklorization and institutionalization of performance and craft. The paper also documents the history and ritualistic significance of Chhau to draw a lucid comparison between the traditional form and the form which is the result of folklorization. The paper establishes that the Heritagization- Folklorization- Institutionalisation are intertwined with each other in the context of Chhau.  From the interviews of the tourists and locals associated with Chhau, it is evident that the organization concerned with policy making should keep it in mind that an enormous distortion of craft and performance comes along when the target buyers in the market are alien to the traditional context. In such a scenario, the contextual significance of a craft form can be kept intact if the targeted buyers can be made aware of the contextual and functional relevance of the folkloric element that they are consuming in its modernized version.

  • Lore and the Process of Tradition: Locating the Place of Belief Narratives in Ka Phur Nongjri and Sohbar

    Since the earliest times, the villages of Nongjri and Sohbar, located in the Southern Khasi Hills of North-Eastern India, have had their own religious ceremonies, customs, ways of behaving and beliefs that they share in their practice and narration. Their beliefs in certain village deities are linked with the well-being of the entire village, and are said to have existed from the time these villages were established. In the beliefs of the inhabitants of Nongjri and the village of Sohbar, the deities, mani­fest themselves in various performances and folksongs, and therefore, have become part of the performance itself. Deities, often in the form of human beings, engage in conversation with the villagers. Folklore also tells us that during festivities the ap­proval of the celebrations by village deities becomes the key aspect to foretell the particular nature of the coming year.

    The lore gathered from the places considered for this study would provide us with a new perspective on belief narratives existing in the Khasi community, while continu­ally locating the position of lore and various processes of tradition in the socio-cultural and religious milieu of both Nongjri and Sohbar. The narratives explored in this paper will also provide – in the Khasi cultural context – the essence of War-Khasi beliefs and rituals that have remained largely undocumented.

  • Independent Block of Macha Caporal: The Challenges and Restrictions in Female Dancing

    This paper explores the experience of six Macha Caporal dancers belonging to an independent female block in La Paz, a recent and still unexplored mode of associa­tion to dance. This article analyzes and makes visible the challenges and restrictions women face in endeavoring to sustain an independent dance practice in the context of urban folk dance in Bolivia. Through the accounts of the women and the ethno­graphic material gathered from fieldwork in 2018 in Bolivia, the study portrays the women’s dancing context revealing the challenges and restrictions linked to the condition of being women in a society that is traversed by chauvinism. In the task of dancing, the women’s performance reveals a complex negotiation of gender roles, ideas, and expectations; processes that highlight the women’s agency and determina­tion to carry on with a practice that ultimately grants them feelings of self-validation and autonomy.


Cultural Anthropology

  • Anthropology in Dance: Gesture Systems of the Body

    My paper outlines an anthropological approach to dance focusing on the body’s interpretation within the contexts of space, sensuality, theater, fashion, aesthetic quality, and the development of gesture systems of the body. The study addresses the question whether the bareness of the body and space may be defined as a form of emptiness or rather as a case of sincere manifestation and revolves around the issues of social and personal attitudes related to dance performance, including mimetic performers, limits of social body norms, and the possibilities of survival, especially the changes in the female body’s perceptual and social roles and strategies.


Historical Ethnology

  • The Saddle: Our Eastern Cultural Heritage

    The study summarizes the most important knowledge about the saddle, the eastern heritage of Hungarian culture, based on the results of the research and an exhibition. Animal husbandry, especially keeping horses, has always played a very important part in Hungarians life. Saddling horses was significant up until the middle of the 20th century in Hungary, we have information about it from noblemen, the aristocracy, the upper social stratas, as well as from peasants and market town inhabitants. Objects and memories connected to riding culture, riding as a way of life, were present in the memory of the upper social classes and in folklore. There were different types, varieties of saddles, just as there were varieties of almost all the objects in our culture, depending on who used them and for what purposes. In general we can say that as the terms and conditions of life changed so objects were transformed and developed. The same is true for saddles, they belong to a group of objects which gained their final, almost perfect shape very early in time, so very few changes were made to them. The saddles used by Hungarians were very suited to riding. The big advantage of wooden saddles is that they spare horses. There are two basic types of saddles usually known as the western and eastern types. From a professional point of view, on the basis of examined material, we speak of the pommel-sole/panel type and the fork-side panel/bar type. The Hungarian saddle belongs to the Eastern type. A unique and famous variety of the Hungarian saddle is the Tiszafüred saddle. Light cavalry equipped with Hungarian harness spread around Europe, so Hungarian type saddles (Hussar saddle ) were an essential part of military equipment. Nowadays there is an increased interest in the riding tradition, and the historical past, and attention is focused on the Hungarian wooden saddle that has been used successfully over the centuries.


About the Authors