According to the legend, the native Sokác people who had enough of the Ottoman oppression escaped to the moorland of Mohács Island, dressed in horrifying masks, made noisy instruments, crossed the Danube on boats during the night and ousted the Ottomans from Mohács. Probably there is little truth in the story, because Mohács was liberated from the Ottoman rule in 1687, and the massive immigration of the Sokác people started only about ten years afterwards. Presumably, the Balkan Sokác people brought this tradition from their original country and then it was formed further in Mohács until it became the feast that it is today.
The following part of the Hungarian Newsreel from 1955 explains the tradition: ‘Nowadays, they just frighten the spectators, but once upon a time these terrifying maskers chased the Ottomans. The festive group of the procession cannot stop singing merry melodies and dancing until the last piece of cinder has flickered out in the sinking fire of the carnival.’
The first records about this tradition are from the end of the 18th century. Two years ago, the Csorba Győző Library of Baranya county made a publication that aspires to completeness with the title ‘A mohácsi busójárás bibliográfiája (1862-2014)’ (The bibliography of the busó-walking in Mohács). With this bibliography, the Library contributes to the international and national fame of the busó-walking by creating an essential guidebook for the researchers of the future. The volume contains 1741 items, interesting annotations, resources, name and subject indices as well.
Busós are men wearing carved wooden masks, moccasin, white linen trousers stuffed with straw, sheepskin coat with its fur outside tied on the waist by a rope or chain, on which some sheep bells hang, and they also carry bags on their shoulders. They hold rattles or wooden maces in their hands. Other typical objects are: decorated washing ram (praćak), water carrying rod (obramenica) or the busó puppet that is carried in a wooden tub. The most important element that makes a busó a real busó is the wooden mask with sheepskin hood, carved from willow and traditionally painted with animal blood. The ‘nice busós’ are the girls and boys that are dressed in Sokác folk wear and their faces are veiled.
Jankeles are boys dressed in ragged clothes, and cover their faces with rags or stockings and carry bags stuffed with ash, flour or rags nowadays. They whap the spectators – mainly the girls – with the bags. The veiled women, the men in nuptial clothes and the people in carnival dresses are called ‘maskara’ in Mohács. Spectators should be aware of the fact that the usual moral rules do not apply to busós, jankeles and maskaras during the carnival procession. A special ‘suspended’ state is typical during the event, especially at girls’ and women’s ‘expense’.
Throwing winter on bonfire
The busó-walking, which is also called ‘poklade’, has lost a lot from the original traditions by now, but has gained a lot in the aspect of touristic spectacularity. The modern busó-walking starts in the centre of the old folk tradition, on the square named after Kóló, the Sokác dance. The disguised busós, jankeles and maskaras gather here and they meet other busó groups, who crossed the Danube by boats. When the ancient canon pops off, the different groups walk into the main square of Mohács through the main street, where the blithesome carnival begins. After this, the carnival is celebrated on the bank of the Danube and in the neighbouring streets by making terrible noises. At dusk, they return to the main square, dance around the huge bonfire and clamour with people. The people of Mohács also feast the closing day of the carnival – on Shrove Tuesday – when they burn a coffin representing winter on another bonfire on the main square. They say goodbye to winter and welcome spring by dancing around the fire.
Busó-walking through the year
Tourists, who do not visit Mohács during the carnival season, do not have to miss the experience of busó-walking, because Busóudvar (Busó-yard) was opened in the town centre a few years ago. The aim of the building complex is to make visitors familiar with this many-century-old carnival tradition on every day of the year, and to give them a taste of its unique atmosphere. Visitors can have an insight into the local craftsmen’s activities related to the event in the open workshops of Busó-yard. They can view an interactive exhibition and different open workshops.
In 2009, the UNESCO decided on the session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that they would put the busó-walking of Mohács on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is the first item on the list from Hungary, which is the proof of the Hungarian and international success of Busó-walking. In 2012, the Hungaricum Committee elected it a national value of ‘hungarikum’, as the first from Baranya County.