Szöged – new, permanent ethnographic exhibition in Szeged’s Móra Ferenc Museum

The ‘Szöged nation’ of ethnographer Sándor Bálint

MúzeumCafé 19.

The new, permanent exhibition focuses on the essence of Szeged, rather than folk-art-centred ethnographic displays as previously, though our aims were presumably similar to those of the 1960s organisers. For theoretical background we were able to rely on the research of Szeged-born – or Szeged-related – nationally prominent and even European renowned ethnographers. The researcher and ethnographer Sándor Bálint, who spoke in the town’s dialect pronouncing ‘ö’ in place of ‘e’, defined the concept “Szöged nation”. Listening to conversations in the characteristic dialect recorded by ethnographers is quite an experience at the exhibition. The proximity of the Tisza still determines the everyday life of Szeged citizens, though the economic importance of the river is much less than even 50-60 years ago. We have highlighted the implements of fishing, though we also draw attention to the construction of horse-drawn wooden vessels, which at one time played a central role in shipment, transport and the fish trade. Besides the herding and husbandry of sheep and cattle on the puszta in the first half of the 20th century, equipment involved with keeping domestic animals is also displayed. Making the sandy earth arable involved the Szeged peasantry’s everyday heroic struggle with the elements. From the mid 19th century the town, which was becoming overcrowded, divided up pastures into different properties and leased land to poor peasant families. One of Szeged’s most important agricultural products, and processed locally from the end of the 19th century, was ground paprika. Peasant families were involved with its cultivation, women with purchasing it, millers with processing and trading dynasties with marketing. Although the exhibition is primarily concerned with the traditional means of cultivation, there are also the boxes used in commerce, invoices and company papers relating to the theme. The sands around Szeged were excellently suited for vine-growing and the local grapes proved to be resistant to the ravage of phylloxera, thus from the end of the 19th century the vineyards developed at a faster tempo. The three specialities of traditional Szeged handicrafts feature in the exhibition. Displaying the tools of slipper- and knife-making for both ceremonial and everyday use was clearly a must. Szeged slippers gained a national reputation in the 1930s and since 2005 they have been protected products. As regards knife-making, the fish-shaped knife gained a reputation and its first manufacturer even made a successful appearance at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Memory of Szeged’s blue dyers faded away at the end of the last century, though 100 years previously the town had been the centre of the trade in southern Hungary. Among the religious traditions, due to lack of space only pilgrimages are highlighted, along with the two most important pilgrimage centres of Máriaradna and the church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in Szeged’s lower town. Due to their actual size, the characteristic decorations of Szeged peasant houses – plank gables with images of the sun – are only displayed on a digital wall screen in the exhibition.