2011 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada
The 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in Elko, Nevada
January 24 - 29, 2011 welcomed special guests from the Hungarian
puszta, grassland that covers most of the eastern half of the country
of Hungary. It is the largest
contiguous grasslands in Europe, comparable to the pampas of Argentina
or the Great Plains of the United States. The puszta is home
to the legendary Hungarian horsemen, or
csikósok, who have tended
and defended their herds of horses and grey longhorn Hungarian cattle
since the Magyars first crossed into the area of the Carpathian Basin
over a thousand years ago.
Imre Juhasz, Erika Molnar, Agi Kemescei,
and Imre Nagy.
In center is their American host Gail Steiger.
Where the Hungarian
guests live in the Hortobágy National Park on the puszta, the
herders wear the traditional garb of the nineteenth century: loose-fitting
royal blue shirts and pants, with black boots, a thick belt, a black
vest, and a broad-brimmed hat with a feather in it. The park serves
as a wildlife sanctuary for migrating birds; as a center for the cultural
heritage of the herdsmen; and as a preserve for traditional forms of
agriculture, including the old animal breeds of Hungary.
Visitors to Hortobágy National Park are taken around in horse-drawn
wagons to see the indigenous breeds of animals and to witness a horse
show. Small museums in the village of Hortobágy display the artifacts
of a bygone day, while a crafts village allows travelers to watch craftsmen
creating a wide variety of products. The national stud or equestrian
center is located here, and horseback-riding excursions are offered.
Erika Molnar demonstrates
Tourism is disappointing,
the Hungarian economy is in very bad shape, and it is said in Hungary
that the csikós and other
herdsmen are a dying breed that is being phased out by mechanization,
agribusiness, and a relentless economic crisis that dates back many
as a people originated in Siberia, east of the Ural Mountains, where
they were primarily nomadic herders of livestock. Warfare with other
tribes and other factors eventually led the
Magyars to move westward,
arriving in the Carpathian Basin about the year 896 as seven distinct
tribes. Absorbing or expelling the local tribal peoples, the Hungarians
found the country ideal for stock-raising, and basic agriculture. The
Hungarian language is unrelated to any western European language and
has only minimal resemblance to its distant cousins, Finnish and Estonian.
The diet is heavy on meat, lard, noodles, potatoes, bread, and cheese.
Renowned for their
horsemanship and animal husbandry, the csikosók have traditionally
relied upon the vast grasslands of the puszta for grazing and
livelihood. They have much in common with horsemen and cattlemen in
other parts of the world, including the American cowboy. The 2011 Poetry
Gathering explored this common ground through conversations with Hungarian
horsemen, performances of pastoral music and poetry, workshops, and
an exhibition on Hungarian csikos and herding culture.
Gail Steiger of Prescott, Arizona, who was instrumental in bringing
the Hungarian guests to Elko, pointed out how quickly things can change
in the political world and how important it is for us to preserve and
understand our traditions and agricultural heritage.
Imre Juhasz, and Imre Nagy demonstrate
the traditional Hungarian
herder braiding craft.
Western Folklife Center has for years been reaching out to herding cultures
around the world, bringing representatives to the National Cowboy Poetry
Gathering in Elko, NV, to sing songs and tell stories or recite poetry
about their lives. The WFC has taken Americans on reciprocal trips to
visit ranching communities in Mongolia, Brazil, Argentina, and France.
These exchanges bring people together, building on things they have
in common, encouraging mutual understanding and appreciation. They also
help preserve traditions and knowledge about living simply, in sustainable
matter what country you live in, livestock needs someone to do the daily
chores . Hungarian herders are no exception, they tend to their animals.
Article by Mike Laughlin
Photos by Lee