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February 6, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Csángo bal – Allô Papa Csángo Charlie !

The first time I heard about the Csángos I was traveling in Székelyföld (= land of the Szeklers, in Transylvania, current Romania), l was at that time hosted by “Hungarian-Romanians” who gave me a copy of a Csángo CD. I was surprised how reminiscent the Csángo traditional tunes were of the Hungarian folk. It’s no wonder why the Szeklers feel close to their “old” relatives, lost in the Romanian province of Moldova. The Csángos are a bunch of people who live mostly in the Romanian province of Bacău and whose ethnic and linguistic origins are linked to those of the Hungarians. The current Csángo population doesn’t go beyond the threshold of the thousands. They speak Csángo (what a surprise!) which is a funny Hungarian dialect (the Hungarians usually say they speak such an archaic language that they can’t manage to understand, however from the few words I exchange with an old Csángo gentleman, it didn’t seem to be ununderstandable, but yes maybe he was doing special efforts so that I could understand him…), of course they also speak Romanian. The loss of the Csángos’ and their funny traditional music has been deeply on my mind ever since. Thus, I couldn’t miss the Csángo bal organized on February 5th 2011 in Budapest at the Petőfi csarnok. The first thought I had at the sight of the advertisements on Budapest streets for this Csángo bal was: “it’s funny how a minority forgotten by everyone in Europe (except by those who might have heard of them in Romania, or among the Hungarians scattered here and there) can attract such a big Budapest crowd”. The Petőfi csarnok is a vast concert hall in the City park which is usually used for world-famous bands. But if one takes a closer look at the program, one will see the whole event (lasting for 12hours non-stop, from 4.30 pm till 5am the next day!) is under the patronage of the Hungarian president of the Republic (Pál Schmitt). That tells you something about how the Hungarians feel concerned by anything that might be related to them and their ancestors’ wanderings in the Carpathian basin – which they call home (and it’s by no means a politicized statement I’m making here, it is simply true for a lot of Hungarians nowadays, I’m not talking about Hungarians before 1989 – before the fall of the “Regime”, the Hungarian minorities outside Hungary were totally and intentially forgotten about). So I decided to go with a couple of expat friends fond of Táncház (literally “house of danse”: workshops and places where you are taught and can practice folk dance in Hungary) and zsiros kényer (traditional Hungarian delight: a slice of white bread with fat, paprika and red onion of it!). Believe me the place was absolutely crowded! We got there at 9pm and there was still some bands from Csángoland playing the flute and the gardon (traditional instruments), as well as dancers in Csángo dresses on stage. However the fun really started when the concert hall became an enormous Csángo dancefloor! People started to grab each other hand and follow the devilish Csángo (and Hungarian folk) rhythms, me among them…

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