Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Storytelling in Sarmatia: Archaeology Day in Hungary

Every year in the spring Hungary celebrates Archaeology Day: Museums and other archeo-related institutions organize events for the public to make the occupation seem less mysterious. They open up labs and storage rooms, and educate people through letting them touch things they would normally only see through glass.
(Artifacts. I mean the artifacts.)

This year, since I got home in time to participate, I landed a gig with the Damjanich János Museum in Szolnok, who were planning a Sarmatian theme for their program. The city lies in a part of Hungary that used to be Sarmatian territory back in the good old Roman times, and pretty much any time someone puts a shovel down, Sarmatian stuff starts jumping out. I have always loved Sarmatians, and I had three good reasons to be excited for the gig:
1. I already had a period dress ready, courtesy of my Sarmatian SCA persona (follow the link for an awesome blog on the topic);
2. The gig involved telling Ossetian Nart sagas, on the account of the historical, ethnic and cultural relations between the Ossetians and the Sarmatians, and I freaking love those stories;
3. One of my best friends and former Archaeology classmate works at the museum, and I got a chance to see her.

I arrived to the museum with a pretty nasty cold, but my friend and the rest of the staff took excellent care of me. I got a place to rest, and tea, and food, and volunteers to usher people in and out of the storytelling space. Everyone was super excited for the stories, and they paid a lot of compliments to my dress reconstruction, which made me feel proud, since it came from people who deal with Sarmatian things on a daily basis. My friend, who presented the "Artifact Petting Zoo" portion of the program, even invited me to show the dress off to people as an illustration.
The first round of storytelling was the program for children titled "Giants, heroes, and tricksters." Since all the kids immediately got stuck at the "archaeology sandbox" digging feverishly for finds, the program started a little late. A little boy arrived first with his grandma, and was very shy; but once I started telling him a story, other flocked in too, and eventually I had a neat little audience of 15 or 20 people.  I told my favorite Nart story, in which the heroes dig up the bones of an ancient giant and bring him back to life to learn about how people lived in the past. If there has ever been a fitting story for Archaeology Day, this one was it. I also told the tale where the Narts go adventuring and they all get stuck in magical chairs, just to be rescued by Sirdon the Trickster before a bunch of giants eat them. I love this story not only for the humor, but also because it is a clear parallel to one of my favorite Irish Fianna legends, The Hostel of the Quicken Trees.

The second round was supposed to be stories for adults, but since it was still early in the afternoon, many people brought their kids with them anyway. I didn't mind. They were very well behaved, and sat in the front row with eyes wide, reacting to the stories with gasps and giggles and noises of wonder. The adult program was titled "The Time of Heroes," and it drew an audience of at least 30-40 people, including most of the museum staff.
This time I had more time, and an audience with a longer attention span (since I was the last program, they had nowhere else to rush). I first told the Birth of Soslan, and how he was tempered in wolf's milk (the incident I mentioned here). Then I told the story of how Soslan saved his mother Satana from the Lake of Hell and how he was accepted as the greatest hero of the Narts (ironically, not for saving her, but for failing to save her, because he stopped to help people along the way who were in greater need). I told the fun little bit about Satana and her husband Urizmag getting a divorce - a folktale type when the wife can take what's "dearest to her" from the household, and she takes her sleeping husband (this one is so popular they even used it in a movie). After this we circled back to Soslan winning a wife through a dance-off (also mentioned on the link above). The kids loved this one. At this point the audience stared asking for "one more story!" every time I finished one, which is the greatest compliment a storyteller can get. I told a short funny story about Sirdon the Trickster tricking the Narts when they tried to bully him.
In the end, I decided to jump into the tale of Alimbeg's Daughter - the sex-change story I posted about last week. The audience listened with keen interest, and the lyrical nature of the tale seemed to carry everyone along. They seemed more shocked by Alimbeg having seven wives (a man even muttered "poor guy") than his daughter turning into a man, actually. I chose option 3 from my musings - but the story, when told, needed a lot less tweaking than I expected. It also probably helped with the adults that I told them Hungarians have the same story in tradition - it sounded less foreign that way.

All in all, it was a dream gig. I got to tell stories that I love to people who appreciated them, and especially children who were completely enchanted. I got to do it in a museum that holds artifacts that appear in the stories, wearing a dress that evoked the people who probably told the same tales two thousand years ago.
And Night of the Museums is only three weeks away!

13 comments:

  1. Sounds like a perfect day--and a fascinating mix of stories. I hope your cold is getting better.

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  2. Sounds like the day was a huge success! :D I really need to pick the Nart Sagas back up at some point and finish them...

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  3. Okay, your book which I'd ordered arrived a couple of weeks ago and I put it on hold to finish what I was already reading, but now I want to go read it all in one sitting. You know all the archaeology AND all the stories, AND you read everything else too. When I grow up, I want to be you.

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    1. Aww, thank you! I hope you'll enjoy the book! :)

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  4. This truly sounds like a fantastic day. Being asked for more stories is really the biggest compliment and you know it's sincere.
    I'm very happy for you :-)

    I was fascinated by the story of the digging of the giants' bones. I'm toying with an idea for a story and I'd like to use giants (or titans... I'm intrigued with the Greek myth), so your mentioning of them peeked my interest.

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    1. Greek and Nart giants are actually very similar, probably because of the cultural cross-pollination. Narts sagas are chuck full of one-eyed giants, by the way, and they had several variants of the Polyphemos myth too... Incidentally, the Caucasus is full of dinosaur bones :D

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  5. Wow, that sounds really amazing. You're like a bridge from the past to the present, keeping stories alive. And to do that in a museum is such a perfect setting.

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    1. It really was! I love museum storytelling, it's one of my favorite venues. :)

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  6. Okay I'm an Archaeology Day fangirl now. :D And jealous. Museum people are my people and that sounds like an awesome event all around.

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    1. Archaeology Day is the best! :) Another great one is coming up: Night of the Museums in June! I'll blog about that too :)

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  7. Hi! I found you through Sarmatian in the SCA! I'm curious...do you have any more photos of your Sarmatian dress, or posts on how you made it? I'm planning on making my own Sarmatian dress eventually, and any visual examples are so helpful!

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    1. Hey Holly, welcome to the blog! I am planning on uploading some pictures from the gig, probably tomorrow :) If you want to talk more about Sarmatian dresses, hit me up through email at csenge @ zalkacsenge dot hu!

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  8. Hi, stopping in on the A to Z road trip. You've mentioned so many stories I've not heard. I'm bookmarking your site so I can come back when I have more time. Did anyone take video of you? I'd love to see your storytelling in action!

    @ShonnaSlayton from
    Shonna Slayton YA Writer - Blogged the 1940’s from A to Z and now on the road trip

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