Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Road of the Warriors - Archaeology Day storytelling, 2017.

Once again, I just got back to Hungary in time for Archaeology Day (the last weekend of May). Following the tradition of the past two years, I was invited to the Damjanich János Museum in Szolnok, to participate in their weekend events with a brand new storytelling program tailored to this year's theme. After Sarmatians in 2015, and Gepids and Goths last year, 2017 was the year of the nomadic cultures of the steppe - Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Cumans, and the Jász people. 

I love dressing up for museum gigs, and this one was no exception (after the past 2 years, I felt kind of obligated to keep up the trend). Luckily, I already had a Hungarian conquest era (9th century) outfit lying around with all the necessary accessories (from my days as a traditional archery reenactor). I left the bow and arrows at home, but the final appearance was pretty complete anyway. The belt ornaments, pouch decorations, and the braid disc in my hair were all replicas of actual conquest era archaeological finds. The traditional belt pouch was also great for storing such authentic items as my cellphone, room keys, and lipstick. 

After last year's scramble to find Gepid stories, this year I had the opposite problem: I had a wealth of folktales, legends, and traditions to pick from. I made sure that I had at least one story for every culture listed above - while some were easier than others, I still ended up with a colorful and rich lineup of tales to tell (and once again, I had tons of fun with the month-long research). There were two sets of storytelling on Saturday afternoon, one for younger kids and families, and one for adults and older children. 

The first set was titled Treasure of Griffins. I filled it out with traditional Hungarian folktales that preserved a lot of the motifs and symbols of our pre-Christian, shamanistic world view and traditions. I told the story of the Winged Wolf (one of my all-time Hungarian favorites), the tale of the Seven-legged Horse (this one has a female protagonist that rescues the Sun, Moon, and Stars from the Dragon King), and the story of Csorha János, a folktale hero from the Jász region of our country, who has magic powers and uses them to hide from a princess who can see everything. It was great to see how these old, formulaic stories work wonders in live telling with an audience - especially with children. There was a little boy in the front row who kept muttering out what will happen next in the story, and then nodded sagely when he turned out to be right... Event the adults rewarded certain plot twists with laughter or gasps. 

I was happy to see that several people returned for the second set as well. This one bore the title Footprints on the Road of the Warriors (the Road being our name for the Milky Way), and it was my chance to tell the longer, more complex historical legends of my repertoire. In chronological order, I started with the Scythians, telling the tale of Arsakomas and his blood brothers from Lucian of Samosata's Toxaris, or Friendhsip. It is a story of adventure, where a Scythian warrior proves that friends are more valuable than money or land, and his two blood brothers help him elope with his love, and win a war. It was tons of fun to tell. Next up came the Huns. For them, I told my version of Attila and the Comedians, a tale that I crafted and fleshed out from a medieval chronicle. It was both familiar and new for a Hungarian audience, and got great reactions from them (we do love our King Attila). For the Avars, I told the legend of the Csörsz ditch (Csörsz-árok), a system of Roman era fortifications that people later made up stories about. Since it is very close to Szolnok, it played well with the local audience. In the end, since I had time left over, I added the Ossetian Nart legend of Alimbeg's daughter to the lineup - one of my favorite Nart sagas, and also a story that features intriguing representations of gender.
This second set was especially lovely. People stayed and listened, allowing me to take my time fleshing out and delivering each story without a hurry. Some of them specifically showed up to the event for the storytelling, and they stayed to talk afterwards. I also loved the fact that I was telling these stories inside the museum, surrounded by archaeologists knowledgeable of all these cultures, and artifacts that represented them. If there was ever a perfect setting for telling these age-old tales, this was definitely it.

I am looking forward to what next year's Archaeology Day may bring!