Museum of Ethnography
H-1146, Budapest, Dózsa György út 35.
Phone: +36 1 474 2100
Text: Gabriella Cs. Tóth
It is the mid-1970s, and we find ourselves in Yugoslavia—in the Hungarian-populated village of Gombos on the north-western border of Serbia. The homes and streets here are bustling with people, and despite palpable signs of a first wave of people leaving for greener pastures, the number of inhabitants still exceeds 2800.
Center of Gombos in Summer 2016. Photo by Gabriella Cs. Tóth
It is a time when, one after the other, 30-something young women have begun shedding their ‘peasant clothes’ to live henceforward in ‘genteel garb’ and short hair. Lifestyles, too, are changing. In addition to work on family farms, women are taking up other positions, primarily in factories and agricultural collectives, leaving them with less time to devote to small children, not to mention washing, starching, ironing, and sewing. In any case, their work brings them a wardrobe that is both simpler, and more comfortable. But will the customs that have defined their daily lives until now simply disappear from one day to the next? In what form will tradition persist in their lives to come?
Women and girls from Gyöngyösbokrétas in the 1980s. Family photo
In Gombos, as in other villages, one response to such musings during this era in history was the ‘costumed doll’: a figure that was soon to become a focal point of home decor, a potent blend of knowledge, memory, emotion, and identity. To gaze upon it was to be filled with positivity. It was something one could both enjoy oneself, and show off to guests. People took it with them when they moved; or gave it to others who were moving; or passed it on to their children to remind them of their roots—their homeland. In some cases, such dolls stood year after year in rooms around which everything else was changing. Economic, political, and social situations morphed; community events were held with waning frequency; wedding feasts were rarer and funerals more common. According to estimates, in 2022, Gombos boasted just 1200 or so inhabitants, 600 of them Hungarians.
Gombosi babies in the room. Photo by Rozália Jakumetovic
Az itt bemutatott „gombosiasan” felöltöztetett díszbabát Zsuzsának hívják, és az 1980-as évek első felében készült. A műanyag babatest Olaszországból származik, a ruha a népviselet utolsó, 1960-as évekre kialakult változatát mutatja. Ennek az öltözetegyüttesnek az alakulásában szerepet játszottak a magyar népviseletek többségét érintő divathullámok, mint a csípőt és a vállat hangsúlyozó sziluett térnyerése, a világháború utáni anyaghiány és a Gyöngyösbokréta mozgalom. Ez utóbbi nem csak a női ünnepi viseletet formálta át. Létrehozta a helyi tánccsoportot, mely a különböző folklórfesztiválokon rendszeresen szerepel. A tánccsoportban táncolás lehetősége viszonylag rövid időn belül feloldotta a társadalmi különbségeket és megteremtette a viseletbe öltözés lehetőségét és alkalmát azok számára is, akik anyagi vagy társadalmi rangjuk miatt nem a hagyományos öltözködésrend szerint ruházkodtak. Így mintegy 30 év leforgása alatt a női ünnepi öltözet legújabb változata a falu egésze számára identitásjelölő szimbólummá vált, mely miniatürizált változatban a játékbabák ruhájaként köszön vissza.
Photo by Tamás Molnár. Ltsz. 2021.11.1
The ‘Gombos style’ doll seen here was named Zsuzsa by her owners, who purchased her in the 1980s. Her Italian-manufactured plastic body bears the village’s last worn folk clothing style, garments representing the look of the 1960s. The development of this outfit, as most folk clothing styles, was influenced by a number of different factors: fashion trends, such as the one that emphasised waistlines and shoulders; the post-war paucity of materials; and the folk dance movement that went by the name of ‘Gyöngyösbokréta’ (‘Beaded Bouquet’). The last of these not only transformed women’s festival wear, but also resulted in the creation of a local dance ensemble that thenceforward participated regularly in various folklore festivals. Within a brief period of time, the opportunity of participating in such a group began to dissolve social differences, permitting the donning of fancy costumes to even those who had before foregone the traditional order for lack of wealth or status. In this way, in the space of three decades or so, the latest version of the women’s festival costume became a symbol of identity to all, whose miniaturised version graced the bodies of so many proudly dressed decorative dolls.
Though Zsuzsa’s creator grew up during a time when children no longer wore the local costume, she nonetheless found it important to own one. In her own words: ‘I loved my village’s costume, and this doll is somehow a tradition that preserves that past, allows us to look back on it…’ The doll’s place in the home was in the front room beside the bed, where it was typically covered in plastic wrap to keep it from collecting dust. It was added to the Museum of Ethnography’s Customs and Toys Collection in January of 2020 so that it might represent Gombos in the institution’s permanent exhibition—then under development—and inform visitors on the 20th-century processes that prompted villagers to immortalise the past in this way. Mementoes like these were, in essence, souvenirs of the people themselves, a distillation of the collective memory of a disintegrating community. The question is, does this superimposition of meaning carry the same validity once the doll has left her room, her village? What new shades of meaning will Zsuzsa’s story gain in her life as a museum piece?
Gombos (Bogoyevo, Serbia)