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  • Why the Peacock?

    While exploring the 2013 Festival, you may take note of the numerous representations of the peacock in the Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival program. As in many other cultures throughout history, the peacock has served as a potent symbol in Hungary, ranging in meaning from eternal love and freedom to purity and light. The peacock appears in decorative arts, as well as in folk music and poetry. The peacock as the symbol of the Hungarian Heritage program was inspired by peacocks featured on Hungarian house fronts with wings splayed, likely representing the sun.

    The peacock can be found in other decorative arts as well, such as in textiles. In Hungary, bride’s trousseaus (both the decorated boxes used for this purpose as well as some of the special linens and clothing collected inside) highlighted the bird, most likely as a symbol of love.

    This colorful bird has also played an important role in many Hungarian folk songs. In fact, peacock folk songs were written in the earliest Hungarian pentatonic scale. The following song, “Hey Peacock,” is a good example:

    Hey peacock, hey peacock, if I were a peacock,
    I would wake up in the morning and go to the river
    I would drink the river water, I would flap my wings
    I would go to the juniper tree, I would eat the juniper seeds,
    I would flap my wings, I would shake my tail feathers
    So that the pretty girls could pick them and make a bouquet.

    Songs and poems often portray the peacock as a symbol of freedom and salvation in Hungary. Indeed, the peacock has served as a powerful symbol during some of Hungary’s wars and revolutions; prisoners sang folk songs about “the liberator, sun’s sky bright bird”:

    The peacock ascended to the county seat
    To liberate the prisoners…

    A golden-winged peacock went to the respected inspector’s house
    That’s also why it went to his house: to liberate the workers.

    A popular poem, “Fölszállott a páva” (“The Peacock Takes its Perch”), elevated the peacock as a symbol of Hungary’s history:

    A peacock takes its perch upon the county hall—
    A sign that freedom comes to many folk in thrall.

    Let the proud, frail peacock, whose feathers daze the sun,
    Proclaim that tomorrow here all will be undone.

    Tomorrow all will change, be changed at last.
    New eyes in new battles will turn with laughter to the skies.

    In the early 1970s, a folk music and dance competition show also called “Fölszállott a páva” became popular, featuring music and dance from all over Hungary. Recently it has been revived and enjoys success today. You can even view clips from the show on YouTube!

    From depictions in medieval weavings to the title of a contemporary competition TV show, the peacock has and continues to play a significant role in Hungarian culture. That is why it is so apt to use it as a symbol across the Hungarian Heritage program this year!

    Andrea Sandor is working on her master’s degree in anthropology at George Washington University. She is writing her thesis on Hungarian folk dance and festivals in the U.S. and Hungary. She is an intern with the Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival program.

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