Zoltán Kallós Ethnographic Private Collection
Zoltán Kallós’s Ethnographic Collection constitutes one of the most successful individual attempts at saving folk culture. This collection of material and spiritual items was carried out with the purpose of preserving not only the Hungarian cultural heritage, but also the ethnical diversity of the Transylvanian Plain (CâmpiaTransilvaniei in Romanian; Mezőség in Hungarian), as well as the collective identity of the Roman Catholic population of Moldavian Csángós. The collector successfully defied the political practice of the Romanian communist regime that aimed at socially and culturally homogenising Romania.
Comuna Bonțida, Răscruci, Romania
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Name of collection
- Zoltán Kallós Museum and Ethnographic Centre
Provenance and cultural activities
The Zoltán Kallós Ethnographic Private Collection housed by the museum of Răscruci is the result of more than seven decades of collection work and is operated by the Zoltán Kallós Foundation, named after its founder. The ethnographic collection consists of almost 6,000 items. Furthermore, since the Institute of Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has registered 14,000 pieces of folk music under the name of Kallós, the museum dedicates a room to his scholarly achievements and folk collections. Another part of the private collection is made up of a photo collection numbering approximately 6,000 items, the registering and professional processing of which is in progress so to make it accessible to the public (statement of Ágnes Mogyorósi). After the fall of communism Kallós managed, through his persistence and enormous human and material efforts, to raise the exemplary attitude displayed in his perseverant value-saving activity during the Communist regime to a new level: he put a private ethnographic collection unmatched in Romania at the service of the general public.
Fromthe late 1930s, when he was twelve or thirteen years old, Kallós became engaged in collecting folk objects and folklore. As a child his self-esteem was hurt upon experiencing that whenever Hungarian folk art was brought up, the Transylvanian Plain located in the central part of the region was never mentioned, as this mostly Romanian-populated area was regarded as “lost” to Hungarian culture and specialists considered it pointless to collect there. He wrote his first article about Easter and Christmas traditions in the Transylvanian Plain for the literary magazine of the Reformed Gymnasium of Cluj, Remény (Hope), which was relaunched in 1942. Then, on the Gymnasium Days, encouraged by professor of Hungarian literature Géza Nagy, Kallós sang a folk song from Răscruci which proved to be unknown to the audience. Further encouraged by his teachers, he recorded his first songs and ballads inhis native village of Răscruci in Cluj county. According to local tradition, each young person had a notebook with favourite songs, rhymes, and greeting chants. This made collecting easy for Kallós, who borrowed these notebooks and copied their contents. Later, as a sixth or seventh grader at the gymnasium, he won the first prize at the folk song contest launched by IfjúErdély (Young Transylvania), the magazine of the Reformed Youth Association. His destiny was also positively influenced by the linguist, literary historian, and ethnographer Attila T. Szabó, who stayed in the Kallós family home while conducting linguistic research and topographical surveys in Răscruci. It was Szabó who encouraged him to take up textiles as well as ceramics (statement of Zoltán Kallós).
After earning a diploma as a primary-school teacher, Kallós worked as a pedagogue in Viștea, a village near Cluj located in the famous ethnographic region of ȚaraCălatei (in Hungarian Kalotaszeg), until 1950. He also attended the meetings held monthly by the Department of Ethnography of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at Bolyai University in Cluj and this is where he became acquainted with the musicologist János Jagamas. In the following years they collaborated to collect songs in the Roma colony of Viștea. At that time there was no tape recorder: they used a phonograph. The selected data providers were taken to the Cluj branch of the Folklore Institute. Kallós first transcribed the text ofthe recordings, then translated it. His indubitable talent did notgo unnoticed and he was admitted to the Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca. However, in 1954, in the fourth academic year, he was disqualified due to his “unhealthy” social background, and he was never able to complete his studies at the Academy. Earlier, he had carried out his military service in a locality called Roman in Neamț county, where he had the opportunity to become acquainted with the Moldavian Csángós, an archaic rural community that had received so far little attention from Hungarian ethnographers. The opportunity to start field research among the Csángós encouraged Kallós to accept work as a Hungarian language teacher in Lespezi, Bacău county. In the 1950s, the policy of the communist regime was of supporting Hungarian schooling in the Csángó areas of Moldavia. The regional capital Bacău even hosted a Hungarian department of teacher training and the trainee pedagogues went to Lespezi weekly for their teaching practice. Kallós became engaged in more thorough collection work and the primary sources he used were the parents of his own students. However, following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the subsequent changes in the policies of the communist regime in Romania, these educational networks were shut down, and Kallós moved to Târgu Mureș to work at the Heritage House of the Hungarian Autonomous Region. Since the exclusive concern of that cultural institution at that time there was to help organise collective farms, after a brief period he resumed his teaching activity in the eastern Székely village of Lunca de Sus (statement of ZoltánKallós, ACNSAS P051484, 2–30).
During the repression that followed the Hungarian Revolution, Kallós’scollectingactivity started to attract the attention of the secret police. In 1959 he was vilified under public law and condemned to one year and three months of deprivation of liberty. After that, from 1960 he was employed at the timber company in Lunca de Sus, where he continued to collect folklore. In September 1966 Kallós was repeatedly subjected to criminal proceedings. According to the authorities, by collecting Hungarian ethnographic items and subsequently publishing them in Hungary, Kallós was engaged in nationalist activities, and, moreover, the authorities speculated that he was thereby trying to prove that Transylvania belonged to Hungary. In April 1967, the Securitate dropped proceedings against Kallós. The case was then labelled a common-law offence and Kallós was sentenced by the People’s Tribunal of Miercurea Ciuc to two years of correctional imprisonment (ACNSAS, P051484, 2 verso, 43–44).
After his release, in 1968, he returned to Cluj, where he was granted a residence permit with a view to keeping him away from the Csángó collection area, maintaining him under secret police surveillance. Kallós continued his work as a freelancer. He was called in to the labour division office but he failed to show up. He wrote a letter expressing his willingness to accept a job provided that it complied with his skills, but the letter remained unanswered. Kallós continued his collection activity. He primarily targeted Hungarian folklore, but if he found something interesting related to the Romanian or Saxon communities, he collected such items as well. In 1974 the authorities once again initiated criminal proceedings against him. The Cluj-Napoca Law Court found him guilty of a common-law offence and sentenced him to two and a half years of imprisonment. As of the second half of the 1970s, Kallós was released as a result of a presidential pardon, and resumed his value-conserving collection work where he had been forced to abandon it earlier (statement of ZoltánKallós, ÁBTL 1.11.4. II. series T-2/1975/1, 6–7).
A part of the collected objects, still subject to enrichment today, was inherited by Kallós from his numerous relatives in the Transylvanian Plain, and the other items were added to the collection as a result of conscious effort and passion. As Kallós grew popular among the villagers, people were glad to donate their possessions. The collection of items was carried out in the form of unorganised and individual initiatives. As opposed to this, beginning with the late 1950s and up to the late 1980s, the collection of folklore grew in an organised manner. There was a folk music research group operating within the Cluj-Napoca Music Academy which, from time to time, under the guidance of János Jagamas, undertook 3–4-day trips to villages with the aim of collecting folklore (statement of Zoltán Kallós).
In late Communist Romania, Law 63/1974 provided a very restrictive interpretation of the concept of national heritage (Paleolog 1981). Ethnographic collections, including collections of ballads, required a special authorisation from the local-level departments of culture. This permit was not granted to just anybody, but had to be earned in some way. A circular was released with regard to national heritage which was displayed in the house of culture of each rural settlement so as to inform villagers, too. The idea behind this was to prevent people from transferring these values without notifying the local authorities. Those who ignored this regulation were punished by a fine. On several occasions during his collection work Kallós was harassed by representatives of the authorities on the grounds that he was using his tape recorder; occasionally he was even escorted to the Militia. On such occasions he resorted to the Balladákkönyve (Book of Ballads), published in Bucharest in 1970, which included a text in the Romanian language presenting the volume and the collector of the contained material. However, this did not always work. He grew used to being almost permanently subject to harassment and house searches (Kallós 2014).
Kallós divided his work among four collection sites, namely, from east to west: the Moldavian and the Ghimeș Csángós, the Hungarian villages of the Northern Transylvanian Plain, and the Nadăș-valley in Călata. His data providers were singers aged between nine and eighty-nine. At times he visited a folk singer (nótafa) more than once. This was especially important in the case of the older generation of Moldavian Csángós as the majority of them were illiterate. He not only collected the materials but also interpreted the Csángó dialect, adding explanations. Already as a student at the Music Academy he had acquired the skill of writing down the notes of a tune by ear, and he used this ability in his collecting work. While during the on-site transcription of tunes, repeated performances allowed the correction of faulty rhymes, this was not possible while recording a song on tape. While collecting he tried to avoid the collection areas and data suppliers used by others. Many of his data providers were later approached by other researchers as well. According to Kallós, the most beautiful Hungarian religious and secular songs to date have been preserved in Moldavia. From the late 1970s until 1990, it was forbidden to enter Moldavia with the purpose of collecting songs and other pieces of folklore, though even before this collection was only possible if the right connections existed, and even then involved sneaking around and using a disguise. However, this was the last period when the possibility for collecting and recording material from people born around the turn of the nineteenth century still existed. By now this generation has disappeared (Kallós 2014).
From 1956 up to the change of regime,Kallós frequently had the opportunity to travel to Hungary for short trips. On one of these trips he received a tape recorder from the distinguished composer and ethnomusicologist ZoltánKodály. He set out on his journey equipped with recordings from Fizeșu Gherlii. The duty tag had to bear the words “una bandă magnetofon” (one tape [for] tape recorder). On his return journey he placed a comma after the words “una bandă” (one tape) so as to separate the two items. This is how he brought the tape recorder which helped him while collecting instrumental music as well. As of the 1950s he maintained contact with Hungarian experts, too. Ethnographer BertalanAndrásfalvy, who would become minister of culture in the first democratic post-communist government between 1990 and 1994, visited him in Lespezi, while later Kallósalso got acquainted with folk dance expert György Martin. Kallós and Martin worked together on several video footages. These visitors from Hungary had a huge professional and human impact on Kallós. He enjoyed collecting and what really mattered to him was to discover a new song or tune. Since this kind of work is never entirely self-centred– and also because he feared searches and confiscation – Kallós entrusted his collection of materials to the Archives of the Institute of Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA). The recorded materials were smuggled to Hungary by colleagues, friends, or acquaintances who undertook the mission takeoff taking the written tunes and tapes across the border. After 1989 he regained possession of everything in a digital format.
A part of the collection of objects– stored until the change of regime in cellars and attics of friends or acquaintances – was also transported to Hungary. This move was not only for security but also for more concrete existential reasons. During the communist period the Ethnographic Museum of Budapest did not have many possibilities of collecting abroad. Kallós became a one-man institution, as he could gain easier access to objects considered by Hungarian ethnographers as curiosities. Even his private correspondence shows that he took on orders and was asked by specialists from Hungary to provide professional support or examples and information to corroborate their own research. Similarly to the tapes, the objects were smuggled across the border. Today there are numerous objects both in the Ethnographic Museum of Budapest and in the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs that were collected by Kallós. Since Kallós did not personally deliver the items to the museum, his name is featured on the description card as that of the collector (statement of ZoltánKallós; statement of ÁgnesMogyorósi).
From the mid-1970s Kallós became one of the advisors behind the Transylvanian youth dance-house movement. In Romania the urban dance-house, this folk movement of revival, was only known among Hungarians. This particular manifestation of dancing which implies a set of rules regarding dance arrangement, dance order and dancer conduct has preserved the ancient elements of the peasant community lifestyle. This was sensed by the young Hungarian intellectuals who, in the 1970s – with invaluable help from ethnography experts and folk-music and folk-dance researchers – using the “dancehouse of Sic as a model” organised the urban dance-house in 1972 in Hungary (Sebő, 2007), and afterwards in Romania, first in Cluj (1977). However, the artificial way of organising this form of entertainment involving the spirit of spontaneous dancing changed the fundamental functions of the dance-house as an institution and of folk dance as a component of culture. In fact, the function of folklorism is closely connected to the conscious conservation of culture: by transposing traditional culture, folklorism aims at present-day processing of the traditions of the past. The preservation of culture, the folklore-creating “dedication” raised the value of the educational role of the dance house, underlining its “usefulness”. In Transylvania all this was paired with the problems rooted in minority existence, thus the dance-house movement stood as a sort of civic resistance as well (Könczei and Könczei, 2004).
The role assumed by Kallós in this respect consisted inproviding each piece that was played or sung in the dance house not only in Transylvania but in Hungary as well. His collections from the Transylvanian Plain, Țara Călatei, Ghimeș, and Moldavia laid an authentic foundation for the dance-house movement. It was he who guided the young people as to where to go, whom to turn to, whom they could learn from. Especially worth mentioning is Ádám Könczei who made efforts in a series of articles and presentations not only to promote the dance-house movement but also to establish its professional framework. As the dance-house movement became intertwined with the support of authentic folk music, a number of dance-house bands were formed all across Transylvania (statement of Gyöngyi Balázs-Bécsi, Könczei 1998).
A significant role in the development of the dance house movement was played by the show Kaláka, broadcast by the Hungarian programme (launched in 1977) of Romanian TV,and by the annual dance-house reunions organised in OdorheiuSecuiesc/Székelyudvarhely between 1978 and 1982. Dancehouses were not only established for adults, but also for children. Profiting from the increased interest, the record company Electrecord put a series of dance-house records on the market. The spreading of the movement was paradoxically facilitated by the fact that voluntary leaders of some of its groups linked the events to the state-supported festival CântareaRomâniei. This event was an annual national cultural festival organised between 1976 and 1989 to promote ideologically-approved artistic manifestations, featuring both professional and amateur artists from across the country. This cover-up ensured temporary protection against ideologically overzealous local cultural activists.
The urban dance house developed as a counter-culture as it was founded by self-supporting small communities that created an inner system of values determining the exchange of cultural elements, ethics, habits, norms, and a particular dress code as a means of protection against the influence exerted by external, official society. The relationship between communist propaganda and the urban dance-house movement proved to be a paradoxical one: despite the fact that a certain degree of oppositional stance inherent in the dance-house project was evident already from the outset, the movement initially enjoyed financial and logistic support from the authorities. However, there was constant suspicion and surveillance attached to the movement already from the beginning and eventually its operation was forbidden in 1983. Two years later, in 1985, all Hungarian broadcasts were cancelled on Romanian state television, officially due to economic reasons (Könczei and Könczei, 2004).
After the change of regime Kallós successively fulfilled his childhood dreams within the framework of the Foundation established in 1992. As a result of the restitution trial, he regained possession of the five-hectare family property in Răscruci which – after its renovation – allowed the ZoltánKallós Foundation to commence its activity. The year 1998 saw the launch of the ethnographic collection, followed in 2010 by the inauguration of the Zoltán Kallós Museum and Ethnographic Centre. In May 2017 the extended museum building housing the collection of ethnographic items was opened to the public. Today the folklore activity, the museum and the related museum pedagogical programmes represent the third pillar of the Foundation alongside education (the diaspora boarding school of Răscruci, adult training courses, the diaspora school of Sărmașu, instrumental folk music teaching in Cluj-Napoca, etc.) and cultural activities (diaspora camps, talent-supporting, youth, adult and family camps; travelling activities in settlements of the Transylvanian Plain and Sălaj county). This collection resembles a Miniature Transylvania as it features items pertaining to Hungarian, Romanian, and Saxon culture at the same time. The foundation began to operate in the spirit of Kallós’s authenticity, and his spiritual and material collection serves as a foundation for the entire institutional framework and all its activities (statement of Gyöngyi Balázs-Bécsi).
The Foundation breathes together with the museum. Whenever there is an exhibition or travelling display, the Foundation’s activity is presented along with a part of the Răscruci collection. The two cannot be separated since they operate side by side within the framework of the same institution. According to staff members, the museum is kept alive thanks to the existence of the adjacent school, which ensures that knowledge is transferred on a daily basis, in a palpable manner. The majority of visitors to the museum are Hungarians. Almost half of them are Hungarian citizens pertaining to two main categories. The exhibition in Răscruci is highly recommended to tourists travelling from Hungary by travel agencies, which explains the large number of Hungarian tourists visiting the museum. At the same time, the museum enjoys great popularity in the programme entitled Határtalanul! (Without Frontiers!), primarily aimed at supporting didactic trips of Hungarian students to Hungarian-inhabited regions of the Carpathian Basin. The programme run by the Ministry of Human Resources makes it possible to address a larger target group, especially including the age group of seventh-graders in Hungary. At visitors’ request, members of the museum staff combine the tour of the museum with some sort of handicraft workshop.Recently the museum has opened its doors to the younger generation of pupils as well, offering museum pedagogical programmes for schools operating in the area, including a picnic at the museum involving activities linked to the various school subjects. The collection is gaining popularity also among the students of the general schools of Cluj-Napoca and Gherla. Occasionally there are high school student groups as well, though this is less characteristic.
Many renowned ethnographers have visited the museum and the collection. At the same time it has also been successfully incorporated into the curriculum of university students in Romania and Hungary, and they have found good subject-matter in the materials offered here. Răscruci is considered an exotic location; moreover, there are only few ethnographic institutions that prefer this kind of museum-based education. What is missing in education is the opportunity for students to establish physical contact with objects and to gain practical experience already during their training. Students visiting the museum assist at the filing and digitalisation of photos and help with the restructuring of the warehouse, which may prove to be a rather exciting activity. The collection has been the subject of a bachelor’s paper and the textile categories have served as inspiration for a publication in the field (Székely 2005). The collection has been featured in specialised publications as well. A considerable part of its visitors is made up of Kallós’s acquaintances and contacts (dance-house attendees, dancers, musicians, intellectuals with an interest indancing, ethnographers), who take along their families and friends to see the collection. The participants at youth and adult camps and advanced training courses for teachers organised by the foundation are a further addition to the number of visitors. Those visiting the foundation premises during the summer do not fail to include the museum which offers guided tours in Hungarian, Romanian, and English. The museum and the collection on display here is a popular topic in the press, as is everything that is related to the foundation. The re-opening in 2017 enjoyed great press coverage and a visit to the museum became part of the official protocol forevery significant event, such as Kallós’s ninetieth birthday, the Europa Nostra Award, or a politician’s visit, etc. (statement of ÁgnesMogyorósi).
Description of content
After the extension works, as of June 2017, the former Kallós Manor opened its doors to the public with fifteen museum rooms housing the collection. One room is dedicated to leather embroideries, followed by interiors displaying ethnographic objects from the Transylvanian Plain, the rooms of Sic, Răscruci, and Vișea, then the long corridor featuring mannequins dressed in traditional folk costumes leading to the room of Sânmărtin. The exhibition is rendered complete with other rooms dedicated to Transylvanian Hungarian, Csángó, Romanian, and German Saxon folklore. The attic of the building houses bed sheets from Călata and the library, accessible to visitors together with the ground-floor storeroom. The private collection features almost 6,000 objects. The inventory list comprising the totality of featured items, which facilitates internal work, has already been drawn-up. Since 2014 a database has been under construction,intended to summarise the data provided on the classic description card: the origin of the object in question, information as to when and by whom it was used, etc. (statement of Zoltán Kallós; statement of Ágnes Mogyorósi).
The museum dedicates a room to the collector’s personality. This room houses his distinctions, records, and publications on his folklore collections in Transylvania and Moldavia. The Institute of Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Science has 14,000 tunes registered under his name. Access to the digital versions of archive recordings and to the Institute’s database is provided through a link on the foundation’s website. In the course of his professional collecting, Kallós and his colleagues drew up protocols, descriptive cards – as to the author of the recording, the name, age, marital status, address of the singer and information regarding potential participation in other collections, who was present at the time of collecting and the title of the performed piece –, as required for the validity of the collection. The database stores every single recorded audio material along with the description, which is lacking in the case of objects.
Another part of the Kallós-collection consists of the photo collection comprising approximately 6,000 items; the professional processing of these photos is in progress. The members of the museum staff continuously interviewed and consulted with Kallós for the purpose of gathering information on the photographs, about his “travelling companions” – who is featured and when, etc. –, in order to get the new database ready for use by the public (statement of Ágnes Mogyorósi). Kallós’s collection of material items is of international significance; such a comprehensive and accessible collection from the Transylvanian Plain can only be found in Răscruci. His folklore collection work also focused on this region as – in the light of his research – the ethnically diverse Transylvanian Plain is the area where authentic folk music and folk art have survived best. His collections yielded results already in the 1970s as they created a plausible foundation for the Transylvanian Hungarian dance-house movement which unfolded as a counter-culture. The value of his collection is further increased by the fact that it came into existence at a time when its collector put his individual existence at risk by facing the many difficulties inherent in safeguarding and preserving folk culture.
- applied arts objects (folk art, decorative arts, etc.): 1000-
- photos: 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 500-999
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 1000-
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Comuna Bonțida, Răscruci, Romania
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Csinta, Samu. 2017. A lélekmentő. Kallós Zoltán első kilencven éve (The Soul Rescuer. The First Ninety Years of Zoltán Kallós). Budapest: Hagyományok Háza.
Sándor, Ildikó. 2014. A néprajz és a népművészet alapjai (Fundamentals of ethnography and folk art). Budapest: Nemzeti Munkaügyi Hivatal Szak- és Felnőttképzési Igazgatóság.
Author(s) of this page
- Jánosi, Csongor
ÁBTL – Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára (Historical Archives of the Hungarian Security Services)
ÁBTL 1.11.4. BM III/I. Csoportfőnökség és jogelődeinek iratai. II. sorozat Információs jelentések (1957) 1962-1990 (Records of the Ministry of Interior’s III/I. Group Directorate and its predecessors 2nd series Informative Reports (1957) 1962-1990). Romania. T-2/1975/1. 7 box.
ACNSAS – Arhiva Consiliului Național pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securității (Archive of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives)
P – fond Penal (Penal Fonds), file 051484.
Kallós. Zoltán. 2014. Balladás könyv (The Ballad Book). Válaszút: Kallós Zoltán Alapítvány.
Könczei, Ádám and Csongor Könczei. 2004. Táncház: Írások az erdélyi táncház vonzásköréből (Dance House: Writings about the Transylvanian Dance House). Kolozsvár: Kriza János Néprajzi Társaság.
Könczei, Ádám. 1998. Házatlan csiga: Könczei Ádám naplój, 1946-1983 (Snail Without a House: Könczei Ádám’s Diary,1946-1983). Kolozsvár: Tinivár.
Paleolog, Andrei. 1981. “Etape în realizarea evidenței patrimoniului cultural național” (Stages in Realization of Records of the National Cultural Heritage). In Revista Muzeelor, no. 9/1981: 36–43.
Sebő, Ferenc, ed. 2007. A táncház sajtója: Válogatás a korai évekből 1968-1992 (The Dance House Press: A Selection from the Early Years 1968-1992). Budapest: Timp – Hagyományok Háza.
Székely, Melinda. 2005. “Élő tárgy–halott tárgy.” (Live Object-Dead Object). In Kriza János Néprajzi Társaság Évkönyve 13. Tanulmányok Gazda Klára 60. születésnapjára (The Yearbook of the János Kriza Ethnographic Society 13. Studies for Klára Gazda's 60th Birthday), edited by Vilmos Keszeg and Tekla Tótszegi. Kolozsvár: Kriza János Néprajzi Társaság.
Kallós, Zoltán, interview by Jánosi, Csongor , September 21, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection