The Hungarian and his bear

This photo was sent by Wang Wei from the mountains of Cantabria, the valley of the monastery of Liébana where the magical Beatus manuscripts were copied a thousand and three hundred years ago. The picture shows the main square of the town of Potes on the day of the fair, and Wang Wei also photographed it on the main square, on an outdoor exhibition composed of the old photos of the town.

But the caption is perhaps even more interesting than the photo:

On the day of the fair, besides the merchants of cattle, sellers from all Cantabria came to Potes. There was everyone there, from the Hungarian with his dancing bear through the pickpockets and showmen to the peasants, cheese makers and water carriers… A colorful array of crafts in every feast and market which sometimes lasted several days.

A Hungarian bear-leader between the Cantabrian mountains, three thousand kilometers from the homeland of the Hungarian bears in the Carpathians? Unfortunately there was no photo about him. So we publish here our dancing bear collection, perhaps he also figures in one of the pictures.

Judging from the dress, he can be also that:

Do not be fooled by the English caption. This engraving was widespread in several countries, more than one language. Who knows where the original drawing was produced.

Potes still has its fairs, but the Hungarian with his bear no longer comes there. Bear-leading is forbidden in the European Union. Even the Romanian and Bulgarian ursars had to give their bears to the zoo and look for another job when these two countries joined the EU. Dumneazu in his blog wrote a beautiful farewell to their ancient craft.

Ezra Pound: The Gypsy *

“Est-ce que vous avez vu des autres
—des camarades—avec des singes ou des ours?”

        A Stray Gipsy—A.D. 1912

That was the top of the walk, when he said:
“Have you seen any others, any of our lot,
With apes or bears?”
        — A brown upstanding fellow
Not like the half-castes,
        up on the wet road near Clermont.
The wind came, and the rain,
And mist clotted about the trees in the valley,
And I’d the long ways behind me,
        gray Arles and Biaucaire,
And he said, “Have you seen any of our lot?”
I’d seen a lot of his lot…
        ever since Rhodez,
Coming down from the fair
        of St. John,
With caravans, but never an ape or a bear.

In Potes only the black cat is waiting faithfully for the Hungarian bear who has yet to come.

9 comentarios:

John Emerson dijo...

According to Graham Robb (The Discovery of France, pp. 169-170, 177) dancing bears in France were originally from the Pyrenees, and when the Pyrenean bear became extinct, or almost, bears were brought from Russia and the Balkans. Apparently in this case the bearkeeper came along, but according to Robb, Pyrenean peasants also trained foreign bears to exhibit in the rest of France.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you! I did not know bears were traditionally brought from this far to France. Were they dancing bears or rather bears for the zoo? However, what is really surprising, is that these Eastern dancing bears (and their leaders) penetrated so deep into the Pyrenees.

Effe dijo...

In Italy the (very old) memory of bear leaders is strictly linked with nomadic Rom (Gipsy) people.
That is brave old word too.
(any connection to bear’s cult and tradition?)

languagehat dijo...

From "The Gypsy" (which I posted here), one of my favorites among Pound's early poems:

That was the top of the walk, when he said:
"Have you seen any others, any of our lot,
"With apes or bears?"

You can hear him reading the poem, in his affected diction; some find it annoying or risible, but I enjoy it (as I enjoy the strong portamento and other outdated mannerisms of string players from before WWII).

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you very much, Language. This is a touching poem, which fits very precisely to this post, the atmosphere, the mist in the deep valley, the fair, and the Gypsy with the bear who will not come any more. I include it in the post.

I also love his way of recitation; it reminds me the half-singing recitativos of wandering Gypsy story-tellers in Transylvanian villages back in the 80s.

Studiolum dijo...

Effe: Yes, in Hungary also: bear-leading (come si chiama la professione in italiano?) was a typical job of Gypsies, Romanians, or – rarely – Slovaks. This is why it is striking to know that in Cantabria it was a Hungarian job.

I don’t think it is connected with bear cult. The ethnography of the mountain people in ancient Hungary, that is, in the Carpathians, includes no bear cult. Ancient Hungarians had it, but it focused on the reconciliation of the (living or killed) bear’s soul with the tribe, and making the bear dance would have been unimaginable in it. Recently there have been very good publications on old Finno-Ugric bear cult in Hungary; perhaps I will try to resume them for Río Wang.

Effe dijo...

It would be very interesting, Sudiolum.
(per il nome del mestiere, ho trovato il termine "orsanti", che peraltro non avevo mai sentito prima, in questo interessante articolo.
Language, thanks for the link.
I am quite sure that Bruno Schulz too wrote about a wanderer coming every years in town with his dancing bear. A certain year (maybe when the youth and innocence ended up) the gipsy didn't come anymore.
I can't remember if that gipsy played a tambuorine; in almost every pictures or tales of bear leaders, there is a tambourine. They were Tambourine Men.

perdidostone dijo...

Vi e' un piccolo museo degli orsanti in Italia.

Studiolum dijo...

Tante grazie per questa meraviglia. Che peccato che il sito ha tante poche informazioni e illustrazioni sull’esposizione. Per fortuna sull’internet qua e là si trovano qualche rassegne di stampa e foto. Cercheremo di comporne un post di presentazione.