two fields of sunflowers dissested by a road. With four tall trees.

2022 Grateful 19: Mixed race

Much has been in the news lately about VO’s comments about a mixed race and how he’d prefer Hungary wasn’t one. The Guardian translated what he said as:

“We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race … and we do not want to become a mixed race,” […] countries where European and non-Europeans mingle were “no longer nations”.

Faced with the hue and cry that followed, he backpedalled saying he was talking about mixed cultures rather than race. Perhaps he was.

Social media was alive with people taking DNA tests and posting stuff on the rarity of being anything other than mixed race. One video, in particular, caught my eye:

I’ve never done a DNA test, in part because I’m reluctant to have my DNA on file somewhere, and in part because I’m happy thinking I’m Irish through and through. I’ve enough going on in my life right now without having to deal with a new identity. I’m well aware of my stereotypical biases and work consciously to hold them in check. I have limited energy, too, and actively disliking a people takes more than I’m prepared to give.

Some time ago, I met Fr Frank, first at a Sunday service and again at a function celebrating St George’s Day. I signed up for his monthly newsletter and enjoy his column, Frankly speaking.

I asked him if I could repost this month’s because it’s an interesting reflection on the whole mixed race/mixed culture thing and the blatant silliness for most of the world to think that they’re pure anything, except purely ridiculous. I said most, there. I know there are some who can lay claim to purity. Not many. But some.

Anyway, Fr Frank kindly agreed. And I’m grateful. [The added links are mine.]

 

Dear Friends,

It may come as a surprise even if, or perhaps especially if, you are an ardent Hungarian nationalist or irredentist, to learn that there is a desert tribe living along the Nile in Southern Egypt which considers itself to be Hungarian. They call themselves Magyarabok and are apparently the descendants of Hungarian janissaries and ordinary soldiers recruited centuries ago into the armies of the Ottoman Empire and its sultans when Hungary was under their hegemony.

Whether those hapless Magyars of centuries ago were left stranded along the Nile by retreating Turkish forces or whether they chose to stay of their own accord and settle down is not certain. Their local dialect, although not intelligible to Hungarian speakers today, is nevertheless said to be laden with Hungarian vocabulary words and everyday expressions.

The Magyarabok long ago assimilated themselves into the local society and culture of Egypt, presumably making them what some today infelicitously call a mixed race. I am uncertain whether any of them have applied for Hungarian citizenship, by the way. But it seems likely they should be eligible, mixed race or not.

And I have no idea what King Saint Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state, whom we honour this month, might make of them if he were still with us. After all, as best anyone can determine, his ancestors came to the Carpathian Basin, present-day Hungary, over a thousand years ago not from Egypt and the Nile but from somewhere along the equally exotic steppes of Central Asia; although no one seems to know exactly where that ancient etelköz, as it is called in Hungarian, was located.

Nor is it clear why they left their Central Asian homeland with its vast grasslands and broad vistas. Climate change perhaps. Or they may have been nudged ever westward as a result of political and social turmoil in the lands surrounding them. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive, as we see even today.

In any case, the original Magyar tribes were at first not welcome here. The place was already occupied and settled by a mix of peoples and, well, races, including ancient Celts; holdovers from the time of the Roman occupation; Germanic Ostrogoths; Eurasian Alans, Avars and possibly Huns; and Slavs, among many others. Not to mention that those early Magyars were known not for their gentility and culture but rather for their pillage and ferocity in battle.

Welcome or not, they ultimately prevailed through military prowess, pluck, and determination, and here we are today.

By all accounts, Stephen was a good ruler and a champion of his people’s rapid assimilation into Western, and Catholic, Europe. His kingdom was much admired in the late medieval period as a land of refinement and peace. Perhaps for this reason, yet more peoples were attracted to Stephen’s realm, including the Turkic Cumans; the Iranian Samartians, not to be confused with the Samaritans of the Bible; and the Persian Jassic peoples. All of whom were eventually assimilated into the Magyar majority.

Curiously, the Roma began arriving around the same time. Although originally from the Indian subcontinent, they were thought at the time to have come from Egypt, the very place where the Magyarabok make their home today, and were accordingly called Gypsies. All of which probably makes contemporary Hungarians about as mixed a race as you will find anywhere today in Europe or elsewhere.

Stephen seems to have tolerated, even championed, the strangers and newcomers in his kingdom, perhaps remembering the migration of his not-too-distant ancestors. In a well-known letter to his son Imre, he urged him to, “show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness…”

Happiness being always and everywhere a somewhat elusive quality, it is difficult to say what Saint Stephen would make of the gladness of his beloved homeland today. But I would like to think he might still pass along to us the same advice he gave Prince Imre so long ago.

Welcome all who come to you.

Frank atya

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

Chaplain and Area Dean

Fr Frank presides over the 10:30 English service each Sunday at St Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church on Szentkirályi utca 51 in Budapest’s VIII kerülete. It’s airconditioned 🙂

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