Mail from Crispijn Oomes
(translation by Nienke Oomes and Sara Bruins) Bela Kodoba was buried on Wednesday, November 17, 1999, in his village, Magyarpalatka, Mezőség. He was my hero, because he played the most beautiful music in the world, and he played it the most beautifully. Over his life, his violin had become an extension of his body. For Bela, playing music was just as natural as breathing. He could make the poorest quality violin - or even firewood - sound like a Stradivarius. He also was a prototypical folk musician, in that he prefered to say things with notes instead of with words. He knew everyone's favorite melody, and would often bring a friend a serenade. Bela was a striking personality in his village, Magyarpalatka, and was known to be an excellent musician. When a couple decided to marry, they would typically set the date depending on the availability of Bela and his brothers. At most weddings, people preferred to hear traditional music, to which they could dance their fantastic Mezősegi dances - the Rock & Roll of Transylvania. The funeral was touching and overwhelming. In the poor Gypsy quarter of the village Palatka, on the small Kodoba yard of 10 by 4 meters, worship services were held by a reformed pastor (in Hungarian), and by a Greek orthodox priest (in Romanian). Half the village stood on the road, in the yard, and in adjacent gardens, listening to speeches praising Bela, not least for having devoted his life to maintaining, cultivating and advancing the culture of his region. After the service, a procession of more than 200 people started moving. It included many Hungarians, who had traveled 400 kilometers to accompany their hero and friend on his last voyage. About 30 musicians joined the procession, and accompanied Bela along the slippery, snowy and swampy road to the graveyard, which was located on a very steep hill. The remaining villagers stood on the side for a last greeting. Each musician played his own farewell song on Bela's grave. I noticed once again how well the different ethnic groups live together in this village. Romanians, Hungarians, and Gypsies sing each other's songs, dance each other's dances, generally respect each other's culture, and sometimes even marry each other. Hungarians try their best to speak Romanian, and vice versa. At this funeral, they all worked together like one family to help host and feed the 200 guests. Ten years ago a funeral like this would have been impossible. At that time people were not allowed to speak Hungarian in public, and it was even forbidden to play or listen to Hungarian music. At wedding parties, the musicians were required to inform the police in advance about which melodies would be played. The entire funeral was filmed by Magyar TV1, about which I had mixed feelings. Cameras are very intrusive and can make people feel like they are being put on display. On the other hand, I think it is important for this man, this orchestra, and this village to become better known throughout the world. They portray such a unique village culture, with customs that have long since disappeared in other places. All in all, it was an impressive and moving experience to be part of such a rich piece of village culture in a country where poverty is widespread, health care is lacking, deaths are premature, and minorities are discriminated against. In villages like Palatka, life can be nasty, brutish, and short -- making people uncertain, vulnerable, and dependent on each other. And yet in spite of this (or perhaps partly because of it?), this is the setting of the most beautiful living folk music of Transylvania. Financial support for his relatives. So far we received over $200 in checks from Folklor members in the U.S. and about Dutch Guilders 800. Thank you all very much for your support! However, money is still badly needed to pay for: 1. the costs of transportation of the body from Hungary to Romania, including many bureaucratic formalities; 2. the costs of the coffin and the funeral (feeding and hosting 200 guests); 3. financial support for Mrs. Kodoba, who has lost her only source of income, and might have to leave her house since she and Bela were not officially married so she is not the official heiress; 4. foregone income for the orchestra, as people may believe (incorrectly) that they are not as good without Bela; 5. global solidarity: as Hungarian folklore lovers, we have benefited so much from these musicians (whether or not we realize it, they have come to define what is now refered to as 'generic Mezőseg'!), it is time to give something back now. See for more info on how to donate.