Month: August 2015 (page 2 of 2)

Recently I was invited out to the Mendeguia sheep camp for a picnic with some of the visiting USAC scholars. The Mendeguia sheep camp is the Sierra Nevada, north of Truckee, California. Although the Mendeguia’s retired many years ago, they continue to consider this a very special home away from home and it was treat to spend time there with them.

As is often the case at a Basque get together, an instrument appeared (in this case a trikitixa), and everyone enjoyed the songs, especially the daughter of one of the USAC visiting scholars, who decided to accompany the accordionist with an improvised txalaparta!

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The old dining house, once the heart of the sheep camp, falling into disrepair.

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The bread oven. Wednesday was bread baking day, they used 50 lbs of flour at a time. The following day the camptender would deliver fresh bread to the bands spread through the summer range.

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Abel Mendeguia, originally from Lesaka, making his world-famous sheep camp fried potatoes to the absolute delight of the crowd.

Here is another video, of the txalaparta, that is included as an extra on the accompanying DVD to our great ethnomusicography, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music in the Basque CountryThe video originally aired on Basque television in the 1980s.


Flashback Friday: Uncovered

On August 14, 1931, at the onset of the Spanish Second Republic (1931-1939), Justo de Echeguren (1884-1937), Basque priest, was arrested in Irun (Gipuzkoa), when he proceeded to cross the border and meet his fellow Bishop of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Mateo Mújica Urrestarazu (1870-1968). Some months earlier, on May 17, Múgica was exiled in Angelu (Lapurdi), in the Northern Basque Country, because his opposition against the constitution of the Spanish Republic, which had defended the separation of the Church from the State. The Republican authorities seized from Echeguren some documents whose content revealed the intentions of the Catholic Church to alienate its properties to the uses of the new Republican State. Following this incident, on August 20, the central government prohibited by executive order the right to alienate ecclesiastical property. During the Second Republic, the religious question became an acute source of division, which stirred a strong opposition among the right wing circles, including these Basque clergymen.


Portrait of Mateo Mújica Urrestarazu (1870-1968)

almanac cover

Cover page of “La Traca” Almanac for 1932

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day


John Adams, American Democracy, and Bizkaia

In 1787 John Adams (1735-1826), later to become the second president of the United States, published a key treatise in American history, Defense of Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, in which he defended a notion of “federal democracy” that would ultimately resemble the American model of democratic government that persists to this day.


Statute of John Adams in Bilbao, next to the Provincial Government of Bizkaia building. photo by Javi Guerra Hernando, via Wikimedia Commons

Adams used historical and contemporary examples of other democratic systems of government to sustain his argument, among which he most favored what he termed “democratic republics,” citing the cases of certain Swiss cantons, San Marino, and Bizkaia. Indeed, he had visited Bizkaia as part of a tour of Europe in 1779. In his own words (vol. 1, letter IV):

In a research like this, after those people in Europe who have had the skill, courage, and fortune, to preserve a voice in the government, Biscay, in Spain, ought by no means to be omitted. While their neighbours have long since resigned all their pretensions into the hands of kings and priests, this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government, and manners, without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe . . .

Their solicitude for defence has surrounded with walls all the towns in the district. They are one-and-twenty in number; the principal of which are, Orduna, Laredo, Portugalete, Durango, Bilbao, and St. Andero. Biscay is divided into nine merindades, a sort of juridiction like a bailiwick, besides the four cities on the coast. The capital is Bilbao. — The whole is a collection of very high and very steep mountains, rugged and rocky to such a degree, that a company of men posted on one of them might defend itself as long as it could subsist, by rolling rocks on their enemy. This natural formation of the country, which has rendered the march of armies impracticable, and the daring spirit of the inhabitants, have preserved their liberty.

Active, vigilant, generous, brave, hardy, inclined to war and navigation, they have enjoyed, for two thousand years, the reputation of the best soldiers and sailors in Spain, and even of the best courtiers, many of them having, by their wit and manners, raised themselves into offices of consequence under the court of Madrid. Their valuable qualities have recommended them to the esteem of the kings of Spain, who have hitherto left them in possession of those great immunities of which they are so jealous. In 1632, indeed, the court laid a duty upon salt: the inhabitants of Bilbao rose, and massacred all the officers appointed to collect it, and all the officers of the grand admiral. Three thousand troops were sent to punish them for rebellion: these they fought, and totally defeated, driving most of them into the sea, which discouraged the court from pursuing their plan of taxation; and since that time the king has had no officer of any kind in the lordship, except his corregidor.

Many writers ascribe their flourishing commerce to their situation; but, as this is no better than that of Ferrol or Corunna, that advantage is more probably due to their liberty. In riding through this little territory, you would fancy yourself in Connecticut; instead of miserable huts, built of mud, and covered with straw, you see the country full of large and commodious houses and barns of the farmer; the lands well cultivated; and a wealthy, happy yeomanry. The roads, so dangerous and impassable in most other parts of Spain, are here very good, having been made at a vast expence of labour.

Although the government is called a democracy, we cannot here find all authority collected into one center; there are, on the contrary, as many distinct governments as there are cities and merindades. The general government has two orders at least; the lord or governor, and the biennial parliament. Each of the thirteen subordinate divisions has its organized government, with its chief magistrate at the head of it. We may judge of the form of all of them by that of the metropolis, which calls itself, in all its laws, the noble and illustrious republic of Bilbao. This city has its alcalde, who is both governor and chief justice, its twelve regidores or counsellors, attorney-general, &c. and by all these, assembled in the consistorial palace under the titles of consejo, justicia, y regimiento, the laws are made in the name of the lord of Biscay, and confirmed by him.

The influence of the system of government in Bizkaia on Adams is discussed in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452), by Gregorio Monreal Zia. This book also includes a detailed account of this system and a critical reflection on its implications. In short, it charts, explains, and discusses one particular genealogical strand of the current American governmental system.

See, also, Relational Democracy by Pedro Ibarra Güell, which critically examines the notion that democracy is defined merely by open, free, and popular elections. Instead, Ibarra argues for a new set of day-to-day relations between citizens and leaders that focus more closely on implementing popular demands at the government level, and applies his arguments to the Basque case.



What’s in a song? Txoria txori

“Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird) is a key song in the Basque musical canon. With lyrics by Joxean Artze and music by Mikel Laboa, it first appeared on Laboa’s seminal double album Bat hiru (One three) in 1974. To listen to this version, click here, with accompanying lyrics (and my translation into English) below.

Hegoak ebaki banizkion                    If I had clipped its wings
neria izango zen,                                    it would have been mine,
ez zuen alde egingo.                             it would never have flown away.
Hegoak ebaki banizkion                    If I had clipped its wings
neria izango zen,                                    it would have been mine,
ez zuen alde egingo.                             it would never have flown away.

Baina honela                                            But this way
ez zen gehiago txoria izango.         it would no longer have been a bird.
Baina honela                                            But this way
ez zen gehiago txoria izango.         it would no longer have been a bird.

Eta nik txoria nuen maite.                And I loved that bird.
Eta nik txoria nuen maite.                And I loved that bird.

La la la ra la…                                            La la la ra la…


European Robin (erithacus rubecula) singing, Cumnor Hill, Oxford, UK. Photo by Charlesjsharp,  own work from Sharp Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

The song sounds like a 60s-era protest song and, sure enough, it was actually written in 1968. So the story goes, the words came to Artze during dinner one night in a Donostia restaurant and he hurriedly wrote them down on a napkin in the form of a poem. Artze had in mind the severe restrictions on freedom maintained by the Franco regime in Spain at the time. Marisol Bastida, Laboa’s wife, noticed Artze doing this, read the poem, liked it, and told her husband he should read it too. He liked it as well, took the napkin home with him that night, and composed the music there and then. The rest, as they say, is history.

Among many cover versions of the song, that of Joan Baez here on her live album Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring, recorded in Bilbao in 1988, is perhaps the most famous. But there are others, such as that of Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, the Mexican-infused version by Puro Relajo from Nafarroa, and that of Basque chanteuse Anne Etchegoyen, in collaboration with the Aizkoa male-voice choir (not to mention a punk and hard rock version by Etsaiak and Flitter respectively). The song is even sung by fans of soccer’s Athletic Bilbao and rugby’s Aviron Bayonnais (at approx. 0m 37s and 1m 55s). In short, it has become a Basque anthem.

And Laboa’s own orchestral reworking of the tune, with the collaboration of the Orfeón Donostiarra and the Basque Youth Orchestra,  is a fitting testament to one of the most emblematic of all Basque songs.

“Txoria txori” is cited in Zelestina Urza in Outer Space, the new novel by David Romtvedt, the Pushcart Prize-award winning author of Flower Whose Name I Do Not Know and Wyoming poet laureate.

From the Backlist: Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language

During the closing act of the July 2015 San Fermin festival in Iruñea-Pamplona some sections of the crowd gathered to hear the traditional closing speech by the mayor, Joseba Asiron, jeered and booed him when he began speaking in Basque. To many observers, they appeared not to be booing the content of the speech, which was merely a generic institutional farewell to the festival in one of the two co-officially recognized languages in the Navarrese capital, but rather, in the absence of any other clear explanation, they seemed to be objecting to his use of the Basque language. For example, when Asiron switched to Spanish, the jeering stopped. To see a video of the incident, click here. (By way of an interesting contrast, see how the opening ceremony of the 2015 Baiona festival was celebrated heartily by the gathered public, in three languages, French, Basque, and Gascon, here).


It is interesting to see, then, that, in 2015, speaking the Basque language can still provoke such passions. Why? What are the roots of this hostility? In his Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language, Juan Madariaga Orbea offers a fascinating historical trail of attitudes that seek to both extol and decry the Basque language (and Basque culture in general). “How is it,” asks Madariaga, “that the language of a small country, with few inhabitants and consequently few speakers, an inferior literature, and who were excluded from public administration and education, has had and continues to have so much presence and has aroused so much interest and passion, and provoked such constant commentary, either to praise or to ridicule it?”

The complex answer to this question is unraveled in his ambitious work, which includes extracts of original texts by 69 writers between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of them translated into English for the first time, as well as references to well-known names such as Cervantes, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Victor Hugo. Anyone with an interest in the Basque language and culture, or more generally in how Self/Other constructs are defined and redefined through history, or how culture has for centuries been used as a political weapon, will find Madariaga’s study helpful and informative.

Related CBS Publications

Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and Viola Miglio.

Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, by Estibaliz Amorrortu.

The Dialects of Basque, by Koldo Zuazo.



Bill Douglass Honored at Lehendakari Reception for Basques in the United States

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A film captured some treasured moments of BIll’s career.

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The room was packed for the presentation and reception. All photos and video by Kerri Lesh.

We were so proud and honored to celebrate with our founder and professor emeritus Bill Douglass as he was honored in a very touching way at the reception presented for Basques in the United States at the Boise Centre Convention Center on the Friday before Jaialdi kicked off. We well know the contributions that Bill Douglass has made to Basque culture but it was still a great moment to see him honored. (And if you’d like to learn more, read his entertaining biography, William A. Douglass: Mr. Basque by Miel Elustondo.)

The award was presented by the Minister of Culture of the Basque Government, Christina Uriarte Toledo. Here is a short video from the presentation!

Flashback Friday: Born To Make History

On August 7, 1592, Arnaut Oihenart, Basque historian and poet, was born in Maule (Zuberoa), in the Northern Basque Country. His father, Arnaut, was the King’s attorney in the province and his mother, Jeanne d’Echart, daughter of a notary public. The young Arnaut studied law at the University of Bordeaux (France) to graduate in 1612. Oihenart would come to prominence as one of the first non-ecclesiastical Basque writers. His main historiographical work, written in Latin, is titled Notitia utriusque Vasconiae tum Ibericae tum Aquitanicae (News of the two Vasconias, both in Iberia and Aquitaine), which was first published in 1638 in Paris. In this history of “Vasconia,” Oihenart pointed out Basque constitutional origins in Navarre. It provided a legal legitimacy of the Basque Country being constitutionally rooted in the Kingdom of Navarre, by explaining the historical development of medieval law. It gave a unitary meaning to the Basque history, encompassing both sides of the border. This achievement alone makes Oihenart’s work fundamental to the comprehension of the history of the Basque Country. 


Notitia utriusque Vasconiae cover page


View of Maule (Zuberoa) in the early Twentieth Century

To read a selection from Notitia utriusque Vasconiae translated into English, as well as commentary on Oihenart’s life and work, see Juan Madariaga Orbea’s Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day


Basques in the United States Makes a Splash at Jaialdi

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Basque books editor Daniel Montero in the calm before the storm of presenting the book

It was such a pleasure to launch the Basques in the United States: A Biographical Encyclopedia of First-Generation Basque Immigrants, our 2-volume work listing nearly 10,000 first-generation immigrants from the Basque Country to the United States. It was so much fun to present this work to the public and to see the great reactions, especially from families who recognized someone on the cover. This type of historical research on the diaspora is so interesting and will have a lot to tell those everything from immigration patterns to the individual story of that person in the reader’s family who first made the trek across the Atlantic to our shores. I want to congratulate and thank everyone who worked on this for their tremendous time and effort, especially Koldo San Sebastian, without whom it never would have taken off, Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar who provided valuable assistance and how is generously volunteering her time to help us better this, and the translator, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe.

And I want to take this time to honor those Basques, among whom I count my grandmother and grandfather, who ventured over the sea and who worked tirelessly to make a better life for themselves and for their families. It is their stories that we seek to tell here and it gives me goosebumps everytime I consider the work that we (and many others, in many different ways) are doing to preserve their memory.

But we need your help! We’ve set up a website to help collect even more information. So please help us make this the most complete biographical collection it can be!

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Center graduate student Kerri Less helps present the books at the Lehendakari’s reception in the Boise Centre

Readers interested in a fictional account of one woman’s immigration experience (and much more) should pick up Zelestina Urza in Outer Space, by David Romtvedt . My Mama Marie is the recollection of a daughter about her mother’s experience (and her own). For more academic studies of immigration patterns, we’d like to highlight among our extensive list the contributions by Pedro Oiarzabal, Gardeners of Identity: The Basques of the San Francisco Bay Region, and The Basque Diaspora Webscape.

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A brief bio of Luciana Aboitz Garatea that was presented in the Jaialdi vendor space. She is in the book and her immigration photo is among those on the cover.

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Mila esker to everyone who showed so much interest in this project!

And finally, thanks to everyone who stopped by at Jaialdi and took an interest in this project, it’s for you in the end!

Basque Rugby: A Victim of Professionalization?

If soccer is the most widely followed sport in Hegoalde, the big sport in Iparralde has traditionally been rugby union. Indeed, in November 2011 the two main Basque teams, Aviron Bayonnais and Biarritz Olympique played the hundredth anniversary derby game, highlights of which can be seen here. In that hundred-year span, the teams from Baiona (3) and Biarritz (5) had won the French Championship 8 times, with Biarritz also reaching the final of rugby union’s Heineken Cup (a Europe-wide competition) on two occasions (in 2006 and 2010).


Biarritz Olympique fans celebrate the team’s 2006 championship win over Toulouse. Photo by TaraO, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the twentieth century rugby became synonymous with the Basque Country in France, where it enjoyed deep roots embedded in traditional rural communities. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that a prototypical Basque style of rugby (and rugby player) emerged: in other words, Basque rugby was robust and proud with a “never-say-die” attitude. Players were almost obsessively attached to their teams, defending their colors at all costs as if defending their culture, and enjoyed a close-knit network of relations with fans. To see the Baiona fans in full voice, click here.

If one position has come to exemplify Basque rugby players, it was that of prop forward (or simply “prop”), the two “pillar” positions at the front of the scrum; in other words, the strongest players in the team who have to put up with their own players pushing from behind and the opposition pushing against them during scrums. According to Wikipedia, “Some of the more successful props have short necks and broad shoulders to absorb this force as well as powerful legs to drive the scrum forward.” Some of the great Basque props include the “indomitable” Jean Iraçabal (b. 1941), Jean-Louis Azarete or “Zaza” (b. 1945), Peio Dospital or “Doxpi” (b. 1950), Pascal Ondarts (b. 1956), considered by The Times of London to be one of the 10 most frightening players ever to represent France, and, more latterly, Jean-Michel Gonzalez or “Gonzo” (b. 1967). Yet the most famous Basque rugby player of all time was not a prop but mostly played in the fullback position: the great Serge Blanco (b. 1958), the “Pele of rugby.” Currently, Aretz Iguiniz (b. 1983) carries on the great tradition of Basque props, but Imanol Harinordoquy (b. 1980), who plays in the number 8 position at the back of the scrum, is probably the best-known Basque rugby player at present.


Aretz Iguiniz, the latest in a long line of classic Basque props. Photo by Blaquestone, via Wikimedia Commons

Most of the aforementioned players flourished in the late twentieth century, at the end of the great age of Basque rugby. In contrast, the twenty-first century has witnessed a shift toward the “complete” professionalization of rugby, as opposed to what Alban David* terms the “skewed amateurism” of the 1970s through the 1990s that had replaced the truly amateur foundations of the sport. And this shift has ultimately undermined the strong local foundations of Basque rugby. Nowadays players from all over the world play in the top club sides. Money is the order of the day and those local loyalties do not mean so much as they once did.

Ironically, during the initial stages of this professional shift, both the major Basque teams enjoyed some degree of success: Biarritz won the French title in 2002, 2005, and 2006, as well as twice reaching the final of the Heineken Cup; and Baiona returned to the top-flight of French rugby in the early 2000s. Yet now, with both major Basque teams relegated to the second tier of French professional rugby, there have been calls to merge the two sides into one professional team representing Iparralde. This has provoked a widespread debate that goes to the very essence of Basque rugby itself. On this debate, see Gavin Mortimer’s article “Should Basque clubs Bayonne and Biarritz join forces?” in Rugby World.

Ironically, the gradual shift to a more professional setting appears to be enhancing the development of rugby in Hegoalde, but that’s a topic for another post.

*Alban David, Histoire du rugby au Pays Basque: De 1900 à aujourd hui. Éditions Sud Ouest, 2014.

See Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present for a general overview of sport (both traditional and modern) in Basque culture.

See also Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi, which includes a diverse collection of articles that address a variety of topics such as gender and sport, the local-global dynamic in contemporary sports, and the affective dimensions of sport as a whole.


Discover the Basque Country: Art, Art, Everywhere (and plenty to spare)

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.

We’re sure there’s no need to remind you of just how important the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has been in projecting the Basque Country on a global scale, but did you know that there are several other art museums spread across the Basque lands that also offer art lovers of all persuasions magnificent opportunities to indulge their passion?


Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Photo by Zarateman, via Wikimedia Commons

Just a few blocks from the Guggenheim Bilbao is the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, which includes among its permanent exhibitions work by El Greco, Goya, Gaugin, and Francis Bacon, as well as key Basque figures like Zuloaga, Chillida, and Oteiza. Meanwhile, Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Basque Autonomous Community, is home to Artium, the Basque Museum-Center of Contemporary Art, with its focus on more contemporary work, often in a variety of different media. Over in Donostia-San Sebastián, the rejuvenated San Telmo Museum (STM) offers an eclectic permanent collection including the Sert Canvasses depicting key aspects of Basque history and culture. In Baiona there is the Bonnat Helleu Fine Arts Museum, which is home to a drawing cabinet that is arguably the best of its kind outside the that of the Louvre in France, including work by, among others, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Goya. Finally, if you’re heading to Nafarroa, check out the Museum of Navarre in Iruñea-Pamplona, and don’t miss out on the Jorge Oteiza Museum-Foundation in Altzuza, which houses the personal collection of the great Basque sculptor.

These are just a few of the many art museums in the Basque Country. If you’re interested in this topic, check out Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This is a work that looks at not just the Guggenheim Bilbao (or indeed the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, on which there is also a chapter) but more broadly at the meaning of art museums in the contemporary world: the architects who design them, the artists whose work they exhibit, their franchise dimensions, and their impact as cultural tools in urban regeneration. The book is available free to download here.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is also discussed at length in Joseba Zulaika’s latest book, That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, which, according to bestselling author Mark Kurlansky, “brilliantly sets a new standard for books about cities.” And check out Oteiza’s Selected Writings, edited by Joseba Zulaika, a collection of the renowned sculptor’s thoughts on art and culture.

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