Month: May 2016 (page 1 of 3)

14,500-year-old animal paintings discovered in Basque cave

A team of archaeologists recently came across a major series of animal paintings, dating from up to c.14,500 years ago and including horses, bison, goats, and deer, in the Atxurra caves near Berriatua, Bizkaia. There are about 70 etchings in total dating from the Upper Paleolithic era that were previously unknown to modern researchers, most likely due to their remote location, approximately 1,000 feet deep, inside the cave system. The paitings may have contained black coal dust and were made using flint tools.

Check out a report on the findings here. See also a detailed first-hand report on the discovery (in Spanish) here.

The Atxurra cave was first discovered in 1929 and was excavated between 1934 and 1935 by Jose Miguel de Barandiaran, still considered to be the greatest Basque ethnographer of all time. For some wonderful traditional folk tales as well as detailed accounts of many of Barandiaran’s excavations, see Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography.

May 22, 1920: Guridi’s opera Amaya performed for first time

On May 22, 1920, Basque composer Jesús Guridi‘s opera Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII (Amaya or the Basques in the eighth century) was performed for the first time at the Coliseo Alba opera house in Bilbao. The premiere starred Spanish soprano Ofelia Nieto in the title role, Polish soprano/mezzo-soprano Aga Lahowska, Basque tenor Isidoro Fagoaga, Italian bass-baritone Giulio Cirino, and Basque bass Gabriel Olaizola as well as the Bilbao Choral Society (conducted by Guridi himself), with music by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ricard Lamote de Grignon. It is an opera in three acts and an epilogue. The Spanish libretto was written by José María Arroita Jauregui, with a Basque version by Brother José de Arrúe.

The opera was based on a Romantic historical novel of the same title by Francisco Navarro Villoslada, originally published in journal installments from 1877 onward, which combined elements of Basque folklore, mythology, and historical fact. The setting is Navarre in the eight century and the plot surrounds a twofold power struggle: on the one hand that of Basque pagans and Christians, and, on the other, a more earthly conflict among Basques, Visigoths, and Muslims, in which the noblewoman Amaya, the descendant of the Basque ancestral patriarch Aitor, is the central character. She ultimately marries the Basque resistance leader García/Gartzea and together they establish the royal house of Navarre.

Listen here to Parts I, II, and III of the Epilogue (with score).  And see the famed Ezpatadantza or sword-dance, also part of the opera, in a 1992 performance here:

 

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Jesús Guridi in 1915. on the occasion of a performamce of his opera Mirentxu in Madrid. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Embracing a Wagnerian aesthetic and clearly rooted in Basque folklore, Guridi gave each character in the opera their own melody, rhythm, and instrumentation. Thought and structure coincide completely in the work, which proved a triumph for the composer from Araba, earning him a great reputation for his attention to dramatic composition.

His other Basque-themed works include Mirentxu (1910), El caserío (The farmstead, 1926), and Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque melodies, 1940). Curiously, he was also the author of Homenaje a Walt Disney (Homage to Walt Disney, 1956). He died at the age of seventy-four in 1961.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, free to download here, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Be sure to also take a look at the website of the marvelous Basque music archive, Eresbil, which features a comprehensive record of all kinds of Basque music, musicians, and composers, and at which  you can listen to original recordings, download scores, and so on.

 

 

Xabier Irujo interviewed in Noticias de Gipuzkoa

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Dr. Xabier Irujo, photo borrowed from the Noticias de Gipuzkoa.

The Center’s Xabier Irujo was interviewed in the Basque daily Noticias de Gipuzkoa on Sunday, May 22. In the interview, Xabier talks about his research on the state of the Basque language in exile outside the Basque Country, within the diaspora network. Zorionak Xabier!

See the original (in Spanish) here.

Check out a full English translation, courtesy of our good friends at Euskalkultura, here.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: Erramun Borda, the “Dutch” Basque sheepherder, moonshiner, and tree carver

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Ramon “Dutch” Borda sitting and reading a book.

This week in our series of stories adapted from vol. 2 of  Basques in the United States we look at a man who had four names, about the same number of jobs, and, ultimately, seven kids. Welcome to the always lively world of Erramun “Dutch” Borda.

Erramun, aka Raymond, Ramon, or “Dutch” Borda was born Apr. 17, 1894 in Bidarrai, Lower Navarre. His mother, Marikita Etchelhar, had been born in Argentina. Besides Pierre, he had 2 other brothers, Guilen and Batita, who also came to Nevada to herd sheep. Their sister also came to the US. Borda was commonly known as “Dutch” (due to his affiliation with Minden, a German town, according to one source) but he wrote his name on aspen trees 3 different ways: Erramun, Ramon, and Raymond.

He emigrated to the US when he was 19, arriving in New York City and making his way across the country to Reno where his brother Pierre lived (in the Commercial Hotel). He began tending the sheep of his brother-in-law Uhalde, but soon had his own herd. In the next ten years he began many new adventures. He married Gorgonia Martinez from Iruñea-Pamplona and they had 4 children: Mary, Raymond, Helen, and Pete. He bought a ranch in Dayton, NV, and then he bought the East Fork Hotel in Gardnerville, NV from Charles Brown.

Those were the days of Prohibition and most Basque hotel owners in Nevada, more than 97 percent of them, ended up getting involved in Prohibition-related incidents at one time or another with the federal authorities. Some hotels were even shut down and their owners jailed. In April 1920 Raymond was arrested by federal agents when they discovered wort–the liquid extract from the mashing process involved in distilling beer and brandy–at his home. It was the second time that he had been caught breaking the law. He was released on bail and was tried in June of that year. In April 1921 he was arrested yet again for selling liquor to two clients in the hotel kitchen. He was brought before the magistrate who set bail at $500 with the obligation to report to the federal commissioner, Anna Warren, for preview. And on April 23, 1923 a federal judge ordered the closure of the hotel for 8 months. Two days later, in an event never clarified, someone fired 2 shots that hit the hotel office.

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Detroit police inspecting equipment found in a clandestine brewery during the Prohibition era. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In November of that year he was sentenced to 6 months for 3 counts related to the ban and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a fine. While in prison in February 1924 he requested furlough to care for his lambs, and was granted permission. The costs of the probation officer were charged to Dutch’s account, and when the lambing season ended, he returned to the county jail to serve the rest of the sentence! Borda was a member of the Farmer’s Bank of Gardnerville, the Farm Bureau, and the Eagles Lodge. He had 7 children in total, and died on April 7, 1950.

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

Bizkaia band blends Basque and English in cool electro fusion

Like getting on down to a bit of electro dance music? Like Basque? Then check out Gau Ama (Mother Night), the latest album by Getxo (Bizkaia) band WAS (formerly We Are Standard), a cool blend of catchy house- and rave-inspired tunes just right for the summer that combine English and Basque lyrics and that invoke traditional Basque folkloric airs. Check out the teaser for “Upside Down” below…

… and the full video for “Irrintzi,” a title inspired by the traditional Basque shout. Shout out to WAS!

For more info take a look at the band’s website here.

If you want to learn more about contemporary Basque music, Basque Songwriting: Pop, Rock, Folk by Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga is a great place to start. You can download the book for free, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute, here.

Recent report on Basque-Americans causes much food for thought

In 1901 the renowned philosopher Miguel de Unamuno remarked before a crowd gathered to celebrate traditional Basque culture: “[T]hat language you speak, Basque people, that Euskara, will disappear with you, and this is of no importance as you too must disappear. Hurry up and kill it, bury it with honor, and speak Spanish.”

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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) in 1912. Although he was a Basque-speaker and wrote his dissertation on the language, he later rejected Basque as a “serious obstacle to extending European culture in my country.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unamuno’s words, which centered on the language but which were also clearly aimed at Basque culture as a whole, have become synonymous in the Basque Country with a mindset that, at best, views Basque culture as anachronistic in–and at worst antithetical to–the so-called modern world. Indeed, such views, as Juan Madariaga Orbea demonstrates candidly in his prodigious Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language, were hardly new at the time and represented in many ways the culmination of a centuries-long tradition of claiming that Basque culture was in demise and would soon disappear.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Philosopher, linguist, educator, and diplomat, Humboldt visited the Basque Country and wrote at length about its culture and language. On the latter he wrote in 1801, a full one hundred years prior to Unamuno’s declaration above: “Basque will possibly have vanished from the list of living languages in less than a century.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If anything, Unamuno’s views marked the beginning of a new era, namely that coinciding with the threshold of the contemporary world as it crashed into the twentieth century, in which the Basque language and Basque culture more generally would come under the critical spotlight from supposedly more educated, erudite, and urbane elites. By the late twentieth century, so this view went, Basques were part of a disappearing world and their antiquated ways had no place in contemporary society. And this mantra–which to be clear is embraced by many Basques themselves, as well as outsiders sympathetic to Basque culture like Wilhelm von Humboldt (see his Selected Basque Writings)–has been applied to questioning anything from the potential for such a small language as Basque to actually survive in the modern world to the “parochial” selection policy of soccer club Athletic Bilbao and “outmoded” sports like Jai Alaia or zesta punta (on the latter see this report from a few years ago).

Which brings me in a slightly roundabout sort of way to an interesting report published recently in the Idaho Statesman about Basque-American identity. Eric Quitugua’s “Cultural identity fades among Idaho’s second-generation Basque immigrants,” is a thought-provoking article that I would encourage anyone with an interest in Basque-American culture to read. It charts the decline of the Basque sheep industry in Idaho and a waning interest on the part of new generations of Basque-Americans to maintain the Basque language.

This all got me to wondering whether this was another example, albeit transplanted across the Atlantic, of the glass-is-half-empty view of Basque culture. After all, the changing nature of the sheep industry and the loosening of specifically Basque ethnic ties to this lifestyle have been long recorded. Indeed, Peruvian herders are mentioned in the classic Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, published for the first time in 1975. And isn’t it typical of such immigrant communities to relinquish their ties to the hard and grueling niche industries that brought them to the US in the first place, once they are more settled, have enjoyed greater educational possibilities, and are socially mobile? Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge many of the sentiments expressed in the report, and it should come as no surprise to anyone with an interest in Basque-American identity to note that the same general theme has been explored on multiple occasions by by Bill Douglass.* Indeed, he also critically questions the staying power of Basque identity within the changing social and cultural framework of the American West.

But I think it is also worth noting the historical evidence for Basque cultural endurance. After all, this is a country of just 3 million people, less than a third of whom actually speak Basque, and it still exists and people still speak Basque today. Such resilience is expressed in the US today by numerous initiatives to promote Basque culture and maintain a sense of Basque-American identity on the part of both institutions and private individuals and groups, many of which you yourselves out there, possibly even reading this, are largely responsible for.

I’m thinking here obviously about our own Center and its special commitment to research and publishing, but also the great work being done in Basque Studies at Boise State University and the remarkable Boiseko Ikstola preschool. I’m also thinking about the tireless efforts of NABO, the North American Basque Organizations, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise to perpetuate Basque culture and identity. I’m thinking of the global network of Basque Clubs as well as the university network of Basque language and culture readers and chairs in the US and beyond developed by the Etxepare Basque Institute, both sponsored by the Basque Government. And I’m thinking of other initiatives at a more private, even personal level, like Buber’s Basque Page (surely a historic institution in itself by now?) and the National Basque Festival in Elko, Nevada, celebrating 53 years this year! This year, too, is particularly special because as I’m sure you’ll all know by now, Basque culture will be front and center at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And of course there are many, many more people, places, and events I could mention. My point is that, in the great scheme of things, it would seem to me that serious conscious efforts have and are being made to not only maintain Basque-American identity but also adapt it to the context of an ever-changing world. And by way of a counterpoint to the abovementioned report, check out the following article: “‘Ni Boisekoa naiz’: Keeping Basque alive in Idaho.”

One of the great benefits of being a small culture is that you typically know a lot more about your bigger and more powerful neighbors than they will ever know about you; and smaller cultures are sometimes much better adapted to withstanding the bad times and responding to changes in their circumstances creatively, having had to do so constantly throughout their history just to survive. Bigger cultures, in contrast, having enjoyed the reins of power, find it awfully difficult to cope when things don’t quite go their way and if they didn’t already know, they should take heed from Shelley’s warning, in his timeless “Ozymandias,” that even they may be susceptible to disappearing without trace.

So here’s to speaking Basque, Athletic Bilbao’s recruitment policy, zesta punta, and every other expression of Basque cultural identity! If I started with some words by Unamuno, a Basque, who believed that Basque culture would eventually die out, I’ll end with a thought by Mark Kurlansky, a New Yorker, who thinks quite the opposite. Perhaps, he speculates, in a thousand years, “relative newcomers” like the French and Spanish, won’t be around,.

But the Basques will still be there, playing strange sports, speaking a language of ks and xs that no one else understands, naming their houses and facing them toward the eastern sunrise in a land of legends, on steep green mountains by a cobalt sea–still surviving, enduring by the grace of what Juan San Martin called Euskaldun bizi nahia, the will to live like a Basque.

*See in particular “Basque Ethnic Resurgence: Consolidation or Crisis of Heritage,” paper presented to the American Association of Anthropology. San Francisco (1992); “Basque-American Identity: Past Perspectives and Future Prospects,” in Change in the American West: Exploring the Human Dimension, ed. Stephen Tchudi (Reno: Nevada Humanities Committee and University of Nevada Press, 1996); and “Creating the New Basque Diaspora,” in Basque Politics and Nationalism on the Eve of the Millennium, ed. William A. Douglass, Carmelo Urza, Linda White, and Joseba Zulaika (Reno:  Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Reno, 1999).

Sapling from the Tree of Gernika planted on UNR campus

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This sapling from the Tree of Gernika takes up its new home at UNR. 

On Friday, May 20, 2016, the sapling from the Tree of Gernika was planted on the UNR campus. Here are some photos from this great and momentous event. May you live long and prosper young sapling!

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Technicians from the Nevada State Arboretum plant the sapling.

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Professor Joseba Zulaika presents the significance of the tree. All photos courtesy of Iñaki Arrieta Baro.

May 15, 1849: Basque pioneers Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen arrive in US

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The Hotel Vasco (or “Aguirre Hotel”) in San Francisco, built by Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen in 1866.

On May 15, 1849 two of the most influential early Basque immigrants to the US arrived in San Francisco: Juan Miguel Aguirre (b. Etxalar, Navarre, in 1813) and Maria Martina Labayen (b. Areso, Navarre, 1816). Juan Miguel had fought on the losing Carlist side in the First Carlist War (1833-39). In 1845 he emigrated to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he established a successful hide and tallow business.

On hearing of the discovery of gold in California, they headed there in 1849, but instead of Juan Miguel seeking his fortune in the mines like most other forty-niners, the couple stayed in San Francisco. He made a living there by supplying much needed water to the ever-expanding city, transporting this valuable commodity by burro from a spring at the Presidio and peddling it, door-to-door for a dollar a bucket, to businesses and residents in old downtown San Francisco. As the business expanded, he employed fellow Basques to help him meet the growing demand. Today the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in charge of the city’s water supply system, acknowledges Aguirre as one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of supplying fresh water to residents in the city.

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“San Francisco.” Engraving from The United States Illustrated by Charles A. Dana (New York, 1855). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The couple then used the profits of this business to invest in real estate, buying a lot at the intersection of what is now Grant Avenue and Ashburton Place, on which they built a fronton. Then, in 1866, they built one of the city’s first Basque hotels at 1312 Powell St., just off Broadway, a modest two-storey wooden building. And they also helped establish Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church on Broadway, which served as a point of reference for many Basques.  By the 1870s, the Aguirre, as it was known popularly, had also become a kind of employment agency for newly arrived Basques in San Francisco, as the following contemporary description of the establishment (quoted in Jeri Echeverria’s wonderful Home Away from Home, p. 69) demonstrates: “There was a Basque hotel in the center of town, where California rancheros in need of help were sure to find quiet gentle men from the Pyrenees.”

Interestingly, the Basque forty-niners formed a specific group within this growing Basque community in the Bay Area, regarded and revered as the veterans or pioneers of their compatriots. And a dinner in their honor was held in 1893, at which both Juan Miguel and Maria Martina were present, and at which several bottles of champagne were consumed according to the local Basque-language newspaper California’ko Eskual-Herria.

Juan Miguel died in 1897, but Maria Martina and their three children continued to run the hotel. By the turn of the century, the Aguirre had become the premier meeting point (and “marriage mill”!) for Basques living in San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and San Jose counties. It was even a vacation destination for other Basques visiting from further afield in the West. This all came to an end, though, when it burned down in the San Francisco fires of 1906.

Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen can rightly be credited as key figures in establishing the Basque community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Further Reading

Douglass, William A., and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World.

Echeverria, Jeronima. Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses.

Oiarzabal, Pedro J. Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Sebastián, Koldo, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. Basques in the United States, vol. 2.

Zubiri, Nancy. A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals.

Tales from Basques in the United States: If you ever needed reminding that Basques had a reputation for working hard…

Today’s story in our series of tales from Basques in the United States is adapted from vol. 1 and concerns the amazing feat of record-breaking Antonio Malasechevarria, brother of the more tragic “Txomin” covered in a previous post.

Jan eta lo, potolo (“The Devil makes work for idle hands,” literally: “Just eating and sleeping makes you fat”)

 Lan onak, uzta ona (“Good work, good harvest”)

Gus Bundy.

Long, lonely days on remote mountains were the norm for newly arrived Basque sheepherders. Photo courtesy of Gus Bundy, from the Basque Archive.

Born Apr. 22, 1890 in Gizaburuaga, Bizkaia, he arrived in New York City in 1910 and went straight to Winnemucca, NV, to meet up with his brother, Juan, who was working in Paradise Valley. He became a sheepherder and, after stints in Humboldt Co., NV, he ended up working for Jay H. Dobbins in southern Idaho and Oregon. In 1918 the media reported that he had broken a record that was difficult to match: He had worked a straight 38 months and 5 days or 3 years, 2 months, and 5 days, without taking a single day off! What’s more, he didn’t receive a single penny for any of this mammoth work shift until it was over, and he went into a town only when passing through. In the end, he received a check for $2,018. Antonio was one of the five “Bascos” contracted by Dobbins in the spring of 1915. Another compatriot, José Arriaga, had also worked 2 years straight without rest (Oregonian, Jul. 7, 1918).

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

Xabier Irujo to speak on Basque language, writing and exile at the Sabino Arana Foundation

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Andima Ibinagabeitia, Jokin Zaitegi, and Nikolas Ormaetxea, Orixe. Source: Center for Basque Studies Archive.

Dr. Xabier Irujo will speak on the situation of the Basque language from the Second Carlist War until after the Spanish War of 1936-1939. Beginning from the premise of writers like Miguel de Unamuno, who relegated Basque to a second tier, Xabier will lead the audience through the Basque renaissance that happened following the Second Carlist War that continued through the 1936 war, at which time the major impetus for the preservation fell upon the Basques, exiled from the Francoist dictatorship, who carried on this important work in exile, usually in Latin America. Among many others, Zaitegi, Ibinagabeitia, Orixe and Ametzaga were some of the Basque writers and patriots in exile. In this conference, Xabier will treat the importance of translation of these authors who lived in exile in París, Casablanca, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, México and Caracas, and, in general, on the importance of Basque.

The conference will take place at the Sabino Arana Foundation in Bilbao on Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 pm.

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Readers interested in this subject should check out Xabier’s Expelled from the Motherland, and for a bit of a different story of exile, A Basque Patriot in New York by Inaki Anasagasti and Jose Erkoreka.

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