Month: March 2018

March 10, 1784: Birth of Basque Enlightenment Figure Maria del Pilar Acedo Sarria

Maria del Pilar de Acedo y Sarria, Countess of Echauz, Countess of Vado, Marchioness of Montehermoso (1784-1869). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 10, 1784, Maria del Pilar Acedo y Sarria was born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, to José María Manuel Acedo y Atodo, Count of Echauz and Luisa de Sarria y Villafañe, Countess of Vado. Her father was a member of the renowned Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, an important eighteenth-century Enlightenment institution that fostered scientific, cultural, and economic learning with the aim of contributing to the improvement of Basque society. Raised in an Enlightened aristocratic environment, she spent most of her early years being educated in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1800 she married a nobleman, Ortuño María de Aguirre y del Corral, Marquis of Montehermoso, the head of the Provincial Council of Araba and also a member of the Royal Basque Society. They settled in a family palace in Vitoria-Gasteiz and would go on to have one daughter, Maria Amalia, in 1801. Domestic life, as befitted an aristocratic family so connected to the Royal Basque Society, was one of education, learning, debate, and numerous social gatherings. Maria del Pilar Acedo was fluent in several languages, wrote poetry, and played the guitar as well as being an enthusiastic participant in these gatherings with similarly Enlightened company.

The Sixteenth-Century Montehermoso Palace, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Today, the Montehermoso Cultural Center. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1807, Vitoria-Gasteiz was occupied by French troops as part of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), Napoleon’s campaign to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. And in 1808, Napoleon named his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain. On a trip to Madrid that year, Acedo met the elder Bonaparte and he in turn visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he stayed at her palace.  The two became lovers and she accompanied him when he returned to Madrid, where she “officially” became his mistress. At the same time, her husband was also welcomed in the king’s trusted circle. But his rule was not a happy one. He was unpopular and had no influence in the ongoing Peninsular War. He ultimately abdicated and returned to France after the French defeat at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. He was accompanied once more, by Acedo, whose husband had died (while accompanying King Joseph on a trip to France) in 1811. However, shortly after arriving in France, their relationship ended.

Having inherited lands, wealth, and titles from both her parents, Acedo was free to live indepedently in France. She lived temporarily in several places there, including Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) in Lapurdi. In 1816, she remarried a French noble military officer Jacques Amádée de Carabène, and they settled in Carresse Castle in Bearn, where she lived off the income from her estates in Spain and spent the rest of her life carrying out charitable works. She lived a long and full life and died there in 1869.

Meet visiting researcher Aitziber Etxebarria Usategi from the Government of Bizkaia

The Government of Bizkaia has an collaboration agreement with the University of Nevada in order to promote, and research about the Basque Economic Agreement and its relationship with the current federal tax system in the United States. This year, Aitziber has been selected to do this research. Aitziber works for the Government of Bizkaia as an expert in tax collection. She has been working there for 15 years doing different jobs, all of them always connected with taxes. Aitziber aims to compare US estate, inheritance and gift taxes with their Basque equivalent in the light of the differences between the two countries. She plans to write an article about her research in Nevada, to be published with seven other chapters in a book edited by the Center for Basque Studies next year.

 Aitziber arrived on the 26th of February, and is leaving on the 24th of May.

All I can say is that I’ve met very friendly people who gave me a great welcome and that I’m very happy to be here. I’m having a great time in Reno! These weeks I’ve been getting to know Reno. I’ve explored, among other places, the downtown area, the casinos, and Rancho San Rafael Park. I’ve been advised to go visit Pyramid Lake, Black Rock Desert, Virginia City and, of course, Tahoe Lake. I’m also planning a trip to Napa Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. They are going to be very busy days!

What I like the most of Reno is its light. It is very sunny and that light makes everything look magical. People are very friendly as well. They don’t mind being asked for help and they are always very kind and helpful. It’s a good place to live!
Ongi etorri Aitziber!

Terminal: Looking the other way

A bus driver thinks that a junkie he used to see regularly has died. He regrets not having helped her. But soon she shows up again.

Have a great Tuesday with a Kimuak short!

Aitzol Aramio`s Terminal is an unhappy love story spoiled by the prejudices of the main character, a man who works at the ticket booth of a bus company (Miguel Ángel Solá). He falls in love with a young junkie (Blanca Oteyza), whom he sees every night on the bus that takes her from work, a night club, to home. This story is full of tenderness and subtlety. It is centered on the profoundly human, kind-hearted and transparent character of the drug addict, and shows the cowardice of the man who gives more importance to the woman`s past than the possibility of a future with her.

While the masculine character does not evolve, the young woman undergoes a profound transformation throughout the story. The concept of movement, of progress is materialized through the bus trip. The vehicle represents the crossroads of everyday existence where everyone takes a direction. In case of the woman, it symbolizes the path towards redemption, and the struggle to be happy. Bilbao`s Termibus ticket booth marks the turning point of this personal pilgrimage: the initial hell, and then that of the arrival, and the man`s rejection. Fortunately, the ending makes it clear that in spite of the pain, the young woman embarks on a new journey by herself. He however is anchored to a station from which he will never move. His existence is limited to observing the journeys that other people take every day. And like everything in life, this choice has a price: loneliness and melancholy. Under the day`s light, the bus runs around the city. Taciturn, the clerk grabs the bar with both hands, and his little finger keeps searching for the woman. But it is now too late. His incapacity leads him to regret things twice.

Ultimately, beyond the tender story of impossible love, the short film reflects about the distinctive positions people take before life. It criticizes a society where those who are stagnant look at the world from behind a watchtower, from a moral high ground, and do nothing to help others in their transformative journeys. Their inaction turns them into an example of virtue, when in fact they are cowards and egoists who feel nothing, and suffer nothing.

You can watch the silent short here:

March 5, 1937: Battle of Cape Matxitxako

On March 5, 1937, the Battle of Cape Matxitxako took place off Bermeo, Bizkaia, during the Spanish Civil War. It was a naval battle between the Spanish heavy cruiser Canarias in the service of Franco’s military rebels and four pro-Republic Basque armed trawlers escorting a convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers. They were confronted by the rebel cruiser Canarias off Cape Matxitxako.

Cape Matxitxako off the coast of Bizkaia. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 4, the four Basque trawlers–the BizcaiaGipuzkoaDonostia, and Nabarra–departed the port of Baiona in Lapurdi with the aim of escorting the Galdames, which besides passengers was also carrying mail, machinery, weapons, supplies, and funds. The first engagement between the two sides took place on March 5, some 20 miles north of Bilbao. The Canarias fired first, hitting the Gipuzkoa, which in turn retaliated. The other trawlers attempted to maneuver the Canarias closer to the shore, from where their ground support could more easily strike it. All the while, their aim was to keep the Canarias away from the Galdames by engaging directly with the rebel ship.  The Donostia withdrew after being hit, but the Nabarra continued to engage the Canarias directly. She was eventually hit and came to a halt; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while another 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza. Ultimately, the Galdames was hit by a salvo from Canarias, lost four passengers, and was captured by Franco’s cruiser. The 20 men who abandoned the ship were rescued and taken aboard the Canarias.

Monument to the fallen Basque sailors at the Battle of Cape Matxitxako. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (pp. 262-63), Cameron Watson discusses how Anglo-Irish poet C. Day Lewis (father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis) immortalized the event in “The Nabara” (1938):

Day-Lewis never visited the Basque Country, but saw the struggle of many Basques against the military uprising of Francisco Franco as a universal theme. His epic prose poem “The Nabara,” published in 1938, pays homage to what he considered to be the indomitable spirit of the Basque people, suggested by an event that took place in 1937 during the Civil War, when five modestly armed Basque trawlers engaged in a hopeless naval battle with a Spanish rebel cruiser in the waters of Bilbo, in a bold attempt to break a Spanish blockade of the Basque city that was starving Bilbo’s inhabitants. The struggle of the ill-equipped fishing boats lasted longer than might have been expected, ending only when the last of their number, the Nabarra (Nafarroan), was finally sunk by superior forces, losing thirty-eight members of its original fifty-two-man crew. Day Lewis wrote: “Freedom is more than just a word, more than the base coinage of Statesmen, the tyrant’s dishonoured cheque, or the dreamer’s inflated currency. She is mortal, we know, and made in the image of simple men who have no taste for carnage but sooner kill and are killed than see that image betrayed … a pacific people, slow to feel ambition, loving their laws and their independence–men of the Basque Country.”

You can download Modern Basque History for free here.



Special issue of SIBA about sport, identity and nationalism with a Basque accent

The Journal of Iberian and Latin American Literary and Cultural Studies SIBA highlights, among other sporting cultures, Basque sport and politics in its latest special issue, edited by CBS professor Mariann Vaczi.

From Marxism to fascism across the ideological palette, sport has engaged politics and power in diverse ways. Nationalism, nation-building and identity construction through physical culture has become a prominent research subject for social science.  Sport studies have integrated and complemented the most significant theoretical currents and conceptual toolkits of mainstream sociology, history, political science and anthropology. This special issue deploys these approaches in an Iberian and Latin-American context. The authors examine sport, nationalism and sub-national identities; colonialism and post-colonialism; race-relations and indigenous politics; sport in authoritarian regimes, and the use of sport to break with European roots in quest of South American nationhood and identities. The concept of “sport” is understood here quite broadly: activities that have competitive dimensions and/or involve strenuous, ritualized, rule-driven or choreographed physical activity. Crossbreeding sporting elements with other realms of culture such as art and ritual, as with the bullfight; or cognition and logic, as with chess; or folklore, as with human tower building, only yield more exciting and exact conclusions about their social and political embeddedness.

For the entire open access issue, see

Here’s a brief review of the contributions that have Basque relevance in national and sub-national political contexts.

A Panther Among Lions: Iñaki Williams, Race and Basque Identity at Athletic Club de Bilbao

By Mariel Aquino (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Basques are a heavily ethnicized people due to their ancient, obscure, and insular origins: in his 1950s BBC series “Orson Welles Around the World,” the American director presents them as “the Red Indians of Europe.”

Never, however, had Basqueness been conceived in terms of Blackness until the first prominent black soccer player was signed by Athletic Club de Bilbao.

Aquino explores the integration of Iñaki Williams in the club, and how it produced the symbolic, if not necessarily real, inclusion of African immigrant communities within Basque identity. The integration of non-white players in European national teams has gained considerable media attention for the past decade, “signaling as it does,” Aquino writes in her analysis, “the destabilization of normative white European identity.” The case of Iñaki Williams is a particular breakthrough in a club where, because of its Basque-only philosophy, the discussion of player pedigrees in Bilbao actively constructs the boundaries between Basques and non-Basques. Aquino revisits some of the special chapters of defining Basqueness through player recruitment. Each case reveals a particular idea of ethnic identity in terms of birthplace, upbringing, genealogy and national belonging have variously established ingroup and outgroup boundaries. In all its variations, however, Basque identity was white until Iñaki Williams, whose eruption in the field provoked several race related commentaries Spain and Basque Country-wide, arguing that it should be perfectly natural that Blackness and Basqueness go together. This aggressive “rhetoric of colorblindness,” however, Aquino remarks, was ultimately just as “othering:” it was precisely this loud defensiveness that revealed that Black Basqueness, instead of quotidian, remains a major breakthrough.


A Basque-American Deep Game: The Political Economy of Ethnicity and Jai-Alai in the USA

By Olatz González Abrisketa (University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU)

At the height of its game in the late 1980`s,  jai alai was a 700-million-dollar business a year, with 14 active frontons throughout the United States, which would routinely fill with gamblers and aficionados of the “world`s fastest sport.” González revisits the two golden ages of the Basque sport in the United States: the 1950s-60s, and the 1970s-80s. The author argues that these two eras were also a generation gap not only in terms of age, but the political culture jai alai players brought with them. Overwhelmingly from the Basque Country, sport migrants in the 70-80s responded very differently than previous generations to what the game had to offer in the United States. While the first generation of Basque players were relatively content with the socio-economic opportunities sport migration offered them, the author argues that the emergence of ETA, considered revolutionary, left wing and socialist back then, had an impact on how Basque players viewed their situation in US capitalist culture.

The emergent Basque political culture lent ethos and vocabulary to US based jai alai players: an ethos of resistance and struggle, the strategy of hordago or all or nothing, and deeply politicized resistance strategies like hunger strikes were borrowed from their original Basque context and deployed in  the  American one.

These resistance strategies had great success in players` struggle for greater job security and fair treatment.

Football and politics in Spain: An empirical analysis of the social base of the main football clubs

By Ramón Llopis-Goig (University of Valencia)

Complementing qualitative and historical research, Ramón Llopis-Goig offers a quantitative analysis of soccer fandom and political sentiments with regards to the four most politicized and symbolic teams in Spain: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Club de Bilbao, and the Spanish national team. These teams have been major icons for Spanish, Catalonian and Basque identity construction throughout the twentieth century. Llopis-Goig explores the larger questions of regional nationalism, identity, and left vs. right political leanings through fans` self-identification, their following of the Spanish national soccer team, their preferences with regards to regional autonomy, and their left vs. right ideological orientation. According to this study based on representative sampling and a national survey, the fans of FC Barcelona are most left-leaning, and are most in favor of reforming the current state by increasing the autonomy of the region. This resonates with the larger social impetus of the current Catalonian sovereignty process.

The fans of the Basque Athletic Club de Bilbao have the strongest regional identification with their Basque heritage: fans identify as either only Basque or Basque and Spanish, but not exclusively Spanish.

The fans of Real Madrid are the most right-wing leaning, and most likely to define themselves as entirely or partly Spanish. Llopis-Goig`s research concludes that the symbolic import of these clubs remains important for political-ideological identifications, while radical, exclusive and homogenizing loyalties are not as prevalent as stereotypes would have us believe.


Pulling Up Stakes? Sport and Sub-National Solidarity for Catalonia`s Independence

By Mariann Vaczi (University of Nevada, Reno)

This contribution was inspired by an episode the author witnessed in Arrasate and Azpeitia in the Basque Country: Basques invited a Catalan human tower team, the Castellers de Barcelona, to build their breathtaking structures while Basque voted on a symbolic referendum about independence from Spain. This old traditional sport is an emergent symbol of Catalan nation building for the current sovereignty process, and the performance in the Basque Country expressed sub-national solidarity in Basque and Catalonian desires to vote about independence. The iconicity of tower building, and the sport`s ethos of cooperation express joint efforts in the pursuits of regional autonomy. The author takes the emblematic Catalan liberty song, Lluís Lach`s L`estaca (The Stake), which was performed at the event, as a metaphor for the agonic state-region relationships of Spain. During the Franco dictatorship, the stake was an image that tied people, and did not allow them to walk freely—a logic Basque and Catalan pro-independence actors argue they continue to feel. Pulling the stake from several sides, however, wears it out and eventually causes it to collapse.

Lluís Lach`s stake metaphor maps a particular political geography of Spain: the agonic relationship between the center (stake) and the periphery (pull away regions), as well as solidarity and united struggle among them. Sports have eminently contributed to this agonic relationship.

Vaczi examines how the two political peripheries have progressively conspired to “wear out” Spanish sovereignty through sport and physical culture, which are particularly apt to present these agonic interactions due to their physicality.





Euskal Inauteriak-Basque Carnivals


We have to say goodbye to the shortest month of the year, but one of the busiest in the Basque Country. During the month of February they celebrate the inauteriak ihauteak, ihoteak or aratusteak (carnivals or Mardi Gras) all over the Basque Country. They are the popular festivals of pagan character that are celebrated in many cases the three days preceding Ash Wednesday and are celebrated differently depending on the area.  

During the Franco period, many of the celebrations that were part of these carnivals were banned and persecuted.  Thankfully in most areas the traditions were recovered.

The following photos show how unique the different costumes and events are throughout the Basque Country.

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Kotilungorriak (Ustaritze)

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Ziripot (Lantz)

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Zanpantzarrak (Ituren)

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Lamiak (Mundaka)

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Momotxorroak (Altsasu)

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Zakuzaharrak (Lesaka)

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Mamoxarroak (Unanua)


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February 25, 1119: Conquest of Tutera by Alfonso the Battler

On February 25, 1119, Tutera (Tudela) in Navarre, an important center of Muslim political power and culture in the Iberian peninsula, fell to the forces of Alfonso I, “the Battler ,” King of Aragon. So ended an important era in the history of the city, one in which it was even for a while the capital of an independent taifa (a Muslim-ruled principality).

Bust of Musa ibn Musa in Tutera. Photo by Arenillas. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Founded as a Roman villa by the name of Tutela, and following a period of Visigothic rule, the town came under Muslim control during the initial eighth-century conquest of Hispania by the Umayyad Caliphate. In 802 the town was fortified and renamed Al-Tutili by Amrus ibn Yusuf,  a native of Huesca (probably of Visigothic origin) and governor of Zaragoza.  It then became the Emirate of Al-Hakam and the permanent residence of Musa ibn Musa, “the Great,” leader of the Banu Qasi clan, rulers of the Upper Ebro Valley in the ninth and early tenth centuries.  The Banu Qasi family were of Hspano-Roman or Visigothic ancestry and had intermarried with local Basque nobles: Musa ibn Musa was the maternal half-brother of Iñigo Arista, the King of Pamplona-Iruñea, and he even married Arista’s daughter. He is also presumed to have supported the Basques against the Franks in the Second Battle of Orreaga (Ronceveaux) in 824, a battle generally credited as giving birth to the Kingdom of Pamplona-Iruñea. Indeed, Musa’s power was such–ultimately extending to control of Zaragoza, Huesca, and Toledo, as well as Tutera–that  he was even referred to as the “Third King of Spain” alongside Abd ar-Rahman II  of the Emirate of Córdoba and Ordoño I of the Kingdom of Asturias.

Excavation of the Great Mosque of Tutera. Photo by Arenillas. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tutera flourished under Musa’s rule, becoming an important economic and cultural as well as political center. There was religious tolerance, a thriving economy, and a vibrant cultural life. The multicultural reality in Tutera was made up of Muslim, Mozarab (Iberian Christian), and Jewish communities. That multicultural spirit lived on, initially to some extent at least, after its fall to Alfonso I and was perhaps best reflected by the Jewish traveler and scholar Benjamin of Tudela (1130-1173), author of The Travels of Benjamin, an important medieval text chronicling both Jewish communities in particular and broader cultures and societies throughout large parts of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia.



Write! Write! Write Basque stories and win!

It’s time for our writing contest again, so we are calling all Basque storytellers! Tell us you story, win prizes, be published.

Have questions? Send them to!

Held in conjunction with the Basque Studies Program at Boise State Unversity