Category: Basque Americans (page 1 of 8)

“The Time of the Lambing and Shearing” – A New Exhibit at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center in Boise

If you’re near Boise this week, check out the opening of what promises to be a fascinating new exhibit, “The Time of Lambing and Shearing,” at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. The opening and reception take place on Thursday, February 23, at 6:00 pm.

The exhibit is based on the work of photojournalist Jan Boles, who in 1976 photographed the last lambing and shearing operations at the J.D. Aldecoa and Son, Inc ranch for a feature for the Idaho Free Press. Just recently, we posted a response to a reader’s query about native Basque breeds of sheep (see the post here) and it got us to thinking that there is a potentially a major narrative to be written about the role of sheep and sheepherding in forging the American West.  Lambing and shearing are two key cultural as well as practical events in the calendar of any sheepherding culture, bringing communities together. In the Basque case, such times would have represented a great example of auzolan. According to Wikipedia, the sheep-shearing feast is the setting for Act IV of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. And sixteenth-century English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser even created  a verse for the occasion:

Wife make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
Make wafers and cakes, for our sheepe must be shorne,
At sheep shearing neighbors none other thing craue,
but good cheer and welcome, like neighbors to haue

Even if you can’t  make it to the opening tomorrow, this promises to be well worth a visit. We’re sure the exhibit will be yet another wonderful addition by the Basque Museum & Cultural Center to a greater understanding of the importance and contribution of Basques to this more general story.

It goes without saying that the seminal Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao is  must read for anyone interested in the importance of the sheep industry to the Basque experience in the United States. For the Old World experience, check out Sandra Ott’s superb ethnography, The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community.

Basques abroad

It is hard to believe I am finally here in the Basque Country.  I’m tempted to say that I’ve waited a long time to get here to Euskalherria to start my fieldwork, but that wouldn’t be a completely accurate statement.  I could even say with some certainty that this year’s work and life in the Basque Country will represent both a reduction and culmination of my life’s interests and experiences, however, that would be limiting to the extensions of those same interests which lead me here:  languages, culture, wine, travel, food, diversity, and making connections with people around the world.  So, before sharing the amazing experiences I’ve already had while studying here, I would like to highlight those which were had before my arrival to the Basque Country this January.

Knowing I would be conducting fieldwork here for a whole year, I wanted to take advantage of the time and opportunity to travel to South America with my father.  In 2014, I spent an amazing time learning about the production and wine-making process in Casablanca, Chile.  With so much Basque heritage there, I was delighted to discover that the Basque diaspora still held its roots firmly planted in this South American country.  Finding the popular Basque wine called Chacoli was an adventure I won’t forget (see previous blog to read more about Chacoli in South America), discovering the ways in which a culture can change and be maintained across the globe.  But before returning to Chile, my dad and I checked out some Basque culture in Argentina.

I had come to know of a Basque restaurant from a man who had wandered into the Center for Basque Studies  before my departure.  He told me about his family and how one of them had started a restaurant in Buenos Aires.  I mentioned I’d be heading there soon, so he gave me the information to find Leiketio.  The food and drink which combined aspects of both Basque and Latin American cuisine were amazing. However, the most satisfying part of the meal was being able to use the little Basque I had acquired from the previous summer to speak to a server who had recently moved from the Basque Country.

My second encounter with Basque culture in South America happened after my dad had returned to the US, and I had moved on for my second visit to Chile.  I was in the beautiful, historic town of Valparaiso, listening to music and enjoying the warmer weather when a couple had passed me speaking Basque.  I started talking to them and found out they were the band Niña Coyote and Chico Tornado (and very well known I might add in the Basque Country! See below for a clip of their music).  Also turns out the family of one of the members lived on the same street that I currently live now here in Euskalherria!

Just goes to show that si, el mundo es un pañuelo! Hau bai mundu txikia! It’s a small world!

I hope to keep making these cross-cultural connections over the next year here.  Stay tuned for more adventures in fieldwork from here in Euskalherria!

 

Elko publication sheds light on Basques’ contributions

The Elko Daily Free Press is celebrating the city’s centennial in its series Elko 100, “The people who helped make Elko what it is today”, written by Toni R. Milano.  It goes without saying that a few Basques are on that list. Here’s a recap with links to all of the articles:

Stockmen’s in Elko

First off, we have the stories of Dan Bilbao Sr. and Jr., of Stockmen’s Hotel and Casino.  Daniel Bilbao Sr. was born in 1902 in Errigoiti (Bizkaia). He immigrated in 1914 to Mountain Home and then to Boise, where he owned a restaurant on 1916 N. 9th St.  By 1952, he bought Stockmen’s with two partners, and eventually bought them out. His son took over in 1974. To learn more, check out the article on them.

Anacabe Family

Elko’s General Merchandise

Next up is the Anacabe family, owners of Elko’s General Merchandise, the go-to place for Basque sheepherders in Elko. Joe Anacabe was born in 1883 in Berriatua (Bizkaia) and immigrated to the United States in 1901. He spent time in Idaho and Northern Nevada as a sheepherder before opening his first store in 1924. He had a son, Frank, with his first wife Fabiana Guenaga (born in Ondarroa). They briefly moved back to Bizkaia, but then returned to the States, spending some time in Berkeley. General Merchandise was opened in 1936, the place to shop in those days. He was widowed in 1952, but remarried to Margarita Olabe, also from Bizkaia. They had a daughter, Anita, who still runs the store. The Anacabe family must have so many stories to tell! Check them out here.

Alice Goicoechea

Alice Goicoechea was born in 1926 on the Diamond A Ranch, to parents Benito and Daniela Larios. She moved to Elko to work for her aunt and uncle at the Star Hotel, and later met Elias Goicoechea, whom she married and had 4 children. She was quite involved in the community and an inspiration to many. To learn more, visit the article on her life.

The Star Hotel

Anyone who’s been to Elko has probably eaten or had a picon punch at the Star Hotel. Pedro Jauregui Gomeza was born in 1880 in Muxika (Bizkaia). At age 18, he immigrated to California, working as a sheepherder. By 1908, he was in Elko and in 1910 he opened the Star Hotel, with his wife Matilde Eizaguirre, who had worked with him at the Telescope Hotel. They had many businesses together, selling and re-purchasing the Star throughout their career. Check out their impact on Elko here.

Jesús “Jess” Lopategui

Jess Lopategi Laucirica was born in Muxika (Bizkaia) in 1938, and arrived in Elko in 1957 and worked as a sheepherder. He married Denise Arregui in 1967 and worked at his in-law’s blacksmith shop. He was and is very involved in the Basque community in Elko, including starting its club and broadcasting a radio show in Euskera. Check out his ELKO 100 post here, and to learn more about him, listen to his interview for Ondare Bizia.

Ramon Zugazaga (Image from the documentary Amerikanuak)

Ramon Zugazaga, born in Gernika (Bizkaia) in 1946, started out as a sheepherder and even worked for Elias Goicoechea at the Holland Ranch (See post above on Alice Goicoechea). However, his heart was in the restaurant business so he opened the Biltoki in 1983. His other love is soccer, and he coached the Elko Indar Futbol Club for years. Although he’s retired now, he is actively involved in the Basque community in Elko. Read more here, and check out his interview for Ondare Bizia.

Barbara Errecart

Last, but not least, we have Barbara Errecart. Born in Utah, her family moved to Elko when she was quite young. In 1958 she married Jack Errecart, a Basque immigrant from Donibane Garazi (Nafarroa Beherea). After working as a sheepherder for some years, he bought the Silver Dollar Bar and then opened the Clifton Bar and Hotel, where the couple both worked. Barbara Errecart embraced Basque culture and even took up Basque dancing. Learn more in her article.

To learn more about Basques in the United States, be sure to check out the three volume Basques in the United States. Who knows, you may find your own family in there!

Iker Saitua – Life after a Ph.D. in Basque Studies

Iker Saitua received his Ph.D. in Basque Studies here at the CBS last spring, so we’ve decided to catch up with him and see where life takes you after doctoral studies. His dissertation, “Sagebrush Laborers: Basque Immigrants in Nevada’s Sheep Industry, International Dimensions, and the Making of an Agricultural Workforce, 1880-1954,” explores the ways in which the Basque labor force in Nevada evolved from an object of discrimination into a stereotyped prized sheepherder. It then turns to the immigration policies that allowed Basques to continue supplying the labor force, even after the 1924 Immigration Act, through an analysis of U.S.-Spanish relations during the beginning of the Cold War. Impressive indeed and worth reading every bit! But for now, let’s turn to Dr. Saitua…

  1. What have you been up to since graduation?

Keeping busy. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno in May 2016, I returned to the Basque Country. Having returned home, I presented my dissertation at the University of the Basque Country, getting a second Ph.D. that received summa cum laude honors in History. While looking for an academic position, I am currently finishing a Master’s Degree in Education at the International University of La Rioja. Concurrently, I am revising my dissertation into a book manuscript. During this time, I have also attended various courses and workshops, including the training course for “Teaching of the Basque Language Abroad,” jointly organized by the University of the Basque Country and the Etxepare Basque Institute. I have also acted as an assessor for the interdisciplinary scholarly journal Sancho el Sabio. Revista de cultura e investigación vasca, among other things.

  1. Have you published any articles?

Yes. My article “Becoming Herders: Basque Immigration, Labor, and Settlement in Nevada, 1880-1910” has been recently published in the journal Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Vol. 66, No. 4, Winter 2016). Please see the following link: https://mhs.mt.gov/pubs/magazine/Current-Issue). Also, I am pleased to announce that the Montana Talking Book Library (a regional library of the National Library Service for the blind and physically handicapped) is recording this article for its collection. Besides this, some of my latest articles on Basque immigration in the American West will be published soon in various peer-reviewed journals. Coming soon!

  1. Do you have any new research interests?

Lately, I have become increasingly interested in the pedagogy of teaching history and social sciences. Besides that, I continue with my research in western, labor, social, legal, and environmental history of the Basques and sheep grazing in the Far West.

  1. What do you do to keep busy?

I keep busy writing history articles, researching, and reading new publications on the North American West.

  1. What do you miss the most from the U.S.?

Lots of things. I miss my colleagues and friends there. I miss those midday coffee breaks with other grad students. I miss those family gatherings too. And of course, Reno, Nevada, and the Great Basin! I miss the West and its wide open spaces.

  1. What is it that you were most excited to return to once back in the Basque Country?

Family and friends. Glad to be back home among them.


As you can see, Iker doesn’t seem to have taken a chance to take a breath post-Ph.D! I must say I look forward to reading his upcoming work and wish him the best. He may miss the West, but I’m sure the West misses him too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longest-serving Stanford Provost John Etchemendy stands down

We’d like to take a moment and pay homage to a remarkable Basque-American, John Etchemendy. Yesterday was his last day as the longest-serving provost at Stanford University. Born in Reno, Nevada, he received his B.A. and M.A. at UNR before going on to earn his PhD in philosophy at Stanford. Before he became provost, he taught at both Princeton and Stanford.

Beyond his many achievements, Etchemendy was a supporter of Basque cultural studies at Stanford, and even attended some of the classes himself. Moreover, in 2008 he was instrumental in bringing the then Lehendakari or Basque president, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, to Stanford to give a talk on the political situation in the Basque Country.

Etchemendy’s grandfather, Jean (John, but also nicknamed “Manex”) Etchemendy, was born in Arnegi, Lower Navarre, in 1884 and came to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and married Basque-American Jeanne Trounday in Fresno in 1916. Although he began his new life as a sheepherder, in his grandson’s own words during an interview for Euskalkultura.com, he didn’t take too much to that life because of the solitude.  Instead, he went into the hotel business, buying in as a partner in the Overland Hotel in Garnerville in 1921. It was at the Overland that Jean and Jeanne’s children were raised, including John Etchemendy’s father Leon. Later, Leon would relocate to nearby Reno, where John was born in 1952.

We’re sure he’ll keep busy after this position and wish him luck!

Check out this great article about his legacy, published by Stanford news: http://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/24/provost-john-etchemendy-leaves-remarkable-legacy/

Information about Etchemendy’s Basque heritage was found in Basques in the United States. To learn more about your ancestors, be sure to check it out!

500 Posts! What a pleasure to reach this milestone of sharing!

Yesterday witnessed the 500th post on the Center’s blog! And we think it entirely appropriate that we mark the occasion with a post looking toward the future of Basque Studies, with a roundup of what our young scholars here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies have been doing and hope to do in the future. Particularly exciting for us is the eclectic nature of our graduate students, who hail from all over the world. With such talented and committed young people, Basque Studies has a bright future!

Just like reaching the summit at Anboto, our CBS blog has reached a milestone, but we will continue to climb beyond

In honor of our milestone, today we are looking back, first at the posts that have most engaged you, our readers, over the past couple of years:

 

1. Our most read post, by a fairly long way, is the tragic case of Basque sheepherder Txomin Malasechevarria. This is a cautionary tale about just how hard it was for some people to cope with the extreme solitude of life in the mountains, the psychological effects of this loneliness, and the devastating effects this could have on not just their own lives but also those around them. There are no “winners” in this immigrant story. Check out the post here.

 

2. Next, we have a happier tale that celebrates the key role played by women in maintaining the foundations of Basque communities, through their work in Basque boardinghouses, part of the Basque immigrant experience in the United States.  Check out the post here.

 

3. Then we come to what was, for us at the time, a bit of a surprise, pleasant though it was! It’s a post reporting where the Basque Country ranks in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) league tables. The HDI is a United Nations statistical rating based on life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators that are used to measure human development. In short, it’s a means of measuring the health of a nation. Check out the post here.

 

.

4.Coming in at number four is a post that continues to rise steadily in the rankings. It’s our post on the classic Basque song “Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird), a pivotal work in the Basque songbook that touches on quintessential themes in Basque culture, sung by folk, rock, and pop singers alike as well as sports fans and even reworked into an orchestral piece. Check out the post here.

5. Last in our top 5 is a post on the remarkable life and work of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the woman sheepherder who was winning races, age 92, at the Third Age Olympics and died a centenarian. Check out the post here.

And then, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our personal favorites over the years!

  • One of our favorite pieces of writing was this “post within a post,” if you will, dated June 8, 2015, a review of one our most cherished books, My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, which in its focus on the introduction to the work goes beyond mere review to actually engage with and write about the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the book. Check out the post here.
  • Who doesn’t like chocolate? We certainly do! And we like it so much, we wrote a post about it! Check out our rambling thoughts on Basque chocolate, culture, and history in this post, dating from November 2, 2015.

  • One of our most transcendent posts, dated February 12, 2016, concerns what came to be known as the infamous 1911 “Last Massacre” in Western Folklore. This was a major incident in the history of the American West in which Basques featured prominently and serves as proof, if needed, of how the Basque immigrant experience is an essential part of the fabric of this history. Check out the post here.

  • In another post that takes landscape as its primary focus, dated February 24, 2016, we explore how another Basque Country was “imagined” thousands of miles away from home in the remote Nevada mountains. For a great piece of original writing on the Basque experience in the American West check out the post here.

  • We’re especially proud at the Center to try whenever possible to emphasize the role of women in Basque culture and history. This post from March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, served as a roundup of some of the many posts we had published in this regard.  Keep checking in with the blog because this year we will be doing special posts throughout the month of March to celebrate women’s history month.

  • A relatively recent post, dated December 12, 2016, and one that is dear to our hearts emerged out of a reader’s inquiry about native Basque sheep and pig breeds. It got us thinking so much that we wrote a post about it. Check it out here.

Thanks so much for reading and here’s to another 500 and more. It is all because of you, dear readers, so eskerrik asko once again for engaging with us and for sharing our love of Basqueness!

The Ariñak Project: Learning about the many sides of Basque culture through music and dance

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-11-46-37-am

The Ariñak Project, co-founded by Mercedes Mendive and Janet Iribarne in Elko, Nevada, is an ambitious attempt to learn about the multiple dimensions of Basque culture, centered on music and dance but also encompassing, for example, the Basque language and traditional Basque sports. According to Mercedes:

This endeavor was developed to teach important elements of music, including pandero (tambourine), accordion, txistu, alboka, txalaparta, singing as well as introducing our kids/members to the Basque language and Basque sports. It’s our goal to incrementally start our participants on a cultural journey that will stay with them for a lifetime.

As part of the project camp days are held on which participants learn the fundamentals of both music and dance from experienced instructors. The ultimate goal is to extend this learning to a more comprehensive understanding of how the instruments, the music, and the dance all form part of a greater whole that is Basque culture in general. For example, the project seeks to teach people the meanings behind popular Basque songs and dances, how and why they may be important in Basque culture more generally.

Check out Mercedes Mendive’s webpage (with contact information) here.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-11-47-01-am

And Euskal Kultura report on the project here.

This ambitious project mirrors similar efforts in the Basque Country itself that seek to interpret Basque dance as part of a wider cultural framework: first and foremost, and perhaps most obviously, as a cultural form intimately connected to music. As he notes, while doing research for his marvelous book, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music, Sabin Bikandi was himself an accomplished musician who (p.31),

suddenly realized that I had no idea of how to play for the dance, no idea of the repertoire, the repetitions, or the meaning of “following the dancers.” If I was going to write about Aldekoa, a pipe and tabor player and a dance master, I felt I had to learn the job, and the only way was to do just that—to learn to perform.

However (p.33),

the learning process was slow and complicated, and my knowledge is still a long way behind that of the great master, Aldekoa. However, the little that I learned helped me to reinterpret and understand the relationship between choreography and music, and in the end, how music and dance form a single entity. As I have observed, at present, dance and music are taught as separate subjects. Musicians do not learn anything but music, and dancers do basically the same as regards dance. Many dancers are not able to sing what they dance or the rhythm they mark while dancing. This has been a problem during my own learning process, for my musical-analytical approach found no response from the dance teachers. On the other hand, I found that many dancers are afraid of musicians’ knowledge about rhythm analysis and their knowledge of the science of music.

In short, as Bikandi observes in his work, stepping up to the next level, at least attempting to comprehend a true master like Aldekoa, required that kind of commitment to a greater understanding of how music and dance are one and the same thing, and how in this particular case, they are are also central to Basque cultural norms as a whole.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-11-46-51-am

On Anboto

 

anboto_pano

The distinctive limestone peaks of the Urkiola Range, Anboto is the peak farthest on the right. From the hamlet of Urkiola.

It’s December again and I can’t believe it has been a whole year since I was last in the Basque Country! Since I wasn’t able to go this year, I’ve been fondly remembering my last time there, especially my last day there, a Sunday when my coworker and his partner offered to take me on a long-desired visit to Anboto. The mountain dominates the skyline of Durango and, just as a hiker looking up at it on breaks from the Azoka Stand, I’ve always wanted to make a shot at it, so I jumped at the chance. Although Anboto is actually lower in elevation than Reno at around 4,370 feet (Reno stands, according to Google, at 4,500 feet), it stands out from the landscape as an overpowering juggernaut. It is an immense mass of limestone, with cliff faces of 1,000 meters (roughly 3,000 feet) over Atxondo Valley. Anboto is one of the most known and most characteristic summits of the Basque Country.

anboto_01

Looking south from Urkiolamendi Pass at the beginning of the true peak ascent. It is easy to understand the grip the mountain has had on the Basque imagination.

With its distinctive shape, Anboto is not only easily recognizable but it has always played a role in Basque mythology, most famously as the home of Mari, the Basque goddess who is said to control the weather. She is said to live in a cave on the front face of the mountain. She is also known as Anbotoko Mari (“the Lady of Anboto”), She and the god Sugaar were (also known as Sugoi or Maju) connected her to the weather. When she traveled with Sugaar hail would fall. And in general her tos and fros across the sky brought storms or droughts.

anboto_02

Mari was said to control the weather from her cavern on Anboto.

We left the car at the hamlet of Urkiola, in the Parque Natural de Urkiola, alongside the Sanctuary of Urkiola, a Roman Catholic temple that famously celebrates the Day of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13. This saint helps those looking for lost objects and for love, but we needed nothing as we started off on a crisp December morning with mountains dotting in and out of thick fog. The walk is a popular one and we passed many other strollers and even some Basque ponies or pottoka.

anboto_03

A wild Basque pony, clearly used to passersby and photo opportunities, similar to Reno’s local mustangs.

It was so pleasant walking and talking with my coworker and his companion, who have also become my good friends over my years working as your Basque Books Editor. Once we get past the fog layer the day is clear and bright, an anomaly for the Basque Country in this time of year and we soak it in. At Urkiolamendi Pass my companions, having been here many times before, decided that they would forsake a summit attempt and they sent me on alone. Now the trail became braided into various use trails and, with the beautiful day and with the Basques’ love for the outdoors, hiking, and mountain climbing, there were many people on the pass. Climbing up through steep limestone, at first the trail remained in the treeline, but it was truly stunning when it emerged and you could see how very steep this mountain really is.

anboto_04

That is a long way down!

anboto_05

The peak in sight now, sharing the trail with lots of visitors

I emerged onto the top of the ridge to a sublime panorama of what seemed to be the entire Basque Country. Durango in the valley below me, farther away toward the coast where Gernika was, and then, over there, even where Bilbao would be although it remained out of sight.

anboto_06

Emerging onto the highest ridge, looking toward Durango and Bilbao.

anboto_07

The last climb to the summit, dotted with people.

I started climbing the last, narrow, very steep climb to the summit. I think that maybe Mari go to me, or Sugaar, because I started to get really nervous. My more or less street shoes didn’t seem to be finding the traction they should on the still dew wet grass and the number of people (in Nevada it is much more common to hike alone) made me feel claustrophobic. Particularly one couple, with the man convincing an increasingly reluctant woman that she should continue while younger, fitter people clambered all about us. I was probably only meters from the summit when I realized that it didn’t matter so much, that I had done what I had set out to do and that it was time for me to get off of the mountain without officially having stood on its summit. My companions, a txakoli, and lunch would be awaiting me down at the bottom, while there was only the wind and myth and fate left on the summit. So I retraced my steps. Rejoined my companions for an excellent lunch in Urkiola, and left Anboto behind for another year. I’ll be back!!!

Happy holidays and New Year to all of our blog readers. Thanks so much for following along with us and for staying abreast of what is happening at the Center and in Basque culture. Here’s looking forward to 2017!

Agur!

Your Basque Books Editor

Some Basque Christmas customs from the Center’s books

Last year, we did a post on several end-of-year traditions in Basque culture and with the holiday season just around the corner, we thought it would be nice to share some other Basque Christmas customs as described in a few of the great books we publish.

the_basques_cover_hr_1024x1024

First let’s take a look at what Julio Caro Baroja, in his classic work The Basques, has to say about the holiday season in Basque culture, and particularly about traditional customs in the area between northern Gipuzkoa and Navarre:

The Christmas holidays show different characteristics according to the zones. The name Gabon, which is very widespread, seems to be a simple translation of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). More interesting are the names Eguberriak (new days), which seems to allude to the days surrounding the winter solstice rather than to any Christian notion; xubilaro (season of the log), reported in Lower Navarre; and Olentzaro, typical of the northeast of Gipuzkoa and some towns of the Navarrese Bidasoa, which in another time belonged to the diocese of Baiona. The custom, very widespread through all the west and southern Europe, of putting a great log on the fire on Christmas Eve, a log whose ashes are believed to kill vermin, or that is only partly burned and kept to be put on the fire quickly in a storm, is the reason behind the Lower Navarrese name.

The name of Olentzaro is more enigmatic at first glance, but I believe I have shown that it can be translated as “time of the Os,” alluding to “Les O de Nöel” [a set of nine antiphonies all beginning with “o” —trans.], which were sung in different parts of France and for which the days around Christmas there were called les oleries. However, it is interesting to note that a mythical person bears the same name (which has variations in each place), a charcoal burner with reddish eyes, sometimes brutal and menacing, other times grotesque and drunk, who is said to come down the chimney of peasant homes bearing his sickle, to warm himself at the yule log, and who is represented by a child, a boy, or a rag doll that is traipsed around during the collection that takes place on Christmas Eve. This character appears in the songs as an ambassador, herald of the birth of Christ, but on the other hand is related to those that in different countries of Europe are said to come down to Earth around the winter solstice, completely unattached to any Christian idea.

the_basques_front_cover_1024x1024

In Philippe Veyrin’s The Basques: of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditionsmeanwhile, the focus shifts to Iparralde:

The Basques’ poetic repertoire is composed of a great number of lullabies and nursery rhymes, a mere handful of songs for different trades, and countless love songs and satires. Finally, a few songs of religious and moral inspiration seem to be in a less directly popular vein. One interesting category from a folkloric point of view—one that has its own flavor—is that of the aubades or “daybreak songs,” a tradition that has not been entirely lost. This genre is still performed in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Ziburu (Ciboure), and Urruña (Urrugne) during the nights of Christmas and New Year’s Eve; in Larraine (Larrau) in Zuberoa on the last Saturday in January; and in many other villages for Candlemas. The theme is always developed in a similar way. There are a few traditional season’s greetings, such as:

Dios te salbe: ongi ethorri       God save you: welcome.
Gabon Jainkoak digula eta     May God grant us good night and
Urte onean sar gaizela            Grant us a good year.

humboldt_cover_copy2_1024x1024

Wilhelm von Humboldt, who enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Durango area of Bizkaia, writes in his Selected Basque Writings: The Basques and Announcement of a Publication:

The love for the national customs and entertainment is so strong that only few of the many carpenters, that is, those that work far away, even if as far as twenty or twenty-five miles, fail to return to their place of birth for the sole purpose of dining with their wives, children, and friends on Christmas Eve and to fill the town with music for a part of the night.

basque_culture_anth_1_1024x1024

And in Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, avialable free to download here, our very own William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika include a description of coastal traditions in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, at this time of the year:

[The schoolchildren of the village] took with them bread baked on Christmas Eve. They cut a cross into each loaf with a knife. Each child then kissed the cross and recited an “Our Father.” The bread was broken into pieces, which were thrown into the sea, along with oil from the lamps of the hermitage of San Juan. In gratitude, the cofradía [fishermen’s brotherhood or association] sponsored a festival for the children on the feast day of Saint Andrew, at which time each child was given bread and cheese.

mmm_cs_cover_1024x1024

Finally, let’s share some wonderful reminiscences about traditional Basque-American family life at this time of year, as recounted in the late Joan Errea’s evocative My Mama Marie:

In the autumn, when the sheep were trailed down toward the ranch, the herders would come for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas, for the big feasts that we held. Of course, the fete would go on until early morning and then each sick man came around for a big plate of bahachuri sopa, or garlic soup, which was known to cure hangovers.

Each year at Christmas, every herder was given a present of two pairs of Levis or overalls, two shirts, four pairs of socks (although some never wore socks, preferring to wrap their feet in gunny sacks), two pairs of shoes, and a hand-knit sweater that Mama made during the course of the year.

Don’t forget, our Holiday Sale is still good through Tuesday, December 27 … 35% off book orders … don’t miss out!  Click here for details.

Some Basque-American traditions during the Holiday Season

With the holiday season here, most of you out there will know that this is a time typically embraced by Basque-Americans to have a good old time, Basque-style, with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing, and general bonhomie. One only need check out Astero to get a flavor of all the events going on during the holiday season, but it’s worth recalling that all these Christmas parties, the lunches and dinners, as well as the New Year’s celebrations, are rooted in a long tradition stretching back many years. This custom–which in academic terms we could say was based on a drive to cement community and cultural ties, to keep those bonds strong, and maintain and pass on traditions, often in the face of adverse wider social conditions–has in recent years changed significantly, but I think it’s interesting to consider how and why these gatherings came about.

bsqaph0001-90-409

For those that could, Christmas was one of the few opportunities for Basque-Americans to let their hair down a little. Picture from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

As Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao point out in Amerikanuak (p. 386), such events were in former times typically less public than they are today. In their words, as regards the winter events (p. 388):

These Basque get-togethers all shared the characteristic of being closed ethnic affairs. With the exception of the Boise Sheepherders’ Ball, they were unheralded, inconspicuous events on the local social calendar. They were often held at some distance from the local population centers. None of this is surprising when we consider that the dates coincide with the periods of tension between the Basques and their neighbors … In such a climate, the Basques were not prone to display their ethnic identity publicly. If the Basque hotel and the private picnic or dance served as an ethnic refuge, where the immigrant could enjoy Basque cuisine, conversation, and company, he attempted in his dealings with the wider society to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Even the origins of the famed Sheepherders’ Ball, perhaps the most famous of all Basque winter social events, recall an altercation between different Basque insurance groups in the late 1920s. As John and Mark Bieter note in An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho (p. 100):

Both organizations scheduled Christmas dances for herders in town on the same night. The influential sheepman John Archabal mediated the controversy and convinced the two sides to organize one dance with a lamb auction for charity. Both parties agreed, and the annual Sheepherders’ Ball became a mainstay in Boise and, later, in other southern Idaho towns.

The Sheepherders’ Ball became known as an “apron and overalls” dance, because admission required sheepherder garb or traditional Basque costumes. Sometimes a stand was set up near the door, where any partygoers who arrived inappropriately dressed could buy jeans on the spot. Although it was reserved for Basques and their guests, the Sheepherders’ Ball attracted the attention of the general public. On December 19, 1936, the Boise Capitol News wrote: “Black-eyed sons and daughters of the Pyrenees danced their beloved ‘jota’ with snapping fingers and nimble feet Friday evening at the annual Sheepherders’ Ball held at Danceland, to the music of Benito Arrego’s accordion and pandareen.”

Nowadays, these holiday season get-togethers are more open affairs, with everyone welcome, as noted in our recent post on the Basque Ladies’ Lagunak Christmas Luncheon in Reno. But it’s good to see that this great tradition of holiday season lunches, dinners, and dances continues to bind the Basque-American community together.

Besides these events, there is also a tradition of Basque-American participation in Christmas parades, as Nancy Zubiri writes in her invaluable book, A Travel Guide to Basque America:

On Christmas Eve for several years local Basque Children traveled down the usually snow-lined main street of Gardnerville in  hay-wagons, displaying the Nativity scene, signing gabon kantak (Christmas carols) and playing instruments–an Old Country tradition. Their procession would end at the Overland, where they received gifts and [Elvira] Cenoz served them the traditional hot chocolate. But the custom ended when the number of children dwindled.

Nowadays, the Garnerville Basque Club, Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba, usually takes part in the town’s annual festive Parade of Lights.

Christmas was also an occasion for family gatherings of course, as the stories collected in Portraits of Basques in the New World, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Jeronima Echeverria, testify to. For example, Ysidra Juanita “Jay” Arriola Uberuaga Hormaechea, born in Boise in 1908, recalled the holiday season of her youth (pp. 194-95):

We never knew what Christmas was until I was grown up, went to work, and earned some money. I brought in a fresh Christmas tree to our home at 310 Grove, in Boise. It was the first tree that our family ever had. Christmas day for us people was shared big suppers, dancing, and enjoying ourselves, in that way … Maybe, a little package for the kids. That was it … That’s the way it was when I was a girl.

Similarly, and in the Old Country tradition, Marjorie Archabal remembered (p. 91) Christmas Eve meals at which some thirty people gathered, women on one side of the table, men on the other, with the Archabal family patriarch and matriarch at the head. These meals took days to prepare, with the menu consisting of tongue, tripe, and codfish, among many other dishes. Meanwhile, growing up in a Basque home in northeastern Montana in the 1940s and 1950s, Rene Tihista recalled a blend of Basque and American traditions, with turkey making appearance at the family table (p. 121):

When I was a kid all the holiday gatherings with my uncles and cousins were held at our place. Mom raised a huge turkey for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Dad played the accordion and violin and sang Basque songs. Of course wine flowed freely during our get-togethers. I would sit on dad’s knee and sing “Uso Zuria,” a song he taught me about a white dove that travels to Spain. It was the only Basque song I knew, but it must have been a hit because the grown-ups made me sing it over and over.

And no doubt many of you out there, if you are part of a Basque-American family, will be enjoying similar kinds of celebrations this holiday season.

If you do have any stories you’d like to share with us about your own Basque-style holiday celebrations, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

 

 

 

Older posts