Category: Basque Books (page 1 of 8)

Jon Bilbao Basque Library News

The Jon Bilbao Basque Library is experiencing an interesting period in its already long history. Since this time last year, the library’s staff has been working on a number of projects to better serve the Basques of North America, whether they are researchers or members of the public who are interested in Basque culture.

We are especially excited about the archival collections, composed of Basque-American family papers, research collections, and records of Basque clubs around the country. We are transferring all the information about these collections to a new management system that will greatly improve accessibility to them. Improving access to these materials will help researchers to better understand the historical development of the Basque-American community.

Helping to preserve the documentary heritage of the Basque Diaspora is one of our main goals. Are you in possession of any papers or documents relating to your Basque family? If this is the case, please consider using the Jon Bilbao Basque Library as a repository that will enable researchers and members of the community to learn more about your family’s Basque heritage. Please contact the Basque Librarian Iñaki Arrieta if you are interested in this opportunity (email: arrieta@unr.edu).

Photo credits: Jon Bilbao Basque Library

 

 

Spring 2017 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series

This semester, like almost every semester, the CBS is holding a Seminar Series. Here’s a round-up of the lectures given thus far and a sneak peak of the coming presentations!

Professor Douglass kicked off the series with his paper entitled “Basques in Cuba,” based on his research and the conference held in Havana in 2015 entitled “Euskal Herria Mugaz Gaindi.” Douglass shared many anecdotes and the audience responded with many questions, carrying on the discussion well after the hour had quickly gone by.

Next up, Saranda Frommold, a PhD candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin,  shared her dissertation findings on “The Political Relations between Mexico and Spain regarding Basque Exile to Mexico (1977-2000).” She has spent three weeks at the Center, continuing her research. The presentation was thought-provoking and also ended in a lively question and answer session. Stay tuned for our interview with Saranda. We will miss her at the CBS.

Last week, I presented a paper entitled “Memoirs of Mobility and Place: Portrayals of Basque-American Identity,” written for a literature class, so a little out of my historical comfort zone. I must say, it went well, and I was excited to recommend Mountain City, by Gregory Martin, to most of my audience. It’s definitely a good read! I compared Martin’s portrayal of Basque communities in the West to that in Sweet Promised Land, Robert Laxalt’s famed memoir.

Next week, March 29 from 12:30-1:30, our Basque Librarian, Iñaki Arrieta Baro, will be presenting on “Bertsolaritza: Kultur Artea Network.” This will be a nice addition to our showcase on Bertsolaritza. Be sure to come visit and see the exhibit!

April 5 is sure to be a busy lecture day. Ziortza Gandarias Beldarrain, a PhD candidate here, will present on “Euzko-Gogoa: Gender and Nation,” as a part of her own dissertation research. Mikel Amuriza will then follow, giving a talk about tax systems. Mikel is a visiting scholar from the Diputación de Bizkaia, and will be with us for a few more months. We’ll be sure to post an interview soon!

Professor Ott will present on April 12, giving a talk on “German P.O.W.s in Post-War France,” part of her ongoing research on the topic. I’m sure it will be full of anecdotes and more!

Lastly, we have the pleasure to have Professor Boehm from the Anthropology department, as well as Women’s Studies and GRI, present on her recently published book. Her conference is entitled “Disappearance and Displacement in an Age of Deportation,” and I’m sure it will bring up many current events and a discussion of what is going on in the world around us.

Be sure to stop by from 12:30-1:30 on Wednesdays for our seminar series. Bring your own brown bag, sit back, and enjoy!

“Basques in Cuba” : William A. Douglass to lecture at the CBS

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 22, from 12:30-1:30, Professor Emeritus William A. Douglass will give a lecture on “Basques in Cuba” at the Center for Basque Studies. He will inaugurate the Spring 2017 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series the Center organizes, presenting on a topic explored in Basques in Cuba, a collection of articles edited by Professor Douglass and published after the eleventh international ‘Euskal Herria Mugaz Gaindi” Congress held in Havana, Cuba in 2015. Here’s a brief description of the volume:

Taking as their inspiration and cue Jon Bilbao’s book Vascos en Cuba, 1492–1511, the authors of this book, a collection of international academics, take up the subject of the involvement of the Basque people in Cuba from a variety of viewpoints and analytical and theoretical perspectives. The Basque Country has had a long and varied relationship with Cuba, its people, and its history. The chapters in this volume trace that connection based on diverse topics and viewpoints: the representations of Basques in classic Cuban poetry and Cuba as a topic in the nineteenth-century Basque novel; the involvement of Basques in the African slave trade, the role of the Tree in Gernika in Cuba’s Templete monument, the service of Basque parliamentarians and soldiers in Spain’s former colony, and the politics of Basque priests on the island are all treated, as well as much more. There are also chapters that consider the involvement of Basques regionally, in places such as Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Vueltabajo, and Havana. Edited by renowned Basque scholar William A. Douglass, this volume provides an important contribution in reclaiming a mostly neglected history. (from the back cover)

Be sure to attend if you happen to find yourself in Reno, and stay tuned for the seminar series schedule, you won’t want to miss out!

February 16, 2015: First edition of rare Basque manuscript discovered

Cover of Dotrina christiana (first edition, 1617), by Esteve Materra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On February 16, 2015 it was announced that a unique first edition of Esteve Materra’s Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine, Bordeaux, 1617) had been discovered in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. The discovery was made by the Aziti Bihia linguists’ and philologists’ association, a group of doctoral students at the University of the Basque Country whose interests lay predominantly in historical linguistics linked to Basque philology. The young people involved in the find were Borja Ariztimuño, Dorota Krajewska, Urtzi Reguero, Ekaitz Santazilia, Oxel Uribe-Etxeberria, and Eneko Zuloaga.

Flyer to promote the official announcement of the find, February 16, 2015. From the Aziti Bihia website.

Doctrina Christiana was one of the first ever books published in Euskara, the Basque language, and is written in classical Lapurdian. Its author, Esteve Materra (or possibly Materre), was a Franciscan monk and abbot of the La Réole monastery in southwestern France when the book was first published, although by the time it went to a second edition (1623) he had moved to the Franciscan monastery in Toulouse. Although not a native Basque-speaker, Materra spent some time in Sara, Lapurdi, where he had been sent at the height of the Counter Reformation to bolster the rearguard action of the Roman Catholic Church, including in its Inquisition policy. In barely twelve months in the Basque Country he learned Basque, although the very clarity and perfection of the text makes the members of Aziti Bihia suspect that he may have received help in writing it. Masterra himself notes in the prologue to the book that he was aided by Axular. Pedro Axular (1556-1664) was the parish priest of Sara and author of the first great literary text in Basque, Guero (1643). Whatever the case, the book is an important work when it comes to understanding the historical development of written Basque.

The first edition of the work is relatively simple in appearance, as if written for children or young people, in question and answer style; by the second edition, however, an additional section had been added, specifically for seafarers, and the work as a whole was more serious in tone and longer. This is important because originally the Aziti Bihia group had been working on transcribing the second edition of 1623, a copy of which is housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, before stumbling across a reference to the earlier edition in Denmark.

For more information on the text itself (including transcriptions) click here at the Aziti Bihia website.

 

Montevideo’s Euskara Eguna: An overview of the celebrations

As you may have read in our post on the Day of the Basque Language, celebrations were held around the world. Our professor Xabier Irujo took part in the festivities that took place in Montevideo, Uruguay, so we’ve decided to share the jam-packed schedule of events. The way the Basque community in Uruguay was able to organize and observe the event sets a high bar for us all!

The Euskara Eguna (Day of the Basque Language) celebrations organized by the Euskal Erria Society of Montevideo began with the re-inauguration on December 2, 2016, of the Plaza Jesús de Galíndez. Attendees, including Agurtzane Aguado, president of the Society, unveiled a plaque in honor of Galíndez, an exiled Basque nationalist, who was a victim of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and was assassinated in 1956.

On the 3rd, an act commemorating the bombing of Gernika took place in the city’s Plaza Gernika. A lecture was given by Dr. Xabier Irujo, director of the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, while the txistulari Aitor Ormaetxe from Mar de Plata and the dantzari Martin Mendiola also performed. The event was closed with a concert by the Voces de la Plaza de Montevideo choir.

 

That evening, a meeting of three Basque-American publishers, Euskal Erria of Montevideo, Ekin of Buenos Aires, and the CBS Press in Reno was held at the headquarters of the Euskal Erria Society. There were book presentations of the many publications that came out in 2016. Dr. Irujo presented the ten titles that the CBS Press had published last year, including Basques in Cuba edited by William Douglass, which is a tribute to the book that Jon Bilbao published with Ekin in 1958. With the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the CBS Press also published a bilingual edition of Macbeth, which was translated for the first time into Basque by Bingen Ametzaga in 1942, although this translation had remained unpublished until now. Ekin of Buenos Aires published four books in 2016: La Odisea de Xabiertxo by Koldo Ordozgoiti, Historia de Radio Euskadi by Leyre Arrieta, Contraviaje by Arantzazu Ametzaga, and Diasporako Bertsoak by Asier Barandiaran. These four authors offered a presentation of their works the same day, December 3, at the Durango Book Fair in the Basque Country. The Euskal Erria publishing house produced three works in 2016: William MacAlevey’s The Rise of Legal Professions in Bilbao, José Luis de la Lombana by Iñaki Anasagasti and Josu Erkoreka, and, lastly, Ecos Vascos del Uruguay, a selection of Basque-Uruguayan inspired poems by the former Minister of the Interior and Defense of Uruguay, Raul Iturria.

There were hundreds of attendees who enjoyed a traditional roast (asado con cuero) and a recitation of poems from Iturria’s anthology of poetry.

 

 

 On Monday, December 5, during the afternoon,  Dr. Irujo gave another lecture at the CLAEH University’s headquarters, during which he spoke about the episodes of genocide that struck Basque soil between 1936 and 1945.

The celebrations culminated at the Parliament’s House of Representatives with an homage to the reception on October 8, 1941 that said House made to the Lehendakari Jose Antonio Agirre. The Deputy of the Partido Nacional, Pablo Iturralde, promoter of the tribute, spoke first, referring to the speech that the lehendakari offered before the House of Representatives. He ended by saying: “Today we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the episode that for both Agirre and the Uruguayan Basque community was so significant and moving, because in our country and especially in this House, the national representatives of that moment had the courage to contradict the powerful voice of international fascism that slandered the Basque people with impunity, even accusing them of the genocide in the town of Gernika that they themselves had bombarded with unknown brutality. That is why the descendants of those immigrants today have appealed to us so that, making use of the representation that Uruguayan citizens have conferred upon us, we pay homage to those men who in such dignified fashion came before us.”

 

After Deputy Iturralde’s speech, the president of the Basque Parliament Bakartxo Tejería’s message was viewed on screen, which made reference to the message that Lehendakari Agirre made to the Uruguayan Parliament. Afterward, the Deputy of the Frente Amplio Party Jorge Pozzi, who is of Basque descent, spoke about his spiritual connection to the Basque world and culture. He was followed by Germán Cardoso of the Partido Colorado, Daniel Radio of the Partido Independiente, José Luis Hernández of the Movimiento de Participación Popular (Frente Amplio), and, finally, José Arocena of the Partido Nacional. All of them referred to the noble and hardworking spirit of the Basques and the contribution that these people had made to the culture and history of the country, as well as to the desire for the independence of the Basque people. The MPP representative made public his support for the struggle for recognition of the Basque nation’s right to self-determination.

At the end of the session, which turned out to be very emotional and warm-spirited, the attendees went to the Acuña Figueroa of the legislative palace where the representative of the Euskal Erria publishing house, Mr. Alberto Irigoyen, and the President of the Parliament, Gerardo Amarilla, intervened. A facsimile of Lehendakari Agirre’s diary was given to the latter, as well as a copy of the history of the Euskal Erria Society and a history book on the Basque government-in-exile. The president of the Euskal Erria Society, Agurtzane Aguado, said that there are many Uruguayan figures who have referred to the contribution of the Basques to Uruguay, and recalled the words that Dr. Alberto Guani, President of the Supreme Court of Uruguay in 1941, said of the honor given by that institution to the Lehendakari Agirre: “For the first time in the history of the High Court of Uruguay, a meeting of this nature has been held in honor of a politician; And this has been so because when humanity fights a decisive battle between freedom and slavery, perversion and honesty, justice cannot remain blind to the drama and has the duty to put the sword that it carries as a symbol for the service of human dignity, represented by men like Mr. Agirre, defeated in the first part of the battle in which the forces of good triumphed.” Dr. Irujo closed the act by referring to the deep gratitude of all exiled Basques and immigrants to the American nations that provided asylum to these people when they suffered persecution and oppression in a war-torn Europe. Finally, the choir Voices of the Plaza concluded by singing “Agur Jaunak.”

 

An Interview with Irati Urkitza, the New Basque Library Intern

The Jon Bilbao Basque Library recently welcomed a new intern, Irati Urkitza, who has arrived from Getxo (Bizkaia), a town neighboring Bilbao on the coast. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and a Master’s in Teacher Training from the University of the Basque Country, giving her the qualifications to teach high school philosophy. We took a moment to interview Irati so that we could introduce her to you, our readers. We look forward to having her around here at the center and library, as she is a welcome addition to our little community.

What brings you to the Center for Basque Studies and how long will you be here?

I am here on a grant called Global Training, which is given by the Basque Government, and I will stay here for six months, until July.

Tell me a bit about the Global Training program

Every year some Basque organizations and entities, with the help of the Basque government, offer several internship programs in foreign companies. The aim of these programs is to give the intern an opportunity to get some work experience abroad and then to come back and somehow enrich the Basque Country in their new jobs.

How did you learn about the Center for Basque Studies and its Basque library?

While I was reading the list that the University of the Basque Country offered for the Global Training program, I saw the name of the Jon Bilbao Basque Library. It immediately caught my attention and I researched a little bit about it. I found it really interesting and I decided that it was the place that I wanted to go.

What are you working on at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library?

I will be mainly working in the archives with Iñaki Arrieta and Shannon Sisco. We want to transfer all the information about the Basque collection to a new management system that will improve the access to them, so anyone from the main library can have access to the information in the archives.

What are your interests and hobbies?

I have various interests, but most of them are related to social and cultural issues. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching films and TV shows, and taking walks or hiking.

Are you enjoying the U.S.?

Yes, although it is cold and dry, I am having a very good time here.

What are you looking forward to in your stay here in Reno and in the United States in general?

I am willing to learn more about American culture and about the Basques in the States. I would like to travel around to visit some other important places for the Basque diaspora and, certainly, I would love to travel to the wonderful National Parks you have here.

What have you missed the most since youve been here?

I have only been here for a week, so I haven’t had enough time to miss lots of things, but I believe that what I will miss the most will be my boyfriend, family and friends, and, of course, the food and the sea!

 

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.

 

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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!

Basques in their own words: The superstitions of fishermen

Given the importance of the oral tradition in Basque culture, we thought it would be a great idea to examine Basque history through the words of ordinary people whose lives and experiences make up that history.

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The port of Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi. Photo by Haukingham, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today we share a cautionary tale of witches, devils, the evil eye, and seafaring superstitions in general, as recounted by Xan Alzate in his marvelous Paroles de pêcheur: Mémoires d’un mousse dans les années 1940 (A fisherman’s words: Memoirs of a cabin boy in the 1940s, 2008). Xan was born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Lapurdi, in 1928. His father, Pantxoa Alzate, was a mechanic at a local fish-canning factory and a sailor while his mother, Maria Chauvel, was a Breton from Morbihan who had come to the town at age sixteen to work in a fish canning factory there.

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Fishermen in Donibane Lohizune, c. late-19th-early-20th century. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In his own words, when he first  to sea (p.26),

I was thirteen and one-half years old, I weighed no more than ninety pounds on rainy days, and if I made it to five feet tall it would have been a big deal. Nevertheless, I did have some assets: indefatigable, a hard worker, sturdy despite my tiny frame, my father had taught me to work hard, [and] I didn’t want to disappoint him.

On meeting his future boss for the first time, the skipper told him he’d be known as Aña, like all cabin boys until they turned twenty (he wouldn’t be called Xan again until after he completed his military service).  And once at sea, he began to learn something about this strange other world, the world of fishermen. According to Xan (pp. 165-66):

They were superstitious. The first or second day—I don’t remember exactly—of my time at sea, I was happily whistling, when someone took my by the ear, shook it slightly, and whispered into it that the wind was big enough to whistle at sea, that it didn’t need any help from me. Don’t whistle anything that may bring on a storm.

I also learned about a few things that brought bad luck, which were forbidden. No rabbit in the billycan. The word “rabbit” was banned on board, replaced by “big ears.” Aña, do you keep any “big ears”? But “rabbit” banned.

Also banned, chestnuts, walnuts. With such nuts on board, we were sure to come back empty-handed, tear the fishing net, or encounter all manner of trouble. It would never occur to them to set sail for the first time on a Friday. Beginning the fishing season on such a day, we could expect the worst kinds of disasters.

I listened, I believed, I trusted them, I respected the traditions. When no fishing was done, when a day unfolded full of incident, they looked at me in strange way, saying loudly: “There’s someone here who sleeps with his mother!” Of course, they said that to have a good laugh.

They loved stories about witches, mysterious tales, they loved anything whimsical. My favorite osaba [uncle] used to tell me dozens of stories; he kept me in suspense right till the end. To finish up, he used to say: “These are true stories, it isn’t fiction, it’s from real life in the old times, people don’t remember any more, my great-amatxi [grandmother] saw all this, it was she who told me.” I wasn’t going to question the word of his great-amatxi.

Those sailors used to see the devil everywhere, they mistrusted the evil eye. Yet they weren’t afraid of anything, they faced up to the elements with a flawless courage, they laughed at life’s ups and downs, they got really angry about any kind of injustice; they forgave, but they didn’t forget.

Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika, is a great introduction for anyone seeking to understand this world. Chapters 13 and 15 deal with Basque fishing while chapters 18 and 19 deal with folklore and mythology, on the one hand, and witchcraft, on the other. This book available free to download here.

This work points out just how important “chance” is to fishermen and how this shapes their worldview. As they observe (pp. 237-38):

there is no cause-and-effect relationship between willingness to work and outcome. Fishermen also believe that there is a gap between the human and the natural orders that cannot be bridged by sheer effort alone. Rather, much depends on chance, a probability that is categorized as luck—“good” or “bad.” Thus, there is a sense that it is the fisherman who, by means of his luck, rather than his dedication, mediates between the two otherwise unbridgeable orders.

In short, they conclude, in the event of the worst eventuality of all, “no luck,” then “superstitious beliefs and practices are the antidotes to the absence of luck. There is an imperative to search out the hidden causes of this void.”

Note: Here the words of one of the great twentieth-century travel writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, in his classic Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966), spring to mind. He is speaking about Greek fishermen, but I think the description is equally applicable to fishermen the world over (pp.118-19):

Humorous, sardonic, self-reliant men live there, lean from their war with the elements, ready to share their wine with any stranger . . . Their life is rigorous to the point of austerity and sometimes of hardship; but there are a hundred things to make it worth wile. There is no trace of depression or wage-slavery in the brine-cured and weather-beaten faces under those threadbare caps. The expression is wary, energetic amused and friendly and their demenour is a marine compound of masculinity, independence and easy-going dignity.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sandra Ott: Faculty News Roundup

Our faculty here at the CBS sure is an inspiration when it comes to work ethic, and Professor Ott is no exception. This semester, she has taught the “Basque Culture” capstone course to 38 undergraduates and two graduate students, myself included. This course really helps to spread awareness of the Basques throughout our campus community, and the students are both engaged by the material and also participate actively. Dr. Ott is also supervising her graduate student, Kerri Lesh, and coordinating an independent study course with her on the anthropology of food.

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Stemming from her research interest in German POWs in postwar France, particularly the POW camp at Polo-Beyris in Baiona, Dr. Ott has been reading French sources on the POWs who were sent to Iparralde and neighboring Bearn from May 1945 onward, to work in local town halls, to clear German mines on the Basque coast, and to work on farms. She is interested in this episode of Franco-German relations in the postwar period, when many of these young Germans longed to escape across the Pyrenees into Spain and make their way back home. Next semester, she is planning to continue working on this research project, in preparation for archival research during the summer in both Pau and Baiona.

On top of these new interests, her manuscript, Living with the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940-1948, is now being proofread for publication by Cambridge University Press, which issued a contract for the book in November 2015. It is set to come out in 2017, in both paperback and cloth editions.

Professor Ott has also found the time to present and publish several papers during the past year. In November 2015, she presented a paper on “Creating a Realm of Memory for the ‘Swallows’ of Maule: Spanish Female Factory Workers in the Pyrenean Borderlands” in Chicago for the annual conference of the Western Society for French History.

In March, she talked about Basques in occupied France at the University of San Francisco, as well as presenting another paper, entitled “Double Think in Occupied and Liberated France: A Test Case from the Western Pyrenees,” for the annual conference of the Society for French Historical Studies in Nashville, at Vanderbilt University.

During the summer of 2016, to mark her 40th anniversary in the province of Xiberoa, Dr. Ott gave a public lecture in Maule on her early years of fieldwork in Santazi (1976-1977) and her current research interests (the trials of suspected collaborators in liberated Pau). More than eighty people attended the event, including three generations of one Santazi family and several people who had experienced the German occupation of Iparralde.

In September 2016, Oxford University’s journal, French History, published her article, “Cohabitation and Opportunistic Accommodation in Occupied France: A Test Case from the Western Pyrenees.”  She also had the chance to spend a wonderful weekend with members of the Chino Basque community—thanks to Advisory Board member Mike Bidart—and presented her 1985 documentary film, “The Basques of Santazi,” at the Chino Basque Club, alongside the screening of Amama. The event was attended by more than 50 spectators.

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Professor Ott with director Asier Altuna at the Chino Basque Club in September

In November 2016, Professor Ott’s presentation, “A Pro-Vichy Mayor and His Indiscreet Ladies: Cohabitation and Accommodation in a Basque Village under German Occupation,” was filmed for H-France in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual conference of the Western Society for French History.

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A view of Santazi

For those of you who have read Dr. Ott’s Circle of Mountains, an ethnography of a Basque sheepherding community in Santazi in the province of Xiberoa, you will appreciate the amount of fieldwork she carried out for the endeavor. Professor Ott has visited the community and her host families every year since 1976, as celebrated last summer. In October of this year, a terrible, rapid fire completely destroyed the farmhouse of her closest friends in Xiberoa, whom she had known for nearly forty years. Luckily the fire began in the evening and not in the middle of the night. Both family members and all livestock survived the blaze. The community and the province rallied behind the family in extraordinary ways that reflect core rural Basque values, especially mutual aid. Local people at once took food, clothing, and household items to the town hall for the family’s use. The community also opened a bank account for them to which many donations have been made. Local people also organized a kantaldi, or singing festival, for the family in a nearby village. The spirit of the lehen aizoa, first neighbors, endures!

Professor Ott is quite the inspiration for us all. We look forward to reading your new book and the fruits of your new endeavors.

For now, check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946,  edited by Dr. Ott: http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/collections/books-by-title/products/war-exile-justice-and-everyday-life-1936-1946

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