Category: Basque festivals (page 1 of 4)

The Maskarada: A Unique Basque Cultural Event

Zamalzain, the hobbyhorse/centaur, one of the striking characters in the masakarada performance. Photo by Oier Araolaza, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, January 22, the annual maskarada begin its annual odyssey. Part drama, part dance, part poetic performance (both memorized and improvised),  and with more than a coincidental resemblance to the forthcoming carnival antics across the Basque Country, this is a cultural form unique to Xiberoa (or Zuberoa) in the far northeast of the Basque Country, in which a group of amateurs from the same area traditionally perform a form of transgressive, subversive, and parodic open-air popular theater with the declared aim of poking fun at those in authority. The traveling troupe always includes the same characters, a set group made up of ostensibly “good” and “bad” figures, although the lines do get blurred. At root, this is a tradition designed to cement community ties and one that celebrates both the Basque language and traditional music and dance. It has been practiced since at least the sixteenth century.

This year’s event is being performed by  a group of young people aged 15 to 24 from the villages of Ezpeize-Ündüreine, Ürrüstoi-Larrabile, Ainharbe, Sarrikotapea, Onizepea, and Mitikile in the Pettarra region of northern Xiberoa, and kicked off in Ezpeize itself. The maskarada is returning to this region 100 years after it was last performed here. In the video above you can see the introductory dance following the so-called fall of the first barricade.

One of the most spectacular moments in the maskarada is the godaleta(a) dantza (dance of the glass of wine), in which dancers attempt to momentarily hop on and off a glass of wine. Check out this video of dancers attempting the feat at a separate event in Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi:

Check out, too, “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernández de Larrinoa in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. In his article, Fernández de Larrinoa explains who the characters are in this performance as well as the set pattern of scenes they perform, and what all of this means within the wider context of the culture of Xiberoa.

This book is available free to download here.

 

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

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.

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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!

 

 

 

The 2016 Bilbao Mendi Film Festival

This year’s Bilbao Mendi Film Festival kicked off on December 9 and runs through December 18. This is an annual festival that celebrates cinematic representations of mountains, mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure, exploration, extreme sports, and the great outdoors in general. Check out the trailer on the main website to get a flavor of what it’s all about.

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Basque-themed work appearing at the festival this year includes Akabuko Martxea, a documentary directed by Aitor Gisasola and Fredi Paia about efforts to recreate the tradition of sheep transhumance in herding sheep from the Urbia Mountains to the Uribe Kosta coastal district.

In the fall of 2015 two Gipuzkoan shepherds, Mikel Etxezarreta and Eli Arrillaga, spent five days herding 250 sheep from Zegama in Gipuzkoa to Getxo in Bizkaia. Their aim was to recreate the tradition of transhumance, a way of life that came to an end in the early 1980s. Indeed, Etxezarreta himself last carried out such a trek in 1982.

The Basque-made documentary, Kurssuaq. La exploración del Río Grande, will also be shown. We covered this amazing kayak expedition in a previous post here. Similarly, Humla, produced and directed by Mikel Sarasola, charts the adventures of four kayakers as they attempt to negotiate the mighty Humla Karnali, the longest river in Nepal.

The documentary Common Ground, meanwhile, charts the expedition of a group of climbers, including the brothers Iker and Eneko Pou from Vitoria-Gasteiz, to the remote Chukotka region of Siberia. In a similar vein, Eñaut Izagirre’s Incognita Patagonia, produced for National Geographic, covers a climbing expedition to the Cloue Icefield on Hoste Island, at the southern tip of Latin America.

Elsewhere, Jon Herranz directs Mar Alvarez No Logo, a documentary about woman firefighter and part-time climber, Mar Alvarez.

In somewhat of a different direction, Iker Elorrieta’s film I Forgot Myself Somewhere examines the challenges faced by women in northern Pakistan to get an education.

And Xabier Zabala’s Imaginador is a biography of photographer Santi Yaniz, famed for his work in the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

See a full list of the films on show here.

New books for Durangoko Azoka 2016

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Just a quick reminder to all our readers in the Basque Country who may be thinking of attending this year’s Azoka in Durango, the great book and record fair that turns into one huge celebration of Basque culture in general (with just a wee bit of good old-fashioned partying involved as well), this year’s publications by the Center will be at our stand. This is the 51st year of the Azoka, taking place this time round between December 2 and 6. For full details check out the official website: http://durangokoazoka.eus/eu/

New 2016 Releases

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Part of the Center’s Migration Studies Series, Basques in Cuba, edited by William A. Douglass, is an ambitious attempt on the part of a variety of scholars from different disciplines and countries to chart the impact of Basque immigration in Cuba, and the effect of this back in the Basque Country.

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The Basques by Jacques Allières, part of the prestigious Classic Series, is a work originally intended as an introduction to Basque history and culture, with a special focus on the Basque language, for a Francophone public. It is published here for the first time in English and serves as a unique perspective on the Basque Country by the renowned French linguist.

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Multilevel Governance and Regional Empowerment by Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka is a timely addition to the growing scholarship on the multiple layers of government within the European Union. In an age marked by the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the movement in favor of a similar vote in Catalonia, and the Brexit referendum of 2016, this work reminds us of the importance of understanding such multiple power structures.

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Iban Zaldua’s This Strange and Powerful Language is a must for anyone interested in a general and accessible introduction to Basque-language literature. Zaldua’s easy-to-follow and often humorous prose guides readers through the decisions that writers make to publish in the Basque language, while offering a general introduction to the major literary work in the language.

If you can’t make it to Durango, don’t forget that you can shop for all our books online here: http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/

Say Cheese!

The prestigious International Cheese Festival starts tomorrow, November 16,  in Donostia-San Sebastián and runs until November 18. The Artzai Gazta association, an organization comprised of 110 local small-scale craft producers, played a central role in bringing the festival to the Basque Country. The festival is seen as both a platform to showcase Basque products and a forum to exchange knowledge with other small-scale cheese producers from all over the world. Moreover, at the festival the World Cheese Awards organization will be awarding prizes to its 2016 winners. You can even follow the prize-giving via live online steaming. Check out the details here.

Check out the full program for the festival here.

Is Halloween Basque?

Halloween is often thought to have Anglo-American origins, but could there be a Basque connection? Although Halloween, in the American sense, has spread round the world, bringing with it costumes and trick-or-treating traditions, pumpkin carving is not unique to our October 31 celebration, as the following video by the EITB (in Spanish and Basque) shows:

As the story goes, it was traditional to empty out pumpkins and carve faces into them in the Basque Country before All Saints Day, November 1, in order to ward off spirits. This practice, known as the Night of the Witches or Nocturnal Festivity, was celebrated to say goodbye to Autumn and the end of the harvesting season, giving light to the dark winter.

For more about the tradition, in the words of those who experienced it, enjoy the following video, in Basque, thanks to the Ahotsak oral history project:

 

 

Great new video to accompany this weekend’s Kilometroak fundraiser in Bergara

Every year, throughout the Basque Country, a special day is set aside to raise funds for a particular ikastola (a school in which instruction takes place predominantly in Basque) on which the main goal is to complete a walk (often sponsored) around a set circuit, with refreshment stands along the way and other associated activities, including concerts and the like, all in aid of raising money for Basque-language education: in Araba this is known as Araba Euskaraz (meaning “Araba in Basque”); in Bizkaia, Ibilialdia (the trek, hike, walk, etc.); in Iparralde, Herri Urats (“a people’s step”); in Nafarroa, Nafarroa Oinez (Nafarroa on foot); and in Gipuzkoa, Kilometroak (kilometers).

This year’s Kilometroak, which takes place on October 2, is being organized by the Aranzadi Ikastola in Bergara and its theme is demasa (tremendous, humongous), linked to the notion of aniztasuna (diversity). A great part of all these events in recent years has been the introduction of a specially composed song for the day with an accompanying video, and we’d like to share this year’s song with you. Enjoy!

 

Emotional Artzai Eguna held in Nafarroa

The 49th Artzai Eguna (Shepherds’ Day) of Nafarroa, was held yesterday, August 28, in Uharte Arakil; a day-long celebration of the shepherding world that includes gastronomic activities such as a cheese-making contest and that culminates in sheepdog trials in which the ability of shepherds and their dogs to herd sheep is tested. It was an emotional occasion in many ways.

The shepherding competition was won by 51-year-old Joxe Mari Ixtilart–who first competed in the event some 39 years ago–from Amaiur and his dog Lagun (the oldest dog in the competition at the age of 10), but the occasion was also marked by an emotional tribute to Ixtilart’s recently deceased mother: María Pilar Elizalde Jaimerena, the first woman to ever compete at these same championships.

There were also tributes for the recently deceased Benigno Mendia from Urdiain, a local man involved in many different cultural activities, including previous editions of the Artzai Eguna; and another award was given to Patxi Uriz from Gares, winner of a 2015 Goya Prize (the Spanish equivalent to the Oscars) for his documentary Hijos de la tierra (Sons of the Earth).

Read a full report on the day in Noticias de Navarra (in Spanish) here.

For more information on the event as a whole, click here.

2016 pastorala celebrates life of Jean Pitrau

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The annual pastorala, an epic play performed by a large number of amateurs all from the same locality and a unique cultural phenomenon particular to Zuberoa (or Xiberoa), took place last Sunday, July 24, in Atharratze-Sorholüze and will be repeated once more in the same location on August 7, with a third performance scheduled to take place in Otsagabia (Nafarroa) on August 15.

As noted, this year it is the turn of the people of Atharratze-Sorholüze to perform the pastorala, which celebrates the life of one of the town’s own charismatic historical figures: Jean Pitrau (1929-1975), who went by the nickname of “Erbin.” Pitrau was famed for defending farmers’ rights and the traditional way of life in rural communities. He was among the founders of the European rural labor movement.

The pastorala is a performance comprising the spoken word, song, and dance, which is made up of the rhythmic, almost hypnotic, repetition of ideas. It always celebrates a historical figure of some importance and invariably involves some element of tragedy. Every pastorala portrays a clear picture of good and evil, giving the performance its ancient epic quality. In many ways it is less about spectacle and more about community involvement, binding social ties, and reinforcing communal roots. This year’s pastorala was written by the renowned Basque musician and singer from Xiberoa, Pier Paul Berzaitz.

Check out this short film of the immediate build-up to Sunday’s performance by photographer Séverine Dabadie (and be sure to take a look at her YouTube site here for other great Basque-themed videos).

Follow the pastorala on facebook here. And a DVD of the event can be purchased here.

The wonderful Kanaldude, a local community TV station dedicated to representing the distinct culture and identity of inland Iparralde, has produced a series of reports focusing on the preparations for this year’s pastorala. These reports include interviews with the local people taking part, and show them in their everyday lives as well as rehearsing for the event. Check out these reports, from May 4, June 29, July 12, and July 20.

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