Category: Basque folklore (page 1 of 2)

Ihauteriak: Carnivals in Popular Basque Culture

Today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Astearte Inautea, in other words, the day to get all our excesses in before the 40 days of Lent in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Most people have heard of the celebrations in Brasil or New Orleans, but what about the Basque Country?

Carnivals are celebrated in different ways across the Basque Country, as a previous post from last year explains.  However, some carnivals begin long before the lenten season, such as those celebrated in Ituren and Zubieta (Navarre). Their famous Joaldunak go about the streets, dressed in sheepskins and pointy hats while shaking their bells. They have become symbols of Basque carnivals. However, they are not as unique as you may think.

Joaldunak, by Kike CC-NC-ND

Earlier this year, I read the following description  of a carnival festivity in The Economist, of an event held in  Rijeka, Croatia:

Zvoncari, from The Economist

Romping in Rijeka: Croatia’s carnival

Spring, summer, autumn, winter, party. The Rijeka carnival, known to locals as “the fifth season”, starts on Tuesday and goes on until March 1st. It may not have the glamour of Rio or the glitz of Venice but the port city can still pull the crowds. Festivities start in earnest when the master of revellers is handed the city’s keys and a carnival queen is chosen. Over the coming weeks there are balls, masked karaoke events and boozing in breweries before the climax of the International Carnival Parade—attended by up to 150,000 people. Traditionally, the last group in the parade are the Zvoncari, the sheepskin-clad bell men of Kastav, who also tour local villages in an ancient tradition used to cement bonds between communities. The season ends with the burning of the pust, a puppet blamed for all the previous year’s ills; 2016’s has a lot to answer for.

Don’t the zvoncari remind you of the joaldunak? They also travel from Ituren to Zubieta in a tradition to ward off evil spirits and create unity.

Furthermore, the pust sounds an awful lot like Miel Otxin, the villainous character who is burned on Fat Tuesday in the Carnivals of Lantz (Navarre). During Lantz’s Carnivals a story plays out (based on true events) in which a bandit, Miel Otxin, in the mountains surrounding Lantz, is captured by the town and burned.

Miel Otxin, credit Panzermix Wikipedia Commons

Carnival festivities share many shared features across Europe and beyond. These pagan rituals’ history predates notions of lent and other Catholic traditions. It’s fun to look at the ways certain acts are repeated, demonstrating a shared sense of human community.

Have a great Astearte Inautea no matter how you celebrate it!

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.

 

On Anboto

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That is a long way down!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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:

 

 

The flower of the sun in Basque culture

In a previous post we discussed the importance of the solstice festival, St. John’s Eve, and today we’re going to talk about the seemingly humble sunflower–eguzki-lore (flower of the sun) or ekilore (flower of the east) in Basque. This is an important symbol in traditional Basque culture that, like the St.John’s Eve festivities, is rooted in a more general solar mythology that once extended across Europe as a whole.

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Carlina acaulis. Image by Bernd Haynold, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clearly, as its name in English also suggests, the sunflower resembles the sun, but why is it so important in traditional Basque culture? First of all, it is important to comprehend just how important the sun was. Understandably, people venerated the rising sun as a giver of light, and life, the very means to their daily survival. Prehistoric dolmens generally face East, toward the rising sun, as do (where possible) most traditional houses and old tombs in the Basque Country. In the latter case, there is also a practical dimension to this because typically the cold and rain come from the North and West respectively.

So the sun is in general an important symbol, but more particularly, according to the old Basque beliefs, and as José Miguel de Barandiarán notes in his Selected Writings (p.79), “the Sun and the Moon are feminine divinities, daughters of Earth, to whose womb they return every day after their journey through the sky.” So much so, in fact, that people used to greet and bid farewell to the sun every day. In The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja observes that (p. 275):

there seem to exist affinities reflected in the language among the ideas of light, sun, and fire. All of this may have had a religious meaning that is lost today. However, the custom of greeting the sun (and the moon) both at their rising and at their setting has been conserved until the present by children and even by adults in some towns. These greetings are notable because in them the star of the day is treated as a grandmother and is therefore female, which also occurs among many Indo-Germanic peoples. Some old stories (particularly one from Errigoiti [Rigoitia]) seem to suggest that some people believed the earth to be the mother of the sun.

Specifically, in Errigoiti (Bizkaia), Barandiarán tells us, they used to say “Eguzki santa bedeinkatue, zoaz zure amagana” (Holy, blessed sun, go to your mother).

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Dried sunflower nailed to the front door of a farmhouse in Senpere, Lapurdi. Photo by Garuna bor-bor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With the sun being so important, then, it should come as no surprise that the sunflower came to represent this potent natural symbol. It is still not uncommon to see dried sunflowers nailed to the front doors of Basque farmhouses. Barandiarán (p. 112) says that this flower “performs the same mysterious functions attributed to the sun. It is believed, for example, that the sun frightens away evil spirits . . . That is why the flower is nailed above the door: to prevent the intrusion of evil spirits, witches, and the numina of disease, storm, and lightning.” This would bear out Caro Baroja’s words (p. 326), which  suggest that in traditional Basque culture “the sun may be a sort of God’s eye, protector from evils and purifier.”

If you’re interested in traditional Basque mythology, be sure to check out the abovementioned works: Julio Caro Baroja, The Basques, and José Miguel de Barandiarán, Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography.

 

Soka, Euskal Dantza: A New Basque Dance App

In conjunction with the traveling exhibition “Soka, euskal dantzaren uratsetan” (Soka, in the steps of a Basque dance), created by the Basque Cultural Institute, and using content from the Dantzan website, the Azkue Foundation recently presented a new app designed to encourage more interest in Basque dance.

 

You can download the Soka app free for both Android (from Google Play) and iOS (from the Apple Store). For more details on the app see the report by Euskal Kultura on the presentation here.

If you haven’t already done so, check out Sabin Bikandi’s Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country. Described by one reviewer as, “a tour de force that seems destined to become a—if not the—definitive work on the subject and is essential reading for anyone interested in three-hole pipe music, or Iberian folk music and dance at large,” this is a must-read for anyone interested in Basque music and dance.

Be sure to also check out Oier Araolaza’s Basque Dance, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

Reno Basque Festival This Weekend

 

The Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club will be hzazpiak bat logoosting its 49th–yes 49th!–Basque Festival this weekend.

The festival kicks off on Friday evening, July 15, at 7pm at Louis’ Basque Corner, with the main events taking place on Saturday, July 16 at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno from 10am-10pm. There will be Basque dancing by the local Zazpiak Bat dancers as well as the Irrintzi Dancers from Winnemucca, NV, a bota contest for the kids, rural sports exhibitions, and a txinga (weight carrying) contest that is open to the public. Live music will be provided by Mercedes Mendive, from Elko, NV, at the public dance from 6-9pm.

Food and drink will be available for purchase all day, along with items from various vendors. Everyone is welcomed to join in the fun. For more information check out Zazpiak Bat at Facebook.

 

BANDtzaldia… a new initiative from Aiko

Many of you will have read several posts we’ve done in the past about Aiko Taldea, a groundbreaking ensemble in the Basque Country that in recent years has come to redefine traditional music and dance by emphasizing, among other things, less spectacle and more participation. A key part of Aiko’s philosophy is that music and dance–and the two should really be considered one and the same–should be experienced first-hand, with people joining in rather than just watching.

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This coming Friday, June 24, Aiko will embark on yet another groundbreaking initiative: BANDtzaldia, a collaboration between Aiko and municipal bands in the Basque Country to offer open-air performances at which people are encouraged to get up an dance; yet another attempt by Aiko to revive the traditional spirit of the erromeria or open-air public dance that was once so typical throughout the Basque Country.  The first of these dances will take in one of Bilbao’s emblematic central squares, the Plaza Barria, and will feature a collaboration with the Bilbao Municipal Band. The music for the event has been composed by Sabin Bikandi and arranged by the composer Joserra Gutiérrez.

Check out a trailer for the show here, in which we see rehearsals taking place for Friday’s event:

To really appreciate what Aiko are all about, and what popular participation really means, check out the following video shot in the “seven streets” or Old Quarter of Bilbao, one hour of pure unrestrained joy!

We at the Center are honored to have collaborated ourselves on a couple of occasions with Aiko.

See in particular Sabin Bikandi’s  Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor in the Basque Country, a wonderfully in formative work that besides recounting the life of one of the great Basque musicians, also functions as a general introduction to Basque music and dance. The work includes music scores and an accompanying DVD explaining various Basque instruments and dances.

Check out too Urraska: A New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak as Interpreted by Sagaseta. This is a complete guide to the one of the most representative of all Basque dances, the jauziak, collective circular dances that involve short hops and jumps. It includes a book in Euskara and English, 2 CDs, a DVD of dance performances, a guide to the dance steps for performing the dances, and PDF copies of the text in Spanish and French.

Katalina de Erauso pastorala premieres in Baiona

Sunday, June 5, saw the premiere of the new pastorala, “Katalina de Erauso,” in Baiona.  The pastorala is a traditional form of outdoor theater in Zuberoa performed by amateurs, usually from the same town or area, in which the action is played out in repetitive sung verse. It harks back to the mystery and morality plays of the medieval era and frequently involves a tragic theme. Some modern interpretations of the pastorala, such as “Katalina de Erauso,” are also performed in theaters and outside Zuberoa.

The eponymously titled “Katalina de Erauso” tells the dashing story of the famed Lieutenant Nun, a women who fled a convent life in Donostia, Gipuzkoa, to embark on a series of swashbuckling adventures in the guise of a man in the Americas.

For more details about this spectacle, check out its website (in Basque, French, and Spanish) here.

If you’re interested in this major figure in Basque history, we cannot recommend highly enough the enthralling account of her life in Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso, which we discussed in detail in a previous post. What’s more, if you’re interested in different aspects of traditional Basque performance, check out Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here

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