Category: Basque folklore (page 1 of 3)

Euskal Inauteriak-Basque Carnivals


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

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

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

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Kotilungorriak (Ustaritze)

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Ziripot (Lantz)

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Zanpantzarrak (Ituren)

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Lamiak (Mundaka)

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Momotxorroak (Altsasu)

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Zakuzaharrak (Lesaka)

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Mamoxarroak (Unanua)


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What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

Reno Zazpiak Bat 50th Annual Basque Festival

This past weekend was the Reno Zazpiak Bat’s 50th Annual Basque Festival and it was packed with activities and Basque spirit. My weekend actually kicked off in Sparks, at the Thursday Night Marketplace event, which collaborated with Zazpiak Bat to have a Basque theme. Besides the farmer’s market, there was dancing by the Zazpiak Bat Basque Dancers and the public. Later in the evening, Errebal, a music group from the Basque Country, had their first performance. It was a great way to start the weekend!

Dancing in Sparks


The official schedule of events began on Friday at the Santa Fe, with the President’s Dinner and subsequent performance by Errebal. After plentiful dining alongside merry Basques, Julen from Errebal helped us learn the different steps to euskal dantza. You could tell who had experience and who didn’t, although we all had fun! To end the night, Mercedes Mendive played the accordion accompanied by much dancing.

Aita Antton

Basque Mass

Winnemucca Dancers

Saturday’s events were held at Wingfield Park, by the Truckee river in Downtown Reno. Bright and early, Apaiza Aita Antton gave the mass. After a welcoming from the President of Zazpiak Bat, Joe Leonis, the Winnemucca Dancers performed, and it’s always a pleasure watching them. Throughout the day, there were different herri kirolak demonstrations, including harrijasotzaileak (weight lifters), aizkolariak (woodchoppers), and Txingas, a competition that was open to the public. There was dancing at all times, and of course, I can’t forget the food and drink. Accompanied by the warm weather, the festivities in the park made the day fly by.


But that wasn’t all. Saturday evening, Errebal had their final performance at Louis’ Basque Corner. It was packed! People danced, drank, and were merry! Overall, it was a great weekend and I can’t wait till next year!

Winnemucca Basque Festival

Continuing on our summer Basque Festival tour of the West, some of us at the CBS and Jon Bilbao Basque Library had the chance to visit Winnemucca and attend its 39th Annual Basque Festival. Once again, we got up early (but thankfully not as early as the weekend before) and set off east toward Winnemucca. On the way there, we had a lovely breakfast in Lovelock!

Cowpoke Cafe in Lovelock


Once in Winnemucca, we watched the Basque Festival Parade. Many of the dance groups and clubs had floats parade down Winnemucca Blvd. The local fire and police department were also present. It seemed as if all of the town had gone out to watch the parade, and the children were giddy with excitement over the candy being thrown to them from all of the participants.


More parading!

Next up, we headed to the convention center. Right outside, on the Nixon Lawn, festival goers had set up for the picnic, and everywhere you looked, you could see young boys and girls dressed in their traditional outfits ready to have fun.

Txiki dancers

Inside the convention center, everyone was buying tickets for the lunch and merriment. The Boise Basque Museum had set up a table with various gift items and souvenirs. Our Basque Books Editor was also present with a display of our many publications and eager buyers.

Inside the Convention Center

Our Basque Books Editor!

Before the eating began, the national anthems were sung and dance performances kicked off the event. Throughout the day, various groups danced and competitions were held. Among them, dance-offs and weight lifting competitions. A professional wood chopping display was the highlight for me. Stephanie Braña did a great job! To learn more about her, see the following article in Euskal Kazeta.



Lunch was delicious! We had salad, beans, lamb stew, and steak, accompanied by wine and bread. Hats off to the cooks! We then had the chance to watch more performances but left before the concerts began. Too bad we couldn’t stick around!


Once again, these Basque festivals and picnics do not disappoint! Not only was it a lovely day in the sun, but we were surrounded by fun people and entertainment. Can’t wait till the next one!

Nothing like the Nevada views

Photo credits: Edurne Arostegui, Iñaki Arrieta-Baro, and Irati Urkitza.

A video journey to the heart of the Basque Country

Check out these great introductory videos charting a recent journey to the heart of the Basque Country, Xiberoa, from our friends at About Basque Country:

According to the blog, this was in part a journey made by Basques from the South in order to connect with their cousins in the North, a trip through the Basque Country and the variety of cultures, dialects, and landscapes that make up these distinct parts of Euskal Herria.


Txakoli & Music: CBS friend offers innovative masterclass in Basque cultural symbols

This past Saturday, April 15, as part of the 2017 Basque Fest celebrations held to introduce Basque culture to Easter vacation visitors to Bilbao, CBS friend Sabin Bikandi of the Aiko group, together with Alvaro García and Amaiur Cajaraville, offered up a lively, informal, and instructive talk and performance at the Basque Museum in Bilbao around the theme of txistu (flute) music and txakolina, the emblematic Basque wine, sponsored by the Bizkaiko Txakolina designation of origin.

Ever the consummate showman, Sabin explained several features of Basque culture with his usual good humor and panache, from the txistu itself–the Basque three-holed pipe or flute–to txakolina of course, a generous glass of which was served to audience members, but also how to wear a txapela or Basque beret, and what music means to him; in short, that music and dance are one and the same organic whole, and that music, dance, and txakolina were all important elements of the erromeriak or public outdoor dances that were traditionally held in the Basque Country.

Check out Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music in the Basque Country, Sabin’s wonderfully evocative portrait of a master txistularia or txistu player, Alejandro Aldekoa; a work that also addresses broader issues of Basque music and dance.

And if you do like Basque music and dance be sure to check out the book/CD/DVD Urraska: A New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak Dances as Interpreted by Sagasta, an all encompassing exploration of these representative Basque dances.



Wentworth Webster: An Englishman in Lapurdi

Wentworth Webster (1828-1907), one of the forerunners of Basque Studies in English.

Wentworth Webster was one of the discrete forerunners of our very own discipline here at the Center: Basque Studies in English. Born in 1828, Webster studied at Oxford University and, after a spell of ill health, was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1861. Following his ordination, and posts that took him to both Egypt and Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Banhèras de Bigòrra) in Occitania, France, he accepted a post as chaplain of the newly established Anglican church of Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), where he would serve between 1869 and 1882. During this time he and his wife had five children, who all grew up speaking Basque among their languages, and he took a keen interest in Basque culture. He was especially interested in the Basque language and traditional stories and folk tales, which he enthusiastically gathered with the help of fellow scholar Jules Vinson. The result of this initial research was the publication of Basque Legends (London: Griffith and Farran, 1877).

He later resigned his post and moved to Sara, from where he continued to research and write on many Basque-related topics, frequently publishing his findings in British journals of the period, as well as reprinting Pierre d’Urte’s 1712 Basque grammar (1900) and publishing a memoir, Les Loisirs d’un étranger au Pays basque (Châlons-sur-Saöne: Imprimerie française et orientale E. Bertrand, 1901).  In March 1907, the visiting King of England, Edward VII, attended a game of pelota in Sara in Webster’s honor, but the elderly clergyman was too weak to attend the game, eventually dying a month later.

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



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.


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.


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.


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.


That is a long way down!


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.


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


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!


Your Basque Books Editor

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