Category: Basque history (page 1 of 22)

August 12-13, 1912: 112 Basque fishermen die in sudden storm

On the evening of August 12, 1912, as they were accustomed to doing every day, the fishermen of several ports along the Bizkaian coast set out in small 40-50 feet boats to fish in the waters close to their homes. This was a form of coastal rather than deep-sea fishing, a typical Basque practice and one intimately linked to the traditional culture of Basque fishing communities as a whole. It had been a mild day with a warming southerly wind, but all of a sudden, as the evening drifted into night, there was a dramatic change, and a cold northerly wind came in from an area of low pressure in the far North Atlantic, around Iceland: an unprecedented phenomenon for that time of year.  The air temperature fell dramatically, and the sea became increasingly more squally.

At the time a number of these boats were approximately 45-50 miles off of the Bizkaian coast. This would have been just about the moment they were thinking of returning to port with their evening catch, but instead they got caught up in the storm, which carried on ferociously all night and into the morning of August 13. The boats could not cope with such appalling conditions and many sank.

On shore, people realized that their loved ones and neighbors were in danger, and an appeal was made to send out rescue launches, but between the terrible conditions at sea and the time it was taking to alert the authorities in Bilbao, help was not immediately forthcoming.

In total, there were 143 recorded deaths, most of them fishermen from Bermeo, but including others from Lekeitio, Elantxobe, and Ondarroa. A memorial service was held for all the dead on August 23 in Bermeo, to which King Alfonso XIII also came.

The tragedy marked a watershed moment in fishing practices and techniques in the Bay of Biscay.

Check out the following two-part video about the tragedy, recreating life in fishing communities at the time (in Basque):

Map of civil war graves updated in Navarre

Historical memory–the recovering of previously forgotten (consciously or otherwise) events from the past–is a prevailing topic in contemporary Basque and Spanish society, especially in regard to the civil war of 1936-1939, which left a legacy of actively forgetting about crimes perpetrated against the “losers” of that war.

Excavation of common grave site in Dicastillo (Deikaztelu), Navarre

These reprisals were especially brutal in Navarre, and in an effort to regain this memory, the Foral Government of Navarre commissioned a firm to draw up a map of all know common graves (sites in which people killed during the civil war were unceremoniously buried, in many cases without their relatives’ knowledge). The discovery of these sites, and the closure such investigations brings to family members, is an important feature of the emphasis on regaining historical memory. An up-to-date map has just been released showing the sites of various common graves and classified according to those that have been excavated, those that have been initially explored, those that are yet to be excavated, and other potential sites of interest.

The updated map contains information on 22 newly discovered common graves, more information on 38 already studied sites, data on 21 newly identified victims of the Francoist repression, and information on the location of a further 49 bodies.

Check out the map of these sites here.

For more information on this initiative on the part of the Foral Government of Navarre (in Spanish) click here.

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, examines the wider impact on society of the momentous events that took place within such a short space of time in and around the Basque Country in the 1930s and 1940s. This work seeks to fully explore the effect of war and displacement on ordinary people.

August 7, 1357: The Faltzes Uprising

On August 7, 1357 the people of Faltzes (Falces) in Navarre rose up en masse in protest against the retinue of Prince Luis, governor of the Kingdom of Navarre during the reign of Charles II–known as le Mauvais, the Bad.

Faltzes-Falces today. Photo by Ibon, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The peasant uprising or matxinada (on which see a previous post here) was the result of Charles II raising taxes in Faltzes in order to finance the battles he was waging in France during the Hundred Years’ War. When the people of Faltzes refused to pay the increased taxes, Charles sent his brother Louis to the area, but on arriving he came across an angry response and fled in fear of his life.

Some of the people involved in the resistance subsequently fled Faltzes, fearful of reprisals by Charles, southward to the Kingdom of Castile.  Charles subsequently ordered the destruction of the town’s crops and property, and eight of nineteen people arrested were condemned to death by hanging.

In September that same year, however, Charles offered a general pardon and those individuals that had fled the area returned home.

Charles II having the leaders of the Jacquerie executed by beheading. Illustration from the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, BL Royal MS. 20 C vii, f. 134v, made after 1380. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Interestingly, Charles II is known more widely for his harsh repression of another peasant uprising, the Jaquerie just outside Paris, one year later.

Center pleased to announce new publication: Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors

The Center is proud to announce its recent publication Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors, by renowned Basque author Maite González Esnal (pictured above).

Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors is an epic ramble through space and time—from the modern day Fryslân, The Netherlands, to the Basque Country in the years of privation after the Spanish Civil War. The stories are precise and radiant, thoughtful and emotional. They are filled with memorable characters: a Good Samaritan who offers coffee and registers birds, and who is, in his own words, “the master of my sounds, I only hear birdsong”; the railway man, Jean, whose true calling is his garden; and many more. Through these stories the narrator shines, illuminating with her inner musings, memories, and recollections both large and small. In turns contemplative, active, reflective, and expansive the result is a collection that glitters and resounds. Although it resists definition—being part travelogue, memoir, short story collection, and more—it is always filled with insight, stunning imagery, and a deep and wide heart.

Shop for the book here.

Basque Economic Agreement Explained

Check out the following video, part of the Bizkaia Talent initiative and featuring Pedro Luis Uriarte (President of the Bargaining Commission of the Economic agreement from the Basque Government side in 1980), which explains succinctly the very special fiscal system that exists in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country.

If you are interested in this topic, check out Basque Economy from Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Uranga, free to download here.

See, too, The Basque Fiscal System Contrasted to Nevada and Catalonia: In the Time of Major Crises, edited by Joseba Aguirreazkuenaga and Xabier Irujo.

Refugees Welcome, 1937

Today we are delighted to include a guest post by Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and keen observer of all things Bilbao. Thanks to contributors like Azkarraga and feedback from our readers, we hope to share the many stories and rich history of the Basques around the world. Eskerrik asko Iñaki!

In these times of sad wartime anniversaries, we come across some public gardens in Bilbao dedicated, precisely, to the memory of those people who reflect the best in humanity at the bloodiest of times. I am referring to Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning (1886-1977), an educationalist and sometime member of the British Parliament.

Eighty years ago, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Bilbao was being bombed and on the point of being occupied by fascist troops. The Basque government appealed for international help in evacuating the refugees accumulating in growing numbers the city. Numerous negotiations were successful and senior citizens, women, and children began to be evacuated by sea to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Some of these states had encouraged a policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, abandoning to fate a legitimate democratically-elected government. The British government position was paradigmatic in this regard. However, it was British public opinion, horrified at the news breaking about the bombing of civilians, which forced the government to take in Basque refugees.

This is the context in which the intrepid figure of Leah Manning emerged, a woman who stood up to both the British government and her own Labour Party–the cause of the “pro-Communist and anti-Catholic” Spanish Republic was viewed with some suspicion in many quarters in the UK–and became actively involved in the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief,  and presided over by another prominent woman, the conservative Katherine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Lady Atholl. A key factor in Leah Manning’s involvement was the fact that she had visited Gernika two days after it had been bombed in April 1937. This influenced her decision, definitively, to get involved in the evacuation of Basque children to her homeland, jointly with the Basque government’s Department for Social Assistance.

The task was by no means easy. The British government, with the exception of providing an armed escort in international waters for the humanitarian convoys leaving Bizkaia after March 1937, consistently refused to provide any public funding to help settle and support these refugees, entrusting all this to private initiatives. In order to do this, the Basque Children’s Committee was created with the aim of coordinating resources and raising funds through charity collections, donations by well-known people, and so on. Manning and others like her carried out a mammoth task. In the end, a camp was organized in Stoneham, Southampton, to receive 4,000 people. Thus, on May 20, 1937, once the corresponding official British government permission had been granted in extremis, the Habana ocean liner could set sail from the port of Santurtzi destined for the UK, with 3,861 children aboard, accompanied by medical, auxiliary, and teaching staff. This was one of the largest human convoys organized in one go at that time.

Once on land and after several days in Stoneham, the Basque children were sent off to different parts of the UK, in dozens of charitable groups and institutions that would look after them and monitor their health.

Barely a month later, on June 19, Bilbao fell into the hands of Franco’s army and from 1938 on, little by little, most of these Basque children gradually returned home. However, many also stayed on in the UK for the rest of their lives, or only returned as adults, like Raimundo Perez Lezama, who began his professional soccer career at Southampton and was later considered one of the best ever goalkeepers for Bilbao’s emblematic team, Athletic Club.

In sum, this is a story of solidarity and social mobilization during times of war.  Like today, there were refugees fleeing a conflict, but in the face of little action on the part of governments, they found a fitting response on the part of civil society and in the necessary leadership that, through people like Leah Manning, was capable of raising the humanitarian cause over any other consideration. I hope these words serve as a suitable tribute to this courageous person.

http://www.basquechildren.org/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Manning

http://blogs.deia.com/historiasdelosvascos/2012/05/11/la-odisea-de-los-ninos-vascos-en-inglaterra/#more-102

https://errepublikaplaza.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/los-ninos-de-la-guerra-las-evacuaciones-infantiles-de-1937/

http://www.elcorreo.com/alava/sociedad/201705/07/ocho-dias-para-acoger-20170505173326.html

 

 

Was the Spanish Omelet invented in the Basque Country?

Arguably the most iconic dish in Spain is the tortilla, the Spanish or potato omelet, a staple of households across the country and almost always an option–whether in pintxo or tapa form–in any bar, cafe, or restaurant you may step into. But did this humble, tasty dish actually originate in the Basque Country? While some have suggested the idea that an “egg omelet” of sorts was known during Spain’s imperial expansion in the 16th century, still others point to more concrete evidence dating from the 19th century.

The first documented mention of the tortilla dates from 1817 in a message to the Parliament of Navarre–part of a system whereby people could leave messages for the parliament to discuss–detailing the sparse living conditions of the inhabitants of the more remote mountainous areas north of the capital of Iruñea-Pamplona; specifically, the message stated that typically 2-3 eggs (and even less) were used with whatever was to hand to thicken the mixture, including potatoes or breadcrumbs, to feed between 5 and 6 people.

Still another legend states that, in 1835, during the Carlist siege of Bilbao led by Tomás Zumalacarregui, the Basque general demanded a meal at a farmhouse one day and all that was available–with most of the local food sources reduced to a bare minimum–was a few eggs, a potato, and an onion. The extekoandre or woman of the house combined the scant provisions and the resulting dish so pleased the Carlist leader that he adopted it as a quick nutritious meal for his troops.

Check out the fascinating story of Zumalacarregui in The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces, by C.F. Henningsen.

*Tortilla image by LLuisa Nunez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Zumalacarregui image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

July 25, 1593: Henry IV of France converts to Roman Catholicism

On July 25, 1593, Henry IV of France (and Henry III of Navarre) definitively converted to Roman Catholicism thereby paving the way to assume the French throne.

Born in Pau to Jeanne d’Albret, the Queen of Navarre (about whom see a previous post here), he was baptized as a Catholic but raised a Protestant and was crowned Henry III of Navarre on the death of his mother in 1572. During the sixteenth-century French Wars of Religion he was a prominent leader of the Protestant forces. On the death of his brother-in-law and distant cousin Henry III of France, he was called to the French succession and crowned Henry IV of France in 1589. He initially tried to maintain his Protestant faith but in the face of much popular opposition to he converted to Roman Catholicism after four years on the throne. His major achievement thereafter was to promulgate the Edict of Nantes (1598), which guaranteed religious freedom for Protestants and effectively ended the Wars of Religion. He was assassinated in 1610.

BBC Travel reports on Basque language

If you haven’t already read it, check out a report by the BBC Travel website on Euskara, the Basque language. One of the interviewees in the piece, Karmele Errekatxo, offers a profound perspective on Euskara: “Language is the identity of a place … If you take language from a place, it dies.” Also interviewed is a good friend of the Center, Pello Salaburu, author of Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, and coeditor (with Xabier Alberdi) of The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country.

Check out the full BBC article here.

The Center has published a number of books on the topic of the Basque language.

Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, by Estibaliz Amorrortu, is a great introduction to the social dimension of Basque. This book is available free to download here. See, too, Koldo Zuazo’s fascinating study The Dialects of Basque.

And these works are complimented by the handy and instructive CBS-Morris English-Basque/Basque-English Dictionary-Hiztegia.

* Image: Inkscape 0.91 screenshot in Basque (Fedora 22) by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Begoña Echeverria to offer The Hammer of Witches reading tomorrow in Sparks

Tomorrow, July 26, from 7:00-8:00 pm in the Sparks Museum, Begoña Echeverria will give a presentation on the burning of Basque witches in 1610 and will include readings from her book The Hammer of Witches. Following the readings, she will also perform, as part of the group NOKA, some Basque witch songs.

 Check out the full schedule here.

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