Category: Basques in Latin America (page 3 of 3)

Flashback Friday: Privileged Fleets

On September 25, 1728, the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” (La Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas) was established in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. An early eighteenth century Spanish reform had established a system by which the government issued royal licenses for the establishment of commerce companies endowing them privileged positions in colonial trade. This system followed the Dutch, English, and French models, by which the government granted some companies permission to be the sole merchants and have monopoly rights on certain trading routes between the American colonies and the Old World. In this way, moreover, the chartered companies became important mainstays of the Spanish empire and its military rule in America. Thus, those privileged fleets were allowed not only to consolidate their positions in transatlantic markets, but they played an even larger role in Spanish foreign relations abroad. Following its Basque predecessor’s steps–the“Company of Honduras” established by Diego de Murga in 1714–the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” was created with the intention of establishing a shareholding company between Venezuela and the Old World. In 1742, the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” obtained the monopoly of trade to Venezuela. Through the establishment of this and other commercial companies, Basque merchants took an active role in the Atlantic trade of different kind of products in the West Indies during the eighteenth century.

The Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas logo

The Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas logo

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The Royal Gipuzkoan Company’s business headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, in the 1940s

Check out Gloria Pilar Totoricaguena’s book Basque Diaspora: Migration and Transnational Identity, which will give you the whole picture of this and other stories about the Basque presence overseas (available free to download here). On the eighteenth century, see Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (2003).

For further discussion on Basque emigration, see: José Manuel Azcona Pastor’s Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004); and William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1975).


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

From the Backlist: The Amazing Tale of the Basque Lieutenant Nun

Catalina_de_Erauso

Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650). Portrait attributed to Juan van der Hamen, via Wikimedia Commons

“Buckle up your seat belt, Dear Reader, since you are in for a wild ride!” The words of William A. Douglass, which introduce Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso: The National and Sexual Identity of the Lieutenant Nun, set the scene perfectly for this lively account of one of Basque history’s most marginal and controversial characters. This is the tale of Catalina de Erauso, the young woman destined to be a nun who ran away from a convent in her home town of Donostia-San Sebastián at the age of fifteen and, initially passing herself off as one “Francisco Loyola,” ultimately transformed herself into “Antonio” Erauso, soldier, adventurer, and ne’er-do-well, traversing early seventeenth-century Spanish America, getting into swordfights, fleeing the hangman’s noose on more than one occasion, and taking an active role in several military campaigns. Once her secret was out, Erauso would personally (and successfully) seek a special dispensation from the Pope to continue to live as a man and, subsequently, return to her swashbuckling lifestyle in the Americas.

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While this story has been recounted before, the originality of Mendieta’s study is its focus on the specifically Basque dimension of Erauso’s identity as well as its contextualized study of gender transgression within both the Old and New World of the seventeenth century.

As regards the former, in a chapter provocatively subtitled “The Basques against Everyone and Everyone against the Basques,” we are treated to a rare glimpse of Erauso’s participation in the clashes between Basques and the so-called Vicuñas (a group made up of Peninsular Spaniards, principally from Castile, Extremadura, and Andalusia together with their Creole allies) in seventeenth-century Potosí. Some of the events associated with these clashes are described in Eraso’s own words:

It wasn’t long after [my return to Potosí] that the Alonso Ibáñez uprising occurred. The sheriff at that time was Rafael Ortiz, a knight of Santiago, and he raised more than a hundred men, myself included, to go up against the rebels. We went out to meet them one night in Santo Domingo street, and the sheriff shouted “Who goes there?” at the top of his lungs. The rebels backed up without saying a word, and again he shouted, “Who goes there?”
“Liberty!” some of them shouted back.
Then the sheriff bellowed out “Long live the king!” with many of the men echoing his words, and he charged toward them, with the rest of us behind, stabbing and shooting. At that same instant, the rebels prepared to defend themselves, but we backed them into an alley and then came at them from behind around the other end, lashing away at them until they were forced to surrender.
Some had escaped but we arrested thirty-six, among them Ibáñez. We found seven of their men dead, and two of our own, with a pile of wounded on both sides. Some of those arrested were tortured and confessed that an uprising had been planned for that night. Three companies of Basques and men from up in the mountains were raised to defend the city, and after fifteen days, all of the rebels had been hanged, and the city was quiet again.

Regarding the latter, Mendieta concludes the study with a detailed inquiry into the nature of sex and gender in seventeenth-century European society, the ideologies that underpinned these notions and the roles that they forced on people.  “Was Erauso a man or a woman?” she asks. The answer, for Mendieta, is that “she was a woman only physically. Hers is a case in which sex and gender are totally divorced; that is, in her we find an individual who was biologically a woman, but psychologically a man. Erauso’s transvestism is total and definitive; far from being a disguise, a man’s attire becomes her own skin.” Moreover it was in the Americas, concludes the author, that Erauso found less rigid codes of social conduct and more possibilities, more freedom, to live the footloose adventurous life she craved.

This utterly compelling story is told with both clarity and humanity and challenges readers to critically think about gender roles in society and history. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in Basque or Latin American  history as well as women’s history and, more broadly, gender studies.

Enjoy the ride!

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