Category: Basques in the Age of Exploration (page 1 of 2)

September 6, 1522: Elkano arrives back in Europe to complete first circumnavigation of world

September 6, 1522 marks the historic date on which Basque seafarer, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) set foot once more on European soil after successfully leading the first expedition to sail round the world (following the death of original expedition leader Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in 1521).

The final voyage of the Victoria, the ship skippered by Elkano, was by no means without incident. William A. Douglass picks up the story in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (p. 85), from the time the expedition left the Moluccas (or Maluku Islands, in present day Indonesia):

The Victoria set sail on December 21, 1521, with a contingent of sixty, including thirteen islanders from Tidore. They were negotiating hostile Portuguese waters as they skirted India and the Cape of Good Hope, never daring to land and therefore subject to great privations. By the time they arrived in the Cape Verde islands, on July 9, 1522, an additional twenty-eight men had perished. The Portuguese authorities managed to capture and imprison thirteen of the crew, including two Basques who had gone ashore in search of food and water. After it became evident that the governor would not release the captives, Elkano set sail, and on September 6, 1522, the Victoria reached the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with eighteen Europeans (three Basques, including himself) and four islanders on board, as well as a modest cargo of spices that was impounded immediately by Cristóbal de Haro to satisfy the expedition’s financial obligations.

In Selected Basque Writings (p. 53), the renowned philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt also makes mention of this feat, noting that Elkano “was thus the first to have really circumnavigated the world and Charles V gave him a coat of arms of a globe with the known engraving: ‘You are the first to have circled m’ (Primus me circumdedisti). The Victoria was kept as a holy remnant of this voyage until it fully disintegrated of age.”

In previous posts, we have discussed Elkano’s death on yet another expedition (see here) and new online documents that shed more light on his personality (see here).

New documents about Juan Sebastian Elkano available online

Juan Sebastian Elkano (1476-1526)

As we noted in a previous post, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) led the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522. Yet as a recent report in El Diario Vasco suggests, the figure of Elkano remains very a mystery. Two serious fires in 1597 and 1836 the archives of Getaria, his home town, destroyed much of the information about Elkano. Last year, however, eight important documents were discovered that have come to shed more light on this major Basque historical figure.

These documents were discovered during an initiative to reorganize the archive of the Lardizabal family, the owners for centuries of the Laurgain Palace in Aia. They are administrative in nature and provide an insight into Elkano the person, his preoccupations and interests. They also include a key letter written by Elkano to King Carlos I following his return to Europe.

See the full report (in Spanish) here.

These documents have been digitalized and are now available online via the Basque National Archive here.

Elkano is a key figure in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass.

The First Basque Thanksgiving

Acknowledging, slightly tongue-in-cheek, our “six degrees of separation” complex when it comes to all things Basque, today we’d like to share a story about the first feast of Thanksgiving by Europeans in what would eventually be the US, which, in the words of Steve Bass, “occurred on April 20, 1598 in the area of present day El Paso, Texas. The feast was led by the Basque Juan de Oñate during his expedition north from San Gerónimo, Mexico to colonize New Mexico.”

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Statue of Juan de Oñate, Oñate Monument Center, Alcalde, NM. Picture by Advanced Source productions, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Surrounded by Basque relatives and friends, Oñate’s expedition set off in January 1598 and, after a grueling three-month journey at the point of which the colonizers were fast running out of food and water rations, they came across the Rio Grande, which offered abundant fresh water and game to replenish them. Hence, their first Thanksgiving feast.

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Texas Historical Marker for Don Juan De Oñate and El Paso Del Rio Norte. Photo by Pi3.124, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Amerikanuak (p.78), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao also observe that:

Unlike previous efforts, which were comprised largely of soldiers and missionaries, the Oñate force included colonists and livestiock. In this fashion Oñate introduced the first sheep flocks into what would later become territory of the United States (a fitting early forerunner of massive Basque involvement in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of the sheep industry of the American West).

Oñate’s expedition forged ahead, reaching the southern area of present-day Kansas, before returning, ultimately, to his home province of Nueva Vizcaya in present-day Mexico.

For a full description of this story, see Steve Bass, “Basques hold the First Thanksgiving in America ” Astero, at http://www.nabasque.org/Astero/thanksgiving.htm

Have a great Thanksgiving from everyone at the Center!

Book Review: Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, by William A. Douglass

We’d like to share a recent review of William A. Douglass’s new book Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean. Published in CritCom: A forum on research and commentary on Europe, Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, a PhD candidate in Human Rights at the University of Deusto,  outlines the structure and content of the book, pointing out interesting aspects of Douglass’s new research endeavors.

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Here’s just a sample of the review:

“Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, by William Douglass introduces the reader to how Basques from a tiny territory once pivotal for the whole Iberian Peninsula (comprising the Kingdom of Navarra, later absorbed by Spain, as well as Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Araba regions) became an important part of the Spanish colonial empire as administrators and merchants, as well as ship-builders, ship captains, and sailors.

Basque explorers took an active part in Spanish expeditions and explorations on the Pacific region (and elsewhere in the world). From the early Spanish expeditions overseas, Basques were among those who helped establish and sustain the Spanish Empire. They played integral roles, whether as ship captains and crew members, or the leaders of successful trade companies and rulers as Spanish proxies in colonial administrations.

Douglass’s Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean is an interesting and detailed lesson of the period’s history, despite some moments of digression over royal intrigues, which condense into a single book the dispersed knowledge on the role of the Basques in the Pacific, serving as a good guide for future discussions.

Going further from the general choosing of describing an explorer’s life, or an expedition’s fate and accomplishments, Douglass seeks to insert different explorers and explorations in a unique context, relating at least two centuries of Spanish naval explorations (and Portuguese) with the formation of the Spanish Empire and its subsequent decline.

The book, one can conclude, broadens the knowledge of the participation of Basques in the making of the Spanish maritime empire that would last for centuries.”

We encourage you to read the entire piece at the following website: http://councilforeuropeanstudies.org/critcom/basque-explorers-in-the-pacific-ocean-2/

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To learn more about Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, visit his Academia page, which includes links to some of his research papers: https://deusto.academia.edu/RaphaelTsavkkoGarcia

Last but not least, check out Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean:

Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean

 

September 26, 1565: Basque-run ship completes historic voyage

On September 26, 1565, a Basque-run ship, the San Pedro, docked in the vicinity of California’s Cape Mendocino after having sailed 11,160 miles cross the Pacific Ocean without a landfall—the longest continuous oceanic voyage to that date in the age of European exploration. This remarkable crossing is yet another in a long line of significant Basque maritime exploits – all described in fascinating detail by Bill Douglass in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp. 118-22).

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Andrés de Urdaneta (1498-1568). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As part of an initial plan to bring the Philippines within Spain’s orbit on the orders of King Philip II, a Basque-dominated expedition, led by two Gipuzkoans, Andrés de Urdaneta from Ordizia and  Miguel López de Legazpi from Zumarraga, reached Samar in February 1565. Thereafter, a permanent settlement was established in Cebu, which in the words of Douglass, was “the initial outpost of Spanish hegemony in the islands and one that would endure for more than three and a half centuries.”

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Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1502-1572). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As well as establishing an imperial outpost there, however, Legazpi was also charged with finding the elusive easterly return route from the Philippines to Nueva España (present-day Mexico). The Portuguese held the monopoly over the westward sea lane between Asia and Europe, making it impossible to establish trade with the Philippines, let alone a settled Spanish colonial presence there, without violating the Treaty of Zaragoza; hence the importance of discovering this easterly route. Douglass continues:

Urdaneta’s previous experience in the Moluccas had sensitized him to the seasonal shift in the region’s prevailing winds. Furthermore, his relationship with Gerónimo de Sanesteban in Mexico City doubtless gave Urdaneta detailed knowledge of the Villalobos expedition’s two failed attempts to return to Nueva España from the Moluccas via a southern route. On June 1, 1565, Urdaneta left the Philippines in the San Pedro, which was under the command of Legazpi’s young (sixteen-year-old) grandson, Felipe de Salcedo. It seems likely that Urdaneta was the actual commander. Other Basques on the vessel included Friar Andrés de Aguirre; the boatswain, Francisco de Astigarribia; the ship’s mate, Martín de Ibarra (all Bizkaians); and the scribe, Asensio de Aguirre. About one-third of the crew were Gipuzkoans.

Once in the northern latitudes, the San Pedro picked up the summer months’ prevailing northeasterlies and reached the American mainland on September 26 that same year.

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“Urdaneta’s Route” across the Pacific. Image by Jrockley, United States Army. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basques have a reasonable claim, then, to yet another significant maritime historical record, besides being in charge of both the first (Elkano) and second (Urdaneta) global circumnavigations.

 

August 4, 1526: Death of Juan Sebastian Elkano and the “Basque connection” right to the end

We know you’re all smart people out there and we don’t need to tell you that Juan Sebastain Elkano, from Getaria, Gipuzkoa, was, in reality, the person who led home the first successful circumnavigation of the world in 1522 after taking over command of the Victoria from Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed en route in 1521.

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Statue of Juan Sebastian Elkano in Getaria, Gipuzkoa. Photo by Marije Manterola Iribar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But did you know that Elkano himself also died on a later expedition? It was 1526 and this time Elkano was second in command to García Jofre de Loaísa, leader of the expedition. For Bill Douglass, in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Oceanand fittingly perhaps, this particular voyage was “the most ‘Basque’ of any of Spain’s Pacific explorations” due to the nature of both the crews and ships involved. Indeed, these crews included two of Elkano’s brothers, his brother-in-law Santiago de Guevara, as well as a young seventeen-year-old, Andrés de Urdaneta, who would be Elkano’s page and protégé on the trip; and who would later go on to lead the second ever successful global circumnavigation.

In mid-Pacific, however, the expedition ran into trouble. Loaísa died of scurvy on July 20, 1526, and was succeeded by Elkano. But he also fell prey to the disease and died on August 4. According to Douglass:

Eleven days before his death, Elkano made out his last will and testament, witnessed by seven persons. All were Basques, including his young protégé. Urdaneta was named coequal heir of Elkano’s share in the benefits of the expedition, along with the deceased’s brother-in-law, Guevara, and his nephew Esteban.

Of the seven ships that set out on the expedition in July 1525, just one sailed into the Spice Islands on New Year’s Day in 1527.

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

February 18, 1770: The final voyage of the Oriflama, the Basque ghost ship

On February 18, 1770, the Basque-owned and operated vessel, the Oriflama (the oriflamme or golden flame), set sail from Cádiz, destined ultimately to become the “Basque ghost ship.”

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Diagrams of first and third rate warships, England, 1728. From the 1728 Cyclopaedia, vol. 2, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

William A. Douglass recounts the story in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp.  185-86):

      On February 18, 1770, the Oriflama left Cádiz, commanded by José Antonio de Alzaga, with José de Zavalsa serving as master and Manuel de Buenechea as pilot. (All three are Basque surnames.) More than five months later, on July 25, the Oriflama was spotted in the Pacific by the crew of the Gallardo. Its captain, Juan Esteban de Ezpeleta (another Basque surname), knew Alzaga and ordered that a friendly cannon shot be fired in greeting. When there was no reply, a boarding party was sent to investigate. It found that half of the Oriflama’s crew had died of a mysterious plague and the survivors were deathly ill.

Later that day, before the Gallardo could render assistance, the two vessels were separated by bad weather. It was said that as the distressed ship disappeared into the night, it was bathed in a ghostly light. On July 28, some objects from the Oriflama, as well as several bodies, washed ashore on the Chilean coastline. The following spring, Viceroy Amat sent Juan Antonio Bonachea in command of trained divers to search for the shipwreck. They were unsuccessful.

 

Two major Center-related events in the Basque Country on December 9

Two major William A. Douglass CBS-related events are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, December 9.

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Mondragon University is a young, vanguard university that emphasizes close partnerships with the working world, typically offering students the opportunity to combine their studies with hands-on experience in the workplace.

First of all, the Faculty of Humanities and Education Sciences at Mondragon University will host a conference in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao.

Titled “Basques: Images and Representations,” Bill Douglass will himself be in attendance and take part in an interview by University of the Basque Country professor and former William A. Douglass Visiting Scholar at the CBS, Oscar Alvarez, and by Miel A. Elustondo, author of William A. Douglass: Mr. Basque.

In addition, Center graduate student Amaia Irazoz will present a paper titled  
”La prensa vasco-americana del siglo XIX en California y el sentimiento anti Chino como estrategia para la integracion en la sociedad americana” (The nineteenth-century Basque-American press in California and anti-Chinese sentiment as an integration strategy in American society). And David Rio, University of the Basque Country professor and author of Robert Laxalt, the Voice of the Basques in American Literature, will also take part in the event.

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Logo of the Etxepare Basque Institute, an ambassador for the Basque language and culture abroad, which encourages the international diffusion of Euskara and Basque artists of all disciplines

Later that same day, the Etxepare Basque Institute will graciously host a presentation of new Center publications at its outstanding new location, Tabakalera, in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Here, Koldo San Sebastian and Argitxu Camus Etchecopar will present the major new work Basques in the United States, an ambitious and ongoing project that seeks to record, name by name, all those Basques that migrated to the United States.

Bill Douglass will be on hand again (a busy day for Bill!) to talk about his new publication, Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, which seeks to situate Basques front and center of the dramatic and important story of European exploration of the Pacific.

Following on with the theme of the Basque experience beyond the borders of the Basque Country itself, we will also be presenting two fictional works that, in their own way, each playfully reinterpret the Basque history of the American West:  David Romtvedt’s novel Zelestina Urza in Outer Space and Kirmen Uribe’s adventure story for children and young adults, Garmendia and the Black Rider, wonderfully illustrated by Mikel Valverde.

 

 

Discover the Basque Country: The Sea Factory of Basques

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.

Albaola, The Sea Factory of the Basques in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, is an institution dedicated to preserving Basque seafaring technology. It is a living history site in which nautical craftsmanship and technology is showcased.  The site itself includes a boatbuilding school, seamanship school, ship modeling workshop, young sailors’s club, and a “Theatre of the Sea” performing arts program. For anyone interested in maritime history and technology, and specifically in basque contributions to shipbuilding design and technology, this is a must see place.

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Albaola, the Sea Factory of Basques, Pasaia, Gipuzkoa. The dredger “Jaizkibel” is on the right. Photo by Euskaldunaa, via Wikimedia Commons

Basque maritime history, and in particular the Basque contribution to the opening up the Pacific Ocean, is explored in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass. In the work, Douglass emphasizes the fact that it was not just Basques themselves, but Basque maritime technology and Basque ships that were at the forefront of this exploration.

 

 

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