Category: Lapurdi (page 1 of 3)

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

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Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

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“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

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“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

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“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

March 1, 1750: Basque women’s protest results in bloody aftermath

Women’s march on Versailles, October 5-6, 1789. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 1, 1750, a group of women in Urruña (Urrugne), Lapurdi, rose up in protest at proposed measures to increase taxes on tobacco. Peasant revolts, often in response to price or tax rises on key goods or commodities by monarchs and governments, were quite a common feature of early modern European life and the Basque Country was certainly no exception to this phenomenon.

Urruña Town Hall today. Picture by Harrieta171, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, women were especially prominent in several impromptu revolts of this kind in the eighteenth century. In 1750, too, for example, a group of women in Baiona (Bayonne) attacked French troops guarding tax collectors. Later, in 1782, women were front and center in Heleta (Hélette). Lower Navarre, in a violent protest against the French authorities for increasing customs duties, while still more plans to increase taxes resulted in a women’s revolt in 1784 in Hazparne (Hasparren). And as late as 1784, in protest at commercial advantages being granted to some areas over others, as Philippe Veyrin comments (p. 230) in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre, “a tumultuous demonstration of women . . . spread rapidly into the neighboring parishes. To forestall the outbreak of any more violence, it was found necessary to send several regiments in to occupy the region and confiscate over five thousand rifles.”

Tobacco was first cultivated commercially in Europe in France, around the early seventeenth century, and thereafter became a staple crop and commodity in the French Kingdom. Veyrin (pp. 229-30) describes the context in Iparralde:

Lapurdi in particular cultivated tobacco in Nicot, and was happy to indulge in large-scale smuggling of it with neighboring areas. On one occasion the Farmers General enforced the uprooting of the plantations, and its officials distinguished themselves by their excess of zeal, searches, forcible entry, and so on, which provoked a quite legitimate hostility.

These uprisings, which official language treated euphemistically as “emotions,” were a characteristic of the Basque Country in the eighteenth century. What is unusual is that these were almost always started by women who, obsessed by the fear of new taxes and especially the salt tax, were very prone to often untimely demonstrations. There is a long list of those explosions of popular discontent, from those in Donazaharre (Saint-Jean-le-Vieux) in 1685, Mugerre (Mouguerre) and Hiriburu in 1696, Ainhoa in 1724, almost the whole of Lapurdi in 1726 (in connection with the tax on the fiftieth), Baiona in 1748, and Donibane Garazi the same year.

When plans were introduced to hike the price of tobacco, a group of women in Urruña rose up in protest. In response, the French authorities sent a detachment of the royal army to suppress the uprising. On arriving, they opened fire on the women, killing Gratianne de Suhibar, the lady of the house of Candirubaita, Marie Dithurbide, and Agustina de Irigoity. Jean Lapis, the master of the house of Bixitala, also appeared among the dead. It was later claimed, in order to insult his honor, that he had been dressed as a woman at the time of his death.

Memorial plaque on San Anton Church in Bilbao to those who took part in the Salt Tax Revolt. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Such protests in the Basque Country were commonly known as matxinadak (from “Matxin,” a colloquial Basque way of referring to Saint Martin, the patron saint of iron workers and blacksmiths, most likely one of the original groups to rise up in these types of protest). These matxinadak included the famous Salt Tax Revolt (1631-1634) in Bizkaia; the peasant rising led by the rebel priest “Matalas” (Bernard Goihenetxe) in Zuberoa in 1661 against the increased and repressive taxation policies of Louis XIV–an uprising that ultimately resulted in the priest being executed and beheaded; the Customs Revolt of 1718, in which a widespread revolt at new fiscal measures introduced by Philip V abolishing the free-trade status of the Basque Country broke out in Bizkaia and then spread to Gipuzkoa; the Meat Revolt of 1755 in Gipuzkoa; and the Cereal Revolt of 1766 also in Gipuzkoa. By the nineteenth century, these protests, although largely spontaneous like their forebears, took on a more decidedly political dimension and were closely related to defending and maintaining the Basque foral system–the consuetudinary legal system by which the Basque provinces remained largely outside the common governmental structures of both the Spanish and French Kingdoms. Nineteenth-century protests of this kind included the so-called Zamacolada in 1804 in Bizkaia, the Gamazada in Navarre in 1893-1894, and the Sanrokada in Bizkaia in 1893.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.142 and the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

 

February 16, 2015: First edition of rare Basque manuscript discovered

Cover of Dotrina christiana (first edition, 1617), by Esteve Materra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On February 16, 2015 it was announced that a unique first edition of Esteve Materra’s Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine, Bordeaux, 1617) had been discovered in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. The discovery was made by the Aziti Bihia linguists’ and philologists’ association, a group of doctoral students at the University of the Basque Country whose interests lay predominantly in historical linguistics linked to Basque philology. The young people involved in the find were Borja Ariztimuño, Dorota Krajewska, Urtzi Reguero, Ekaitz Santazilia, Oxel Uribe-Etxeberria, and Eneko Zuloaga.

Flyer to promote the official announcement of the find, February 16, 2015. From the Aziti Bihia website.

Doctrina Christiana was one of the first ever books published in Euskara, the Basque language, and is written in classical Lapurdian. Its author, Esteve Materra (or possibly Materre), was a Franciscan monk and abbot of the La Réole monastery in southwestern France when the book was first published, although by the time it went to a second edition (1623) he had moved to the Franciscan monastery in Toulouse. Although not a native Basque-speaker, Materra spent some time in Sara, Lapurdi, where he had been sent at the height of the Counter Reformation to bolster the rearguard action of the Roman Catholic Church, including in its Inquisition policy. In barely twelve months in the Basque Country he learned Basque, although the very clarity and perfection of the text makes the members of Aziti Bihia suspect that he may have received help in writing it. Masterra himself notes in the prologue to the book that he was aided by Axular. Pedro Axular (1556-1664) was the parish priest of Sara and author of the first great literary text in Basque, Guero (1643). Whatever the case, the book is an important work when it comes to understanding the historical development of written Basque.

The first edition of the work is relatively simple in appearance, as if written for children or young people, in question and answer style; by the second edition, however, an additional section had been added, specifically for seafarers, and the work as a whole was more serious in tone and longer. This is important because originally the Aziti Bihia group had been working on transcribing the second edition of 1623, a copy of which is housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, before stumbling across a reference to the earlier edition in Denmark.

For more information on the text itself (including transcriptions) click here at the Aziti Bihia website.

 

Basques in their own words: The superstitions of fishermen

Given the importance of the oral tradition in Basque culture, we thought it would be a great idea to examine Basque history through the words of ordinary people whose lives and experiences make up that history.

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The port of Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi. Photo by Haukingham, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today we share a cautionary tale of witches, devils, the evil eye, and seafaring superstitions in general, as recounted by Xan Alzate in his marvelous Paroles de pêcheur: Mémoires d’un mousse dans les années 1940 (A fisherman’s words: Memoirs of a cabin boy in the 1940s, 2008). Xan was born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Lapurdi, in 1928. His father, Pantxoa Alzate, was a mechanic at a local fish-canning factory and a sailor while his mother, Maria Chauvel, was a Breton from Morbihan who had come to the town at age sixteen to work in a fish canning factory there.

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Fishermen in Donibane Lohizune, c. late-19th-early-20th century. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In his own words, when he first  to sea (p.26),

I was thirteen and one-half years old, I weighed no more than ninety pounds on rainy days, and if I made it to five feet tall it would have been a big deal. Nevertheless, I did have some assets: indefatigable, a hard worker, sturdy despite my tiny frame, my father had taught me to work hard, [and] I didn’t want to disappoint him.

On meeting his future boss for the first time, the skipper told him he’d be known as Aña, like all cabin boys until they turned twenty (he wouldn’t be called Xan again until after he completed his military service).  And once at sea, he began to learn something about this strange other world, the world of fishermen. According to Xan (pp. 165-66):

They were superstitious. The first or second day—I don’t remember exactly—of my time at sea, I was happily whistling, when someone took my by the ear, shook it slightly, and whispered into it that the wind was big enough to whistle at sea, that it didn’t need any help from me. Don’t whistle anything that may bring on a storm.

I also learned about a few things that brought bad luck, which were forbidden. No rabbit in the billycan. The word “rabbit” was banned on board, replaced by “big ears.” Aña, do you keep any “big ears”? But “rabbit” banned.

Also banned, chestnuts, walnuts. With such nuts on board, we were sure to come back empty-handed, tear the fishing net, or encounter all manner of trouble. It would never occur to them to set sail for the first time on a Friday. Beginning the fishing season on such a day, we could expect the worst kinds of disasters.

I listened, I believed, I trusted them, I respected the traditions. When no fishing was done, when a day unfolded full of incident, they looked at me in strange way, saying loudly: “There’s someone here who sleeps with his mother!” Of course, they said that to have a good laugh.

They loved stories about witches, mysterious tales, they loved anything whimsical. My favorite osaba [uncle] used to tell me dozens of stories; he kept me in suspense right till the end. To finish up, he used to say: “These are true stories, it isn’t fiction, it’s from real life in the old times, people don’t remember any more, my great-amatxi [grandmother] saw all this, it was she who told me.” I wasn’t going to question the word of his great-amatxi.

Those sailors used to see the devil everywhere, they mistrusted the evil eye. Yet they weren’t afraid of anything, they faced up to the elements with a flawless courage, they laughed at life’s ups and downs, they got really angry about any kind of injustice; they forgave, but they didn’t forget.

Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika, is a great introduction for anyone seeking to understand this world. Chapters 13 and 15 deal with Basque fishing while chapters 18 and 19 deal with folklore and mythology, on the one hand, and witchcraft, on the other. This book available free to download here.

This work points out just how important “chance” is to fishermen and how this shapes their worldview. As they observe (pp. 237-38):

there is no cause-and-effect relationship between willingness to work and outcome. Fishermen also believe that there is a gap between the human and the natural orders that cannot be bridged by sheer effort alone. Rather, much depends on chance, a probability that is categorized as luck—“good” or “bad.” Thus, there is a sense that it is the fisherman who, by means of his luck, rather than his dedication, mediates between the two otherwise unbridgeable orders.

In short, they conclude, in the event of the worst eventuality of all, “no luck,” then “superstitious beliefs and practices are the antidotes to the absence of luck. There is an imperative to search out the hidden causes of this void.”

Note: Here the words of one of the great twentieth-century travel writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, in his classic Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966), spring to mind. He is speaking about Greek fishermen, but I think the description is equally applicable to fishermen the world over (pp.118-19):

Humorous, sardonic, self-reliant men live there, lean from their war with the elements, ready to share their wine with any stranger . . . Their life is rigorous to the point of austerity and sometimes of hardship; but there are a hundred things to make it worth wile. There is no trace of depression or wage-slavery in the brine-cured and weather-beaten faces under those threadbare caps. The expression is wary, energetic amused and friendly and their demenour is a marine compound of masculinity, independence and easy-going dignity.

 

December 2, 1856: Treaty of Baiona establishes border between North and South Basque Country

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The Basque Country, with Iparralde made up of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea (Lower Navarre), and Zuberoa; and Hegoalde made up of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa Garaia (Upper Navarre or just Navarre). Image by Unai Fdz. de Betoño, based on User:Theklan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On December 2, 1856, the first in a series of four Treaties of Baiona (the others signed in 1862, 1866, and 1868 respectively) fixed the current border between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Spain, and thus between Iparralde and Hegoalde, the North and South Basque Country.  To that time the border was by no means a settled issue, with disagreements on the parts of both countries particularly over where to demarcate boundaries in Catalonia in the east and the Basque Country in the west.

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The mouth of the River Bidasoa separating Hendaia (top center) in Lapurdi from Hondarribia (bottom center) and Irun (top right) in Gipuzkoa. Photo by jmerelo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) represented a first attempt to address the matter formally. A treaty ending the long Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659, this agreement was signed on traditional neutral ground: Konpantzia, or Pheasant Island, a small landmass of 73,410 square feet in the River Bidasoa between Hendaia (Lapurdi) and Irun (Gipuzkoa), today jointly administered between the two towns.

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Konpantzia, Pheasant Island, the small plot of neutral land between Irun (L) and Hendaia (R). Photo by Ignacio Gavira, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As regards the border, by the 1659 treaty France gained most of Northern Catalonia in the east. In the west, meanwhile, matters were somewhat more complicated due to disagreements over where to establish the frontier exactly between Iparralde and Hegoalde at three critical points: the Xareta district, made up of Ainhoa and Sara in Lapurdi and Urdazubi and Zugarramurdi in Navarre; Aldude, a wedge of terrain in Lower Navarre that cuts geographically into Navarre; and Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), a wedge of terrain in Navarre that cuts geographically into Lower Navarre. While a working boundary was established in these areas, there would clearly have to be more negotiations before arriving at a definitive settlement. In the eighteenth century, further agreements refined the settlement in the east, while as regards the west, the Treaty of Elizondo (1785) fixed the border at both Aldude and Luzaide.

The 1856 Treaty of Baiona definitively established the far western extent of the Franco-Spanish border in the middle of the River Bidasoa’s current at low tide, which in turn demarcated fishing zones and local rights to control passage up and down the river. Moreover, the so-called Kintoa district (Le Pays Quint in French; Quinto Real in Spanish)–an area of grazing land between the two Navarres that had historically been hotly and sometimes bloodily disputed–was officially ceded to the Spanish Kingdom but would be administered by the French Republic: in other words, the land would be owned by the former but leased perpetually to the latter. Today, its approximately 30 inhabitants are French citizens by default but have the right to dual Franco-Spanish citizenship. Public education and health services are provided by the French Republic and they  pay income tax in France but they must pay property taxes in Spain. The postal and utilities services are French but policing is controlled by the Spanish Civil Guard.

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The Esnazu district of Aldude, showing some of the grazing pastures in this borderland area. Photo by Patrick.charpiat, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In sum, the 1856 treaty brought with it a definitive settlement of sorts regarding the border between the two countries. A total of 602 markers mark the division along the length of the border, from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, with marker no. 1 in the River Bidasoa. Border and customs posts were also more formally established in the wake of the four treaties as a whole, which in itself led to a growth in gau lana (night work) or the lucrative smuggling trade that was, until comparatively recently, such a feature of Basque culture in these borderland areas. More recent developments have included the transfer of a small plot of land (just under 30,000 square feet) in 1984 between the two countries as part of the construction project to build a road linking the Erronkari Valley in Navarre to Arrete (French)/Areta (Occitan)/Ereta (Basque) in Bearn; and the entry into force of the European Union’s Schengen Agreement (1995), by which border controls for people and goods were abolished and freedom of movement across the border ensured.

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International border marker no. 8 between Bera (Vera de Bidasoa) in Navarre and Biriatu (Biriatou) in Lapurdi. Photo by Pymouss44, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For many obvious reasons the muga or border exercises a powerful influence on the Basque imagination. Clearly, it has acted as a barrier to greater unity among Basques, but equally one could argue that its very existence has served to bring Basques together in numerous ways as a challenge to overcome.

Further Reading

Robert Laxalt, A Cup of Tea in Pamplona. This absorbing action-packed tale is an evocative portrait of the world of Basque smuggling in 1960s, and the importance of the border in Basque culture, as portrayed by the great Basque-American storyteller Robert Laxalt.

Zoe Bray, Living Boundaries: Frontiers and Identity in the Basque Country. This work explores how the international border shapes Basque identity on both sides of the frontier.

Aitzpea Leizaola, “Mugarik ez! Subverting the Border in the Basque Country,” in Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology 30, no. 2 (2000): 35-46. This article explores the multiple ways in which the international border that cuts through the Basque Country is still very much a contested site.

Basques in World War One

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“To its sons who died in the war. The village of Biriatu.” Plaque dedicated to the fallen soldiers in both World Wars of a small town in Lapurdi.

The recent remembrance events associated with Veteran’s Day in the US and Armistice Day/Remembrance Day in Europe serve as a timely reminder of the horrors of war. The origins of these events lie in the close of World War I, the so-called Great War, in which hostilities officially came to an end at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

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“War Declared – Long Live France!” World War I is seen as a catalyst in fostering a more widespread feeling of French national identity. The Basque-language weekly Eskualduna, August 7, 1914, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As in many other parts of Europe, Iparralde lost a whole generation (or more) of young men in the service of the French armed forces during World War I, in which the loss of life surpassed anything previously thought imaginable. With all able-bodied males between 18 and 45 conscripted to fight in the French armed forces during the war, the rural baserri-based economy of Iparralde also suffered from this conflict. It has been estimated that some 6,000 men from Iparralde died during the war, a figure that was perhaps around 5 percent of its total population. In the words of James E. Jacob:

The war proved to be a watershed for the basques in two essential ways . . . For many rural Basque villages, the war simply severely reduced two generations of males and, with them, the reproductive capacity of the village . . . With the youth went the economic future; if the losses of war were not already enough, many of those who remained migrated to the coastal cities and elsewhere and would not return.

The second consequence of World War I was its impact on Basque culture. In these villages of the interior lay the vitality of Basque culture and the burden of its linguistic population. Loss by death was sudden and abrupt. But the return of demobilized Basque soldiers now committed to cultural assimilation into French society posed a longer threat to Basque culture . . . Coupled with the economic marginality of life in rural villages, the incentive to speak french was doubly persuasive; many parents viewed it as the key to success and upward mobility.

Like elsewhere in Europe, young men from the same local communities served in the same regiments or battalions in order to foster a spirit of comradeship. However, seeing the devastating effect that this had on these same communities during and after the conflict, the policy was reversed in World War II (the difference is telling in the list of casualties from both wars in the plaque above). Europe is at present holding a series of 100th-anniversary remembrance events to commemorate the Great War of 1914-1918. Its historical impact on the society of Iparralde should not be underestimated.

Further reading: 

As well as Jacob’s Hills of Conflict, check out Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga’s The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  For a more general overview see Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History, free to download here.  See, too, Eneko Bidegain’s fascinating history of impact of the war on Iparralde, published in both Basque and French. And if you do read Basque, then Xipri Arbelbide’s 14eko gerla 14 lekuko offers a fascinating oral history of the war in the words of eight men and six women from the Basque Country who lived through it.

 

Hendaia honors Portuguese immigrants: Highlights Basque-Portuguese links

The city council of Hendaia (Lapurdi) held a one-day colloquium last Friday, October 28, to celebrate the contribution of Portuguese immigrants to society in Iparralde and beyond. It was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of a Franco-Portuguese  agreement in 1916 that helped facilitate Portuguese emigration to the French Republic, for which Hendaia was often the first point of arrival. An exhibition titled “Sala de Espera” (Waiting Room), featuring images of newly arrived Portuguese immigrants, was held to coincide with the colloquium. If you’re interested in this topic, check out this New York Times article on the Portuguese in France: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/pictures-tell-the-story-of-portuguese-in-france/?_r=0

Between 1886 and 1966, Portugal lost more people to emigration than any West European country except Ireland. As regards Basque-Portuguese links, in Iparralde, there is an important Portuguese settlement in Baiona and people of Portuguese origin are estimated to make up 1.5% of the total population of France as a whole. In Hegoalde, Portuguese settled in both Greater Bilbao and Ermua, Bizkaia, as well as in the fishing towns of the Bizkaian coast and in northern Nafarroa.

One well-known Basque cultural figure of Portuguese extraction is the bertsolari (oral improviser) Xabier Silveira, from Lesaka, Nafarroa. Check out the interview with him (in Basque) above.

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Manuel de Arriaga (1840-1917), c.1900-1909, from Casa Comun – Fundação Mário Soares, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Interestingly, two(well, one certainly, and another possibly) key figures in modern Portuguese history were of Basque descent: Manuel de Arriaga (1840-1917), the first elected president of the First Portuguese Republic; and, conceivably–Salazar being a recognized Basque surname–António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970), the authoritarian ruler of Portugal from 1932 to 1968.

Irun and Hendaia commemorate bridges linking the two towns

A series of acts were held over the weekend of September 2 to 4 on and around the Avenida and Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridges that link Irun (Gipuzkoa) to Hendaia (Lapurdi). The acts were held in commemoration of both the people that used these bridges to flee the horrors of war, but also in celebration of these vital points of connection between the two towns.

On September 2 the two mayors of the respective towns took part, on the Avenida bridge (also known as the International bridge) and on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, in an act remembering all the people who had crossed the bridge–in both directions–to flee war and save their lives.

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American prisoners who had fought as volunteers on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War released by Franco’s forces via the Avenida bridge, walking from Irun to Hendaia (1938). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On September 4, meanwhile, another act was held to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the burning of Irun at the outset of he Spanish Civil War, a specific occasion on which people used the bridges en masse to escape the conflict.

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The Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridge today.

A plaque will be installed at some point this year on the Avenida bridge to remember all the people who crossed the bridge to save their lives.

The impact of war on ordinary people’s lives, and particularly in the intense period between the Spanish Civil War and World War II, is explored in War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

August 9, 1846: Famous pilota match held in Irun

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Errebotea match played in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, 1863. Painting by Gustave Colin (1828-1910), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 9, 1846, witnessed one of the most famous ever pilota or pelota matches, held in the border town of Irun, Gipuzkoa. It was the errebotea (rebound) form of the game, a long-style form in which the teams return the ball to each other directly without hitting it against any wall. Moreover, as in Jai-Alaia, xisterak or hand-held baskets are typically used to strike the ball.

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Jean Errachun, “Kaskoina” (1817-1859).

That August day, the match involved one team from Hegoalde competing against another from Iparralde. And the latter–the eventual winners–featured the greatest player of the day, Jean Errachun (Erratxun in modern Basque orthography), who also went by the surname Darritchon, from Hazparne, Lapurdi. Knicknamed “Gaskoi(n)a” or “Kaskoi(n)a” poetry was even composed in his honor:

Kaskoinaren trunkoa/Trunko bat iduri/Orotarik hartza du iduri.
The bust of Gaskoina/ is like a tree trunk/ he himself is just like a bear.

“But beneath the rough exterior,” notes Philippe Veyrin in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre (p. 349), “was concealed the strength of a Hercules, an imperturbable composure, and a dazzlingly adroit technique.”

In Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, Olatz González Abrisketa states (p. 186):

According to the French newspaper Journal du Havre, twelve thousand people turned up for the game in Irun, and campsites had to be set up in the vicinity. People from all the Basque provinces converged on Irun; they left their homes two or three days earlier on horseback, by oxen, or other means, sufficiently supplied with money in order to wager on the game.

The centripetal force of pelota attracted thousands of people to a specific place, normally an open ground by the more representative areas of the village or villa. Grounds were leveled and slopes eliminated, and courts situated by churches or ramparts whose walls were used for the game. At first these grounds were probably unfenced, and it was the crowd itself, its bodies, that marked the boundaries of the court.

What’s more, Veyrin goes on to say that those present:

were at such a fever-pitch that some of them, unable to afford a ticket, wagered their heads of cattle, and even their future maize harvests! The hero of this joust is said to have won four thousand gold francs; he won with the help of Gamio, a priest from the Baztan Valley, Harriague of Hazparne, Saint-Jean of Uztaritze (Ustaritz), and Domingo of Ezpeleta. We know the names and nicknames of only three of their opponents: Melchior, Tripero, and Molinero. Gaskoina fell prey to typhus in 1859 and died at the peak of his powers in his native village, at the age of forty-two.

Errobiko Festibala: Where the global meets the local

Errobiko Festibala image_large

Today, July 21, sees the kick-off of Errobiko Festibala, another great festival of sound and spectacle running through July 24 that, shame on us, we failed to include in our previous post on music festivals this summer in the Basque Country.  So by way of an apology let’s celebrate this great gathering, whose slogan “Izan, Erran, Sortu” (Be, Say, Create) we wholeheartedly endorse!

The festival is held in Itsasu, Lapurdi, and this year’s event includes the specially commissioned performance “Antigone Argia” (The Antigone Light), a blend, of music, dance, and rhythm based on Henry Bauchau’s novel Oedipus on the Road.

On the music side, there will be the Greek-inspired folk of Anatoli, formed by Angélique Ionatos and Katerina Fotinaki, some Basque blues and melodic rock courtesy of Joseba Irazoki and Beñat Achiary, the jazz sounds of two trios, one formed by Andy Emler, Claude Tchamitchian, and Eric Echampard, and the other by Sylvain Darrifourcq, Manuel Hermia, and Valentin Ceccaldi, and the headliner of this year’s festival, the singer-songwriter and poet Danyel Waro, from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion. 

The festival closes on Sunday with the singular opportunity to take part in a poetic hike to nearby Mount Mondarrain, a multi-sensory experience that will include improvised music along the way on the part of the artists taking part in the festival.

 

 


 

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