Category: This Week in Basque History (page 1 of 7)

July 13, 1955: Birth of pilotari Panpi Ladutxe

On July 13, 1955, one of the great characters in the modern age of pilota (also spelled pelota) was born in Azkaine, Lapurdi: Panpi Ladutxe (also spelled Pampi Laduche). The son of another famous pilotari or Basque handball player, Joseph Ladutxe, he began his career in the four-walled trinkete (closed court) version of the sport more common in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, where he was from, becoming world champion in this version at the tender age of 19. He later switched to the three-walled (open court) fronton variety more common in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country in his mid-20s, winning two doubles titles in 1987 and 1989, partnered by Joxean Tolosa.

Ladutxe stood out in many ways, being the first player from Iparralde to gain success in Hegoalde in the modern age. After retirement he went on to promote and develop the sport in and train fellow players from Iparralde, two of whom in particular–Sebastien Gonzalez and Yves Salaberri or “Xala”–went on to enjoy great success, following in his footsteps. He has also been a great showman away from the court, enjoying some success as a singer of traditional Basque songs both live and in the release of two records: Aitari (1995) and Chansons du Pays Basque (2002).

July 7, 2008: Three Basque Caves Declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO

On July 7, 2008, UNESCO declared three Basque caves–Santimamiñe in Bizkaia and Ekain and Altxerri in Gipuzkoa–to be World Heritage Sites. The Basque Country is at the epicenter of arguably the most important cave complex in Europe, an area framed by the world famous caves of Lascaux, Dordogne in southwestern France and Altamira, Cantabria, in northern Spain. Their designation as World Heritage Sites implied official international recognition for the cultural value of the cave art discovered in the three sites.

In order to preserve the cave art in these locations, they are, naturally, closed to the public. However, we can still get a flavor of what treasures lie deep within their walls. As regards Santimamiñe, one can undertake an amazing online virtual visit (click here to start) as well as view a great photo gallery of the cave and its surrounding area (click here to see).  And when it comes to Ekain, as well as the option of a virtual visit (click here to start), those of you lucky enough to actually set foot in the Basque Country (congratulations by the way, it will be an unforgettable experience!), a replica of the original site exists, Ekainberri, which offers a unique opportunity to experience what it must have been like to live deep underground. Click here to visit the Ekainberri website.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography, the only text in English that summarizes the key works of the most important Basque ethnographer of all time. Reflecting on the relationship between humans and animals, that intimate connection that underpins much of the cave art, Barandiarán observes (p. 148):

Among the species that inhabited the Basque Country during the Neolithic were cows, horses, deer, mountain goat, roebuck, chamois, wild boar, fox, mountain lion, the weasel, and the martin. Deer and especially wild boar were the animals most hunted by man.

Sheep already existed in Bizkaia, as we know from their remains in Santimamiñe; this is an indication that the practice of domesticating and using them had already reached this part of the Pyrenees.

*Images

Top: A horse depicted in Santimamiñe, image by ETOR Entziklopedia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom: The neck and head of a saiga antelope looking left. A bit more to the right is the beginning outline of another antelope and its horn. Image by GipuzkoaKultura, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

June 26, 1921: Birth of choreographer and writer Filipe Oihanburu

On June 26, 1921 the influential choreographer and writer Filipe Oihanburu (also spelled Philippe Oyhamburu) was born in Argelèrs de Gasòst (Argelèrs de Gasòst in Occitan) in Béarn/Biarn.

At age 3 his family moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, and in 1930 relocated to Paris, but he always took an interest in his Basque family roots (his father was from Biarrritz, and while his mother was from Béarn, she also had Basque roots) and started learning Euskara, the Basque language, at an early age while vacationing on the coast of Lapurdi. He also took a growing interest in dance, and on moving to Biarritz, in 1944, he took over the direction of the Olaeta ballet company. In 1945 it changed its name to Oldarra and for much of the next decade offered a plethora of performances. In 1953 he founded the professional music and dance group Etorki, which eventually traveled the world promoting Basque music and dance.

He combined his work as a choreographer with writing books, mostly on Basque politics and culture. More recently, he wrote his memoirs about living in Nazi-occupied Paris during the 1940s.

Check out an interview (in Basque) with Oihanburu here.

June 23, 1448: The Burning of Arrasate-Mondragón

On June 23, 1448 an infamous conflict–the Burning of Arradsate-Mondragón–took place in Gipuzkoa. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Basque Country was the setting for what came to be known as the factional struggles or wars. In the words of Gregorio Monreal Zia, in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452) (p. 36):

Among the Basques, as elsewhere in Europe, the Late Middle Ages witnessed violent social confrontations. In the Basque case, initially, it was a conflict between the leaders of lineages (the great traditional lineages–not unlike Scottish clans–were primarily based in the rural districts) and subsequently a rural aristocracy with the inhabitants of the recently-founded urban nuclei or villas.

The two main factions were the Gamboinos (incorporating the families Gamboa, Guevara, Balda, Olaso, Abendaño, Salazar, Ayala, Leguizamones, and allies) and the Oñacinos (made up of the families Oñaz, Mendoza, Lazcano, Mújica, Butrón, Calleja, Zurbarán, and allies).

Like other areas of the Basque Country the town of Arrasate-Mondragón was divided across these factional lines with the Bañez family part of the Gamboinos and the Guraia family belonging to the Oñacinos. In the mid-fifteenth century the town was, in fact, clearly divided between these two factions, with two mayors and two governing councils. On June 23, 1448, in an attempt to take control of the whole town, the Bañez family (with the help of forces loyal to the jauntxo or squire of nearby Oñati) invaded the Guraia neighborhood. Th Guraia family immediately enlisted its own support from Bizkaian allies and managed to repel the attack.  But the incident did not end there. The Oñacinos regrouped and tried once more. However, seeing the impossibility of their objective they instead decided to raze the town to the ground, with the ensuing fire leaving just two houses standing.

The ruling monarch at the time, Juan II of Castile and León, was so incensed by these events that he exiled those behind the plan, eventually forcing the families to sign a peace treaty.

*Image: La pacificación de los bandos en el banco de Vizcaya de la Plaza de España de Sevilla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

May 31, 1910: Premiere of opera Mirentxu

On May 31, 1910 the Basque-themed opera Mirentxu, with music by Jesús Guridi and libretto by Alredo Echave, premiered in the Teatro Campos Elíseos in Bilbao. It actually premiered as a zarzuela, but was transfomred into an opera in two acts and an epilogue in 1912.

It’s an intense Romantic tale of a love triangle involving three principal characters, Mirentxu,  Raimundo, and Presen,  with Mirentxu ultimately representing the tragic heroine of the piece.

See Natalie Morel Botrora, “Mirentxu, idylle lyrique basque en deux actes” (in French).

May 22, 1938: The San Cristóbal Prison Break

On May 22, 1938, some 792 prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, on Mount Ezkaba, about 2.5 miles outside Pamplona-Iruñea, in what is estimated to be one of the numerically biggest prison breaks in history.  These inmates were prisoners of war who had been detained by Franco’s rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. There were 2,487 inmates in total in 1938, most of them Republican sympathizers arrested during the war. Condition were brutal, with prisoners suffering torture, starvation, and death.

The escape was planned by around 30 inmates, who used Esperanto to communicate among each other. It started during dinner, when the guards were most dispersed, and different groups of prisoners managed to overpower them within a half hour. Thereafter, they began their escape, but, unbeknownst to them, a soldier had witnessed the events and rushed to Pamplona-Iruñea to inform the authorities there. Ultimately, it was not so difficult to capture the escapees. They were poorly dressed, malnourished, and without any specific plan beyond just breaking out of Fort San Cristóbal. Within a matter of days, of the 795 who originally escaped, 585 were captured, 207 died or were killed, and just 3 made it to the French border and safety. Of those recaptured, 14 were sentenced to death after being singled out as ringleaders.

*Image: Monument to those who escaped from Fort San Cristóbal on the southern slope of Mount Ezkaba. Photo by Jorab, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 17, 1837: The Battle of Irun

On May 14, 1837, around 20,000 Liberal troops under the command of General Sir George de Lacy Evans, head of the British Legion that was assisting the forces of Isabella II during the First Carlist War, rendezvoused in Donostia-San Sebastián before setting out with the aim of taking the corridor of towns toward the French border. Taking Hernani swiftly, their Carlist opponents retreated to the border town of Irun, the ultimate goal for the Liberals. Around 12,000 of the original 20,000 took part in the assault on Irun (including 5,000 soldiers of the British Legion). The Carlists, meanwhile, were hopelessly outnumbered, with many of their number having been committed elsewhere to the so-called Royal Expedition, an attempt to attack Madrid directly and try and wrest control of the throne away from Isabella II. On May 16, the British forces began bombarding Irun and the following day, May 17, they attacked the city. The Carlist forces there, though as mentioned much less in number, defended their position stoically. Following this desperate resistance by the Carlists, though, the Liberals triumphed, pillaging Irun and carrying out widespread reprisals against their enemy. Despite efforts by de Lacy Evans to precvent such reprisals, British troops, too, took part in the pots-battle retaliations, probably due to having been humiliated by Carlist forces at the Battle of Oriamendi on March 16 that same year.  The following day Hondarribia, too, fell to the Liberal forces, who were ultimately successful in their attempt to seal the corridor to the French border.

*Image: Attack on the Behobia Gate, Irun, by the British Auxiliary Legion, during the Battle of Irun. From Twelve Views in the Basque Provinces illustrating several of the actions in which the British Legion was engaged with Carlist Troops, by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 6, 1542: Francis Xavier arrives in Goa

On May 6, 1542, Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary, arrived in Goa as part of a Portuguese mission to spread the faith in its new territories in the East Indies.  His primary goal was to  restore Christianity among European settlers in Goa, which had been a Portuguese possession for some thirty years. But ultimately, he extended his mission in attempts to convert the local population as well.

A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17th century. From the Kobe City Museum collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Xavier–Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta–was born in Xabier (Javier) in the Kingdom of Navarre in 1506. The son of the seneschal (steward) of Xabier Castle and a high-ranking official at the royal court, he had a privileged upbringing. But ruin befell the family after the conquest of Navarre by Castile in 1512. Remaining loyal to an independent Navarre, his older brothers were involved in a failed plot to oust the Castilians. In retribution, the family lands were confiscated, the outer wall, gates, and two towers of the family castle destroyed, and its moat filled in.  Too young to participate in these events, Francis was sent to Paris to study. There he encountered Ignatius of Loyola and ultimately the two of them, along with five others, would take the famous vows of poverty and chastity as well as loyalty to the Pope at Montmartre, Paris in 1534 (the forerunner act to the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order). Francis was ultimately ordained in 1537 and, following a request in 1540 by King John of Portugal for Christian missionaries to go to Asia, was chosen by Loyola to undertake the task.

Xabier Castle in Navarre. Photo by Jsanchezes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He enjoyed mixed fortunes in his quest.  Starting in Goa and Portuguese India more broadly, he subsequently traveled further east, evangelizing in Malacca, the Maluku Islands, and Japan. Returning to Malacca and Goa in late 1551 and early 1552, he then set out on a new mission to China. Reaching  the island of Shangchuan in August 1552, he set about making plans to travel across to the mainland, but he was subsequently taken ill and died from a fever on December 3 that same year.

Body of Saint Francis Xavier in a silver casket of Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa. Photo by Gaius Cornelius, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He was beatified by Paul V in 1619 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622 (at the same time as fellow Basque Ignatius Loyola).  Pius XI proclaimed him the “Patron of Catholic Missions” and his feast day is December 3. His relics are kept in a silver casket, elevated inside the Bom Jesus Basilica in Goa.

May 1850: The “French (or Basque) Revolution” in Murphys, California

This week’s Flashback Friday post is a little different, referring to events that took place throughout the month of May 1850 in what was known at the time as “Murphys Camp,” one of the sites of the original California Gold Rush. Today this is Murphys in Calaveras County, CA. In Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (pp.208-9), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao recount the story of how, in this settlement at the heart of the Gold Rush, there was what was described at the time as a mini “French” (we should really say Basque) Revolution!

Historic view of Murphys Main Street, from the visitmurphys.com

Douglass and Bilbao observe that Basques from Iparralde formed a sizable part of population of Murphys, and one that was capable of collective action. They quote the German traveler Friedrich Gerstäcker, who visited the camp in May 1850 and reported on what he termed the French Revolution:

An immense number of French, a large part of them Basques, had likewise arrived in Murphys, and a great many French stores sprang up along with those of the Americans. . . . There were also Germans, Spaniards and Englishmen in Murphys, but the French outnumbered them by far, and in any case made up three-fourths of the entire population of this little mining town.

The Basques became incensed when,

a law was passed by the California legislature that a tax of twenty dollars per month would be levied on all foreign gold miners in the mines of California, and in case they did not want to pay that, or were not in a position to pay it, they should leave the mines at once. If, in spite of this, they were thereafter to be found at another mine also engaged in gold mining, this would then be considered a crime against the state and punished as such.

… Especially the French complained and argued profusely; declared the law infamous, and decided not pay a  penny. Among the Germans were some Alsatians who especially agreed with them, and the Basques brought forth rifles and shotguns, declaring that it would be best to place themselves in armed readiness from the very beginning, so as to win the respect of the Americans.

[The tents] surged with Frenchmen, and especially Basques . . . and [there were] mixed outbursts of anger, such as: Wicked!, Help!, Down with the Americans!

A rumor later spread that two Frenchmen and a German had been imprisoned at Sonora over the tax, and an armed mob marched on the camp , only to find out that it was not true. They disbanded, although not before almost hanging the rumormonger, and California’s “French” or “Basque” Revolution came to an end!

 

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