Category: Zuberoa

The Maskarada: A Unique Basque Cultural Event

Zamalzain, the hobbyhorse/centaur, one of the striking characters in the masakarada performance. Photo by Oier Araolaza, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, January 22, the annual maskarada begin its annual odyssey. Part drama, part dance, part poetic performance (both memorized and improvised),  and with more than a coincidental resemblance to the forthcoming carnival antics across the Basque Country, this is a cultural form unique to Xiberoa (or Zuberoa) in the far northeast of the Basque Country, in which a group of amateurs from the same area traditionally perform a form of transgressive, subversive, and parodic open-air popular theater with the declared aim of poking fun at those in authority. The traveling troupe always includes the same characters, a set group made up of ostensibly “good” and “bad” figures, although the lines do get blurred. At root, this is a tradition designed to cement community ties and one that celebrates both the Basque language and traditional music and dance. It has been practiced since at least the sixteenth century.

This year’s event is being performed by  a group of young people aged 15 to 24 from the villages of Ezpeize-Ündüreine, Ürrüstoi-Larrabile, Ainharbe, Sarrikotapea, Onizepea, and Mitikile in the Pettarra region of northern Xiberoa, and kicked off in Ezpeize itself. The maskarada is returning to this region 100 years after it was last performed here. In the video above you can see the introductory dance following the so-called fall of the first barricade.

One of the most spectacular moments in the maskarada is the godaleta(a) dantza (dance of the glass of wine), in which dancers attempt to momentarily hop on and off a glass of wine. Check out this video of dancers attempting the feat at a separate event in Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi:

Check out, too, “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernández de Larrinoa in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. In his article, Fernández de Larrinoa explains who the characters are in this performance as well as the set pattern of scenes they perform, and what all of this means within the wider context of the culture of Xiberoa.

This book is available free to download here.

 

2016 pastorala celebrates life of Jean Pitrau

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The annual pastorala, an epic play performed by a large number of amateurs all from the same locality and a unique cultural phenomenon particular to Zuberoa (or Xiberoa), took place last Sunday, July 24, in Atharratze-Sorholüze and will be repeated once more in the same location on August 7, with a third performance scheduled to take place in Otsagabia (Nafarroa) on August 15.

As noted, this year it is the turn of the people of Atharratze-Sorholüze to perform the pastorala, which celebrates the life of one of the town’s own charismatic historical figures: Jean Pitrau (1929-1975), who went by the nickname of “Erbin.” Pitrau was famed for defending farmers’ rights and the traditional way of life in rural communities. He was among the founders of the European rural labor movement.

The pastorala is a performance comprising the spoken word, song, and dance, which is made up of the rhythmic, almost hypnotic, repetition of ideas. It always celebrates a historical figure of some importance and invariably involves some element of tragedy. Every pastorala portrays a clear picture of good and evil, giving the performance its ancient epic quality. In many ways it is less about spectacle and more about community involvement, binding social ties, and reinforcing communal roots. This year’s pastorala was written by the renowned Basque musician and singer from Xiberoa, Pier Paul Berzaitz.

Check out this short film of the immediate build-up to Sunday’s performance by photographer Séverine Dabadie (and be sure to take a look at her YouTube site here for other great Basque-themed videos).

Follow the pastorala on facebook here. And a DVD of the event can be purchased here.

The wonderful Kanaldude, a local community TV station dedicated to representing the distinct culture and identity of inland Iparralde, has produced a series of reports focusing on the preparations for this year’s pastorala. These reports include interviews with the local people taking part, and show them in their everyday lives as well as rehearsing for the event. Check out these reports, from May 4, June 29, July 12, and July 20.

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

How two Basque sportswomen balance their professional and sporting lives: Maider Unda and Patricia Carricaburu

Today we’re going to take a look at how two Basque sportswomen at the top of their game balance their commitments both inside and outside the sporting arena. In both cases, they take part in their respective sports for the love of playing rather than for any major financial remuneration. And both women demonstrate a strong connection to the land of their birth.

Born in 1977, Maider Unda is one of the top Basque sportswomen today. She is from the Atxeta baserri in Oleta, a neighborhood of Aramaio, Araba, where she still lives, herding sheep and producing the renowned Idiazabal cheese in partnership with her sister. She is a successful freestyle wrestler who, in the 72 kg category, finished in fifth place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won the bronze medal at the 2012 Games in London. In the same category she has also won a bronze medal at the World Championships (2009), a bronze at the European Games (2015), and a silver (2013) and two bronzes (2010, 2012) at the European Championships. She is currently attempting to qualify for this year’s Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.

In the following report (in Spanish) she discusses her professional and sporting life, including how she took over the family farm after her parents retired:

Check out Maider’s personal website here.

Born in 1988, Patricia Carricaburu, from Altzürükü, Zuberoa, is a French international rugby player who plays in the prop forward position, in which Basques have a long and noble tradition of playing. She was part of the French team that won this year’s 6 Nations Tournament, the premier championship in European rugby. At the club level, she made her debut for local team US Menditte, nicknamed the “Neska Gaitz” or “Bad Girls,” in Mendikota, Zuberoa, before moving to the RC Lons team, near Pau in Béarn.

Check out this report on Patricia (in French), which as well as including some glowing comments about her by the coach of the French national team and fellow Basque, Jean-Michel Gonzalez, also shows her in her day job as an accountant in an automobile repair shop in Maule, and includes her singing traditional Basque songs–another personal passion inherited from her family–toward the end of the clip (at approx. 2m 30s). Indeed, she also sings in the Bedatse Liliak (Spring flowers) group, with friends from her home village:

Women, and gender issues more generally, in sport is one of the principal themes running through Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.

Dr. Sandra Ott’s Presentation of Living with the Enemy at University of San Francisco

Wednesday, March 23rd, Professor Sandra Ott from the  Center will be presenting her new book Living with the Enemy, from 2:00-4:00 pm in McLaren Conference Center at the University of San Francisco.  Professor Ott has spent significant time in Pau, France, performing research and as one of her students, I have learned much more about the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and the various roles that the Basques performed during this time period.

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We congratulate Sandy on her publication and all the work that goes into it! So please attend if in the area, enjoy some refreshments, and enjoy learning about this particular time in Basque history.

 

 

 

Maskarada season begins in Zuberoa

The Maskarada–wild carnivalesque outdoor public theater combining song and dance and performed by regular people all from the same community–kicked off on Sunday, January 10 in the Basque province of Zuberoa (also known as Xiberoa).  This year, residents of the village of Sohüta-Hoki (Chéraute-Hoquy) will be performing the Maskarada all over Zuberoa, over a series of Sundays, between January 10 and April 10.

The Maskarada performance follows an established pattern, with performers representing different characters that are defined as either “Reds” or “Blacks.” The Reds include characters like zamaltzaina (the hobbyhorse) and the marexalak (blacksmiths) while the Blacks include buhame jauna (the gypsy king) and pitxu (the fox). The Reds are well behaved, formal, and elegant, performing specific dances and songs, but the Blacks move in a wilder, untamed, and more spontaneous way, grunting and shouting in joyful abandon. The Reds, then, support the central narrative of the performance; they give meaning to the story, while the Blacks attempt to subvert and undermine that meaning. The video below, shot in Atharratze (Tardets) in 2013, shows the introductory sequence of the Maskarada: the breaking of the barrikada (barricade) and introduction of the principal characters, with the Reds first and then the Blacks.

The following video, meanwhile, also shot in Atharratze (though this time in 2014), shows several sequences and demonstrates just how much this performance is rooted in these local communities. Note how close audience and performers are, the very public outdoor setting, and the unaffected nature of the performance (as well as the famous godalet dantza, the wine glass dance, from approximately 9m 25s onward).

This is not for the faint hearted! It involves bawdy renditions and representations, most of which are intended to cast a critical eye on anyone with pretenses to “authority.”  It is, without doubt, one of the most unique and beguiling events on the Basque cultural calendar, as well as being a living, breathing testament to the persistence of strong community values in the culturally rich province of Zuberoa. The Maskarada is folk theater in its most popular form, with people spending months rehearsing and performing as a means of cementing community ties and maintaining their language and culture.

For general information from the Basque Cultural Institute on the Maskarada click here.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out “The Folk Arts of the Maskarada Performance” by Kepa Fernandez de Larrinoa, a chapter in Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika.

For Fernandez de Larrinoa, the Maskarada represents much more than just a “dance-event”–the term most commonly used to describe this performance in most studies of the phenomenon that tend to focus on its dance aspects. He sees it as more a kind of “storytelling-event” more broadly speaking, interpreting the Maskarada in the wider terms of a folk performance combining music, dance, song, spoken word, free movement, carnivalesque performance, playfulness, subversion, and so on.

Shop for the book here or download it for free here.

Discover the Basque Country: The Kakueta Gorge

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.

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Kakueta Gorge, Santazi, Zuberoa. Photo by Txo, via Wikimedia Commons

At the easternmost extent of the Basque Country, deep in the heart of the mountains separating Zuberoa (or Xiberoa) from Navarre, lies the Kakueta Gorge. For some, the explosion of flora that greets those entering into the gorge, the product of a temperate microclimate in this normally harsher mountain landscape, reminds them of the Amazon Rain Forest. For others, its turquoise lake, the vultures that habitually circle overhead, and the chance of seeing strange creatures like the Pyrenean Desman, lend an otherwordly, almost Lord of the Rings-like quality to the landscape.

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A purpose-built trail allows visitors to enjoy a 2-kilometer hike into the heart of the gorge. Photo by Havang(nl), via Wikimedia Commons

The Kakueta Gorge is in the terrain of a village known as Sainte-Engrâce (in French) or Santazi, Santa Grazi, or Urdatx (in Basque). The village and its inhabitants have been the object of study of the Center’s own Sandra Ott in her book, The Circle of Mountains. This ethnography, one of the best ever written about a Basque community, addresses multiple dimensions of Basque culture in this this small, isolated community. It demonstrates in vivid detail how people interact not just with one another but with the landscape around them.

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A constant flow of water aliments this lush landscape. Photo by Havang(nl), via Wikimedia Commons

Flashback Friday: Born To Make History

On August 7, 1592, Arnaut Oihenart, Basque historian and poet, was born in Maule (Zuberoa), in the Northern Basque Country. His father, Arnaut, was the King’s attorney in the province and his mother, Jeanne d’Echart, daughter of a notary public. The young Arnaut studied law at the University of Bordeaux (France) to graduate in 1612. Oihenart would come to prominence as one of the first non-ecclesiastical Basque writers. His main historiographical work, written in Latin, is titled Notitia utriusque Vasconiae tum Ibericae tum Aquitanicae (News of the two Vasconias, both in Iberia and Aquitaine), which was first published in 1638 in Paris. In this history of “Vasconia,” Oihenart pointed out Basque constitutional origins in Navarre. It provided a legal legitimacy of the Basque Country being constitutionally rooted in the Kingdom of Navarre, by explaining the historical development of medieval law. It gave a unitary meaning to the Basque history, encompassing both sides of the border. This achievement alone makes Oihenart’s work fundamental to the comprehension of the history of the Basque Country. 

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Notitia utriusque Vasconiae cover page

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View of Maule (Zuberoa) in the early Twentieth Century


To read a selection from Notitia utriusque Vasconiae translated into English, as well as commentary on Oihenart’s life and work, see Juan Madariaga Orbea’s Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language.

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