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June 4, 1873: Basque rebel priest’s squad of soldiers execute 37 border guards

On June 4, 1873, a squad of volunteer soldiers, under the command of the rebel priest Manuel Santa Cruz Loidi (pictured above), executed 37 border guards on the Endarlatza bridge between Gipuzkoa and Navarre during the Carlist War of 1872-1876. From that moment on the civil and military authorities in Gipuzkoa held annual remembrance services for those executed until the entry of Carlist forces into the province during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when the service was suspended (despite the fact that during the nineteenth-century war Santa Cruz himself had been condemned to death on account of his sanguinary exploits by the very Carlist forces he purported to support). During that same Carlist War Sant Cruz’s squad carried a black flag with a skull and the inscription “Battle to the Death.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos(Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 193.

The Carlist Wars are discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present, available free to download here.

Premiere of Aberne, a short movie about women in pelota, on Sunday

Sunday will see the premiere of the movie Aberne, a short film that was the result of a Master’s thesis by Irati Santiago, from Villabona (Gipuzkoa), at Columbia College Chicago. It was produced by Santiago and written and directed by Emma Johnson. From the movie website:  “Aberne tells the story of a young, Basque woman struggling to be accepted amongst external societal pressures in a region where friends, family and co-workers all come together under one sport, pelota. Aberne seeks the opportunity to break free from the culture’s limitation and prove herself worthy of not only playing pelota, but of the general public’s respect.”


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165637744″>Aberne Interview H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

The film was shot in the Tolosa district of Gipuzkoa, in Basque, and with English subtitles.  It tells the story of a young woman who aspires to be a professional pelotari or Basque handball player in the face of much resistance, including on the part of her mother, who attempts to convince her to stick to the family bread-making business.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165733435″>Aberne Teaser English H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

See a report on the movie premiere by the Noticias de Gipuzkoa (in Spanish) here.

Check out Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, by Olatz González Abrisketa, which seeks to contextualize this sport within Basque culture more generally.

An Interview with Beñat Dachaguer

As many of you know, we have quite a few visitors throughout the year. In this interview, we introduce you to Beñat Dachaguer, who is doing an internship at the library.

1) Tell me a bit about yourself…

My name is Beñat Dachaguer and I come from Bayonne in the French Basque Country. During this 2016-2017 school year, I am studying Books and Heritage Professions at Grenoble University. Before that, I taught English in high schools for 10 years.

2)    What brings you to the Center for Basque Studies?

For this training course in Books and Heritage Professions, I needed to do a 2-month internship in a library. I am very interested in Basque culture, language, and literature. I applied to the Basque Library and they accepted me as an intern for 2 months. I am here until June 30.

3)    What is the goal of your project?

The purpose of my stay at the Basque Library is to understand the procedures of the Basque Library in the framework of a North American research library. Thanks to this internship, I am also able to gain knowledge about the Library’s archival collections and the holdings in general.

4)    What makes your study unique?

I speak Basque as my mother tongue and as a fully-quaIified English teacher, I am also fluent in English. The internship allows me to learn more about the Basque diaspora and Basque-American identity. It is interesting to see how they manage to keep Basque culture and traditions alive.

5)    What have you accomplished since you arrived?

I enjoy the city of Reno. I think it is a lively and pleasant town where there are many things to do: restaurants, cinema, pubs, casinos…  and of course, I have gone to Louis’ Basque Corner, the Basque restaurant downtown and visited the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder. I also went to Pyramid Lake, which I found beautiful!

6)  Has the Center for Basque Studies and Library helped you in any way?

The Center for Basque Studies has helped me a lot. There are many interesting documents about Basque culture and diaspora. I have to write a report about my stay at the Basque Library, so all the materials available are very useful to me. Besides, the colleagues (library staff, faculty, and Ph.D. students) are really nice. There is a good atmosphere in the library.

7)    Are you enjoying the U.S.?

I enjoy the USA, mainly the Western part. Nevada and California are states where there is a good life quality. I already went to Chino, near Los Angeles, 20 years ago and I have kept an excellent memory of my stay there! I am glad to be back in the USA.

8)    What have you missed the most since you’ve been here?

I haven’t really missed anything except one thing maybe … actually, in April and May, I usually have fun at Basque festivals like Nafarroaren Eguna in Baigorri or Herri Urrats in Senpere. But this year I was in Reno … so I couldn’t attend these 2 events. However, last weekend, I went to the Basque picnic in Bakersfield, California. It was like being at home, in the Basque Country…I even discovered two new drinks:  Madras and VO+sprite. Next weekend, I am going to visit San Francisco and attend the local Basque picnic there… the show must go on!

SFBC Annual Basque Picnic in Petaluma

Last Sunday, a few of us from the Center for Basque Studies and the Jon Bilbao Basque Library made the trip out to Petaluma for the San Francisco Basque Club’s 57th Annual Picnic. After heading out rather early, we made it to the end of the mass given by Father Lastiri, with music by the Elgarrekin Choir and the Zazpiak Bat Klika, alongside dancing. The Petaluma Fair Grounds were packed, and finding a table was a difficult task. While the chefs prepared the barbecue, we enjoyed the warm weather and pleasant conversation. Even my own parents made it out!

As with all Basque events, food was plentiful. We dug into some cheese and other appetizers until the line formed to stack our plates with the wonderful food provided by the SFBC. The menu consisted of barbecued rack of lamb (cooked perfectly) with beans, piperade, salad, cheese, bread, and of course, wine. Every bite was delicious. After our dessert, we gathered around the court to watch the dancers.

Zazpiak Bat Dancers

First came the Zazpiak Bat Txiki dancers, who did a splendid job considering that this was the first year of dancing for most. The Los Banos group was represented by 3 young boys, who also had some great moves. Lastly, we watched the Zazpiak Bat Dance group dance elegantly. The Klika also partook in the jovial atmosphere. Overall, it was a great time.

As picnic and festival season begins, I hope to attend more events. It’s great to see Basque culture being carried on by the youth and the many Basques and Basque-Americans that come together to share food, fun, and merriment. Don’t forget, next week: Winnemucca’s Annual Festival!

Great new video guide to Kakueta Gorge

There’s somewhat of an end-of-term feeling around here and our thoughts have turned to the approaching summer, travels, and of course the beautiful Basque Country. And once again we will shamelessly borrow a video from our good friends at About Basque Country, this time one that showcases the amazing Kakueta Gorge.

We did already write about this landmark site in a previous post but we also think it’s well worth revisiting one of the truly remarkable spots in the Basque Country, a little piece of Amazonia in Xiberoa/Zuberoa!

This also got us to thinking about other interesting or emblematic sites … especially those off the beaten track somewhat.  So if you have any suggestions why not let us know? We’d be happy to share your thoughts!

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).

Join us in celebrating A Man Called Aita

We are so happy to announce the publication of Joan Errea’s A Man Called Aita. These stories, told in rhyming verse, tell an extraordinarily deep, complex, and moving story about being Basque in the U.S. West and what it was like to grow up on a ranch on the frontier. They tell the story of the life of Joan’s father, aita in Basque, Arnaud Paris, who originally came from Iparralde and herded sheep in Wyoming before venturing out on his own to ranch in Central Eastern and Northern Nevada for many years. There is so much to say about this little book, a true gem of Western Americana, much of it ably done so in Pello Salaburu’s masterful introduction.

“This book narrating the story of Marie’s life is captivating, moving, and very attractive in its simplicity. It shows how wonderful the relationship between the father and daughters was, that Arnaud was a warm man, and that they loved each other a lot and were very close. For Joan, her aita was a role model and a point of reference.”

Here, from A Main Called Aita is the title poem, which says much more than I can:

A Man Called Aita

With a brand new dream, a clarinet, and his suitcase in his hand.

The young Basque came to write his name in the history of this land.

Perhaps he was never famous but the world was a better place.

For the Basque who came and brought with him the faith of his proud race.

In the mountains of Wyoming where he first came to herd sheep,

How bitter were his lessons, how lonely was his sleep!

How many times he lay awake and looked up at starry skies,

Unable to see their beauty for the tears that filled his eyes.

How unbearably cold and lonely it must have been at times,

As he sat upon some windswept hill and wrote his songs and rhymes.

For the young man was a poet, a Basque “Bertzolari”;

And in later years he’d sing his songs to my brothers and to me!

With two dogs for companions, he spent six long years there.

He guarded all the lambs and sheep entrusted to his care.

He loved to dance, he loved to sing; to learn was a burning need;

For the greatest pleasure of his life was a good book he could read.

One day in his quest for books he found a copy of the Constitution.

And he quickly learned of the laws and rules that governed this great Nation.

He left Wyoming for Nevada, where his brother found them jobs;

And the two of them together, tended to the woolly “mobs.”

Now times were hard upon the land and wages seldom came.

Herders were sometimes paid in sheep; mostly the old and lame.

It was so, they built their own herds up and ran them on “tramp” ground.

It was hit and run, first come first served, there was no BLM around.

The grass was there and it was free, but the sheepmen fought each other.

It often came to troubled times with brother against brother.

And so it came to pass with them and bitter words were spoken;

Words that could never be recalled, so the partnership was broken.

The love between them still ran deep but forgiveness had been frozen.

They drifted apart and went their ways on the paths that each had chosen.

And each young man in his own way left his mark upon the land.

So my Father came to live his dream with his suitcase in his hand.

He labored well, and built his dream; he married sweet “Marie.”

He was always known as “Aita” by my brothers and by me.

New study reveals that Basque-speakers have highly developed predictive language mechanisms

Noticias de Gipuzkoa reports that a recent study by a team of researchers based largely at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, published in the journal Cognition, reveals that native Basque-speaking bilingual people have a more developed capacity to anticipate the words they are reading than their native Spanish-speaking bilingual counterparts.

Linguistic prediction is a basic mechanism of the brain that allows it to relate to the environment around it. In order to speed up communicative processes the brain attempts to anticipate what it will hear or read.  According to the study, when reading in Spanish, the native Basque-speakers studied demonstrated a faster brain response, the result of the nature of the Basque language itself, in which the important information when it comes to structuring a sentence comes at the end of the statement.

Chief author Nicola  Molinaro concludes that, “Basque speakers have learned to anticipate which words will appear, because they need to do so in order to structure the linguistic material that they have already heard or read … thus they have optimized their predictions and have gotten used to putting them into practice before the age of three, and this mechanism is also activated when they speak or read in another language.”

The findings of the study challenge previous notions that question the ability of people to predict in another language.

See the newspaper report (in Spanish) here.

See the original study here.

Santurtzi honors Basque refugee children on 80th anniversary of their evacuation

May 24 saw an emotional act marking the 80th anniversary (May 23) of the evacuation of more than 4,000 Basque children from the port of Santurtzi in Bizkaia as a result of the impending fall of Bilbao to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.  The act was organized by the Santurtzi City Council and Gogora: The Institute for Remembrance, Coexistence and Human Rights.

At around 1 pm the sirens of war once again symbolically sounded out in Santurtzi, as official representatives and the general public awaited the arrival of a group of people, all in their 80s and 90s and all former niños de la guerra,  aboard the Txinbito boat. As the senior citizens stepped ashore, local schoolchildren released a sea of white balloons as the public applauded.

Check out the BCA ’37 UK website, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of those children evacuated from the Basque Country.

Images courtesy of the BCA ’37 UK website.

See, too the following articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/the-reception-of-basque-refugees-in-1937-showed-britain-at-its-best-and-worst

https://theconversation.com/the-blockade-running-british-women-at-the-forefront-of-basque-evacuations-77676

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.

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