On April 18, 1815, a convoy including the Duke of Bourbon, the cousin of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was making its way over the Arlaban Pass that marks the border between Araba and Gipuzkoa. On the steep climb up the hill, the carriage containing the duke, which was being pulled by two oxen, became slightly separated from the convoy. Seizing the opportunity, five armed men appeared from out of the woods and proceeded to liberate the duke of all the equipment, treasures, and documents he was carrying.
Asalto al coche (Robbery of the coach), 1786-1787, by Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Arlaban Pass had, it should be noted, gained an infamous reputation for such highway robbery. Indeed, many of the so-called highwaymen gained a kind of infamous notoriety, men like the guerrillas Espoz and Mina as well as Sebastián Fernández de Leceta or “Dos Pelos” (Two Hairs).
Witnesses to the robbery said that the thieves were Basques, as could be discerned from their accents, which also led people to believe they came from an area between Tolosa and Hernani in Gipuzkoa. The main suspect was subsequently thought to be one N. de Lazkao, who was fairly identifiable because of his green eyes and red beard. But despite the dispatch of multiple search parties and an investigation that lasted ten years, no one was ever apprehended.
Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 167-68.
The Basque daily Deia reported on Sunday, April 16, that Basque-speakers now account for 51.2 % of the overall population of the city. According to the Bilbao City Council’s Office of Basque and Education, the number of Basque speakers has quadrupled in the last thirty years. Councilmember for Basque and Education Koldo Narbaiza commented that, “Out of 342,370 inhabitants of the capital [of Bizkaia], 78,727 can read and write in Basque, 96,774 know Basque although not academically, and 166,869 are non-Basque speakers … In total, 175,501 Bilbao residents, that is 51.2%, know Basque.”
Basque speakers in Bilbao, from Deia.
What’s more, and interestingly, this rise in numbers is fairly evenly spread throughout the city. And another point of interest is that the average age of Basque speakers has changed significantly in recent years, with young people now outnumbering seniors when it comes to knowledge of the language.
See the full article (in Spanish) here.
Here at the Center we have a wide range of books about the Basque language. Download a free copy of Estibaliz Amorrortu’s Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture here. And check out a couple of books that discuss two sides of the coin when it comes to forms of Basque: Koldo Zuazo’s The Dialects of Basque, which explores the rich variety of the language; and Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, which charts how a modern standard version of the language was created and embraced by Basque society.
See, too, another couple of interesting takes on how the Basque language fits into contemporary Basque society: The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi; and This Strange and Powerful Language by Iban Zaldua.
In El Correo Iñaki Esteban recently discussed the Center’s bilingual Basque-English publication of the canonical works of Basque poet Gabriel Aresti; part of our Classic Series that receives generous financial support from the Provincial Government of Bizkaia. As Esteban himself observes, “With English one goes everywhere, and the literature and culture in general of a country need that language as well to circulate in the world. Without translations into the lingua franca of the modern age, books are restricted to their own field of projection, whether written in Russian, Spanish, or Basque.” With this new Center publication, he continues, the “deep hole” of having none of Aresti’s work in English available has been filled. Amaia Gabantxo, who translated the work for the Center, agrees: “We need translations of Basque authors into English so our culture becomes known and so that universities can offer the subject ‘Basque Studies’ … We know other literatures through their translations.”
See the full article (in Spanish) here.
By a Basque Parliament decree of April 14, 1983, “Eusko Abendaren ereserkia” (The hymn of the Basque ethnic group) was adopted as the official anthem of the Basque Autonomous Community. The music itself is based on a popular Basque melody that was used typically at dances as a form of introducing the proceedings paying homage to a flag. Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism, then added words to the tune. The first Basque government, which came into being in 1936, had originally adopted the melody (but not the words) as the Basque national anthem before the triumph of General Franco’s rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War led to the abolition of Basque home rule. With the Statute of Autonomy (1979) and the creation once more of the Basque government, the 1983 law was passed to provide the new autonomous community with its own anthem. Once again, as in 1936, the official anthem is the music without the lyrics Arana wrote. That said, it is known popularly as “Gora ta Gora” (Up and Up) on the basis of its first line (“Gora ta gora Euskadi,” Onward and upward the Basque Country).
The Archivo Real y General de Navarra (the Royal and General Archive of Navarre) recently added an important series of documents to its online collection via its Archivo Abierto section. The documents all concern various kinds of legal proceedings, with the result that this free database now offers online access to some 300,000 records concerning summons, lawsuits, and the like, but also, and importantly for historians, many other important aspects of life in Navarre between 1498 and 1836.
Because the documents contain all the relevant information concerning why and how lawsuits were issued, they offer invaluable information about how people went about their daily lives during this time, what customs prevailed, and what were the principal causes of such disputes; in sum, they offer a unique window onto early modern and modern life in Navarre. Of particular interest to the Basque-American community is all the information available pertaining to family history, given that one of the main reasons for such lawsuits being issued concerned inheritance questions. As a result, this is a mine of information for anyone interested in family history but broader issues are also involved such as communal disputes, crime, and even witchcraft.
The Baiona Ham Festival
The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held, in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage. But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.
The logo of Korrika 20
The 20th edition of Korrika, the epic fun run and relay that traverses the Basque Country every couple of years to raise awareness about the Basque language, wrapped up yesterday, Sunday April 9, in the bright sunshine of Iruñea-Pamplona with what is already being termed a “historic” turnout of thousands of people. Beginning on March 30 in Otxandio, Bizkaia, the run came to its conclusion yesterday in the Navarrese capital at approximately 12:30. Following this, a message from inside the baton, which had been passed on from runner to runner over the previous days, included some recorded words from the writer Joseba Sarrionaindia, who spoke of Euskara, the Basque language, as a “universal treasure” that we should all protect. For him, if a language disappears, then an entire worldview disappears with it, a unique way of viewing the world and experiencing its many facets.
Check out some photos capturing the excitement of the event courtesy of the Diario de Navarra here.
And check out the official song, a specially commissioned track for the event, below.
Check out, too, Teresa del Valle’s Korrika: Basque Ritual for Ethnic Identity.
Following a meeting by a commission convened by King Charles III on January 29, 1767, it was decided to expel members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, from all lands belonging to the Spanish crown. The decision was made on the basis of the perceived threat of the Jesuits to royal authority. On April 7, 1767, the corregidor–the king’s representative–communicated the royal command to the public authorities in Bizkaia and the Jesuit residence in Bilbao, San Andrés college, was immediately occupied by law enforcement officers and there gathered Jesuits from Lekeitio, Urduña/Orduña, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Logroño. On May 3 they boarded two waiting ships in the Olabeaga neighborhood that would transport them to Civitavecchia, outside Rome.
Pedro de Calatayud (1698-1773).
Among those expelled was Pedro de Calatayud, a member of the Bilbao order from Tafalla, Navarre, and the author of a controversial book some years previously in which he criticized traders, shipowners, and iron foundry owners in Bizkaia for their excessive greed and usury, even branding them “public sinners.” In retaliation, these business interests in Bizkaia began a campaign against him with the aim of getting the book banned or at least condemned by the Church. This campaign lasted some twenty years before, finally, in 1766 the work was indeed banned. Calatayud appealed against the ban, but the expulsion order brought an end to the matter. Calatayud died in Bologna in 1773.
Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 146.
Wentworth Webster (1828-1907), one of the forerunners of Basque Studies in English.
Wentworth Webster was one of the discrete forerunners of our very own discipline here at the Center: Basque Studies in English. Born in 1828, Webster studied at Oxford University and, after a spell of ill health, was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1861. Following his ordination, and posts that took him to both Egypt and Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Banhèras de Bigòrra) in Occitania, France, he accepted a post as chaplain of the newly established Anglican church of Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), where he would serve between 1869 and 1882. During this time he and his wife had five children, who all grew up speaking Basque among their languages, and he took a keen interest in Basque culture. He was especially interested in the Basque language and traditional stories and folk tales, which he enthusiastically gathered with the help of fellow scholar Jules Vinson. The result of this initial research was the publication of Basque Legends (London: Griffith and Farran, 1877).
He later resigned his post and moved to Sara, from where he continued to research and write on many Basque-related topics, frequently publishing his findings in British journals of the period, as well as reprinting Pierre d’Urte’s 1712 Basque grammar (1900) and publishing a memoir, Les Loisirs d’un étranger au Pays basque (Châlons-sur-Saöne: Imprimerie française et orientale E. Bertrand, 1901). In March 1907, the visiting King of England, Edward VII, attended a game of pelota in Sara in Webster’s honor, but the elderly clergyman was too weak to attend the game, eventually dying a month later.