Tag: carnival

Ihauteriak: Carnivals in Popular Basque Culture

Today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Astearte Inautea, in other words, the day to get all our excesses in before the 40 days of Lent in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Most people have heard of the celebrations in Brasil or New Orleans, but what about the Basque Country?

Carnivals are celebrated in different ways across the Basque Country, as a previous post from last year explains.  However, some carnivals begin long before the lenten season, such as those celebrated in Ituren and Zubieta (Navarre). Their famous Joaldunak go about the streets, dressed in sheepskins and pointy hats while shaking their bells. They have become symbols of Basque carnivals. However, they are not as unique as you may think.

Joaldunak, by Kike CC-NC-ND

Earlier this year, I read the following description  of a carnival festivity in The Economist, of an event held in  Rijeka, Croatia:

Zvoncari, from The Economist

Romping in Rijeka: Croatia’s carnival

Spring, summer, autumn, winter, party. The Rijeka carnival, known to locals as “the fifth season”, starts on Tuesday and goes on until March 1st. It may not have the glamour of Rio or the glitz of Venice but the port city can still pull the crowds. Festivities start in earnest when the master of revellers is handed the city’s keys and a carnival queen is chosen. Over the coming weeks there are balls, masked karaoke events and boozing in breweries before the climax of the International Carnival Parade—attended by up to 150,000 people. Traditionally, the last group in the parade are the Zvoncari, the sheepskin-clad bell men of Kastav, who also tour local villages in an ancient tradition used to cement bonds between communities. The season ends with the burning of the pust, a puppet blamed for all the previous year’s ills; 2016’s has a lot to answer for.

Don’t the zvoncari remind you of the joaldunak? They also travel from Ituren to Zubieta in a tradition to ward off evil spirits and create unity.

Furthermore, the pust sounds an awful lot like Miel Otxin, the villainous character who is burned on Fat Tuesday in the Carnivals of Lantz (Navarre). During Lantz’s Carnivals a story plays out (based on true events) in which a bandit, Miel Otxin, in the mountains surrounding Lantz, is captured by the town and burned.

Miel Otxin, credit Panzermix Wikipedia Commons

Carnival festivities share many shared features across Europe and beyond. These pagan rituals’ history predates notions of lent and other Catholic traditions. It’s fun to look at the ways certain acts are repeated, demonstrating a shared sense of human community.

Have a great Astearte Inautea no matter how you celebrate it!

Carnival Time!

Basque carnival season kicks off around this time of year, with different places holding carnival celebrations at different times. There are many names for carnival in Basque: iñauteak, iñauteriak, ihauteriak, iyoteak, ioteak, aratozteak, aretusteak, and aratuzteak (the latter three terms deriving from (h)aragi uztea or “giving up meat,” i.e. the Lenten fast). Whatever the name, like everywhere else in the world, carnival is all about dressing up in weird and wonderful costumes, letting loose, poking fun at anyone and anything (especially in authority), and having as good a time as possible!

There are numerous places in the Basque Country where carnival is especially important: This year, for example, Ituren and Zubieta (both in Nafarroa) will celebrate their famous joaldunak (literally, “carriers of bells”) festivities on February 1 and 2 respectively. On Monday, the joaldunak (also known as zanpantzarrak in other parts of the Basque Country) of Zubieta visit the streets of Ituren and the following day, it is the turn of those of Ituren to visit Zubieta. These figures have become one of the most emblematic groups in Basque culture.

Staying in Nafarroa, Lantz is also renowned for its carnival. Here, on Shrove Tuesday, the young people of the village dress up as figures called txatxoak and burn an effigy known as Miel Otxin, while dancing the famous Basque zortziko around the fire.

For Julio Caro Baroja (in The Basques, p. 290):

The giant of Lantz is undoubtedly related to others that in different regions represent the Carnival, whose triumph and death were often used as a theme by poets, writers, moralists, and artists of the medieval Christian period or immediately after it. But it is also very possible that in these local masquerades, old pagan rites of community security are reflected for wider purposes, or at least different ones, than the strictly agricultural one that is usually ascribed to them.

In Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, meanwhile the iñauteriak make up the town’s principal annual festival. Here, carnival resembles more the kind of celebrations held in Rio or New Orleans, with a week-long festival held marked by parades and general revelry. What’s particularly striking, though, is the level of popular participation. Everyone–and I mean everyone–gets involved. Check out the following video taken at the 2014 diana (reveille), the exuberant wake-up festivity. Note how few “spectators” there are… This is no tourist spectacle. Everyone wants to take part rather than just stay on the sidelines!