Tag: Iparralde (page 1 of 7)

June 19, 1920: Birth of famous bertsolari Xalbador

We have already come across one of the great bertsolariak, improvisers, Fernando Aire Etxart, better known as Xalbador, on a couple of other occasions here on the blog. He was present during the events surrounding the creation of the San Francisco Basque Club, as noted here,  and he was involved in one of the most (in)famous moments in the history of bertsolaritza or Basque improvised oral poetry, as recounted here.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Born on June 19, 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Aire took the name Xalbador from that of the family baserri or farmstead, “Xalbadorenea.” Interestingly, his mother had been born in Los Angeles, into a family from the same area, before returning to the Basque Country.  He remained in Urepele all his life, working as a shepherd, and from an early age discovered a talent for improvising verses. He married Leoni Etxebarren in 1943 and the couple had four children. In his bertsoak, verses, he was serious and at time melancholic, but also highly lyrical and poetic, and was at the top of his game in the 1960s. He died of a heart attack in his home village of Urepele in 1976.

For more information about bertsiolaritza in general and Xalbador, see Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.

June 3, 1795: Sentencing for those responsible for Lapurdi deportation

One of the grimmest episodes in the whole French Revolution took place in 1794 with the forced deportation of thousands of Basques from several border communities in Lapurdi, a forced population transfer (long before Stalin’s infamous demographic machinations) that was part of the Jacobin excesses associated with Robespierre’s reign of terror and that resulted in deprivation and death for many innocent people; an event we covered  in a previous post here.

City Hall in Donibane Lohizune (1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

City Hall in Donibane Lohizune (1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Girondins returned to power and set about seeking revenge for their own persecution during the reign of terror. In the Basque Country, this was played out against the backdrop of the deportation, with those responsible being sought out. Thus on June 3, 1795, in Donibane Lohizune, a military judge from the Army of the Western Pyrenees (one of the French Republic’s military forces) sentenced six councilmembers from that town, including the former mayor Alexis Pagès, as well as two people from neighboring Azkaine, to prison for their role in the deportation.

For more information on the French Revolution in the Basque Country, check out Philippe Veyrin, The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, amnd Lower Navarre, available free to download here.

February 1, 1903: Birth of philosopher Maryse Choisy

The journalist, writer, and philosopher Maryse Choisy was born in Doinibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on February 1, 1903. She was most renowned for founding a polemical response to surrealism: the suridealism movement.

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Raised in the Basque Country by wealthy aunts, Choisy studied philosophy at Girton College, Cambridge in the aftermath of World War I. After a brief period of treatment by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s, she became a journalist  and began a prodigious publishing career that also included novels, poems, and essays. Most famously, she took up a position against surrealism, which, she thought, was based on a false interpretation of Freud’s concept of the unconscious. In turn, she published her “Suridealist Manifesto” in 1927. In 1946, she founded Psyché. Revue internationale de psychanalyse et des sciences de l’homme ( Psyche: International Review of Psychoanalysis and Human Sciences) and she subsequently established, together with  Father Leycester King of Oxford,  the Association Internationale de Psychothérapie et de Psychologie Catholique (International Association of Catholic Psychotherapy and Psychology). She was an especially important intellectual figure in interwar Paris and gained even wider renown after founding Psyché. She died in 1979.

October 20, 1620: Unification of the Crowns of Navarre and France

On October 20, 1620, by the Edict of Pau, King Louis II of Navarre and XIII of France formally oversaw the unification of his two crowns, thereby bringing to a close the full sovereignty of the whole of Navarre, a kingdom that had existed independently since 824. From this moment on, the ruling monarch would be known as the King of France and Navarre.

King Louis II of Navarre and III of France (1601-1643), around the time of the Edict of Pau. By Peter Paul Rubens, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

King Louis II of Navarre and III of France (1601-1643), around the time of the Edict of Pau. By Peter Paul Rubens, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By the terms of the Edict of Pau, the Navarrese territories of Lower Navarre (Nafarroa Beherea), Béarn (Biarn in Gascon), and the Donezan (Donasan in Occitan) passed into the hands of the French crown, while another possession, Andorra, would henceforth be ruled jointly as a co-principality. These were all lands with their own highly developed systems of self-government.

By the terms of the Edict, moreover, the Sovereign Council of Béarn was transformed into the Parliament of Pau with jurisdiction over Lower Navarre in the Basque Country (whose own governing authority, the Chancellery of Donapaleu /Saint-Palais, was incorporated into the new parliament). One consequence of this decision was that Basque, which had been used in official circles to that date in conjunction with the other official languages of the Kingdom of Navarre, would be replaced by French as the one official language of the public administration. Moreover, an additional provision of the Edict was that the easternmost Basque province of Zuberoa would now come under the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Bordeaux, thereby separating and differentiating it from its neighbor Lower Navarre.

In one final, and slightly ironic move (in light of the changes that had taken place), by a further edict of 1624, the Parliament of Pau was renamed the Parliament of Navarre, while retaining its location in Pau, Béarn.

 

 

September 8, 1749: Birth of Dominique-Joseph Garat, early advocate of Basque political unity

On September 8, 1749, Dominique-Joseph Garat was born in Baiona, Lapurdi. An important political figure in the Northern Basque Country, he drew up plans, which he presented to Napoleon, to unite all the Basque provinces in one political unit–New Phoenicia–that would have remained an autonomous part of the French Empire. Napoleon, however, rejected the idea.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After studying law in Bordeaux, in 1777 Garat moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist (covering the American Revolution) and teacher. In 1789, he was elected representative of the Third Estate for Lapurdi and in 1792 he was appointed the minister of justice in Revolutionary France, charged with communicating to King Louis XVI his death sentence. Garat resigned after this decision and was arrested twice by the Jacobin authorities. However, following the Jacobin fall from power, from 1794 to 1795 he led the commission charged with implementing the new educational system and in 1798 was named French ambassador to Naples. That same year, he was elected president of the Council of Elders (the upper house of the French Directory) and later became a senator in Napoleonic France.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a senior statesman, Garat subsequently used his political influence to present a plan to Napoleon to create what he termed New Phoenicia, incorporating all the Basque provinces north and south of the Pyrenees. This would, in Garat’s scheme, be an autonomous political unit within the French Empire, and serve as a buffer state between the French Republic and the Kingdom  of Spain. He lobbied to implement his plan on several occasions between 1803 and 1811, but ultimately to no avail. In part, wider events–including the course of the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 (covered in a previous post here)–hindered the feasibility of the scheme.  After opposing Napoleon during the events associated with the arrival of Louis XVIII on the French throne and Napoleon’s subsequent (although brief) return to power in 1814–15, he retired from his post in the senate. He abandoned politics altogether and settled once more in Iparralde, where, in Basusarri, on December 9, 1833, he died.

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga discusses the importance of Garat at length in his The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  According to Ahedo (p. 53):

Garat is a key figure in the political history of Iparralde for his role after the abolition of the Basque institutions with the triumph of the French Revolution. Furthermore, he is also important for the plans he drew up to unite the Basque provinces of both Iparralde and Hegoalde in one political unity: New Phoenicia, a confederation that would have formed a part of the Napoleonic French empire.

 

June 11, 1967: Xalbador jeered at national bertsolaritza championship in Donostia

On June 11, 1967, one of the most controversial incidents to ever take place in the history of berstolaritza–Basque oral improvised verse–occurred during the national championship in the main fronton or pelota court of Donostia-San Sebastián: on hearing that the bertsolari (improviser) Xalbador had been selected by the judges over a more popular opponent, Joxe Migel Iztueta aka Lazkao Txiki, to advance to the head-to-head final to compete against Uztapide, a section of the audience began to jeer. The reason for this? He was from Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country in France, and they did not understand his dialect of Basque so well.

Xalbador (1920-1976)

Born in 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Fernando Aire, aka Xalbador, was arguably the most renowned bertsolari in modern times from Iparralde. He began to perform in public after World War II, and by the 1960s was regarded, together with Manuel Olaizola, aka Uztapide, as one of the leading exponents of the art form. However, Xalbador stood out from most of his contemporaries for a number of reasons: first and foremost, he used his natal dialect of Basque from Lower Navarre; besides that, though, he also incorporated melodies that many people in Hegoalde (the Southern Basque Country) were unfamiliar with; and finally, he also stood apart from many of his rival bertsolaris for the sheer lyrical quality of his verses as well as his ability to draw profound reflections from seemingly inconsequential things. Indeed, his poetic sensibility was such that, following his death in 1976, the famous Basque singer-songwriter Xabier Lete dedicated a song to him, “Xalbadorren heriotzean” (On Xalbador’s death), which subsequently became one of the most famous and repeated Basque songs, still sung to this day. And the 1989 national champion bertsolari, Jon Lopategi, also dedicated his winning verse to Xalbador. That all said, he never won a major championship, finishing fourth in 1960, third in 1962 and 1965, and, ultimately, second in 1967.

In the infamous 1967 championship, as mentioned, some members of the audience jeered on hearing the judges’ decision to advance Xalbador to the final head-to-head contest against Uztapide (it should be noted that it remains unclear whether they were jeering the bertsolari or the judges, or both). As per the rules of the competition, Xalbador was obliged to step up to the microphone and compose a verse in response to the decision. As he began his strophe, he found it difficult to make his voice heard, but, gradually, the power and beauty of his words turned the audience around. He sung:

Anai-arrebok, ez, otoi, pentsa
neu’re gustora nagonik,
poz gehiago izango nuen
albotik beha egonik.

Brothers and sisters, do not think
that I am happy;
how much better would I feel
looking on from some corner.

Zuek ezpazerate kontentu
errua ez daukat ez nik…

If you are not happy
it is not my fault…

At this point, the jeers subsided and, incredibly, the audience began to cheer. Xalbador, in turn, his voice barely able to continue with emotion, repeated and concluded the verse:

Zuek ezpazerate kontentu
errua ez daukat ez nik,
txistuak jo dituzute bainan
maite zaituztet orainik.

If you are not happy
it is not my fault:
in spite of your whistles
I still love you.

By the end of the verse the audience had risen to its feet and was applauding the bertsolari from Urepele. The story remains one of the great moving moments in the history of berstolaritza and in Basque culture more generally. This moment was, remarkably, captured on film:

To learn more about bertsolaritza, check out Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.

Another great resource is Bertsolaritza, El bertsolarismo, Bertsolaritza by Joxerra Garzia, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute, free to download here.

On the rich Basque dialects, see The Dialects of Basque by Koldo Zuazo.

 

April 3, 1942: Birth of Basque language and culture activist Argitxu Noblia

Argitxu Noblia in 2010. Photo by Adrar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 3, 1942, Claire “Argitxu” Noblia was born in Angelu, Lapurdi, at the height of the Nazi occupation of Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country in World War II.  She would go on to found the first ikastola or Basque-medium school in Iparralde in 1969 as well as being a prominent figure in the world of politics and Basque culture in the north.

After studying medicine in Bordeaux she returned to the Basque Country where she worked as an anesthetist in Baiona until retiring in 2002. Outside of work, however, she became active in Basque culture and politics. In 1969, at the head of a group of parents working on their own initiative and together with Libe Goñi, she established a proto-ikastola in her own home in Baiona–just prior to creating the first specific school premises in Arrangoitze–and served as the first director of Seaska, the organization overseeing ikastolas in the north, for six years. She was also part of a group of people that founded the Elkar publishing house in Baiona in 1971 and was involved in the association promoting the creation of the Basque-language radio station Gure Irratia in 1981.

She took an early interest in politics while still at university and stood as a candidate for one of the first Basque nationalist formations in Iparralde, Enbata, in the 1960s. She served on the Baiona city council between 1989 and 1995, and was then briefly head of the Iparralde section of the Basque Nationalist Party before later joining Eusko Alkartasuna.

If all that were not enough, she has also been an advocate of public health, peace, and women’s issues, serving in numerous associations to this end. In 1995 she received the Grand Prix Humanitaire from the French government and in 2009 the Femmes 3000 federation awarded her with a prize for her voluntary work.

One of the Center’s publications, The Transformation of National Identity in he Basque Country of France, 1789-2006 by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga, discusses the social, political, and cultural context in which Argitxu Noblia has been such an influential figure in Iparralde.

March 27, 1944: Bombing of Biarritz by US Air Force

At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, March 27, 1944, toward then end of World War II, the Basque towns of Biarritz and Angelu in Lapurdi was bombed by 44 Consolidated B-24 Liberators in the 458th and 466th Bomb Groups.  In eight minutes they dropped 44 tonnes of bombs on the Nazi-occupied town, resulting in 117 casualties and around 250 injuries.

The official aim of the mission that day–according to the archives–was to destroy the nearby Parma airfield and the Latécoère aircraft company factory, although it is also likely that it included the target of a German base there storing V-1 doodlebugs and V-2 rockets. Moreover, the Nazis had constructed a major command center in bunkers beneath Biarritz. The mission was part of the conclusion of a more general strategy to bomb occupied France on the part of the Allies between June 1940 and May 1945; and served as a prelude to the D-Day landings of June 1944 in Normandy. However, lacking the necessary precision technology, many devices went astray in the carpet bombing and hit the civilian population as well as the Nazi occupiers, with approximately one hundred German soldiers among the dead, and destroying 375 residential homes in the process too.

See “Les mystères du bombardement de Biarritz” in Sud-Ouest, March 26, 2013 (in French) and “70 urte, AEBko hegazkinek Biarritz eta Angelu bonbardatu zituztela” at EITB, March 27, 2014 (in Basque). Check out a video report on the bombing by ETB, the Basque public broadcaster, here (in Basque) and listen to a fascinating piece of oral history in this first-hand account by people who experienced the bombing (in Basque).

The Center’s own Sandra Ott has written extensively on the German occupation of the Basque Country during World War II. Check out her War, Judgment, And Memory In The Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 and Living With the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940–1948as well as her edited work, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946.

Note (from Wikipedia): At the end of World War II in Europe, the U.S. Army’s Information and Educational Branch was ordered to establish an overseas university campus for demobilized American service men and women in Biarritz. Under General Samuel L. McCroskey, the hotels and casinos of Biarritz were converted into quarters, labs, and class spaces for U.S. service personnel. The University opened August 10, 1945 and about 10,000 students attended an eight-week term. This campus was set up to provide a transition between army life and subsequent attendance at a university in the US, so students attended for just one term. After three successful terms, the G.I. University closed in March 1946.

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

Traditional Basque Sports Explained in Short Video

Herri kirolak–traditional sports–are one of the defining features of Basque culture. Many of these sports developed out of everyday chores like chopping wood or lifting heavy objects. Neighbors would then challenge each other to informal feats of strength and/or stamina and out of these challenges, the custom of betting on the outcome developed. Nowadays these challenges take place in organized settings, typically during local fiestas for example, and involve formal, regulated competitions.

Check out the following short video from Iparralde that explains in brief form a gathering of competitors in various Basque sports in the town of Donapaleu (Saint-Palais) in Lower Navarre.

The Center has published books on several aspects of sports in Basque culture. See, for example, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic by Olatz González Abrisketa, and Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.

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