Tag: Iparralde (page 1 of 5)

Wentworth Webster: An Englishman in Lapurdi

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.

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

698px-helene_feillet

Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

631px-pecheuses_de_st-jean-de-luz_-_fonds_ancely_-_b315556101_a_hennebutte_2_009

“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

630px-costumes_basques_-_fonds_ancely_-_b315556101_a_hennebutte_2_008

“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

640px-entree_du_duc_de_bayonne_en_1839

“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

March 1, 1750: Basque women’s protest results in bloody aftermath

Women’s march on Versailles, October 5-6, 1789. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 1, 1750, a group of women in Urruña (Urrugne), Lapurdi, rose up in protest at proposed measures to increase taxes on tobacco. Peasant revolts, often in response to price or tax rises on key goods or commodities by monarchs and governments, were quite a common feature of early modern European life and the Basque Country was certainly no exception to this phenomenon.

Urruña Town Hall today. Picture by Harrieta171, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, women were especially prominent in several impromptu revolts of this kind in the eighteenth century. In 1750, too, for example, a group of women in Baiona (Bayonne) attacked French troops guarding tax collectors. Later, in 1782, women were front and center in Heleta (Hélette). Lower Navarre, in a violent protest against the French authorities for increasing customs duties, while still more plans to increase taxes resulted in a women’s revolt in 1784 in Hazparne (Hasparren). And as late as 1784, in protest at commercial advantages being granted to some areas over others, as Philippe Veyrin comments (p. 230) in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre, “a tumultuous demonstration of women . . . spread rapidly into the neighboring parishes. To forestall the outbreak of any more violence, it was found necessary to send several regiments in to occupy the region and confiscate over five thousand rifles.”

Tobacco was first cultivated commercially in Europe in France, around the early seventeenth century, and thereafter became a staple crop and commodity in the French Kingdom. Veyrin (pp. 229-30) describes the context in Iparralde:

Lapurdi in particular cultivated tobacco in Nicot, and was happy to indulge in large-scale smuggling of it with neighboring areas. On one occasion the Farmers General enforced the uprooting of the plantations, and its officials distinguished themselves by their excess of zeal, searches, forcible entry, and so on, which provoked a quite legitimate hostility.

These uprisings, which official language treated euphemistically as “emotions,” were a characteristic of the Basque Country in the eighteenth century. What is unusual is that these were almost always started by women who, obsessed by the fear of new taxes and especially the salt tax, were very prone to often untimely demonstrations. There is a long list of those explosions of popular discontent, from those in Donazaharre (Saint-Jean-le-Vieux) in 1685, Mugerre (Mouguerre) and Hiriburu in 1696, Ainhoa in 1724, almost the whole of Lapurdi in 1726 (in connection with the tax on the fiftieth), Baiona in 1748, and Donibane Garazi the same year.

When plans were introduced to hike the price of tobacco, a group of women in Urruña rose up in protest. In response, the French authorities sent a detachment of the royal army to suppress the uprising. On arriving, they opened fire on the women, killing Gratianne de Suhibar, the lady of the house of Candirubaita, Marie Dithurbide, and Agustina de Irigoity. Jean Lapis, the master of the house of Bixitala, also appeared among the dead. It was later claimed, in order to insult his honor, that he had been dressed as a woman at the time of his death.

Memorial plaque on San Anton Church in Bilbao to those who took part in the Salt Tax Revolt. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Such protests in the Basque Country were commonly known as matxinadak (from “Matxin,” a colloquial Basque way of referring to Saint Martin, the patron saint of iron workers and blacksmiths, most likely one of the original groups to rise up in these types of protest). These matxinadak included the famous Salt Tax Revolt (1631-1634) in Bizkaia; the peasant rising led by the rebel priest “Matalas” (Bernard Goihenetxe) in Zuberoa in 1661 against the increased and repressive taxation policies of Louis XIV–an uprising that ultimately resulted in the priest being executed and beheaded; the Customs Revolt of 1718, in which a widespread revolt at new fiscal measures introduced by Philip V abolishing the free-trade status of the Basque Country broke out in Bizkaia and then spread to Gipuzkoa; the Meat Revolt of 1755 in Gipuzkoa; and the Cereal Revolt of 1766 also in Gipuzkoa. By the nineteenth century, these protests, although largely spontaneous like their forebears, took on a more decidedly political dimension and were closely related to defending and maintaining the Basque foral system–the consuetudinary legal system by which the Basque provinces remained largely outside the common governmental structures of both the Spanish and French Kingdoms. Nineteenth-century protests of this kind included the so-called Zamacolada in 1804 in Bizkaia, the Gamazada in Navarre in 1893-1894, and the Sanrokada in Bizkaia in 1893.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.142 and the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

 

Goian bego Marijane Minaberri

Marijane Minaberri (1926-2017).

The writer Marijane Minaberri–also known by the pen names “Andereñoa” and  “Atalki”–passed away last Thursday. Born in Banka, Lower Navarre in 1926, she was responsible for what children’s and young people’s literature expert Xabier Etxaniz terms “real change” in Basque letters, almost single-handedly creating the children’s genre in the Basque language.

As a child she attended the village school in Banka before transferring at age 12 to continue her studies in Donapaleu (Saint-Palais).  She then went briefly to Angelu (Anglet) in Lapurdi to study for a high school diploma, but was forced to return home to care for her sick mother without completing her studies. In 1948, she took up a secretarial position in the Banka Town Hall, but in 1954 she relocated to Uztaritze in Lapurdi, taking up a teaching position at a Catholic school in Baiona (Bayonne). During this time she also began to work in the local press, first as a secretary for the Basque Eclair newspaper, the Basque edition of the Eclair-Pyrénées de Pau newspaper. Through this position, she began writing occasionally for the paper and met significant figures in the Basque cultural world such as Canon Ddiddue (Grégoire) Epherre, Father Joseph Camino (founder of the Basque-language Pan-pin comic for kids), and the journalists and writers Gexan Alfaro and Jean Battitt Dirizar.

By the 1960s, then, she was already an established article writer for Basque-language media in Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, contributing to the likes of Herria, Gure Herria, Almanaka, and Pan-pin. She also started broadcasting in Basque on the short spots reserved for the language on Radio Côte Basque, hosting shows on bertsolaritza, children’s programming, and record request shows. Later, she would also collaborate on the Basque-language stations Gure irratia eta Lapurdi irratia.

As part of her regular contributions to the Basque-language press in Iparralde, she began publishing poems and short stories in the 1960s.  According to Etxaniz (p. 297-98 in Basque Literary History, edited by Mari Jose Olaziregi):

Marijane Minaberri published her first work for children, Marigorri, a version of a well-known story, in 1961. From 1963 her stories, collected in the book Itchulingo anderea (The Lady of Itchulin), and her poems published two years later in Xoria kantari favor a love of reading, enjoyment, and entertainment over instruction. Minaberri gave birth to children’s literature in Euskara; in her work, although the moralizing intention is present, the careful language, descriptions, and the narrative itself reveal the author’s main concern to be aesthetic. In this sense, Minaberri’s most literary work is the book of poems Xoria kantari (A Bird Singing, 1965), in which, the reader can find a great deal of repetition, onomatopoeia, and rhyme, making these simple poems suitable for children.

Here is an example:

Euria                      Rain

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Euria                      Rain

Xingilka                 Limps

Dabila.                  Along

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Jauzika,                Bouncing,

Punpeka,             Jumping,

Heldu da.             Here comes.

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Pasiola                  Fetch

Behar da              your umbrellas

Atera.                    now.

Of the twenty-three poems in the book, seven include the words for well-known songs. At the end of 1997, the folk group Oskorri produced a record with lyrics by Minaberri called “Marijane kantazan” (Sing, Marijane) in honor of this writer who never knew best-selling success (marginalized because she was from the Northern Basque Country, a woman, and a children’s writer), but who worked silently and unceasingly on [Children’s and Young People’s Literature] projects.

In 1975, the newspaper Sud-Ouest took over Basque Eclair, and she worked as a journalist for her new employers until her retirement in 1990.

Among her many other works, she also published two grammar books to help encourage the study of Basque in Iparralde, Dictionnaire basque pour tous (A Basque dictionary for everyone, 1972-1975) and Grammaire basque pour tous (A Basque grammar for everyone, 1978-1981), as well as a collection of plays for children, Haur antzerkia (Children’s theater, 1983).

In sum, she remains one of the often unsung heroines of Basque letters in the twentieth-century.

Goian bego.

From an Early Basque Literature Connection to a Playground for Hollywood Royalty: The Remarkable Story of the Etxauz Château

Set amid the lush green hills surrounding Baigorri in Lower Navarre, the Etxauz Château is one of the most important buildings, historically and culturally speaking, in Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country.  It is thought to have been constructed around 1555 on the orders of Grazian Etxauz, Viscount of Baigorri, a member of one of the oldest noble houses in Lower Navarre (whose family name has historically also been spelled Echauz, Eschaud, (de) Echaux, and Etchauz). Thereafter it enjoyed a remarkable history that included some illustrious owners and guests.

The grandson of Grazian Etxauz, Bertrand Etxauz (c. 1556-1641), inherited the title Viscount of Baigorri together with the property on the death of his father Antoine, who had been breadmaster to King Henry II of France (an important position at the French court). Bertrand entered the Church and, possessing good connections as an almoner to both his kinsman King Henry IV (Henry III of Navarre) and his successor Louis XIII, was appointed Bishop of Baiona in 1599. Then in 1617 he was made Archbishop of Tours, a post he held until his death in 1641. Bertrand Etxauz was a strong advocate of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, especially in response to the rise of Calvinism in the Basque Country in the sixteenth century (on which see a previous post on Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre) and also took part in organizing the Catholic Church’s witch hunts. In regard to the latter, however, it would appear that Etxauz called for clemency where possible and a peaceful solution o to the issue of suspected witchcraft. In The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions, Philippe Veyrin notes (p. 179): “on the advice of the prelate [Etxauz], who was disturbed by the excesses of the criminal commission [on witchcraft], Henry IV recalled the cruel councilor De Lancre who had been unwisely granted overextended powers.” Etxauz even intervened personally to save the lives of five priests who had been condemned to death for alleged witchcraft activities.

Bertrand Etxauz (c. 1556-1641).

Interestingly, a 1584 letter written in Basque by Etxauz to his brother is housed in the French National Library and he was clearly involved in Basque cultural circles.  He was a friend and patron of Pedro Agerre, “Axular” (c. 1556-1644)–widely considered the most prominent among a productive school of writers of religious literature in the Lapurdian dialect of Basque in the early seventeenth century–whom he appointed parish priest of Sara, Lapurdi, in 1600; and this in the face of some protest because Axular was considered in some quarters a “foreigner,” having been born in Urdazubi, Navarre. Indeed, and probably at Etxauz’s insistence, Henry IV even had to write a letter supporting the appointment of Axular to the post – an extraordinary act in many ways, given that he was just a humble parish priest in a relatively quiet backwater of the kingdom. Toward the end of his life Axular published Guero (Later, 1643), one of the classic founding works of Basque literature, in which he included a dedication of thanks to Etxauz. What’s more, another writer and poet associated with this school, Joannes Etxeberri of Ziburu (c. 1580-c.1665), also included a dedication to Etxauz in his Eliçara erabiltçeco liburua (A book to use in church, 1636).

Imaginary portrait of Pedro Agerre “Axular,” with the title page of Guero in the background. Drawing by Jose Eizagirre Aiestaran. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The château remained in the Etxauz family, which had married into another noble family, the Caupenne d’Amous, until the nineteenth century, when the last Etxauz-Caupenne d’Amou–Jeanne Marie Marguerite de Caupenne d’Amou (1772-1830) and her husband Jean Harispe died childless. In 1848, Jeanne Marie Marguerite’s niece, who had inherited the property, sold it to Jean-Charles d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1821-1901), who lived there until his death. He was the son of a well-to-do family with a father from Ürrustoi-Larrebille (Arrast-Larrebieu) in Zuberoa and a mother from Dublin, Ireland (in fact, the couple’s children were born in Dublin). One of his brothers, Arnaud-Michel d’Abbadie (1815-1893) was a geographer who explored and wrote about the geography, geology, archaeology, and natural history of Ethiopia. Arnaud-Michel was accompanied on his travels by older brother, Antoine Thomson d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1810-1897), the great explorer, geographer, ethnologist, linguist, and astronomer, who was also a key figure in promoting Basque culture in the nineteenth century.  Antoine had his own château in Hendaia, Lapurdi, which remains an important site of historic and cultural interest to this day (see an earlier post on this château).

Following Jean-Charles’s death in 1901, the château remained in the family and was used as vacation home by subsequent generations. Prominent among these younger members of the family to use Etxauz was Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968). Born in Argentina, Harry served in the French army in World War I and later became a Hollywood screenwriter and director, being nominated at the 4th Academy Awards for the now defunct category of “Best Story” for the film Laughter (1930). In the 1920s and 1930s he also entertained many Hollywood luminaries at the Etxauz Château in the heart of the Basque Country, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Gloria Swanson as well as frequent guest Charlie Chaplin (who visited in 1925, 1926, and 1931). Harry had been an assistant director on Chaplin’s classic The Gold Rush (1925) and the two formed a friendship as a result (a friendship that later withered resulting in Harry’s name being removed from the credits during future screenings of the movie). One anecdote goes that Chaplin was not best pleased with the badly functioning out-of-date phone at the château, so on one of his visits he brought his own phone with him, which he subsequently left there and which became a feature of the residence.

Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast and and his wife Eleanor Boardman.

In yet another amazing twist, the château was occupied by Nazi forces in World War II. Many of the soldiers stationed there were actually Austrians from similarly mountainous regions back home, They left their physical mark on the place, drawing murals that still survive to this day. Harry no longer returned to Etxauz after the war. He had married retired silent film actress Eleanor Boardman (1898–1991) in 1940 and after he died in Monte Carlo in 1968 she sold the estate, which had been in the family for over 100 years, in 1976. The new owners did not treat the property so well, unfortunately, and it was left to decay. That said, in 1989 it was officially classified as a historical monument (monument historique), the designation given to a site of national heritage in France. And in the mid-1990s it was bought, restored, and turned into a guesthouse. Then in December 2003 it was bought by a Miami-based businessman and his wife (from Erratzu in Navarre).

They are now looking to sell and this has prompted a grassroots campaign to buy the property, which this campaign refers to as Etxauzia, to be used by the local community in the service of Basque culture and transformed into the Nafartarren Etxea (the home of the Navarrese). This is a campaign intended to mobilize all the Basque Country and the diaspora in order to create a singular meeting point in one of the most important historical Basque buildings still in existence.

Check out the campaign website here.

Sources:

Nagore Irazustabarrena, “Etxauz: Axular eta Chplin lotzen ditun haria,” Argia (May 31, 2015).

“A Thousand Years of History,” Part 1 and Part 2 at the Etxauzia website.

 

 

 

February 7, 1842: A controversial marriage, or two

A pandero-jotzaile (tambourine player) and txistulariak (pipe players) lead a traditional Basque wedding procession. Marriage was a key social and economic event because it signified that those joined in union would become the etxekoandre and etxekojaun, the mistress and master of a baserri or farmstead; in sum, the sole proprietors of the central socioeconomic unit of Basque culture and life. Whoever was marrying into the property, man or woman, would bring with them certain possessions: material goods, animals, and even land. Hence the all important wedding procession, typically headed by an ox-drawn cart, which showed off these worldly goods.

On February 7, 1842 Jean Bonepelts married Marie Etxeberri, of the Behorlegi baserri (farmstead) in the Ondarrola district of Arnegi, Lower Navarre. Not untypically in such border areas of the Basque Country, although administratively Ondarrola was part of Arnegi (Arnéguy) and therefore subject to French civil law, in church matters it was part of the neighboring town of Luzaide (Valcarlos) in Navarre. However, the couple were married in the parish church of Arnegi by Father Jean Baptiste Errecart. Again not untypically, the couple were blood relations, on two levels, within the third and fourth degrees of consanguinity. Accordingly, they had been obliged to seek church permission prior to getting married, which they did from the Bishop of Baiona in Lapurdi. However, when word reached the curia (church council) in Pamplona-Iruñea, which as noted had religious jurisdiction over the district of Ondarrola, a formal complaint was lodged with the bishopric of Baiona and, receiving no response to its protest, it declared that, “the wrongly married couple should separate and make up for the error committed.”

That same year, on May 17, there was another marriage between two residents of Ondarrola, Jean Etxeberri and Catalina Caminondo, which also took place in the parish church of Arnegi. This time, the church authorities took stricter measures, with the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea excommunicating both couples and prohibiting entry into any church for their respective parents while “their children should remain in that state of concubinage.” In the end, both marriages had to be held again, this time in Luzaide and with the blessing of the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea. Etxeberri  and Caminondo went through the nuptial ceremony again in June 1843 while Bonepelts and Etxeberri did so once more much later, in April 1845. Only following these “second” marriages was the excommunication order withdrawn.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.185.

With respect to traditional Basque marriage customs, Philippe Veyrin’s wonderful The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre is worth quoting at some length (pp. 328-29):

Once the date of the wedding has been fixed (usually a Tuesday), everyone proceeds, a few days beforehand (generally two), to perform what is called hatüka. This is a matter of transporting to the house where the future couple will live the furniture and the trousseau brought by the newly arrived spouse, male or female. The father leads the first wagon harnessed with oxen in full livery: bells, thick fleeces to conceal the yoke, cloth mantles with wide blue or red stripes embroidered with giant initials. The artfully arranged trousseau is covered with a counterpane with a cushion on top. On a chair tied behind the wagon are placed clogs decorated with copper nails in the shape of an ace of hearts or of spades; there are also a broom, a pick-axe, and a rake. Previously, in the case of the bride, the distaff, the spindles, and the reels were prominently displayed, and these symbolic objects were often finely carved and decorated. On other wagons, more or less numerous depending on the wealth of the bridegroom, pride of place was given to the mattresses and the furnishings, all displayed to their greatest advantage. The seamstress and the joiner, the authors of all these treasures, formed part of the procession; it was they who, on arrival, arranged the bedroom of the newlyweds. Often in the same parade, but sometimes separately, the godfather led a magnificent plump sheep with ribbons and gilded horns to be eaten at the wedding feast—escorted by a whole crowd of ewes with tinkling bells, the tzintzarrada. Not long ago, the procession also included several girls carrying on their heads big baskets furnished with napkins and filled with chicken, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and liqueur, big “spit-baked cakes” decorated with flowers , and so on—all food provided by the guests themselves. A good meal is of course given to all these visitors, and it can be said that the wedding really begins on that day. Two days later, everyone gathers at the square once more: the best men will go to fetch the bride, who gives each of them a fine cambric handkerchief. And, to the sound of a merry zinkha or irrintzina, everyone jostles and bustles to the town hall, and then, with more ceremony, to the church.

A few superstitions, now vanished, used to be in evidence at the nuptial blessing. This was supposed to have the power to sanctify the clothes worn on that particular day; so the bride would apparently cover herself in several dresses, one on top of the other—later, these would be very useful for her, affording her long-term shelter from spells. On his side, if the bridegroom feared the evil spell known as esteka, “physical deficiency,” he had to keep a fold of his future wife’s dress on his knees during the mass.

In several villages, there is a touching custom: after the wedding mass, the newlyweds, slipping away for a few moments from their entourage, go alone to the cemetery and pray at the tomb of the house that they will perpetuate. Husband or wife—whichever of the couple was until then a stranger to the estate—is thus, so to speak, solemnly associated on that day with the cult of the dead of the new family.

 

From sea to mountain, some beautiful aerial views of Iparralde

The pretty village of Ainhoa, Lapurdi, captured in some stunning video images below. Photo by Harrieta171, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The newspaper Sud-Ouest recently posted the following video of the bay of Donibane Lohizune/Ziburu (Saint-Jean-de-Luz/Ciboure) in winter and we liked it so much we’d  like to share it with you all. Of course, the bay of Donibane Lohizune/Ziburu is one of the most significant points on the Basque map, with its rich maritime history sprinkled with the odd exotic tale of pirates and corsairs.

This got us to thinking that there are so many great visual portraits of the Basque Country out there, so why not include a few more? Who not, indeed!? Moving inland a little, then, here are some great images, from both yesteryear and today, of the hamlet of Dantxaria and the village of Ainhoa, undoubtedly one of the most picturesque corners of our beloved Basque Country. This is borderland country between Lapurdi and Nafarroa (and between France and Spain), the Xareta region, so it once had a reputation for quite a bit of gau lana (night work) – what some people would call smuggling and others a little local entrepreneurship:

Farther east, inland into deep into mountain territory, check out this dramatic portrait of Aldude (Les Aldudes) in Baxe Nafarroa (Nafarroa Beherea, Lower Navarre), the original terrain of so many Basque sheepherders in the American West.

 

Finally we’ll head even more inland, to the Wild East of the Basque Country, the timeless, almost mythical province of Xiberoa (Zuberoa), where the people sing rather than speak Basque!

These two videos are part of a wider collection available here via Xibero Telebista.

If all of this has inspired you to delve more deeply into the wonders of Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, then check out Philippe Veyrin’s classic The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions. And see, too, our very own Sandy Ott’s The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community, a marvelously evocative ethnography that recounts the traditional way of life, and how people tenaciously hold onto it despite the changes taking place all around them, in a small Basque mountain community in Xiberoa.

Basques in their own words: The superstitions of fishermen

Given the importance of the oral tradition in Basque culture, we thought it would be a great idea to examine Basque history through the words of ordinary people whose lives and experiences make up that history.

640px-bateaux_de_peche_de_saint_jean_de_luz_-_panoramio

The port of Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi. Photo by Haukingham, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today we share a cautionary tale of witches, devils, the evil eye, and seafaring superstitions in general, as recounted by Xan Alzate in his marvelous Paroles de pêcheur: Mémoires d’un mousse dans les années 1940 (A fisherman’s words: Memoirs of a cabin boy in the 1940s, 2008). Xan was born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Lapurdi, in 1928. His father, Pantxoa Alzate, was a mechanic at a local fish-canning factory and a sailor while his mother, Maria Chauvel, was a Breton from Morbihan who had come to the town at age sixteen to work in a fish canning factory there.

pecheurs_a_saint-jean-de-luz_pyrenees-atlantiques

Fishermen in Donibane Lohizune, c. late-19th-early-20th century. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In his own words, when he first  to sea (p.26),

I was thirteen and one-half years old, I weighed no more than ninety pounds on rainy days, and if I made it to five feet tall it would have been a big deal. Nevertheless, I did have some assets: indefatigable, a hard worker, sturdy despite my tiny frame, my father had taught me to work hard, [and] I didn’t want to disappoint him.

On meeting his future boss for the first time, the skipper told him he’d be known as Aña, like all cabin boys until they turned twenty (he wouldn’t be called Xan again until after he completed his military service).  And once at sea, he began to learn something about this strange other world, the world of fishermen. According to Xan (pp. 165-66):

They were superstitious. The first or second day—I don’t remember exactly—of my time at sea, I was happily whistling, when someone took my by the ear, shook it slightly, and whispered into it that the wind was big enough to whistle at sea, that it didn’t need any help from me. Don’t whistle anything that may bring on a storm.

I also learned about a few things that brought bad luck, which were forbidden. No rabbit in the billycan. The word “rabbit” was banned on board, replaced by “big ears.” Aña, do you keep any “big ears”? But “rabbit” banned.

Also banned, chestnuts, walnuts. With such nuts on board, we were sure to come back empty-handed, tear the fishing net, or encounter all manner of trouble. It would never occur to them to set sail for the first time on a Friday. Beginning the fishing season on such a day, we could expect the worst kinds of disasters.

I listened, I believed, I trusted them, I respected the traditions. When no fishing was done, when a day unfolded full of incident, they looked at me in strange way, saying loudly: “There’s someone here who sleeps with his mother!” Of course, they said that to have a good laugh.

They loved stories about witches, mysterious tales, they loved anything whimsical. My favorite osaba [uncle] used to tell me dozens of stories; he kept me in suspense right till the end. To finish up, he used to say: “These are true stories, it isn’t fiction, it’s from real life in the old times, people don’t remember any more, my great-amatxi [grandmother] saw all this, it was she who told me.” I wasn’t going to question the word of his great-amatxi.

Those sailors used to see the devil everywhere, they mistrusted the evil eye. Yet they weren’t afraid of anything, they faced up to the elements with a flawless courage, they laughed at life’s ups and downs, they got really angry about any kind of injustice; they forgave, but they didn’t forget.

Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika, is a great introduction for anyone seeking to understand this world. Chapters 13 and 15 deal with Basque fishing while chapters 18 and 19 deal with folklore and mythology, on the one hand, and witchcraft, on the other. This book available free to download here.

This work points out just how important “chance” is to fishermen and how this shapes their worldview. As they observe (pp. 237-38):

there is no cause-and-effect relationship between willingness to work and outcome. Fishermen also believe that there is a gap between the human and the natural orders that cannot be bridged by sheer effort alone. Rather, much depends on chance, a probability that is categorized as luck—“good” or “bad.” Thus, there is a sense that it is the fisherman who, by means of his luck, rather than his dedication, mediates between the two otherwise unbridgeable orders.

In short, they conclude, in the event of the worst eventuality of all, “no luck,” then “superstitious beliefs and practices are the antidotes to the absence of luck. There is an imperative to search out the hidden causes of this void.”

Note: Here the words of one of the great twentieth-century travel writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, in his classic Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966), spring to mind. He is speaking about Greek fishermen, but I think the description is equally applicable to fishermen the world over (pp.118-19):

Humorous, sardonic, self-reliant men live there, lean from their war with the elements, ready to share their wine with any stranger . . . Their life is rigorous to the point of austerity and sometimes of hardship; but there are a hundred things to make it worth wile. There is no trace of depression or wage-slavery in the brine-cured and weather-beaten faces under those threadbare caps. The expression is wary, energetic amused and friendly and their demenour is a marine compound of masculinity, independence and easy-going dignity.

 

December 21, 1946: First broadcast by Radio Euzkadi, the voice of the Basque Underground

radio-euzkadi-f

Established by the Basque government-in-exile and conceived as a means of resistance against the Franco regime, on December 21, 1946, Radio Euzkadi, “the voice of the Basque Underground,” broadcast its first words from Mugerre (Lapurdi). On February 24, 1947, it began broadcasting its first full programs as a means to expose the Franco regime. It lasted eight years, during this initial phase, at its headquarters in Donibane Lohitzune, Iparralde, before pressure from the Franco government–gradually being accepted by the Western powers within the new Cold War context–on its French counterpart forced the closure of the radio station in 1954 by the French authorities. A new incarnation of Radio Euzkadi was created in Venezuela in 1965, which broadcast until 1977.  Click here to listen to the Radio Euzkadi station ID, in Basque, Spanish, and English, recorded in 1969.

Further Reading

Don Jensen, “The Mysterious Radio Euzkadi.”

Xabier Irujo, Expelled from the Motherland.

December 2, 1856: Treaty of Baiona establishes border between North and South Basque Country

568px-euskal_herriko_kolore_mapa

The Basque Country, with Iparralde made up of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea (Lower Navarre), and Zuberoa; and Hegoalde made up of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa Garaia (Upper Navarre or just Navarre). Image by Unai Fdz. de Betoño, based on User:Theklan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On December 2, 1856, the first in a series of four Treaties of Baiona (the others signed in 1862, 1866, and 1868 respectively) fixed the current border between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Spain, and thus between Iparralde and Hegoalde, the North and South Basque Country.  To that time the border was by no means a settled issue, with disagreements on the parts of both countries particularly over where to demarcate boundaries in Catalonia in the east and the Basque Country in the west.

640px-bidasoa_ibaiaren_ahoa

The mouth of the River Bidasoa separating Hendaia (top center) in Lapurdi from Hondarribia (bottom center) and Irun (top right) in Gipuzkoa. Photo by jmerelo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) represented a first attempt to address the matter formally. A treaty ending the long Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659, this agreement was signed on traditional neutral ground: Konpantzia, or Pheasant Island, a small landmass of 73,410 square feet in the River Bidasoa between Hendaia (Lapurdi) and Irun (Gipuzkoa), today jointly administered between the two towns.

640px-isla_de_los_faisanes

Konpantzia, Pheasant Island, the small plot of neutral land between Irun (L) and Hendaia (R). Photo by Ignacio Gavira, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As regards the border, by the 1659 treaty France gained most of Northern Catalonia in the east. In the west, meanwhile, matters were somewhat more complicated due to disagreements over where to establish the frontier exactly between Iparralde and Hegoalde at three critical points: the Xareta district, made up of Ainhoa and Sara in Lapurdi and Urdazubi and Zugarramurdi in Navarre; Aldude, a wedge of terrain in Lower Navarre that cuts geographically into Navarre; and Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), a wedge of terrain in Navarre that cuts geographically into Lower Navarre. While a working boundary was established in these areas, there would clearly have to be more negotiations before arriving at a definitive settlement. In the eighteenth century, further agreements refined the settlement in the east, while as regards the west, the Treaty of Elizondo (1785) fixed the border at both Aldude and Luzaide.

The 1856 Treaty of Baiona definitively established the far western extent of the Franco-Spanish border in the middle of the River Bidasoa’s current at low tide, which in turn demarcated fishing zones and local rights to control passage up and down the river. Moreover, the so-called Kintoa district (Le Pays Quint in French; Quinto Real in Spanish)–an area of grazing land between the two Navarres that had historically been hotly and sometimes bloodily disputed–was officially ceded to the Spanish Kingdom but would be administered by the French Republic: in other words, the land would be owned by the former but leased perpetually to the latter. Today, its approximately 30 inhabitants are French citizens by default but have the right to dual Franco-Spanish citizenship. Public education and health services are provided by the French Republic and they  pay income tax in France but they must pay property taxes in Spain. The postal and utilities services are French but policing is controlled by the Spanish Civil Guard.

675px-esnazu1

The Esnazu district of Aldude, showing some of the grazing pastures in this borderland area. Photo by Patrick.charpiat, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In sum, the 1856 treaty brought with it a definitive settlement of sorts regarding the border between the two countries. A total of 602 markers mark the division along the length of the border, from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, with marker no. 1 in the River Bidasoa. Border and customs posts were also more formally established in the wake of the four treaties as a whole, which in itself led to a growth in gau lana (night work) or the lucrative smuggling trade that was, until comparatively recently, such a feature of Basque culture in these borderland areas. More recent developments have included the transfer of a small plot of land (just under 30,000 square feet) in 1984 between the two countries as part of the construction project to build a road linking the Erronkari Valley in Navarre to Arrete (French)/Areta (Occitan)/Ereta (Basque) in Bearn; and the entry into force of the European Union’s Schengen Agreement (1995), by which border controls for people and goods were abolished and freedom of movement across the border ensured.

675px-mandale-borne8

International border marker no. 8 between Bera (Vera de Bidasoa) in Navarre and Biriatu (Biriatou) in Lapurdi. Photo by Pymouss44, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For many obvious reasons the muga or border exercises a powerful influence on the Basque imagination. Clearly, it has acted as a barrier to greater unity among Basques, but equally one could argue that its very existence has served to bring Basques together in numerous ways as a challenge to overcome.

Further Reading

Robert Laxalt, A Cup of Tea in Pamplona. This absorbing action-packed tale is an evocative portrait of the world of Basque smuggling in 1960s, and the importance of the border in Basque culture, as portrayed by the great Basque-American storyteller Robert Laxalt.

Zoe Bray, Living Boundaries: Frontiers and Identity in the Basque Country. This work explores how the international border shapes Basque identity on both sides of the frontier.

Aitzpea Leizaola, “Mugarik ez! Subverting the Border in the Basque Country,” in Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology 30, no. 2 (2000): 35-46. This article explores the multiple ways in which the international border that cuts through the Basque Country is still very much a contested site.

Older posts