On the evening of August 12, 1912, as they were accustomed to doing every day, the fishermen of several ports along the Bizkaian coast set out in small 40-50 feet boats to fish in the waters close to their homes. This was a form of coastal rather than deep-sea fishing, a typical Basque practice and one intimately linked to the traditional culture of Basque fishing communities as a whole. It had been a mild day with a warming southerly wind, but all of a sudden, as the evening drifted into night, there was a dramatic change, and a cold northerly wind came in from an area of low pressure in the far North Atlantic, around Iceland: an unprecedented phenomenon for that time of year. The air temperature fell dramatically, and the sea became increasingly more squally.
At the time a number of these boats were approximately 45-50 miles off of the Bizkaian coast. This would have been just about the moment they were thinking of returning to port with their evening catch, but instead they got caught up in the storm, which carried on ferociously all night and into the morning of August 13. The boats could not cope with such appalling conditions and many sank.
On shore, people realized that their loved ones and neighbors were in danger, and an appeal was made to send out rescue launches, but between the terrible conditions at sea and the time it was taking to alert the authorities in Bilbao, help was not immediately forthcoming.
In total, there were 143 recorded deaths, most of them fishermen from Bermeo, but including others from Lekeitio, Elantxobe, and Ondarroa. A memorial service was held for all the dead on August 23 in Bermeo, to which King Alfonso XIII also came.
The tragedy marked a watershed moment in fishing practices and techniques in the Bay of Biscay.
Check out the following two-part video about the tragedy, recreating life in fishing communities at the time (in Basque):
It is hard to believe I am finally here in the Basque Country. I’m tempted to say that I’ve waited a long time to get here to Euskalherria to start my fieldwork, but that wouldn’t be a completely accurate statement. I could even say with some certainty that this year’s work and life in the Basque Country will represent both a reduction and culmination of my life’s interests and experiences, however, that would be limiting to the extensions of those same interests which lead me here: languages, culture, wine, travel, food, diversity, and making connections with people around the world. So, before sharing the amazing experiences I’ve already had while studying here, I would like to highlight those which were had before my arrival to the Basque Country this January.
Knowing I would be conducting fieldwork here for a whole year, I wanted to take advantage of the time and opportunity to travel to South America with my father. In 2014, I spent an amazing time learning about the production and wine-making process in Casablanca, Chile. With so much Basque heritage there, I was delighted to discover that the Basque diaspora still held its roots firmly planted in this South American country. Finding the popular Basque wine called Chacoli was an adventure I won’t forget (see previous blog to read more about Chacoli in South America), discovering the ways in which a culture can change and be maintained across the globe. But before returning to Chile, my dad and I checked out some Basque culture in Argentina.
I had come to know of a Basque restaurant from a man who had wandered into the Center for Basque Studies before my departure. He told me about his family and how one of them had started a restaurant in Buenos Aires. I mentioned I’d be heading there soon, so he gave me the information to find Leiketio. The food and drink which combined aspects of both Basque and Latin American cuisine were amazing. However, the most satisfying part of the meal was being able to use the little Basque I had acquired from the previous summer to speak to a server who had recently moved from the Basque Country.
My second encounter with Basque culture in South America happened after my dad had returned to the US, and I had moved on for my second visit to Chile. I was in the beautiful, historic town of Valparaiso, listening to music and enjoying the warmer weather when a couple had passed me speaking Basque. I started talking to them and found out they were the band Niña Coyote and Chico Tornado (and very well known I might add in the Basque Country! See below for a clip of their music). Also turns out the family of one of the members lived on the same street that I currently live now here in Euskalherria!
Just goes to show that si, el mundo es un pañuelo! Hau bai mundu txikia! It’s a small world!
I hope to keep making these cross-cultural connections over the next year here. Stay tuned for more adventures in fieldwork from here in Euskalherria!
The Provincial Council of Bizkaia has just announced a major new find of possibly 14,000-year-old rock engravings in Lekeitio. Remarkably, these engravings, which total about 50 in all, have been discovered within the town of Lekeitio itself, approximately 165 feet deep into the Armintxe cave well-known to local residents. The discovery was made in May this year by the ADES speleology team from Gernika and the Agiri archaeological association from Kortezubi, and follows another major find this year in the Atxurra caves near Berriatua, Bizkaia, which we covered in an earlier post here.
These images depict, among other things, 18 horses, 5 goats, and 2 bison. Aside from the striking clarity of the representations the find is also significant in that the engravings also include 2 lions – a completely new feature of paleolithic art discovered to date in the Cantabrian region. Alongside the animals there are also semicircles and lines making up calviform or club-shaped features, the first example of this type found within the Iberian Peninsula itself and more reminiscent of shapes found in the world famous caves of the Pyrenees.
The engravings are of an exceptional quality and experts speculate they were made using a novel technique of carving by means of dragging the carving instrument along the rock and hoisting up at the last moment to create a groove in the surface, creating a kind of scaling effect. There is still some doubt as to their exact age, with suggestions dating the find somewhere between 12,000 and 14,500 years. But whatever the case, this would appear to be a significant discovery. Check out the video below highlighting this amazing discovery!
Check out more on the story here.