Midway between the Bay of Biscay
and the capital city of Nafarroa, Iruna (Pamplona), in the heart of the
northern Basque speaking region lies the valley of San Esteban of Lerin.
Its three largest towns are Doneztebe (Santesteban), Ituren and Zubieta.
It is in these last two towns that the inhabitants still regularly
celebrate the age-old ritual of carnival with the impressive exhibition
of the Joaldunak. For two days a year they march clanging
their bells. But why?
honest, even the people who participate in this ritual ancient ritual
aren't sure how and why it started for certain, because over the
centuries the connection to its origins grew thinner. Most agree,
however, that the ritual derived from an effort
to "purify" their communities. But to
get rid of what exactly? That's where there is more debate.
The Basque Carnival
The Winter Solstice on either the 21st or 22nd of December is the
shortest day of the year (least sunlight) in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is in the midst of these short days that the Basques celebrate the
Inauteria (Ihauteria) or carnival. An aspect of this season
remains inextricably bound to meat in the Basque country. It is
during this season that the Basque baserritarrak (farmers) butcher their
pigs in order to make lukainkak (chorizo or sausage), odolkiak
(morcillas or blood sausage); xolomoa (pork steaks), and those
perennial delicacies of pig's feet and ears!
The connection with this meat ritual is most apparent when we look at the root of the term
carnival or carne (meat). But unlike most other European
carnival celebration, it does not seem that the Basque version
originated with the "carne" as the central element.
The Basque term for carnival is
inauteria or ihauteria which informs us a clue as to the
original Basque perception of
this season. Gorka Aulestia's Basque-English Dictionary defines
the root inau in relation to pruning. Jose Dueso argues that
the root of the term goes
deeper than defining just an agricultural process. He translates inaute
as sickness, vice or negativity. Similarly, Juan Antonio Urbeltz also writes
about the significance of
words with Inauteri
and Aratuste, both meaning "the time of pruning" that references
the tasks carried out in
the month of February before the arrival of Spring. But why the
pruning? Urbeltz points out it was done to at least try and
minimize the arrival of damaging insects that would emerge. These
activities, which possibly date from the Neolithic period, clean the
trees and fields of insect larvae which are dormant but will soon come
Thus during the carnival
season, there are still no insects but only larval that are left on
branches to emerge in the springtime. Prune back the branches and you
are able to remove much of the larvae that was left behind.
Juan Antonio Urbeltz has played a leading role in the world of Basque dance and
culture for a generation, and his mark is clearly visible today,
specifically in bringing about a profound change in how Basque dance
groups think about dance and how they now present it. His
experience and teachings provide us a unique opportunity to look into
the world of folk dance to learn something more about the Basque people. He has played a
pivotal--if not the central role--in a virtual revolution in the world
of Basque dance: how it is prepared, portrayed, presented and
To read the
entire article that explores the connection between magic and
Basque folk dance, click on:
J.A. Urbeltz: The Meaning of
Urbeltz's theory of the Basque
carnival's origins explores the correlation between the Basque words
for "disguise" and "insect." He notes that the
Basque words for
"disguise," zomorro, mozorro,
koko, orro, mumua, etc., also mean "insect."
He infers that the original origins of the costumes was to
i.e., people "became" insects.
This is consistent in a world of magic which characterized earlier
worldviews. A parallel is the Native American "Buffalo Dance" were
the person/performer "becomes" the buffalo. Urbeltz argues that
"the disguises replace the spring insects which must be warded off.
The exorcising of the insects," Urbeltza notes, "is seen when
disguised callers go from house to house and are given offerings of
money, wine or bacon. This means that the insects have received their
payment, and will not be able to come begging a second time."
From this perspective,
carnival characters such as the
Joaldunak from the villages of
Ituren and Zubieta are magical protection against these insects: "their
weapons are a horsetail used as an aspergillum (holy water sprinkler)
and great cowbells." Just as a horse uses its tail to ward off
flies, the same function is performed by the cowbell, and it is the
cowbells that distinguishes the Joaldunak.
The inhabitants of Ituren and Zubieta have sustained a unique Basque
carnival tradition. Until recently, it was almost unknown outside
of the locale; nowadays they have "taken it on the road" so to speak and
there have been efforts to replicate this by other groups. The
focus of this carnival celebration are the Joaldunak. In Ituren
they are dressed in a traditional peasant outfit: a simple shirt, blue
pants that are tucked into the galtzerdiak or socks, and the rubber
zatazak (originally leather). Around their waist the
performers wear a white skirt, decorated with red or blue laces, that
reaches the knees. Atop their shoulders, sown past the waist, they
wear a coat of natural wool. Midway down the back, two small bells
are attached, and then the two large bells are tightly fastened around
the waist so that they stand out almost perpendicular in order to make
them ring more easily. Around the neck they wear a colored scarf;
atop their head they wear a two foot tall ttuntturoroa or
cone-shaped hat decorated with laces and chicken feathers. In
their right hand they carry the isopua, a short engraved stick to which
is attached a portion of a horse's tale. One of the most important
parts of the carnival, the mask, is no longer utilized. In an
earlier time they wore a piece of black material that covered their
faces down to their chests. The outfit of the Joaldunak of Zubieta
is the same, except that they do not wear wool atop the shoulders but
only around the torso.
Joaldunak is only one name for these processing characters.
The word is descriptive of their task: the root of the term io or jo
mean in Basque means to hit or play. Joaladunak therefore implies
those who play or hit, in this specific case those who play the bells. The
performers are also known by other names,
such as ttuntturroak (from their hats) and Zanpantzar (from the
medieval carnival character of the French saint Pansard). Theirs is
a two-day ritual. Performers from both towns join together to take
turns in the "purifying" ritual: so on
one day they "purify" Ituren and the second day Zubieta.
The people of Ituren and Zubieta
who maintain this annual tradition deserve credit for keeping this
age-old ritual alive. So they might not be certain to the exact
origins of the purifying ritual, but then again we are not sure about
the origins of Euskara--the Basque language. Nevertheless, its
worthwhile to keep it going and to sustain a particular community in a
ritual that can bind them together.
outfit of the Joaldunak from Ituren & Zubieta is almost the same
except that those of Zubieta do not wear wool atop the shoulders
but only around the torso.
Usually the last weekend of January
participants from both towns join together to take turn working
their "magic" is the recreation of age-old ritual.
To view video
clips click on
2009 celebration or
de Ituren y Zubieta Navarra Directo where you'll find more