nexkatoa & bolanta

The Cavalcade of Benafarroa

by Lisa Corcostegui

Presented to Zenbat Gara Euskal Bazkundea, UNR 5/1/95


  The Cavalcade is a manifestation of Basque folklore in the province of Benafarroa. I say Benafarroa because this event is most characteristic of this province, however, Luzaide which lies in Nafarroa shares the same tradition. Due to geographical proximity, Luzaide is culturally and linguistically more similar to Benafarroa. Luzaide is the only town in Nafarroa that has consistently maintained the tradition of the Cavalcade, and is often used as a point of reference when discussing this event that is characterized as belonging to Benafarroa.

The word Cavalcade is of French origin; it means procession. As in other carnival processions from neighboring areas, there is a variety of characters who participate. In this case the most important are the "bolantak". I will describe them in detail a little later.

While the cavalcades of Izpura, Bidarrai, Baigorri, and Donibane Garazi among others were all very important celebrations, after the ebb they experienced after second World War, they have never fully recuperated their splendor. Since then they have not always been celebrated consistently or fully with all their characters and traditional elements.

Upon discussing the cavalcade and bolantak, it is imperative to mention the name of Faustin Bentaberry (1865-1936) from Izpura. The traditions of Benafarroa have lived on in great part due to his documentation of these dances and traditions. 80 to 90% of the melodies and dances from Benafarroa that have been preserved are attributed to his work. He is considered the greatest master ever of Jauziak and also played the violin and clarinet to accompany the dancers. His nephew, also named Faustin Bentaberry , but from Huart-Cize has also been instrumental in the preservation of these traditions.

Around the Epiphany (Jan. 6) the young people from a particular town get together to assign the roles that will be carried out during the cavalcade. In the past, the cavalcade was held on the Sunday of Mardi Gras, but has been moved to Easter Sunday (Bazko-zahar). This day has also become known as Bolant Eguna. At one time it was held on both of the mentioned dates.

Although this event now takes place after carnival, it is still considered a manifestation of Ihauteria (Basque carnival or Mardigras). It differs from other ihauteriak in at least two aspects: 1) the absence of masks or disguises, and 2) instead of the chaos and informality prevailing, this event takes the form of structured military procession.

The order of the procession is as follows:

Photo courtesy of Jean Escoz

Photo Courtesy of Jean Escoz


These characters ride on horses. They collect food and other donations. They wear red military jackets and carry riding whips. They are in charge of crowd control. The number of zaldizkoak varies.


This character is dressed similar to a drum major and twirls a baton while dancing to a special melody.


The number of these characters varies. The presence of zapurrak is an influence of the French army. They wear tall hats covered with black wool with mirrors on the front, leather aprons, and carry wooden axes over their shoulders. According to Juan Antonio Urbeltz, the origin of this character is the "basa jauna" of Basque mythology.


These giants are both female and are usually frail blonds. Their clothing has changed over the years from elaborate "belle epoque" dresses to white dresses with a red band and a red txapela. The are around two to three meters tall and are lightweight.


There are usually two young men who carry the flags (ikurrina and Luzaide, etc.)


These are the treasurers of the procession. They carry bags in which they collect money. They are in charge of paying the musicians and making sure they are attended to. They carry wooden swords. They serve more or less the same function as the Besta Gorri in Lapurdi.


The girls who later dance the contradances and Madari dantza with the bolantak are a recent addition to the procession. They are not present in some places.


pecheraThey dress in white. They wear starched white shirts with gold chains and buttonsxingolak adorning the shirtfront. Multicolored ribbons stream down their backs from the shoulder to the back of the knee. They wear a silk scarf around the back of their necks of which the ends are tucked into the front of the pants like suspenders. They wear white gloves and carry a short stick wrapped in ribbons. Their pants are decorated with ribbons and bells or kuxkulak, as are their shoes which may also be embroidered. The headdress of the bolantak has undergone changes over the years. Juan Antonio Urbeltz states that until 1922 they wore kaskak (Urbeltz 1978:211). Kaskak styles varied from place to place. Some were nearly two feet tall and had ribbons attached to the back, in some cases substituting the ones on the dancer's back, in others in addition to the other ribbons. These kaskak also had a mirror on the front and were decorated with artificial flowers and feathers. kaskaIn other places the kaskak were round like a crown and topped with flowers. This type of kaska was often made of cardboard and decorated with metallic trim. They were most often confectioned by the dancer's sister or girlfriend. These two types of kaskak I have just described are becoming less and less frequently seen. Once in a while they show up again when someone in the town is willing to make them. The most common headdress now, however, is a red txapela decorated with gold trim, and with pompons hanging down to one side or the other. The other more characteristic types are fading from the collective memory of the Basque people.

The bolantak form two lines and their number varies. In the case of an odd number, the one who is left without a partner dances between the last two at the end. Bolantak were traditionally young unmarried men.


The musicians occupy the last position of the procession. For seventy years or so there have been about seven different instruments collectively known as fanfarre.

In addition to these characters, there are several more who have more or less disappeared over the years. They are:


These were boys dressed as women. In some versions they were wild women dressed raggedly and in others they dressed more elegantly. In both versions, however their faces were covered with some sort of veil. They occupied the spot that the nexkatoak take now.


A bertsolari who accompanied the musicians. He improvised verses from time to time between dances often using the antics of the participants as inspiration.


These two young men are similar to the jaun anderea of Lapurdi and Zuberoa; the lord and the lady with the exception that these rode horses. These characters would be at the head of the procession.


These were raggedy characters similar to the beltzak of Zuberoako maskarada. They dance and jump around chaotically.

Among these characters we find the "axe eta tupiña". One of these characters represents a fox and wears a tail. They are both raggedly dressed and covered with hawthorn branches. At the end of the festivities the audience is invited to attack these characters and try to steal the fox's tail. This may be a version of the typical sacrifice made during other ihauteriak, such as the burning of the giant Miel Otxin in Lantz. The exception here is that these two figures are equipped with whips and fight back.  Axe eta Tupina

Many dances that we see in the cavalcade are the same ones traditionally done on a Sunday afternoon in the plaza. The order of the dances performed within the cavalcade are as follows:


This consists of two parts. One is danced the other consists of marching. We refer to this as Baxenafarroako Martxa. This is used to go from place to place in the town.


According to Sagaseta this is danced to a slower rhythm and in a dignified manner. This dance is done to "take the plaza" and to get into position.


There are varying melodies and choreographies. This is considered as a kind of "coda" to Bolant Dantza. Sagaseta remarks that this is danced to a much more vigorous rhythm and unlike Bolant dantza, the dancers all start on the same foot.


This genre of dance is also known as muxikoak in other places. There are many different melodies and choreographies. Zenbat Gara currently does "Ostalerrak". In 1977 in his Bailes de Valcarlos, Sagaseta states that,

Traditionally jauzis like the bolant dantzak are only danced by men andwomen have never been permitted to dance them in public, although the truth is that more than a few of them know them as well as the men. (35, my translation)

These dances are performed in a circle, always beginning in a counter-clockwise fashion with the outside foot. Sagaseta states,

The dancer maintains a dignified and serious appearance with controlled inner joy. His greatest effort and satisfaction lie in executing each step with perfection and great enthusiasm (35, my translation).

He also notes that over the years these dances have come to be performed faster and faster and have lost some of their dignity. He attributes the faster pace to the poorer skills of the dancers, restating the known fact, that the less skill a dancer has, the faster he prefers to dance in order to blur the steps. Shorter jauziak are referred to as SEGIDAK and are often added as a coda to a longer one.


This is where the makilari dances by himself twirling and tossing his baton. The melody can vary.


madariaIn Luzaide this dance is referred to as "Madari dantza" (Pear dance). Women have traditionally participated in this dance along with men. This is a manifestation of community unity. Each participant is linked to the next with a handkerchief. The men occupying the first and last positions of the chain carry a "pear tree", tree branch or other agricultural symbol representing fertility. The turns executed by the first and last dancer have been interpreted by Juan Antonio Urbeltz as a metaphor in which members of the community as pearls on a string are held together by these knots formed by the turns.


Zenbat Gara 1995 - Kontra IantzaThese are borrowed social dances that were adopted in other areas of Europe as well. In Luzaide and Benafarroa, however, they have acquired their own personality. According to Sagaseta, the young people had at one point lost interest in these kontra-iantzak or polkak. They considered them old people dances and they were only done at an occasional wedding by older people. In 1967, however, a group of these young people decided to resurrect this part of the festivities. Since then they have been reintegrated.

These dances were traditionally only danced at the public dance held after the cavalcade, but now are often incorporated as a performance dance. They are usually performed by dancers other than the bolantak, since these dances have no ritual significance, however, upon the addition of the nexkatoak, they are now sometimes performed by bolantak.


These are dantza jokuak or game dances. The are not performed as part of the cavalcade, but do form part of the folk dance of Benafarroa. They are usually danced in taverns and gathering places for entertainment. These dances also alleviate the monotony of communal tasks such as corn-husking usually done on winter evenings. (Argi-iantza, aulki-iantza, etc.)

As I mentioned above, this procession takes place on Bazko-Zahar. There are two other important events in Benafarroa that share some of the same elements. One is Corpus Christi, the other the Tobera-Mustra. I would like to examine the latter in brief detail. The tobera-mustra can be held at any time there is a need for the public humiliation of a wrong-doer. Now these are seldom held except for the sake of maintaining the tradition. When a citizen of a given town committed a morally questionable act, the townspeople would stage a mock trial to condemn him or her. A stage was set up in the town square and actors would take on the role of that person and disguise themselves accordingly. The "crimes" of these people included the marriage of an old man to a girl far younger, a widow who remarried too soon, and husband beating. The perpetrators of these offenses usually stayed locked up in their houses in shame as the trial took place. A procession of a judge, bailiff, bolantak, gorriak, and others entered the plaza. The judge would announce the offense, and the trial would begin. At a certain point, the judge would announce that he needed a messenger to go for more evidence. This was a pretext that allowed the bolantak to enter the stage and dance to entertain the crowd. At the end, the defendant was condemned and often was made to ride a donkey in shame. The characters and the procession are very similar to that of a cavalcade. The Tobera mustra, however, is not held on Bazko-zahar or Bolant Eguna. It is a separate event held only when necessary.

Now that we have examined the details of the cavalcade and its participants, we must somehow interpret this phenomenon. First, many similarities to other carnival processions are evident. The bolantak bear a striking resemblance to the kaskarotak of Lapurdi. Their dress is very similar and the flowers that dominate suggest a link to ancient spring rituals. They both have also been compared to the English Morris dancers who perform spring rituals. In addition, they share a common formation; two lines and many of the dances are similar. The gorriak of Benafarroa are almost a mirror image of the Besta Gorri of Lapurdi. Certain elements of the cavalcade also appear in the maskarada of Zuberoa, specifically, the presence of the "maskak" who are the counterparts of the "beltzak". The presence of "axe eta tupiña" remind us of sacrificial characters like Miel Otxin of Lanz, who must lose his life so that winter may end. These comparisons lead us to the conclusion that the cavalcade is essentially a spring ritual. We are almost certainly correct in this. However, there is another element that does not fit neatly into this category; that is the military element. Many of the characters wear military uniforms. They also arrange themselves in a militaristic hierarchy in the procession. The zapurrak wear headdresses and uniforms common to some members of the French army. While Basque communities did not have formal armies, they were organized into militias for centuries. A certain military element could have, therefore coexisted with an ancient spring ritual. As history passed, elements of the French army may have crept into the Basque tradition. If indeed Urbeltz is correct in his interpretation of the Zapurra as Basa Jauna, at some point these traditions melded together. What began as a spring ritual was embellished and structured by a military influence of a later origin.

While archeology looks at the different levels of remains of a people layer by layer, it is impossible for us to examine our folklore in the same manner. Instead of isolated layers of culture being superimposed on one another, some elements of folklore filter down from ancient times to the present, often bringing with them diverse elements from other historical moments that have stuck to them on the way to the present. The cavalcade of Benafarroa is an excellent illustration of this process. While observing this event taking place in the present, we are actually experiencing elements that have accumulated over the centuries of our collective past.


 Addendum August 2000:

Buffalo, Wyoming residents Simon Harriet (originally from Arnegi) and Jean Escoz, Sr. (originally from Luzaide) both participated in the cavalcade in Euskalherria as bolantak. They told me in August of 2000 that the ribbons worn on the bolanta’s back are called "xingolak." They also confirmed something that Ane Albisu of Argia had told us in 1991; that is that the bolantak used to borrow brooches and possibly other jewelry from women to decorate the "pecheras" on the front of their shirts. Jean referred to part of this jewelry as "brazaletak." Jean also added that they borrowed the scarves, as well. Simon said the bolantak danced a couple times a year. Jean said that one of the dates was Andre Mari on August 15, and the other was at the beginning of January.



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Copyright © 1995 Lisa M.Corcostegui