Buber’s Basque Story: Part 28

“Bai,” replied Ainhoa. “Zer nahi duzue?”

Maite looked at Kepa with uncertain eyes before returning her gaze to Ainhoa. “Ummm,” she began. “Actually, I was hoping to talk to Marina.”

“Nor?” asked Ainhoa when suddenly her eyes flashed, changing from Ainhoa’s dark brown to the green they recognized from their earlier encounter with Marina.

“Marina?” asked Kepa.

“Bai,” replied Marina with a smile. “I guess the zatiak I gave you also let you call me to you. Provided, of course, there is a vessel nearby.”

“Is that all Ainhoa is to you, your vessel?” asked Maite. “That’s a bit cold, isn’t it?”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Marina shrugged. “I know she is more than that. When I possess her, I know everything about her — her hopes and dreams, her lusts and passions, her fears and anxieties. I know her through and through. But, what else should I call her? Call all of the kinswomen that I possess?”

“I guess vessel — ontzi — is as good as anything,” replied Maite. “Anyways, what happens next? How do we know when to help you, where to go?”

Marina paused for a moment, a look of concentration on her face. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure. It’s not like I’ve given the zatiak to anyone before. I’m not quite sure what to expect. But, I suspect the zatiak will be the key, they will guide you and transport you where you need to go.”

“Seriously?” asked Maite, clearly frustrated. “You ask us to help, but you don’t have any clue how this will happen?”

“Begira,” replied Marina. “Look, I don’t know half of what is going on, I’m learning as I go. It isn’t like I created the zatiak, at least not on purpose, and I don’t know exactly what giving them to you means. I just know it was the right thing to do.” She took Maite’s hand. “I’m just doing the best I can. I need you to trust me and to help me figure this all out. Otherwise de Lancre…”

“Yeah, I know, badakit. De Lancre will control all of the magic and rule the world.” She sighed. “I just wish we had more to go on.”

“I do too,” replied Marina. “I really wish I could tell you more. But, I simply don’t know. For now, go on your trip, do your interview. When the time is right, I think the zatiak will show you the way.”

Maite looked at Kepa, who shrugged. “What else can we do? We can’t just sit here, waiting for something to happen.”

“Fine,” said Maite, resignation clear in her voice. “I just hope I don’t end up regretting this.”

Marina smiled. “Oh, I expect you will, at least a few times. But, I also think you will find this journey fascinating.”

Basque Fact of the Week: Mikel Jokin Eleizegi Arteaga, the Basque Giant

Men and women who are exceptionally tall, who stand out in a crowd, who literally tower over the rest of us, certainly draw our attention. They fascinate us. Often, they become entertainers — André the Giant parlayed his size first in professional wrestling and then acting. Today, people of unusual height, particularly in basketball, use it to achieve success — think Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley, and Yao Ming, who all measured 7 feet 6 inches or greater. But, back in the 1800s, such opportunities were lacking. People who stood out, literally, became curiosities, touring as part of so-called “freak” shows. Such was the fate of Mikel Jokin Eleizegi Arteaga, the Basque Giant.

Portrait of Joaquín Eleisegui, woodcut by Pablo Alabern. Inscription: «THE INCOMPARABLE SPANISH GIANT MR. JOAQUÍN DE ELEISEGUI”. National Library of Spain. Photo from Wikipedia. To the left is his father and to the right his brother.
  • Mikel, known as the Giant of Alzo (Altzo in Basque), was born on July 10, 1818, in the baserri Ipintza-zar in the town of Altzo, in Gipuzkoa, just outside of Tolosa and about 20 miles south of Donostia. He died on November 20, 1861 at the age of 43.
  • Mikel was the largest person in Europe during his time. He was 7 feet 5 inches (2.27 meters) tall and had a wing span (length from fingertip to fingertip) of 7 feet 11 inches (2.42 meters). At his largest, he weighed 467 pounds or 212 kilograms.
  • During his lifetime, Mikel became a celebrity due to his enormous stature. After being discovered by José Antonio Arzadun of Lecumberri, Nafarroa, he became part of Arzadun’s traveling exhibit, touring Europe with his first stop being in Bilbao. His contract, signed in 1843, stipulated that Mikel would be allowed to go to mass every day, no matter where he was, and that all of Mikel’s tobacco would be paid for). At the height of his celebrity, Mikel met with four kings and queens: Isabel II of Spain, Luis Felipe I of France, María de la Gloria of Portugal, and Victoria I of the United Kingdom.
  • A businessman, who saw a potential sensation, arranged for Mikel to meet a giantess from England and asked if they would like to get married. The woman immediately said yes, but Mikel responded, saying to his father who was with him “Aita guazen Altzo-ra” (Aita, let’s go back to Altzo).
  • Like many who grow to such large sizes, Mikel suffered from acromegaly, or gigantism. André the Giant and Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch on The Addams Family, also suffered from the same disease.
  • Upon his death, he was buried in Altzo, but there was always a suspicion that his body had been dug up by either curious scientist or grave robbers, speculation fueled by the movie Handia (Giant), a fictionalization of Mikel’s life. However, in an excavation conducted in 2020, his bones were found exactly where they were supposed to be.

Primary sources: ELEICEGUI, Miguel Joaquín. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/eleicegui-miguel-joaquin/ar-37804/; Wikipedia; Donostia International Physics Center.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 27

It was late at night. Kepa and Maite sat together on a bench in the town’s plaza. Koldo, Itxaso, Xanti, and Ainhoa had pulled up chairs from the tables at the Herriko Taberna. Kepa took a sip of his kalimotxo.

“When do you leave for the States?” asked Itxaso. While Kepa and Maite saw Koldo all the time, they hadn’t seen his sister or her boyfriend since the concert. Itxaso seemed even more excited about their upcoming trip than they were. “It must be so exciting! I’ve never been outside of the Basque Country. Ok, I guess I’ve been to other parts of Spain. And there was that one trip to Paris. But still, America? It sounds so big! What are you going to do? Do you have everything planned?”

Kepa chuckled. “Hold on there! One question at a time.” He held up his glass. “I’ve had a little too much to keep track of all of your questions. We leave next weekend. We’re going to New York, where Maite has a distant cousin. And then to California. After Maite’s interview, we’ll be seeing my cousin and then driving south. We haven’t figured out everything yet, but we for sure want to see the Grand Canyon and Hollywood.”

Itxaso sighed. “Hollywood.” She looked at Xanti. “We have to go!”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“What?” replied Xanti, a look of horror crossing his face. “There’s no way I can arrange time off by next week.”

Itxaso gave him a playful punch in the arm. “Not now, txoriburu,” she teased. “But soon! I bet there are movie stars everywhere. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Hugh Jackman? Or Nicole Kidman?”

Ainhoa let out a small cough. “You do know that both of them are Australian, right? They probably don’t even live in the United States.”

Itxaso simply shrugged. “Whatever. I’m sure there is someone worth seeing.” She turned back to Kepa and Maite. “You’ll tell me everyone you saw when you get back, right?”

“Noski,” replied Maite. “Of course. I can’t imagine a better use of our time.”

“Anyways,” interrupted Koldo, changing the subject as he raised his glass. “Good luck with the interview, Maite. I’m sure you’ll make us proud.”

The others also raised their glasses, clinking them together before each taking a sip. “Eskerrik asko, Koldo.”

“Sorry to be the killjoy,” said Xanti as he stood, “but I’ve got to work tomorrow. I’m going to head home and get some sleep.” He gave Itxaso a kiss on the cheek. “See you tomorrow evening?”

“Bai,” she said, her smile beaming.

“Have fun,” said Xanti to Kepa and Maite, waving as he walked away.

“I have to go to,” said Koldo. “Sorry to bail on you guys, but I’ve got to make some calls to arrange our next gig, check out spaces, all of that.” He looked at Itxaso. “You ready?”

She nodded as she took a last sip from her glass and put it on a nearby table. “Let me know when you’re back,” she said to Kepa and Maite. “I want to know everything!”

Kepa laughed as Itxaso and Koldo headed up the road to where Koldo’s car was parked.

Ainhoa also stood. “It was good getting to know you guys a little better,” she said. “See you when you get back.”

“Ainhoa, itxaron mesedez,” said Maite, reaching out to grab Ainhoa’s hand. “Please wait. Can we talk a moment?” 

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Peppers

I hate peppers. They smell nasty when they are cooking and they taste vile. My dad had literally hundreds of pepper plants in his garden. He would always give me a hard time when I ate his homemade chorizo, which I loved, saying how could I like those when they had peppers in them? When I was a kid, the kitchen was often filled with the smells of txoritxero peppers being cooked by the platefuls, particularly when friends were over. Though I didn’t like them, my dad ate them like candy. My mom and him would fry them in olive oil, garlic and salt, and then cook their French fries in the leftover oil (I preferred their eggs in the chorizo grease…) Regardless of how I feel about them, peppers are certainly a key ingredient in Basque cuisine.

My daughter and me eating fried peppers in the restaurant just outside of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. These were actually padrón peppers, from Galicia. Photo by my wife, Lisa Van De Graaff.
  • Peppers are, of course, not native to Europe. They are native to the Americas, particularly Mexico, Central America, and the northern part of South America. However, in 1493, the Spanish took seeds back to Europe and from there they spread across the continent and, indeed, the rest of the world. Today, China is the world’s largest producer of both bell and chili peppers.
  • As peppers spread and were planted in different parts of the world, they evolved, with tastes that became particular to each local region. This is just as true of the Basque Country as anywhere else. The particular climate has led to at least six varieties of peppers unique to the Basque Country: Paprika Anglet from Lapurdi, Le Piment d’Espelette also from Lapurdi, the Gernika pepper from Bizkaia, the Guindillas Tolosa from Gipuzkoa, and two varieties from Nafarroa: the Piquillo Lodosa and Cornicabra, or Goat’s Horn.
  • Perhaps the most famous Basque pepper variety is that of Espelette. This variety, granted a “protected designation of origin” in 2002, is cultivated in various places around the village of Ezpeleta, where ristras of drying Espelette peppers can be found hanging from rafters of many of the houses. A relatively mild pepper (though hot compared to other Basque varieties), it is used to make Bayonne ham, amongst other things. There is even a site dedicated to this pepper. This pepper is often dried and used to season foods.
  • The peppers my dad grew were the choricero (txorixero or, the way I heard him say it, txoritxero) or Gernika peppers. When green, they are often fried in oil and salted, served as an appetizer before the main meal. Or, allowed to ripen further until they turn red, they are used in a number of dishes in Bizkaia, including bacalao a la vizcaína. As with Espelette peppers, they can also be dried out and used as seasoning. And, of course, they are a key ingredient in chorizo!
  • Piquillo peppers are traditionally grown in the town of Lodosa in Nafarroa. The piquillo is a sweet pepper and is much meatier than the others, making it ideal for stuffing with cheese, seafood, or actual meat. They are sold roasted and peeled in tins.
  • In the roughly 600 hundred years since they were introduced, peppers have become an integral part of Basque cuisine. And, now, I live in a place — New Mexico — where chiles are also central to food. I can’t escape the peppers!

Thanks to Lisa Van De Graaff for the photo and inspiration for this post.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 26

“Ok, Marina,” said Maite as she and Kepa walked back to their mysterious new friend, hand in hand. “What now?”

“Are you going to help me?” asked Marina warily.

“Bai, noski!” answered Kepa, the excitement clear in his voice. “Tell us what we need to do.”

“Eskerrik asko!” replied Marina, a smile dancing on her lips. “I hoped I could count on you two. And, to be honest, I don’t know what I’d do if you’d said no.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Come back and ask again?” said Maite. “How do we know you haven’t asked us a hundred times already, if we would just forget if you were here before?”

“Yeah, like that movie, Groundhog Day!” exclaimed Kepa. “Maybe you’ve been here trying to get us to say yes, asking us in a million different ways until you got it just right and we said yes.”

“I think getting you out of that baserri and away from that television alone will be worth it,” muttered Maite.

“I guess you wouldn’t know,” answered Marina with a shrug. “All you can do is trust me.” As if to emphasize the point, she held out the two zatiak that were still floating above the palm of each hand. 

Kepa looked at Maite, the excitement beaming from his eyes, as he reached out for the zatiak in Marina’s left hand. Maite reached out to grab his hand. “Elkarrekin,” she said. “Together.”

Kepa nodded as he held Maite’s hand. “Elkarrekin.” 

Together, they reached out with their free hand and each grabbed one of the zatiak in unison. They both suddenly went rigid as light poured from the zatiak into their hands and down their arms, coursing along their blood vessels as it weaved around their bones, through their muscles, and throughout their bodies. They both glowed as the light infused each of them. They each let out a silent scream, the light bursting forth from their eyes, their ears, and their open mouths. Marina looked away, shielding her eyes, as they became literal bodies of light, brighter than the afternoon sun that hung above them. Maite watched as Kepa mouthed “Ederra. Beautiful.” The intensity of the light grew exponentially until, with a flash, it was gone. Maite and Kepa stood there, looking like they had before, but with a strange new twinkle in their eyes. Both of their faces were flush with wonder and excitement.

“That was amazing,” Kepa said in a whisper. “I think I saw where and when all of the zatiak are, but only briefly.”

“I saw it too,” said Maite, her voice barely audible. “I didn’t really believe…” she began as her voice trailed off.

Maite looked at her free hand, the one that had picked up the zatiak. It was empty. “Non?” she asked. “Where?”

“It is inside of you now, part of you,” replied Marina. “Its power is your power. And, what better way of hiding it from de Lancre, than to hide it within yourselves.”

Maite just shook her head. “It’s all so incredible…”

Marina smiled. “I know it is a lot, and I appreciate the trust you placed in me. There is still a lot to learn, but for the moment, it is time to rest. Head back down to the town. I think you both could use a bit of txikiteo. I suspect Ainhoa and your other friends will be waiting for you.” Marina winked at them.

Fighting Basques: A Love Story. The Ybarrola Family in the United States

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario. You can find all of the English versions of the Fighting Basques series here.

A young Maria “Mary” Kivimägi/Kewe poses smiling in one of the few images of her that remains. (All photos are courtesy of the Ybarrola family).

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by EuskalKultura.eus. On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

From the small Baltic province of present-day Estonia, located in northern Europe, the Kivimägi/Kewe family came to Tarhan — in the western part of the Crimean Peninsula bathed by the Black Sea. They were searching in these confines of the Russian Empire for a new beginning. Maria Kivimägi was born there in 1894. Within a few months, she, her parents, and five siblings (two boys and three girls) headed to North America. For a time they lived in South Dakota, United States, where three other sisters were born. Beginning in at least 1905, the family resided in the Province of Alberta, western Canada. At 17, Maria and her family crossed the border from Coutss, Alberta to Sweet Grass in Montana. Maria would make Montana her last home.

In 1897, the SS Rotterdam arrived at the port of New York from the French town of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. On board was the young Navarrese Juan Martin Ibarrola, born in 1876 in the town of Zilbeti in the Pyrenean Valley of Erro. His destination was Montana. It was upon entrance to the US where the spelling of his surname changed to Ybarrola. After a decade of hard work, Martin, together with his nephew Prudencio Agorreta Ibarrola who arrived in the country around 1910, established a sheep ranch. At least three other nephews, including Prudencio’s brother Benito, worked on the ranch for some time.

It was at Martin’s ranch — which converted each year into a sheep-shearing center open to his neighbors — that Maria met him. The ranch was located outside of Havre, near Chester, in Hill County, in north central Montana. With an area of nearly 3,000 square miles, Hill County in 1920 had a population of about 14,000 people. Other Basque families such as the Etchart-Urquilux also made Montana their new home. In 1918, Maria and Martin got married in Havre. Maria was 24 years old and Martin 42. They had 6 children: John Donald (1917), Catherine Josephine (Sister Ann Dolores) (1919-2015), James Martin (January 26, 1921), Ann Elizabeth (1922-1962), Rosemary ( 1924-2017) and Joseph (1926). They grew up on the Havre ranch, until the sudden death of their mother in 1928 from the flu changed their lives dramatically.

Family portrait of the Ybarrola-Kivimägi family made after Maria’s death. From left to right: Ann, Catherine, Martin, Joseph (sitting on his father’s lap), John (in the background), Rosemary and James.

Despite Martin’s efforts to keep the family together, he eventually had to take the children to the Santo Tomás Orphan Home in the town of Great Falls, Montana where they received housing and education. The orphanage had been founded by the Sisters of Providence in 1908. Later, Martin decided to move into the orphanage itself to be close to his children, giving the ranch to Prudencio. He took care of the Sisters’ animals to cover the cost of keeping his children, although they only had limited contact as they were in separate dwellings. After graduating from the orphanage in 1936, Catherine, the older sister, entered the Sisters of Providence in 1937 as a novice in Seattle, Washington. She made her final vows in 1941. She was renamed Sister Ann Dolores.

Five of the six siblings pose during a military leave for soldiers John and James in Stockton during WWII. Standing from left to right: John, Joseph and James. Below: Rosemary and Ann.

Like many children of Basque-American families, three of the Ybarrola brothers also served in the US military. The oldest, Don Ybarrola, enlisted six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and spent four years in the military, graduating with the rank of sergeant. He passed away in San Leandro, California, in 1980, at the age of 63. Joe Ybarrola, the youngest of the family, enlisted in the Air Force in the fall of 1944, passing away at age 70 in Stockton, California.

Official photo of Platoon 3, Company A, of the 46th United States Naval Construction Battalion in which Jim (indicated by the arrow) served for two long years. (US Navy Seabee Museum).

At the age of 22, Jim Ybarrola enlisted in the Navy in Seattle in 1943. He served in the 46th Naval Construction Battalion, known as the “seabees” (a nickname inspired by pronouncing the acronym CB, Construction Battalions). These battalions were created beginning in March 1942 and served on multiple fronts throughout the theaters of operations in the Atlantic — including D-Day in Normandy — and in the Pacific, with a presence on more than 300 islands. Their job was to build all kinds of infrastructure, including airfields, docks, ammunition bunkers, supply depots, hospitals, fuel tanks, and barracks. Jim developed his military career in the South Pacific. The 46th took part in the D + 2 Day (March 1, 1944) of the assault on Los Negros Island, of the Admiralty, occupied by Japan since April 7, 1942. The allied victory meant the definitive isolation of the largest Japanese base, located in the city of Rabaul, in New Guinea, clearing one more obstacle on the unstoppable road to Japan.

Jim leaning against a B-24 Liberator bomber while on one of the Pacific islands.

According to Jim’s son, the anthropologist Steven Ybarrola, “the war was one of the things my father talked about a lot. It had a huge impact on his life. It wasn’t traumatic for him, from what I could see, but rather a time of camaraderie. He rarely spoke of the traumas of the war, unless he spoke of having contracted malaria and its recurrence throughout his life after the war. This may be due to the fact that he was not in ‘active’ combat, but rather on a construction team. ” After the war, the entire family, with the exception of Sister Ann Dolores, managed to reunite in the city of Stockton, the last military destination to which Don was sent. The father of the family, Martin, passed away at the age of 75 in this Californian town. He never returned to Zilbeti. An implicit theme in the immigration stories of Maria and Martin — and the consequent separation from their own families (in Martin’s case since he was 21 years old) — is the great importance they conferred on the family, whether it was the sacrifice Martin made to keep his children together or the tenacity to keep the family together after WWII, values that they were able to instill in their children and their children in theirs.

Portrait of James “Jim” Ybarrola. “He was with us for 98 years, but it still wasn’t enough!”

Jim passed away on November 3, 2019, in Stockton, at the age of 98. “My father had a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. He was with us for 98 years, but it still wasn’t enough!” laments his son Steven. With his departure, and that of many of his comrades in arms, an important part of the living memory of the United States and the Basque Country is lost. They put aside their families, their jobs and studies. Ultimately, they postponed their lives for an eventual allied victory that would make it possible for them to soon return to their homes and to their loved ones. An estimated 250,000 WWII veterans are still alive today. May this article, on the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in Europe, serve as a small tribute from the Sancho de Beurko Association and the research project “Fighting Basques: Basque Memory of WWII” to the hundreds of Basques and Americans of Basque origin who sacrificed their lives, and in some cases to the ultimate consequence, in favor of freedom.

Basque Fact of the Week: The Lauburu

It’s perhaps the most iconic Basque symbol. The lauburu — literally four-heads. This curvilinear swastika is ubiquitous in the Basque Country, appearing on store fronts, tombstones, the doorways to baserri, and, now, masks protecting us from COVID-19. If someone wants a Basque-themed tattoo, they often turn to the lauburu for inspiration. But, where does this symbol come from? What are its origins?

In his painting Joaquina Téllez-Girón, Marchioness of Santa CruzFrancisco de Goya decorated the lyre with a lauburu. Image from Wikipedia.
  • The swastika is, of course, an ancient symbol. While thought to have its origins in India (as does the word swastika itself), it can be found in pre-Columbian America. It is also found in China and Japan. However, the oldest symbols come from further west, dated to the Bronze and Iron Ages. These oldest found so far dates to 10,000 BCE from the Ukraine.
  • The ubiquitous appearance of swastika-like symbols around the world led the astronomer Carl Sagan to speculate that there could have been a comet that either broke up or whose tail split into four and curved around it due to its rotation. To him, only a celestial event like, visible across the globe, this would have inspired such a symbol to appear in cultures all around the world.
  • The word swastika comes from Sanskrit, meaning “sign of good luck” or “object of good omen.” The swastika has its arms rotating to the right. If the arms rotate the other way, the symbol is technically called a sauvastika and is a sign of bad luck.
  • The rectilinear swastika is not unknown in the Basque Country and was relatively wide spread on both sides of the Pyrenees in Roman and pre-Roman times, found on altars for example. However, the use of the swastika, curved or rectilinear, stopped for something like fifteen centuries. This gap makes any relationship between the lauburu and the rectilinear swastika unclear at best. While it is natural to assume such a relationship, there are enough examples of ‘commas’ being put together in various designs that maybe the lauburu was designed independently. A strong argument for this view is that, while the swastika is almost always an isolated symbol, the lauburu is often encircled. This points to an independent origin.
  • The oldest example of a lauburu comes from either the late 16th or early 17th century, from the town of Macaya, Nafarroa Beherea. While it is relatively common in the 17th century, it really starts to become popular in the 18th. Most of these earlier uses of the lauburu are from Nafarroa, Nafarroa Beherea, and Lapurdi — none are found in either Bizkaia or Araba.
  • While no one really knows where the lauburu comes from, there has been a lot of speculation about its meaning. Sabino Arana thought it was a sun symbol and that it proved that the Basques had been sun worshippers. Some think it represents the four ancient elements of fire, earth, air, and water. Louis Colas argued it was related to the healing profession as it appeared on certain tombs that he suspects belonged to priests or healers of flocks, derived from a magical symbol representing healing. Yet others see a connection to four Basque tribes. Maybe it was simply a decorative symbol. Its true origins are lost to time.

Primary sources: Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Lauburu. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/lauburu/ar-87432/; Wikipedia: Swastika; Wikipedia: Lauburu; El lauburu. Política, cultura e identidad nacional en torno a un símbolo del País Vasco, Santiago de Pablo.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 25

“Wow,” whispered Kepa as he reached his hand out, his finger extended, moving to touch one of the zatiak.

“Hold on!” exclaimed Maite as she grabbed Kepa’s hand and pulled him away. “We’ll be right back, don’t go anywhere,” she said to Marina as she pulled Kepa down the path to talk in private.

“What are you doing?” she asked, exasperated. “You don’t believe her, do you?”

Kepa shrugged. “Didn’t you see what de Lancre did with the cave? And how Marina pulled us through the stone? Something is going on here that I can’t explain, and I don’t think you can either.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Maite sighed as she sat down on a rock. “No,” she said, sounding defeated. “I can’t explain any of it.” Kepa knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his. “But, still,” she continued, “helping her? What about our plans? What about Berkeley?”

“Berkeley will still be there,” replied Kepa. “If this is really time travel, then we will always be back in time for whatever we need to do here. We won’t miss anything.”

“I supposed, theoretically,” said Maite. “But, still, why would we do this? Why us?”

“Look,” said Kepa as he looked into Maite’s eyes. “All my life, I’ve felt like I was drifting, like I was some sort of shadow that was there, but never really made any impression. No one ever notices me, no one ever remembers I was there.”

“I notice you,” interrupted Maite in a whisper.

Kepa’s eyes welled up with tears. “Bai, you notice me,” he said. “But the world doesn’t. The world doesn’t know I exist. What difference have I made in the world? The world would be the same if I hadn’t been born. I want to make a difference.”

“You make a difference to me,” replied Maite, returning Kepa’s gaze. 

“I know,” said Kepa. “And I’m so glad that I do. But, I want the world to care that I exist, I want to stop drifting through life, being a shadow. I want to matter.”

Maite reached up and wiped away a tear from Kepa’s cheek. “I know what you mean,” she said. “One of the reasons I am going into science is to make an impact, to make a difference. It’s not the only one, of course, I really do want to just understand how things work, but I understand the need to feel relevant.”

“And,” added Kepa, “think about it! If anything Marina said is true, there is so much to learn, about how this magic stuff works, how the time travel thing works. What better opportunity to learn fantastic new things about how the universe works?”

Maite smiled. “You were saving that, weren’t you? You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist that temptation.”

Kepa smiled back at her. “I’m not nearly so clever,” he said with a wink.

Maite pulled him closer into an embrace. “You are so much more clever than you give yourself credit for,” she whispered into his ear. After what felt like an eternity, they broke their embrace. Maite stood up and reached out her hand to Kepa. “Are you ready to do this?” she asked.

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Clothing through the Ages

One of the very distinctive elements of any Basque festival is the dancing and, in particular, the costumes the dancers wear — the white shirt and pants, adorned with a bright sash and txapela for the men and the white blouse and black vest atop a bright red skirt and black apron with leather shoes and strapping weaving up the calf topped with a white scarf for the women. These costumes are so very Basque that they are instantly recognizable. They come from a long line of clothing elements and accessories that are uniquely Basque.

Image from EITB.eus. The photo accompanies a radio program describing the work of Marivi Canibe and her daughter, who have worked more than 30 years recreating these medieval headdresses.
  • We don’t really know much about what Basques or their ancestors wore before the Romans came and wrote about them. In the first century BCE, Strabo, the ever-present Greek geographer, described the way Basques dressed at the time: the men “let their hair stream down in thick masses after the manner of women, though before going into battle they bind their hair about the forehead… All the men dress in black, for the most part in coarse cloaks, in which they sleep, on their beds of litter… But the women always go clad in long mantles and gay-coloured gowns.”
  • Where the Romans had influence, however, the local dress changed. In cities like Baiona and Iruña-Veleia, people wore Roman-inspired clothing: overlapping undercloths, tunics and cloaks, made of linen and wool, whose number, quality and sumptuousness indicated the owner’s social status. On their feet they wore closed shoes and leather sandals. Short robes were relegated to the commoner population.
  • This trend of layered clothing to note wealth continued and was accelerated through the Middle Ages and as the country became more urbanized. Close to the skin were the undergarments; that remained similar until around the 17th century: panties fastened with trusses on men; seams and skirts for women and, for both, a shirt and leggings up to the thigh or rolled up under the knees. Over this, both genders wore skirts tied with cords and, on top of that, sleeveless tunics often with holes for arms that reached the hip. And, finally, there were overcoats, including cloaks and capes, open or closed; the wide garnacha with short open sleeves; and the tabard with no sleeves, manners and hood.
  • By the 15th century, headdress had become more and more important and very distinctive in the Basque Country. In his travels of the Iberian Peninsula with Baron Rosmithal, the Baron’s servant Schaschek noted that the headdresses of the Basque were the strangest they had seen, often shaped like chanterelles. Maidens shaved their heads, with the exception of a few locks that were kept long. Navagero later noted that these headdresses were linen, like Moorish turbans, but styled differently: “of a hood, with the tip folded, making a figure that resembles the chest, neck and beak of a crane; only that each woman makes the hood look like something different.” These headdresses became notorious, viewed by ecclesiastical authorities as “doorways for the devil,” yet another route by which women tempted men, leading to laws regulating their use and form. By the 18th century, these headdresses had all but disappeared. One of the last sightings of these headdresses occurred in 1783, during the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady of Cenarruza, by a woman of Arbatzegi, Bizkaia.
  • Roughly in the 1500s or so, style became much more influenced by outside forces and people also shifted to more individual styles. Men’s and women’s styles also became more distinct. One unique Basque stylistic feature of this time is that women always wore an apron on top of their dress. By the 18th century, the typical dress of the Pyrenees consists of men dressed in shorts plus a cape with flannel, hat and shoes with buckles; and women, with a gathered canvas headdress and overcoat, wearing, over a doublet and basquiña, a brocatel bib with a sash and apron.
  • The popular costume, the one associated with the rural Basque grandparents, evolved from these elements to the form we recognize today. For women, the costume consists of a doublet, shawl or jacket matching a long and flowing skirt, colorful silk scarf at the neckline or shawl and apron, wide for work and elegant for church. Her long hair is gathered in a braid and tied with ribbons if she is a single woman and covered with a white or colored scarf if she is married. The men’s suit is made up of jackets of varied make, color and trim, and vests that, cut at the waist, form collars and lapels over linen or calico shirts, while the pants share space with the stockings, both made of canvas or cloth, with a colored sash. With the First Carlist War, the espartinak and the txapela were introduced, both becoming central elements of the popular costume. The costumes we see at Basque dances grew out of these traditional outfits.

Primary sources: Mujika Goñi, Amaia; Estornés Lasa, Bernardo. Indumentaria en Euskal Herria. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/indumentaria-en-euskal-herria/ar-74070/; Las tocas vizcaínas, at deia.com.

%d bloggers like this: