Category Archives: History

Did you know…?

Wolfram_evaporated_crystals_and_1cm3_cubeThe element tungsten was discovered by two Basque brothers, Juan José and Fausto Elhuyar Lubize, in 1783?

Tungsten is an incredibly important element. Having the highest melting point of any element, it is extremely hard and durable, used in light bulbs, x-ray tubes, as piercing armament, and catalysts. Tungsten is also proposed as an important material for ITER, the demonstration fusion reactor being built in France.

sello_189187The Elhuyar brothers were born in Logroño, La Rioja (Juan in 1754 and Fausto in 1755) to French-Basque parents from Hasparren, France, in the Basque province of Lapurdi. Fausto, at least, became a professor at the University of Vergara and later founded the School of Mines in Mexico City.

Today, the Elhuyar Foundation is dedicated to bringing together science and the Basque language.

Tungsten, officially known as wolfram, is a Swedish word that means “heavy stone” while wolfram means something like “wolf’s froth/cream”, as a consequence of the extraction process of a mineral containing tungsten. If the Elhuyar brothers had given it a Basque name, maybe we’d now be calling it harri-astuna or otso-apar.

The Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia has more details (in Spanish) on both Juan and Fausto, including short videos.

Talk at Jaialdi: In the Footsteps of Basque Whalers in Newfoundland and Labrador

Here is news about another talk taking place at Jaialdi, also on July 30th, at 10am. This was sent to me by Aimar Arizmendi, one of the organizers of the talk and the expedition.

In The Footsteps of Basque Whalers In Newfoundland and Labrador is an expedition by boat, slated for 2017 and open to the public that will visit the sites and celebrate the legacy of the first Basques in the new world: The venerable Basque whalers who arrived in Newfoundland following codfish and whale at least as early as the beginning of the 16th century. This expedition will mark the opening of a new cultural route, the first one ever built around the vestiges of historical Basque whaling in eastern Canada.

There will be a special Jaialdi presentation about this expedition featuring local author of historical fiction Christine Echeverria Bender at The Grove Hotel on Thursday, July 30th at 10:00 a.m. More information at www.basquewhalers.info

Inviacion Boise July 30th  (3)

Did you know…?

Bilbao, the capital of Bizkaia, was known for its steel. So well known that a type of sword popular in England and America was called a bilbo, after the Basque city. (In Basque, the name of Bilbao is Bilbo…)  In Basque, they were called Labana Bizkaitarrak. These swords were made in Bilbao and exported widely.

This sword was popular because it was typically well forged and very flexible.

Bilboes also refers to a type of shackles, put around the ankles to immobilize people. While it isn’t so obvious that the name of these shackles also comes from the Basque city, the fact that they were made of steel suggests it is possible. Joseba Zulaika, in his book That Old Bilbao Moon, suggests the same origin for the name. However, these devices were in use before Bilbao started exporting steel to England. In any case, these bilboes have a dark history, used to confine prisoners and slaves.

240px-Bilbo_Baggins_Tolkien_illustrationThe most famous Bilbo, these days, is Bilbo Baggins, of The Hobbit fame. While it isn’t clear where J. R. R. Tolkien got the name for his character, at one point Bilbo finds a sword, called Sting, that plays an immensely important role in the story of Mr. Baggins. It is possible that Tolkien named his character after the sword or, maybe more probable, was inspired by the name he had chosen for his character to outfit him with a sword.

The photo of bilbo, the sword, not Bilbo, the hobbit, linked to above is from this site. The image of Bilbo Baggins was taken from Wikipedia, but drawn by Tolkien.

Behind the Cultures of the Basque Soccer Friendly

teams-300x151In his article at The Blue ReviewBeyond the Friendly, Two Idaho Immigration Stories — Mark Bieter takes the opportunity of the Basque Soccer Friendly, to be played this evening between Athletic Bilbao and Club Tijuana, to delve into the history of the two cultures these teams represent, the Basques and the Mexicans. Both have played an important role in the history of the American West and the economy of states like Idaho. A nice read that reminds us that, more often than not, people have more in common than we tend to realize.

Did you know…?

While the survival of the Basque people and culture to modern times is often ascribed to the isolated region in which the people inhabit, the Basques are not so secluded as one might think. Some great examples demonstrating this are the various pidgin and mixed languages that have sprung up out of the interactions of the Basques and other cultures…

familia-gitanos-vascos-inicios-xxThe Romani, or gypsies, are well known throughout Europe. They have also settled in the Basque Country. As seems to be common in many places where the Romani are found, they have created a language that combines their own with the local language. Euskara is no exception. The Erromintxela language uses the vocabulary of the Kalderash Romani but the grammar of Euskara. While evidence of this mixed language dates to the 19th century, it is only in the last few decades, as the language is in danger of being lost, that it has been studied in any detail.

The Basques sailed far and wide in search of fishing grounds that would provide an economic advantage. During the course of these excursions, they naturally met other peoples and, to communicate, new languages were created synthesizing the two original ones. Two examples of these are with Iceland and several Native American tribes in Newfoundland…

Picture 1The Basques and the Icelanders had many encounters, some of them not so pleasant. However, their interactions were so extensive that a Basque-Icelandic pidgin formed, spoken in Iceland in the 17th century. This pidgin had a number of colorful phrases, including one for “go shag a horse“.  Fortunately, the hostilities that arose way back in those seafaring days have been peacefully resolved.

map-whale hunting groundsOne the Basques reached the Newfoundland shores and established their whaling refineries, they also had extensive interactions with the native populations, including the Algonquians. In several cases, pidgins arose, particularly with the Algonquians. When Basque sailors asked an Algonquian how he was (nola zaude) the response would often be apaizac obeto: the priests are better. This pidgin was used primarily in the 16th century, with the last attested use being in 1710. This is the oldest known pidgin in North America.

Are there any others?

Did you know…?

3cPlanchas-de-PlataArizona is a Basque word. It seems that it wasn’t that long ago that this seemed a fringe hypothesis, but now it appears on the National Park Service’s page. The state of Arizona gets its name from a ranch from the 1700s where silver was discovered. The name of that ranch, which still exists, is Arizona. It seems to have been named by Bernardo de Urrea and means “haritz ona” or “the good oak”.  The original theory that Arizona might be a Basque word was proposed by William A Douglass, of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Center for Basque Studies, in 1979. It now seems to be a well accepted idea.

MerrywidowThat piece of lingerie, the basque, is named after traditional Basque costume. You have to be careful what you search for. If you enter the word “basque” into Google, you might not quite get what you expected. Your browser window might be filled with pictures of lingerie. What is now known as a basque was inspired by the traditional costume of Basque women (at least according to Wikipedia). The French were early adopters/adapters of the piece of clothing, but it spread from there to the rest of Western world.

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 10.27.31 PMMolybdomancy is telling the future using molten lead. And it used to be practiced in the Basque Country. I stumbled on this curious word (and even more curious practice) on the Tumblr beautiful-basque-country. It seems that many cultures have the practice of dropping bits of molten lead into water and then divining the future from the shapes that are formed. In Bermeo, this was used to protect ships from bad luck (all I could find about this is this photo on a Facebook page…). Anyone know anything more about this?