Category Archives: History

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?

Quick Items of Note: Gernika film, Red Bay, Iparralde, Be Basque Talent Network

gernikaA film about the bombing of Gernika, appropriately entitled Gernika, is currently being shot in Bilbao. As opposed to other films about the Spanish Civil War, this one focuses entirely on the city of Gernika and that fateful day in April.

red-bay4_3324859bLikely you’ve heard about the Basque presence on the eastern Canadian coast. Red Bay is the heart of that historical activity. Red Bay is both a Canadian National Historic Site as well as a World Heritage Site, as designated by UNESCO due to the various archeological finds related to the Basque whaling operations in that area that have been discovered since the 1970s.

07FRENCHBASQUEJP3-articleLargeI’m admittedly biased in my “coverage” of the Basque Country, tending to focus on hegoalde where my dad and my mom’s grandparents are from. Of all of the time I’ve spent in the Basque Country, the vast majority of it has been in hegoalde. I’ve spent, at most, maybe 3 or so days in iparralde, most notably a couple of nights in Baiona with my wife a number of years ago. That said, the French side has much charm of its own and is certainly not to be forgotten. This article from the New York Times reminds us of that.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.21.45 PMI’m not quite sure what Be Basque Talent Network is exactly. It seems to be a LinkedIn for people with a connection to the Basque Country or any interest in Basque. The reason to join it is, as stated on the website: To be part of the largest network of top professionals from over 75 countries around the world who are or wish to be linked to the Basque Country, regardless of origin. If you are a professional wishing to have stronger ties to the Basque Country, this might be useful.



Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass

BEPO Cover MapBetter2.inddWilliam A. Douglass, one-time Coordinator of what is now the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno and prolific author on Basque history, is out with a new book on the Basque explorers who navigated the Pacific Ocean, from Elkano (the Basque sailor who took over Magellan’s expedition when Magellan was killed in the Philippines) to later explorers.  Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean recounts the stories of these Basques and their role in Spanish and ultimately European activities in the Pacific. From the website:

The Pacific Ocean was for several centuries, from the discovery of the Strait of Magellan in 1520 until Cook’s voyages in the 1700s, considered to be the “Spanish Lake.” However, Spain was never a monolithic entity and this book then considers “Spanish” exploration in the Pacific from the perspective of the Basques, who have an important maritime tradition and were key figures in Pacific exploration. From Juan Sebastián Elkano’s taking over command of the Victoria after Ferdinand Magellan’s death and completing the first circumnavigation of the planet to Andrés de Urdaneta’s discovery of the north Pacific route from the Philippines to modern-day Acapulco, Mexico, Basque mariners and ships were pivotal in European incursion into this vast area. 

Basque Book Roundup

There has been a lot of news about Basque books…

51ERBzMF2ULIt’s Hammer Time! (am I dating myself?)

Begoña Echeverria’s book, The Hammer of Witches, was just chosen as Editor’s Choice for the month of May by the Historical Novel Society! If you haven’t heard about the novel, I mentioned it here. The story of a young girl in the grips of the witch hunts in a 1610 Basque town, The Hammer of Witches is “a gripping page-turner of horrific historical events” and is the first book [the editor] “ever read that made me feel what it must have been like to be a victim of unfounded suspicion, forced to rely on personal faith, or recant all one holds true.” High praise indeed! Zorionak Begoña!

TOBM_1024x1024Revisiting the transformation of Bilbao

Joseba Zulaika, once the head of the Center for Basque Studies at UNR, has just released his most recent book, That Old Bilbao Moon, which is more about the Basque generation of the 60s and how the Guggenheim Museum has come to symbolize, in some sense, not only a rebirth of the city of Bilbao, but maybe also a touchstone for that generation that had been defined as much by ETA and socialist politics of the 60s as anything. A deep introspective, the book connects the lives of that generation with the city of Bilbao. As Paddy Woodworth says, “Part tormented hymn, part searing personal memoir, all ruthless interrogation and self-interrogation, it is also a tribute to the Basque city of iron and titanium, Bilbao, an unblinking if at times uneven gaze from its gutters to its skylines.

61RUgbFhl-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Basque mythology, for kids

Basque mythology is full of great characters, from the basajaun, the giants of the forrest, to the bedeviling lamiak and Mari, the Lady of the mountains, and herensuge, a giant serpent that has between one and seven heads. Olentzero, the Basque Santa Claus, was originally a giant, the only one to survive the news that Jesus was born. These are great stories, and now there is an illustrated version of these stories for children. At this time, it is only in Basque, Spanish and French,  but maybe it will be translated to English too! I’d sure love to share these stories with my daughter!

Basques finally free to visit Iceland without fear of death

10929559_342159199324028_2431577313259576547_nYou may have already heard about this story, as it has been published in quite a few different places. You see, Iceland — or at least one district within Iceland, West Fjords — has had a law since the 1600s allowing for Basques to be killed on sight. It was only on April 22 of this year that the law was revoked, finally freeing Basques to visit without fear.

In the 1500 and 1600s, the Basques had a thriving whaling industry in Terra Nova, Labrador, and Iceland was a frequent stop on the way. In 1615, a group of Basques was stranded in Iceland after their ships were dashed against some rocks. Maybe because of some of these Basques taking some dried fish from a house, the Icelanders attacked them, first killing a group of 14 Basques and then later another group of 18. The local sheriff decreed that all Basques were criminals and that any Basques that stepped foot in the West Fjords should be killed on sight. What came to be called Spánverjavígin, or the “Spanish Killings”, was the last documented massacre on Iceland soil.

In April, there was a conference commemorating the event and, as part of that conference, the law was officially repealed. Finally.

Of course, many Basques have visited Iceland since then and not been in any harm what-so-ever. Repealing of the law is more a formality and a nice exchange between the Icelanders and Basques.

That said, my PhD advisor is an Icelander. I’m glad that, if I ever visit him in his home country, I won’t have to fear for my life.