Category Archives: History

The Basque-Algonquin Language of Canada

This article originally appeared in Spanish and Basque on Kondaira’s Facebook page. It is translated and posted here with permission.

zubiaga-basques-native americans

Meeting between Basques and Native Americans by Guillermo Zubiaga (used with permission).

The Basque-Algonquian language is a pidgin that arose for intercommunication between the members of the Mi’kmaq tribe, Innu and other Amerindians with the Basque whalers, cod fishermen, and merchants in Newfoundland, Quebec, the Labrador Peninsula, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Most of its vocabulary consisted of the Micmac, Innu and Basque languages, but also had words from Gascon, since it was the lingua franca of southwest France at the time.

While the Basques were in those waters whaling and fishing cod in the late fourteenth century, it was not until about 1530 that this pidgin was spoken. The Basques established a minimum of nine fishing settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador; the largest could hold 900 people and was in found in what the Basques called Balea Badia (“Whale Bay”), now known as Red Bay (Labrador Peninsula). The French and British sent expeditions to North America, following the routes of the Basque whalers, to explore routes to the Indies shorter than those of the Spanish, as well as to map fishing grounds. The French settled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and began the conquest of North America.

The golden age of Basque-Algonquian would occur between 1580 and 1635. In 1612, Marc Lescarbot, writing in his “Histoire de la Nouvelle France” (History of New France), indicates that the local population spoke a language to communicate with the Europeans which had Basque words. In 1710 there was still evidence of the use of Basque-Algonquian.

Regarding this pidgin, Esteban de Garibay, chronicler of King Philip II of Spain, in 1571 published a book in Antwerp where he showed that the Basque language was not a difficult language to learn. Garibai cites the case of the Canadian Indians who had learned it:

“… Since the sailors of the province of Gipuzkoa and the lordship of Biscay and the Basque Country go each year to the newly discovered land [Newfoundland] to fish and hunt, the savages of that region learned their Cantabrian language [Basque] despite the brief communication, of such short duration, that they have with the people from here just once a year, for a period of less than three months. And if that people deprived of reason and organization is able to learn it, how much easier it would be for the people of respectable life of our old world. “

Lope Martínez de Isasti wrote in 1625:

“… in a region so remote like Newfoundland the mountain-dwelling savages have learned to communicate with the Basque sailors, who go annually for the cod fish, which among other things they are asked in Basque: nola zaude (how are you): they respond gracefully: Apaizac Obeto (the priests are better): without knowing what is a priest, but by hearing about them. They speak and deal with us, and they help with the fishing on the riverbank for the barter of some cake and cider which they do not have there. “

Basque sailors also brought Christianity to those lands. This is indicated by a person from the Micmac tribe to a European missionary in his language:

“Noukhimami Jesus, ïagoua Khistinohimaonitou Khik hitouina CaiE Khiteritamouïn. Ca cataouachichien ouccaonia Jesu Maria, Joseph cacataouachichien aïamihitouinan.” [My Lord Jesus, teach me your words and your will! Oh, good Mary, Mother of God! Oh, good Jose! Pray for me!]

map-whale hunting grounds

Map from 1592 listing areas for whale hunting.

In 1616 a Jesuit missionary noted that Amerindians of Port-Royal (Nova Scotia) used the word “adesquidex” (Basque adiskide [friend]) to greet the French. In 1603, another French missionary established in Tadoussac (Quebec) claimed that the Amerindians called the “Montagnais” made use of the word “ania” (Basque anaia [brother]) to greet just the French, while amongst themselves they used the word “nichtais”.

The result of this pidgin is that the Micmac integrated Basque words into their language. From the Basque word atorra (shirt), the Basque-Algonquian word “atouray” derived and from this the actual Micmac word “atlei”; “king” is said in Micmac as “elegewit” (from the Basque-Algonquian “elege” which, in turn, is from the Basque errege) or, for example, France is called “Plansia” (from the colloquial Basque “Prantzia”).

Today, place names of Basque origin in this region where Basque-Algonquian was spoken are abundant, as well as French place names that refer to the Basques.The ancient name for Montreal, Hochelaga, used by the Huron people, is considered by some etymologists to be a place name of Basque origin.

Examples of Basque-Algonquian

Basque-Algonquian Basque English
Ania, kir captain? Anaia, kapitaina to zara? Brother, are you Captain?
Nola zaude? Apezak Obeto Nola zaude? Apaizak hobeto How are you? The priests are better.
Gara gara ender-quir gara gara Gerra izango dugu We will have war.
Endia chave Normandia Frantsesek asko dakite The French know a lot.
Adesquidex/s Adiskide Friend
Endia Handia Large
Ania Anaia Brother
Kessona Gizona Man
Canadaquoa Kanadakoa From Canada
Escorken Mozkor Drunk
Chabaya Xabaia, Basatia Wild
Baccalaos Bakailoa Cod
Elege Errege King
Orignak Oreinak Deer
Makia Makila Stick
Maria Balea Whale
Caracona Gariona, ogia Good Wheat, Bread

 

More articles on the history of the Basque Country and the Basque language are at the Facebook page of Kondaira.net: www.facebook.com/kondaira.net

Zaindari-Ikusezina

Two New Basque Novels: The Hammer of Witches and The Invisible Guardian

The Basque Country is central to two new Basque novels that

Hammer-of-WitchesThe Hammer of Witches, by Begoña Echeverria, takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, a time when Basques accused other Basques of being witches, when witches were burned for presumed heresy against the Church, and when a few brave souls fought back against such maleficent forces. Echeverria’s novel, though fictional, takes place during the peak of the Inquisition, as a cast of characters including a priest, a mysterious woman, and a young lady all navigate this dangerous time. Echeverria did extensive research to make the setting of her novel as historically accurate as possible. Here is an interview both about her motivation and her approach to writing this novel. The book can be purchased form the Center for Basque Studies.

Zaindari-IkusezinaThe Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible in Spanish and Zaindari Ikusezina in Basque) by Dolores Redondo, isn’t exactly new. Published in 2013, Redondo’s novel takes place in the modern Basque Country, in the valley of Baztan. It follows a young detective, Amaia, who’s job is to uncover the mystery behind some recent murders. However, there are elements of the supernatural, of Basque legend, that creep into the story, and that confuse Amaia’s investigation. Could those stories her grandmother told her as a little girl be true? Could the fantastic creatures of legend be responsible for the murders?

Unfortunately, The Invisible Guardian isn’t available in English, yet, though an English translation is expected in 2015. There is, however, a comic book in the works and possible movie plans. Further, The Invisible Guardian is the first in a series of three novels following Amaia’s adventures in the Basque Country. Redondo has been labeled the rising Basque star of crime fiction, combining the standard tropes of that genre with a strong heroine and fantastical elements from Basque mythology to create something new.

Both of these novels sound intriguing and I’m looking forward to reading both.

A Basque Joke

This appeared in the January 20, 1972 issue of the Idaho State Journal, of Pocatello, Idaho. It was submitted by Saxon White Uberuaga.

A Basque settlement in Idaho’s pioneer times was typical of the small towns of wood structures in those days. The people took pride in their theater, which had only one rear exit. The theater was filled to capacity with Basque people one night, when the old building caught on fire. The Basques panicked and fled toward the rear exit. Many were injured by trampling, some perished in the fire. Moral: don’t put all your Basques in one exit.

Keeping Euskara Alive and My Own Adventure in Learning Euskara

In 1991, I traveled, for the first time, to the Basque Country. Though my dad was born there, and my mom’s grandparents as well, we’d never made a family trek as it simply was beyond our resources. My dad himself only went back a handful of times during the first 30 years he was in the United States. However, I was determined to learn Euskara, the language of my ancestors, the language of my dad. Because my mom doesn’t speak Euskara, and the fact that my dad was on the road a lot, we didn’t learn any at home. My dad would speak it when he was with friends. He didn’t have to choose to be Basque, he simply was and that showed itself whenever he was with his friends, bullshitting in Basque with the very frequent Spanish tacos thrown in. For me, though, it was a conscious choice to try to learn a bit of this language, to make my own connection to my heritage.

I did this even though my mom’s dad, who, though born in the US, was fluent in Euskara, having been raised by two native Basques, and even my own dad suggested that concentrating on Spanish would be of greater value as more people in the world spoke Spanish. Basque was only useful in a very remote corner of the world and, even there, not always. For me, though, it wasn’t about practicality. It was about connection, about immersing myself into their world, into the way that they thought. Language shapes how we view the world, and I wanted at least a glimpse into theirs.

don_bay_b.jpgI went to Donostia as part of the University Studies Abroad Consortium, which had an intensive Basque language course for students with no knowledge of Basque. There were three of us — myself, a woman from Idaho who was trying to make the same connections to her heritage that I was, and a woman from England, who had no connection to anything Basque beyond an interest in the people and culture. Our teacher, Nekane, was an Euskaldun Berri, a new Basque speaker, who had learned Basque as an adult and decided to become part of the effort to ensure Euskara’s survival. She was an extremely pleasant and patient teacher, especially to a student of science like myself who questioned the why of everything, in particular the logic of the language (why this construct as opposed to this one). Little did I recognize, at the time, that my own language of English has so little logic behind it!

During the weekends, I would travel to visit my dad’s family in Bizkaia. This proved somewhat frustrating in that they all spoke a different dialect of Euskara. I was learning Batua in Donostia, but in Bizkaia they spoke the Bizkaian dialect, which was different enough that I struggled to communicate. Even my rudimentary Spanish, learned in high school, was a better communication tool. Compounded by the fact that I spent many evenings not with locals but with fellow Americans, playing foosball, drinking beer and cider, and, critically, speaking English, my Euskara never got very good.

negu-gorriak-lehenbiziko-balaI have some basic understanding of the grammar, but a relatively horrible vocabulary. I can’t carry on any real conversation and have a hard time even with pleasantries. That said, I certainly take some pride in understanding the opening of Negu Gorriak’s song Lehenbiziko Bala:

BASERRIAN JAIO NINTZEN
ARBASO ZAHARREN ETXEAN.
UDABERRIA AURREAN.
NEGU GORRIA ATZEAN.

I do wish I had better command of the language. However, beyond that intensive year in Donostia, I have not really devoted significant time to learning Euskara any further. Other priorities have taken precedent. I still have dreams, but I’m not sure when or if I will make the time to realize them.

espe-alegria-291x300Of course, I’m not alone in this desire, this drive, to learn the language of my ancestors. Many people have done the same, and those in the diaspora have had a particularly important role in ensuring the health of the language. Especially during Franco’s time, when speaking the language was forbidden, efforts in places like Idaho helped in promoting the language. In particular, she describes a radio program in Idaho by Espy Alegria that was famous because she was speaking a language, Euskara, that was outlawed in Spain. Now, modern technology, which at the same time threatens to homogenize our world, plays its own part in keeping the language alive. In a very interesting article on the Blue Review, Kattalina Berriochoa describes the role that both the diaspora and technology have had in contributing to the survival of Euskara.

Two Basque History Lessons: Anaiak Danok and Refugee Children in Bristol

Here are two articles that provide some interesting Basque history, both outside of the Basque Country.

anaiokThe first, an article at the Blue Review by Kyle Eidson and Dave Lachiondo, describes an interesting period in the history of the Basque diaspora in Boise. During the middle of the 1950s, when new Basques were immigrating to the United States from Franco’s Spain, there was much more political awareness of what was occurring back in Spain than had been true of the previous generations. Many of these Basques had experienced life under Franco’s rule, and were interested in what they could do against it. This lead to the formation of the group Anaiak Denok (All Brothers), which brought together like-minded Basques who discussed these issues. The most prominent member, Pete Cenarrusa, was of course also heavily involved in Idaho politics, and his two passions often overlapped. Dave and Kyle describe how, in the end, it was different views of ETA that ultimately lead to the end of the group.

bristol-refugeeAlso related to the after-effects of the Spanish Civil War, the second article, published on the Bristol Post’s website, delves into the role that the city of Bristol played in adopting 4000 Basque refugee children escaping the ravages of the War. These children, ranging in age from 5-15 years old, were originally expected to spend only about 3 months in the UK before being returned to the Basque Country. Things didn’t turn out quite like that.

There is a funny little anecdote that the children misunderstood and thought that the straw that was being used for their bedding was what they were meant to eat for dinner.

 

A Fairytale Visit to Butron Castle

butron castle-mapRoughly about 20 years ago, during my second visit to the Basque Country, a friend of mine, Xabier Ormaetxea, who has been a frequent contributor to these pages particularly with the Basque surname research he used to do for visitors, took me to Butron Castle (Butroi in Basque). Not far from Bilbao, in the heart of Bizkaia, el Castillo Butron was pretty magnificent, especially to an American who is not used to seeing castles around every corner. The castle was all decorated inside, with people in period costume, trying to recreate the feel of ancient times. I remember Xabier lamenting the fact that everything had to be Disneyfied, that a castle couldn’t simply be, it had to be made into some sort of spectacle.butron-2014-1

Last month, my wife, daughter and I were in the Basque Country visiting my dad’s family and I thought Butron would be a nice place to take them. My wife hadn’t seen it and I thought that my daughter, being a young girl who is into princesses (how do they know every Disney princess without ever watching the movies?) and castles (one of our favorite activities together it to draw castles and fill them with dragons, knights and, of course, princesses), would really enjoy seeing her first castle.

Bbutron-2014-2utron is a real castle, with towers, arrowslits, and a large front gate. It took us a while to find it since, though there are signs pointing in the general direction, they aren’t very clear. We ended up going down a dirt road along side a river, having turned just a little too early, passing by various gated houses until we ended up at a dead end. We eventually found the castle, and maybe understood why it was so hard to find.

The spectacle that bothered Xabier was certainly no longer an issue. In fact, the castle is closed. No one is there. When we pulled up (by-passing the parking lot because, well, no one was there), there was one other car of tourists taking their picture in front of the castle. While we were there, a bicyclists and a woman on a horse rode by, but that was the extent of the people we saw.

But, no matter. It was still a magnificent sight! My daughter was very excited, peaking into any hole she could find, wondering if a princess might have looked down from this tower or that tower. We speculated which hole might be a window into the dungeon and if there had been a lot of bad guys kept there. My wife and I enjoyed watching our daughter fantasize about what must be inside the castle as we also did our best to peak in wherever we could, circling the castle, looking for any better view of the interior.

I butron-2014-3t turns out (you gotta love Wikipedia) that while the castle is old, the current structure was built in the late 1800s. It was remodeled to mimic the castles of Bavaria. It is now the largest existing medieval castle in the world (according to Wikipedia). When I visited, it had beenrenovated and opened to the public, but it failed to generate enough revenue to keep up operations and has since been closed to visitors. In 2005, a group purchased the building, but have yet to do anything with it. It was a pity we couldn’t tour the inside, but my daughter still loved her first visit to a real castle.

And she isn’t the only one who fantasizes about Butron. Again according to Wikipedia, it seems Kate Middleton (yes that one) dreamed of being married in this castle. I guess she found an even fancier one to get married in.