A Basque Superstition

Found in Folklore By Joseph Jacobs, Alfred Trübner Nutt, Arthur Robinson Wright, Folklore Society (Great Britain), William Crooke

Can any reader of FOLK-LORE throw any light on a superstition prevalent apparently among the Basques of Navarre and the Aragonese of the Pyrenees, to the effect that the bear acts as a sort of watch-dog to St. Peter at the gate of Heaven. My informants are two Navarese Basques, a man and woman whom I saw exhibiting a bear in Biarritz. I have no doubt that, if I could have spoken Basque, I could have extracted much more information than I did, but it was difficult for them to speak Spanish, the only language except their own with which they were at all acquainted, and also they were shy and reticent, and it required a good deal of persuasion to win their confidence in the slightest degree. They told me that their bear, when they were not travelling about, lived with them in their hut in the mountains, and that they were always careful to treat him kindly and feed him well. For example, if they had not enough of fish (which they looked upon as a luxury) for themselves and the bear, the latter must be fed and satisfied first. They declared that the animal understands all that is said about him, and observes and comprehends any household work, trade or occupation which may be going on; “and that is the reason that a bear who has lived with men should never be allowed to return to the forest and mountains, for he will tell the other bears of what he has seen and learnt, and they, being very cunning, will come down into the valleys, and by means of their great strength, added to the knowledge they have thus gained, will be able to rule men as they did before!” I endeavoured to learn when this sad state of affairs existed, but could only ascertain that it was antes — before, in other times. “El Orso,” said his keepers, “is el perso de Dios, el perso de San Pedro; he is very wise and thoughtful; he sits beside the blessed saint at the gate of Heaven, and if those who seek to enter have been cruel and unkind to the bears in this world, the saint will turn them away, and they will have to go and live in hell, with the devils and the wolves.” “Que ay mas per deeir!” concluded the woman, “el orso es el perso de Dios.” The bear’s name was Belis; I spell it as it was pronounced. Throughout the conversation the peasants would constantly interrupt themselves to speak to the animal, assuring me that he perfectly understood all that was said.

What is the origin of the custom which prevails in Hyeres, and which I have also seen in Bagneres de Bigorre, of driving two oxen decorated with collars and green wreaths or branches through the town on one or more of the days of Holy Week? The oxen are accompanied by men and boys beating a drum or blowing horns.

TH HOLLINGSWORTH

Older Basque Texts Online

This is another nice resource. Google has, on their book archive, a number of texts related to the Basques. These tend to be older books that are out of copyright, which means you aren’t going to find Kurlansky’s The Basque History of the World, but you will find a number of gems. In particular, there are a lot of texts — all of which can be downloaded in either PDF or plain text format — that describe the Basque Country of the late 1800s and early 1900s, or the history of the Basque Country as viewed at that time. Two particular items of note are books on legends and folktales of the Basques:

As with the Life photo archive, if anyone finds other gems buried in the archive, please share!

A Long Silence

Again, it has been a long while since I’ve added or posted to the pages. Sorry, everyone. Life keeps getting in the way. The site is not dead — I have new things I want to do with the site, I just need to make the time to update more often. I have some interviews in progress, I have ideas for other interviews, and there are a number of items I want to share with everyone. As always, if anyone wants to contribute to Buber’s Basque Page, please let me know.

Life Photo Archive at Google

Google has just announced that they are hosting an archive of photos that have appeared in Life magazine. In particular, there are about 200 photos related to the Basques, many of sheepherders in the American West, as shown here.  Actually, most of the photos are of sheepherders and sheepherding.

Looking at the details of the archive a bit closer, many of these photos never appeared in Life magazine itself, they are from their archived of unpublished photos.  Also, all of the photos I’ve found so far are black and white, suggesting they are not the more recent photos (or that Life doesn’t have any photos related to the Basques that are more recent).

However, more searching does bring up other photos.  For example, a search on “Bilbao” brought up this photo (among others) showing the night sky with the smokestacks in the background.

If anyone searches through the archive and finds any really interesting photos, please post the links here and share with the rest of us.  I’m sure there are some real gems in there.

New Guest Photo Album


Malgorzata K. Czarkowska, who I met during a visit to my dad’s family in Munitibar a number of years ago, and who was spending the summer visiting Euskal Herria and getting to know the people, sent me some very nice photos from her time there.  She goes after the people a little bit more, juxtaposing the old traditions with the new changes going on.  The gallery of her photographs can be found in the Photo Album.

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