The Basques are a people whose homeland is the westernmost part of the Pyrenees Mountains and the immediately surrounding regions. This area comprises four provinces in Spain (Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya, Alava, and Navarra) and three provinces in the department of Pyrenees-Atlantique in France (Soule, Labourd, and Basse-Navarre). Known to the Spanish as vascos and to the French as basques, the Basques call themselves Euskaldunak and their homeland Euskadi. Basque speakers number about 890,000 in Spain and 80,000 in France (1987 est.), but a larger number identify themselves as Basques in each country.

The origins of the Basques are still a mystery. Their language is unrelated to any Indo-European language. Although they look much like their French and Spanish neighbors, Basques possess the lowest frequency of blood-type B and the highest frequencies of types O and Rh-negative of any population in Europe. They are staunchly Roman Catholic and noted for their distinctive folklore, folk theater, games, music, and a light-footed, acrobatic form of dancing.

Traditionally a fiercely independent peasant and fishing people, they were known as early as the Middle Ages as skilled boat makers and courageous whale hunters and cod fishermen who often ranged far into the Atlantic. Their characteristic settlement is the isolated farm. The growth of villages is a relatively recent response to increased industry and trade in the Basque region.

A large number of Basques have migrated to North and South America. Historically, this migration has been the result partly of adverse political circumstances (most Basques opposed the Franco regime in Spain) and partly of the inheritance rule known as primogeniture, by which the oldest son inherits the family farm. Younger sons generally have either sought employment in coastal settlements as industrial workers or fishermen, or they have migrated to the New World, frequently finding work as sheepherders.

Isolated in their mountainous homeland, the Basques repulsed incursions by Romans, Germanic tribes, Moors, and others until the 1700s. They lost their autonomy in France after the French Revolution (1789) and in Spain by the early 1800s. A movement for Basque separatism rose in the 19th and 20th centuries... Spain's Basques were granted home rule in 1980.

Taken from...

Robert T. Anderson

Biblio: Bibliography: Clark, Robert P., The Basques (1980); Douglass, W. A., ed., Basque Politics (1985); Gallop, Rodney, The Book of the Basques (1930; repr. 1970); Heiberg, Marianne, The Making of the Basque Nation (1989); Payne, S. G., Basque Nationalism (1975).

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