Basque Fact of the Week: Pierre Hérigone, an Actual Basque Mathematician

Not long ago, I posted about mathematician Pierre de Fermat and his possible Basque connections (spoiler: he had none). However, in reading about this Pierre, I discovered another mathematician who certainly did have a Basque origin: Pierre Hérigone. His greatest contribution to math was in further developing the idea that math could be conveyed in symbols, rather than local language, making it universal. So, all of you who hated sitting through high school algebra, you have people like Pierre Hérigone to blame. For a detailed account of Hérigone’s contributions to algebra, see Maria Rosa Massa Esteve’s article Symbolic language in early modern mathematics: The Algebra of Pierre Hérigone (1580–1643). (Ok, after this post, I’ll lay off the mathematicians for a while…)

Part of Euclid’s Optics as translated by Hérigone (image from Wikipedia).
  • Little is known about the life of Pierre Hérigone (also known by his Latinized name Petrus Herigonius). He was born in France in 1580 and died in Paris in 1643. In his Apologie ou juste défense, Hérigone himself claimed to be of Basque origin – Hérigone would be a variant of the modern Basque Irigoyen. He spent much of his adult life teaching in Paris.
  • Some sources claim that Pierre Hérigone was not his real name, but was a pseudonym for one Baron Clément Cyriaque de Mangin. These also suggest that the Baron went by the name Denis Henrion, but there is only one source for these connections, by Claude Hardy, a fellow mathematician. However, their stylings and mathematic descriptions are very different, so modern scholars seem to discount this claim.
  • Hérigone is known for one work, the six-volume Cursus mathematicus, nova, brevi, et clara methodo demonstratus, the first volume published in 1634. In this work, Hérigone tried to lay out a complete and consistent mathematical and logic notation, the forerunner to the notation used today in mathematics. Most of what he introduced is no longer used. However, he was the first to use what have now become familiar (at least to mathematicians!) symbols. These include ‘⟂’ for perpendicular or orthogonal (like two lines), and ‘<‘ for angle (though this was slightly changed to ‘∠’ by later authors to avoid confusion with the meaning of less than. Hérigone also introduced the precursor to our modern notation of exponents, to indicate that a number is being raised to a power. He wrote a2, a3, a4… and today we use a2, a3, a4
  • He also described a camera obscura, in the shape of a goblet, which he said one could use to spy on their friends. He didn’t do more than describe it; Johann Zahn was the first to draw this device. Supposedly, when one took a drink, you could see the people behind you.
  • In 1634, Hérigone was part of a commission to examine the claims of Jean-Baptiste Morin that he could measure longitude using the position of the moon relative to the stars. Measuring longitude accurately was a critically important technological advance for navigation at sea and there was a monetary award for anyone who could come up with a better method. The commission, which lasted five years and was in constant debate with Morin, concluded that his method was impractical. Hérigone gave the final report and Morin then blamed him for the negative outcome. Hérigone also disliked Morin’s belief in astrology, writing elsewhere that “The desire to know things to come is an ancient disease of the human mind.”
  • Other than his time on the commission and his interactions with Morin, little else is known about Hérigone’s life. He seems to have been a famous checkers player, and, as described by Scottish mathematician James Hume, he was the only French mathematician he could deal with as he was not quarrelsome.
  • His other major innovation was the so-called major system, in which you convert numbers into sounds and then in to words to remember sequences of numbers. Using these kinds of techniques, Akira Haraguchi has memorized over 100,000 digits of pi.
  • There is a crater on the moon, Herigonius, named for him.

Primary sources: Pierre Hérigone, J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, University of St Andrews; Pierre Hérigone, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 81

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

The beach was picture perfect. The air was cool, but not cold, just enough to counter the heat of the sun. A gentle breeze came off the ocean, bringing with it the salty smell of the sea. Maite took a deep breath. 

“Almost reminds me of home,” she said, suddenly homesick.

Javi chuckled. “You haven’t been gone that long!”

Maite smiled as she looked at Kepa knowingly. “No, I guess not.”

They hiked along the beach, Javi leading the way as Kepa and Maite followed, hand in hand. Maite was still anxious from her existential crisis earlier that morning and held tight to Kepa’s hand, not wanting to ever let go. Her every step was deliberate, as she tried to burn each moment into her brain.

“There’s a nice spot up ahead,” said Javi. “I like to just sit and watch the surfers.”

“You don’t surf yourself?” asked Kepa.

“Nah, I grew up inland and didn’t have much time to make it to the beach to surf. Dad always had us working on something or other. There wasn’t much time for anything else. And now…” he shrugged. “School takes a lot of time.”

“I can relate,” said Maite. “After a long day of classes, then assignments and cramming for exams, there isn’t a whole lot of time to do anything else. Then research sucks even more time.”

“I thought you enjoyed all that research?” asked Kepa, slightly accusingly. “At least that is your excuse for not going out with me most of the time.”

“Of course I like the research,” replied Maite, defensively. “I mean, I want to dedicate my life to doing research. But, at the same time, it comes with sacrifices. It isn’t a nine-to-five type job. You never really turn off or disconnect.” She gave Kepa a pained look. “And sometimes, those who you love are the ones that suffer for it.”

“I think it’s great that you are passionate about your work,” interjected Javi. “Finding something you want to do so deeply is rare. Most people end up working to live. Don’t get me wrong, the world runs on those jobs, but most of us can’t wait for the day to end so we can go home and do something else. If you have that passion, and you can actually follow it, I can’t think of anything better.”

“Live to work, right?” said Maite. She looked again at Kepa. “But, I’m starting to realize that there is more to life than work.”

Kepa couldn’t help but smile. 

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Fighting Basques: Basque-Americans in the Battle of the Philippines (1941-1942)

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario on November 27, 2019.

Location of the air bases of the 19th Bombardment Group in December 1941. Source: Little Rock Air Force Base (

“The air attack on the airfields of the main island of the Philippines, Luzon, took us all by surprise and the ‘P-40’ fighters were destroyed on the ground the first day, without being able to take off.” Thus begins the first-person account of Román Arruza Asorena – a young US Army soldier recruited in Manila while he was studying dentistry at university – published in 1988 by José Miguel Romaña in his book La Segunda Guerra Mundial y Los Vascos. It was December 8, 1941. The 14th Army, under the orders of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, began the invasion of the Philippines in the context of Japan’s military and colonial expansionism in East and Southeast Asia. Arruza, born in the city of Iloílo, on the island of Panay in the Western Visayas region in 1920, was the son of prominent sugar and tobacco farmer Román Arruza Urrutia, from Mungia (Bizkaia). As a child, the family moved to Durango (Bizkaia), but the beginning of the military uprising in 1936 pushed them into exile, first to France, and then to the Philippines.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, only a few hours before the Philippines was attacked, the Japanese carried out a campaign of multiple and successful attacks on American, British and Dutch possessions. During the months that the Battle of the Philippines lasted, Japan invaded Guam, Burma, British Borneo, Hong Kong, Wake Island, the Dutch East Islands, Dutch Borneo, Java, Singapore, Sumatra… it wasn’t until the beginning June 1942 that Japanese ambitions met their first major setback, at the hands of the United States (USA), with the victory at the Battle of Midway.

At that time, command had decided to transfer air groups to the Philippines to improve their defenses in the Pacific, among which were the 19th Bombardment Group (B-17) and the 27th Bombardment Group (A-24). The relocation operation of all the B-17s that were in Hawaii and California had not been completed when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Similarly, the 27th arrived in Manila on November 20, 1941. Faced with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the priority was to divert convoys for transporting supplies and airplanes to Australia, while the pilots and all valuable military personnel, who were on Philippine soil, were evacuated.

Among those who were en route to the archipelago, we have identified James Larronde, of both Nafarroa Beherea and Bizkaian origin. James was born in 1917 in Los Angeles, California. Graduating as a pilot in October 1941, he volunteered to serve in the Philippines. Upon receiving the news of the Japanese attack, the ship carrying James, his flight companions, and a group of 2,000 soldiers from the 131st Field Artillery, set course for Suva (Fiji Islands) and from there to Brisbane, Australia. Among the evacuees from the Philippines were the pilots of Basque origin Felix Larronde (not related to James) and Mitchell Cobeaga. Felix was born in Bishop, California, in 1922, to a Lapurdian father and a Californian mother, while Cobeaga was born in Lovelock, Nevada, to Bizkaian parents, in 1917. Many of their companions didn’t share in the luck of these pilots. The 27th ground personnel were not evacuated and became the 2nd Battalion of the Provisional Infantry Regiment (Air Corps), which was forced to fight as a regular infantry regiment, the first in the history of the United States Air Forces. Made up of some 900 soldiers, they fought against the Japanese for more than three months, finally being captured and sent to the fields in the so-called Bataan Death March, during which the Japanese committed endless atrocities. Half of them died. Similarly, the ground personnel of the 19th joined the infantry that would fight in the Bataan Peninsula, as was the case with another Basque in the unit, Paul Indart. Trained in the maintenance of the “Flying Fortresses,” Indart volunteered to serve in the Philippines, first at Clark Air Base which destroyed by the Japanese – Indart was unharmed – and then at Del Monte base in Mindanao. Indart was born in Reno, Nevada in 1916, to a father from Nafarroa and a Bearnaise mother.

As a consequence of the destruction of the US air bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon, the American fleet, left without air cover and for its own safety, was in turn evacuated to Java on December 12, although successive battles against the Japanese imperial army caused the loss of a large part of the American ships by February 1942. On December 27, 1941, Louis Erreca – born in 1905 in San Luis Rey, California, of a father from Nafarroa Beherea and a Californian mother – lost his life during a bombing mission from Ambon (Indonesia) against the Jolo Islands, in the Philippines. Six PBY Catalina seaplanes participated; only two returned. Erreca’s plane was the first to be shot down. He was the Aviation’s Chief Machinist’s Mate [ACMM] “Plane Captain.” His body was never recovered. As a result of his death, his son Louis Michael Erreca volunteered for the Navy when he was only 17 years old, participating two years later in the Battle of Leyte Gulf that would begin the Allied liberation of the Philippines.

Louis Erreca, Aviation’s Chief Machinist’s Mate “Plane Captain”, lost his life while flying a PYB Catalina on December 27, 1941.

The Japanese aerial bombardments were followed by the landing of troops in the north and south of Manila. The situation of General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the US and Philippine armed forces, was precarious: no aircraft, no naval force, and no reinforcements in sight, nor any supplies for a long resistance. The defending forces withdrew to the Bataán Peninsula, west of Manila Bay, and Corregidor Island, in the southwestern part of Luzon, with the goal of defending the entrance to the bay. Despite the declaration of Manila as an open city on December 26, 1941, to avoid its destruction, the fight continued in Bataán, Corregidor and Leyte, in the Visayas, until its final surrender. On December 24, the president of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel Luis Quezón, and his vice president Sergio Osmeña had been transferred from Manila to Corregidor.

“What happened in Bataán and Corregidor was a hell of fire and shrapnel. When it wasn’t artillery, the planes came to drop more and more bombs at us,” Arruza recalled. “When the Japanese occupied almost all of Luzon, they smashed us hard with their artillery.” Assigned to the Quezon and MacArthur headquarters in Corregidor, he continued his account: “To keep morale high, setting an example of incredible coolness, there was always MacArthur with his characteristic pipe. He was the ultimate symbol of resistance against the invader. To me, he was like a god of war. I never saw him stoop or throw himself to the ground, as others did to take cover from the shrapnel.”

Faced with the inevitability of military defeat, Quezón, Osmeña, their families, and members of the government were evacuated on the recommendation of the American government in February 1942, although they did so in separate transports (Quezón by submarine and Osmeña by boat). They were transferred to Melbourne, Australia, and from there to Washington D.C., where they established the seat of government in exile. Assigned to the aid group of President Quezón, Arruza was evacuated with Osmeña’s group to Iloílo, while the vice president and his entourage continued their journey into exile. “Thanks to this politician, I got rid of the terrible death march of the survivors of Corregidor [some 13,000] towards the Japanese concentration camps and all the penalties, which lasted until the end of the conflict,” concluded Arruza. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacArthur, his family and staff left Corregidor on March 11, 1942 for Australia, a scene we saw in John Ford‘s unforgettable film They Were Expendable (1945). Upon his arrival, MacArthur was appointed Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater. General Jonathan M. Wainwright took command of the armed forces in the Philippines.

Bataán fell on April 9, 1942 and Corregidor on May 6. Wainwright surrendered unconditionally with the capture of Corregidor by the Japanese, although the last American troops surrendered in Mindanao on May 12. Wainwright was taken prisoner of war and became the highest ranking American soldier imprisoned by Japan. He was sent to the Formosa (Taiwan) concentration camp and later to Liaoyuan, China, until his liberation in August 1945 by the Red Army.

After the surrender of the US and Philippine troops in the Bataán and Corregidor Peninsula, they were captured and taken prisoner; Indart was among them. The prisoners of war – about 64,000 Filipinos and some 12,000 Americans – began a foot march of between 90 and 112 kilometers, starting from the south of the peninsula to Camp O’Donnell, a military base in Capas, Tarlac, on the same island of Luzón that the Japanese used as a temporary concentration camp. It is estimated that between 5,600 and 18,000 Filipinos and between 500 and 650 Americans died as a result of summary executions, murders, malnutrition, disease, and the cruelty of their guardians during the long march, which would later be christened the “Death March of Bataán.” Japan had not ratified the Geneva Convention, also known as the 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Both Indart and Arrizabalaga are buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. They were awarded the Purple Heart. Source: Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

The situation did not improve at Camp O’Donnell. An estimated 20,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans perished in that camp from hunger, disease, and brutality by their captors. Prisoners perished at the rate of hundreds a day. Corporal Indart, despite having survived the “Death March,” passed away on May 9 at the age of 26 at Camp O’Donnell. Similarly, Lance Corporal Joseph Arrizabalaga died on May 19 at the age of 21. Arrizabalaga, born in Boise, Idaho, to Bizkaian parents, had been sent to Bizkaia to continue his education when the Civil War forced him to return to the United States. He was assigned to the Philippines, forming part of the 808th Company of the Military Police, which in the face of the Japanese invasion he joined the infantry in defense of the country.

Manuel Eneriz was born in 1920 in Santa Clara, California, to a Nafarroan father and an Andalusian mother. Enlisted in March 1941, he was sent to the Philippines where he served with Company “K” of the 31st Infantry Regiment. Like most of the survivors of the Battle of the Philippines, Corporal Eneriz was taken prisoner and fortunately survived the infamous “Death March.” Although his situation was not serious enough, he was sent to the Fukuoka-Kashii prison camp, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, where he performed forced labor in a coal mine for ten hours a day for three years and six months until his liberation on the 15th of October, 1945, by American troops. He survived episodes of malaria, dysentery, scurvy, and occasional blows and stabbing by his captors. Those injuries earned him a Purple Heart many years after his discharge. During his captivity, at a distance of 30 miles from Nagasaki, he witnessed the atomic bomb hitting the city on August 9, 1945. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1997, Eneriz burst into tears as he recalled the event. He would dedicate his life to educating the youngest in the consequences of war and the high cost of freedom. “For me,” he used to emphasize, “every day is a Freedom Day.” He passed away in 2001 in Camarillo, California, one week after his 81st birthday.

Newspaper clip of Eneriz giving an interview to Los Angeles Times on August 9, 1997.

General MacArthur, on his arrival in Australia at the small Terowie train station, standing before the journalists and the assembled crowd, sent a resounding and foreboding message to the Japanese invaders. “I’ll be back”. After their defeat and the end of US and Philippine control over the country, the Japanese occupation began, and a strong popular protest gave rise to an underground resistance movement and guerrillas. The Japanese Imperial Army organized a new puppet government known as the Second Republic, beginning in October 14, 1943, and led by President José P. Laurel. Dictator Francisco Franco congratulated the Japanese high command for its final victory and recognized Laurel’s collaborationist government. Later, he would change his mind, but that is another story.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Did a Typo Make Simon Gurtubay Rich?

Is it better to be good or lucky? Success in business often requires a bit of both. Or, maybe better said, luck comes to those who are prepared for it: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it” (Coleman Cox). “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Seneca). Sometimes, things happen that we could never have anticipated, but if we are in the right place and time, we can leverage that into success. Such is the story of Simon Gurtubay, who parlayed a typo in a telegram into one of Bilbao’s first fortunes.

From the Wellcome Collection, image found on El Correo.
  • Simon Gurtubay Zubero was born in Igorre, a small town just to the southeast of Bilbao that is today the home of about 4000 people, in May, 1800. His parents, Baltasar Gurtubay and María Zubero, were laborers. Gurtubay was uneducated; supposedly, his son had to sign documents for him as he couldn’t even sign his own name. As a young man, he moved to Bilbao, where he dedicated himself to the fur trade. The story goes that, in 1836 during the middle of First Carlist War, Gurtubay sent a telegram where he ordered “100 o 120 bacalao” — 100 or 120 pieces of cod. However, his telegram was misinterpreted and, instead of “100 o 120,” the “o,” maybe missing the accent (o versus ó), was read as a “0” and he ended up receiving “1,000,120” pieces instead.
  • At first, Simon was almost suicidal as there was no way he could pay for all of that fish. He tried to sell it in various parts of Spain, but had no luck. However, Bilbao was under siege during the war and food became scarce. Soon, Gurtubay had a market for his fish. Cod soon became a staple of the Bilbainos and the Bizkaians and Gurtubay became a rich man. And Basques, being the enterprising people they are, took advantage of all that cod and the now-famous bacalao a la vizcaína was born. Or maybe bacalao al pil-pil. At least that’s the story.
  • Ana Vega Pérez de Arlucea argues that there are several inconsistencies with this story. First, olive oil – the foundation of bacalao a la vizcaína – would have been too expensive for the majority of people at the time. Second, there is no record that Gurtubay received such a large shipment. Third, bacalao was already popular in Bizkaia at the time. And, last, the sieges of Bilbao didn’t last long enough to cause such shortages (though the second one, in 1836, did last nearly two months). These are all circumstantial arguments, but suggest that Gurtubay’s story may have some elements of fiction mixed in with fact.
  • What is certain is that Gurtubay did become rich, and that he then became a pillar of Bilbao. He founded the company “Gurtubay e Hijos” and participated in the founding of the Banco de Bilbao. He was also involved in the birth of the Bilbao-Tudela railway and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce. He died on April 14, 1872.

Primary sources: Gurtubay, Mertxe. GURTUBAY ZUBERO, Simón. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at:; Vega Pérez de Arlucea, Ana, La falsa leyenda del origen del bacalao (II): así surgió el mito asociado a los Guturbay, El Correo; Alma de Herrero

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 80

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Kepa and Maite sat down at the dining room table. In front of them sat a selection of pastries and fruit. Javi brought some cups of coffee as he joined them.

“Wow,” said Kepa, “this looks great!”

“No problem,” replied Javi. “It isn’t quite bollos de mantequilla, but it’s as close as we can get here.”

“Thanks,” added Maite in a subdued voice as she reached out with her fork for some pineapple.

“Everything ok?” asked Javi. “Was the bed uncomfortable?”

“Everything is great,” said Maite, forcing a smile. “I guess I didn’t appreciate how taxing this trip was going to be. We aren’t used to such great distances at home.”

“I can see that,” said Javi, seemingly accepting her excuse. “We drive everywhere here. I’m so used to long drives, I don’t even think about it.”

“So, what’s the plan for today?” asked Kepa. “Before dancing, that is.”

Javi smiled. “We’re flexible, so if you guys aren’t up for dancing, I completely understand. But, I thought we might start with a stroll along the beach, get some fresh air and all. Then, hit downtown for some lunch. Julie will join us then. There are a lot of nice little shops downtown. I don’t buy anything, but it’s cool to see the work of so many talented artists. There are a whole bunch of wineries around here and they have tasting rooms downtown as well. Then some dinner and, if you are up for it, dancing.”

“That sounds wonderful,” replied Maite, her mood lightening a little. 

Kepa nodded, his mouth full of a danish. “These are so good,” he said before continuing. “That sounds like an awesome plan.”

Javi laughed. “Yeah, those are some of my favorites. There is a bakery not far from here that makes the best things. If I didn’t work out so much, I think I’d look like Tio Josu!”

Kepa returned his laugh. “You know what he calls himself? The family dog, because he eats all of the scraps no one else eats!”

“I can see that! Living by myself has advantages.”

“It really isn’t a problem until you have kids,” said Maite with a smile.

“True,” replied Javi with a laugh, “and that isn’t in the cards for a while.”

“I thought you and Julie were serious?” asked Kepa.

“We are, but there is so much to do before we can even think about a family.” He looked over at Kepa and Maite. “What about you two?”

Maite looked at Kepa, who looked back at her. “Um,” she began.

“We haven’t…” stumbled Kepa.

Javi laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not amuma, I’m not going to interrogate you.” He stood up. “I’m going to finish getting ready. No hurry, but we’ll head out when you’re ready.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

A Basque Doctor Without Borders

A Basque doctor without borders

The life of Gonzalo Aranguren Sabas as recounted by his grandson Gontzal Aranguren Laflin

Gonzalo Aranguren Sabas (Bilbao 1903-Hondarribia 1974) was a man of many qualities worthy of mention and whose memory is his best legacy, not only for all his descendants but also for all those who associated with him in the Hospitals of Bizkaia during the civil war and the bombings of Gernika, at the Hospital de la Roseraie in Biarritz during his exile in France, or in Venezuela where he became a well-known Doctor within the Basque community in Caracas.

He studied medicine in Madrid and worked at the Basurto Hospital in Bilbao. When the Spanish civil war reached Bizkaia in 1937, the Basque Government entrusted him with the Directorate of the Blood Hospital of the Basque Army in Amorebieta, Bizkaia.

Amorebieta Hospital

At the Amorebieta Hospital, they treated all of the wounded from the Otxandiano fronts and later from the bombing of Gernika. But in the face of imminent defeat, he received the order to continue his work in Biarritz, Lapurdi, in France, as the head of La Roseraie Hospital, with the aim of treating all the gudaris wounded on the battle fronts.

When Franco’s troops invaded Bizkaia in May, the priest of the convent where the Amorebieta Hospital had been installed, Father Urtiaga, was shot for collaborating with the separatist Reds. Dr. Gonzalo Aranguren, before leaving the convent to transfer the war wounded to France, warned the priest of the danger of staying in the convent and offered that he accompany the doctor and his team to France. The parish priest did not think that the cruelty of the other side was of such caliber,and declined to leave, but the reality is that he was shot on May 19.

Hospital La Roseraie

According to one of the first reports from the hospital, dated January 3, 1938, “commissioned by the Government of Euzkadi from the Directorate of La Roseraie in order to attend as much as possible to the unfortunate mutilated and wounded from the war who could be evacuated from Euzkadi and Santander, as well as from Asturias, which in the number of TWO HUNDRED FORTY we have attended and are attending, we set up a Hospital with an operating room and sterilization sanitary material and two treatment rooms. “

They not only tried to alleviate the dire situation of the wounded soldiers but also created workshops so that the mutilated gudaris, once cared for, could somehow reintegrate into productive life. For this reason, they created the following workshops, according to the Health Inspector Dr. Luis Bilbao in his report of February 27, 1938:

“Orthopedics. Where artificial legs are being made for the mutilated under the supervision of the Orthopedic Dr. Musatadi

“Carpentry. Where all the work of the center is done and those suitable for it learn the trade.

“Espadrilles. Where benches and a work table have been installed, where they have begun to manufacture espadrilles and several mutilated suitable for it are learning the trade.

“Shoe shop. Where four work teams have been installed and in principle they are repairing all the Center’s footwear and several mutilated suitable for this trade are learning the trade. When they learn what repair to make, they will begin to build. The direction of this workshop is run by a war-wounded man who was a shoemaker by trade and has been fit for it.

“Since February 15, they are given the following classes: primary instruction – there are four illiterates – French language classes, elementary mathematics, and Basque classes. “

All of this required a monthly budget of 100,000 francs, though sometimes the budget was exceeded by unexpected situations “due to the surprising expense of pharmacy 11,000 francs, and coal and light at 10,500 francs (months of December and January), and for the new chapter on Radiography and Electrotherapy ”.

The Minister of Health of the Basque Government, Heliodoro de la Torre, put all of the necessary means in place so that the mutilated gudaris had the best possible care under the circumstances. The repercussion of the work carried out was thanks to the great effort resulting from the collaboration of the medical staff, nurses, and the patients themselves in the workshops and in the choir. Aranguren was honored on different occasions for his great work in the direction of the Hospital.

In addition, the war-maimed formed a famous choir that sang in different places in the area.

Before the start of World War II, Lehendakari JA Agirre, the head of the Basque government in exile, unequivocally positioned himself: “Given the causes invoked and the methods used by Germany to unleash war, it is for us the war between everything that is worthy of being appreciated and all that deserves our condemnation.”

On June 27, 1940, German troops took possession of La Roseraie and replaced the ikurriña with the swastika. During the course of several different trips, many of those Basques from the hospital and beyond went into exile in Venezuela, which meant a trip of weeks to an uncertain and unfamiliar destination but which often ended with welcome for many Basque families.

Caracas Basque Club

Exile – Venezuela

Upon arriving in Venezuela, Dr. Aranguren became involved in the creation of the Basque Center in Caracas where he held various positions. He also continued devoting himself to his passion for medicine, being the recipient of the Gold Medal of the city of Barcelona in the state of Ansótegui. 

After decades in exile, he finally returned to Bilbao where he founded a private clinic where I was born. He spent his retirement in Hondarribia where he rested overlooking the same river that he had to cross during the Civil War to manage The Roseraie Hospital in Biarritz.

Basque Fact of the Week: Saint Francis Xavier

Saint Ignatius isn’t the only Catholic Saint born in the Basque Country. His fellow Jesuit, Saint Francis Xavier, was also born in the Basque Country. However, unlike Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis Xavier spent much of his adult life traveling and proselytizing to the peoples of India and Japan, amongst others. He was known for trying to preach in the local languages.

The miracles of St. Francis Xavier, by Rubens. Picture from Wikimedia.
  • Francisco de Jaso y Azpilicueta, the man who would become Saint Francis, was born on April 7, 1506, in the town of Javier, then in the Kingdom of Nafarroa. His father, Juan de Jaso, was president of the Royal Council of Nafarroa while his mother, María de Azpilcueta, was from a notable royal family.
  • Francisco grew up in a turbulent time. In 1512, when Francisco was 6 years old, the Kingdom of Aragon invaded Nafarroa. Francisco’s brothers fought in the war while his father attended to Juan de Albret (or John III of Nafarroa). Only three years later, Nafarroa was annexed by Castilla, ending the independence of the kingdom (though part of it survived for some time longer on the other side of the Pyrenees).
  • It was during this time that Francisco decided to go to Paris to study. He left for Paris in 1525 to attend the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris. It was here that he met Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, the future Saint Ignatius. While it took Iñigo some time, in 1533 Francisco dedicated himself to his colleague and his mission, becoming one of the first Jesuits. He was ordained as a priest in 1537.
  • In 1540, he was sent to the East Indies at the behest of King John of Portugal, who wanted missionaries to spread the Catholic faith in Portugal’s new possessions. In April of 1541, he finally began his journey, but had to stop at Mozambique along the way, where he spent several months. There, he saw how the Portuguese exploited the local populace. In May, 1542, he finally reached Goa, India, the capital of Portuguese India. He then moved on to Cape Comorin to evangelize amongst the Paravas. Wherever he went, he made it a point to learn the local language to better perform his missionary duties.
  • Francisco worked for several years in the region, jumping back and forth between India and what would become Sri Lanka. In 1547, he met a Japanese man who had sought him out. Anjirō, who became the first Japanese Christian, accompanied Francisco to Japan in 1549, where he stayed for over two years. His efforts in Japan were not nearly as successful as those in India. Even so, a small Christian community was established in Japan.
  • His last mission would take him to China. He reached Chinese territory in August, 1552, but transport to mainland China was significantly delayed. Francisco died of fever in September, 1552, not reaching the Chinese mainland. His body was taken back to Goa. However, several of his bones were sent to other places as holy relics.
  • Francisco was canonized in 1662, the same year as his colleague Saint Ignatius, and was declared patron of all lands east of the Cape of Good Hope in 1748. He is the patron saint of Nafarroa. He is also the patron of Catholic missions. It is estimated that he converted some 30,000 people to Christianity. He also encouraged the King of Portugal to send the Inquisition to Goa.

Primary sources: Larrañaga, Luis F. Javier, Francisco de. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at:; Francis Xavier, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 79

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Though Javi and Kepa didn’t drink all that much, it was still late when they finally made it back to Javi’s place. Kepa quietly slipped into his and Maite’s room, into the bed, and was soon fast asleep. 

Maite, lying awake next to him, simply smiled to herself. She mused over the time since they had first met Marina. It had only been a few months in real time, but it already felt like a lifetime ago. So much had already changed, with her relationship with Kepa, her potential move to Berkeley, and their discovery of two of the zatia. She shuddered when she recalled how De Lancre had roasted Blas Telleria alive, and how Donny McCown had shot Kepa in the heart. Tears began flowing as she choked back a sob. Yes, so much had changed, but it had also been accompanied by so much death and suffering. How much longer could she deal with it all? She eventually fell into a fitful sleep, her mind tormented by images of Blas and Kepa dying.

Morning came too soon for both of them as light poured in from a part in the curtain, hitting them both in the face. Kepa rolled over and smiled at Maite. “Egun on,” he said.

Maite returned his smile, though her’s wasn’t as big. “Egun on,” she replied. “You guys had a good time?”

Kepa nodded. “Bai, we did. It was good to catch up, it’s been too long. I’m not sure I’m up for a big night of dancing, but I guess that’s what’s on the schedule for today.”

“Dancing, eh? I didn’t realize Javi was much of a dancer.”

“I think it’s partially his girlfriend. She likes to dance a lot, so he does too now.”

Maite shook her head. “I can’t believe little Javi has a girlfriend.” She looked at Kepa and gave him a mischievous smile. “But, I can’t believe you do either.”

Kepa blushed and smiled at the same time. “You can’t believe it? I can’t believe it! I pinch myself every day. I just hope this isn’t one of those quantum bubbles that will pop some day and erase it all.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Maite. “I hadn’t even thought about that. How do we know, really know, we aren’t in a bubble? How do we know this won’t all disappear?”

“I was only joking…” began Kepa.

“No, really,” continued Maite as she sat up in the bed, pulling the covers up over her chest. “In the two bubbles we’ve been to, we knew they were bubbles because there was a specific event that transported us. But, how do we know we didn’t start in a bubble? How do we know that we returned to where we started or if we got shoved into another bubble and not our original time?” She looked over at Kepa. “How do we know anything?”

“Well,” said Kepa, feeling a rise of panic himself, “we only ever saw the zatia twice, and both times that triggered our trips to the bubbles. We never touched one before that.”

“True,” mused Maite. “But, we don’t know that’s the only way into a bubble. We don’t even know if we weren’t born into a bubble.” She looked over at Kepa. “What if every time is a bubble waiting to pop?”

“What are you saying?” asked Kepa, confusion etched on his face.

“Well,” said Maite, “think about the last bubble. What if we had never found that zatia. What if Donny had never shot you. Maybe we would have gotten married, even had kids. Would our kids know they were in a bubble? And if we found the zatia after they were born, would the bubble pop, erasing our kids from existence?” She turned to look at Kepa. “What if we are in a bubble now, and Donny’s time was a bubble on top of a bubble?”

Kepa shook his head. “This is too much. I can’t handle it. Are you saying that none of this is real?”

“No…” began Maite before pausing. After a moment she continued, in almost a sheepish voice. “What I’m saying is how do we know it is?”

“If we are in a bubble, I hope we never find the zatia,” said Kepa, a bit more viciously than he intended. “I don’t want this to ever end.” He grabbed Maite’s hand.

“But,” said Maite as a chill went through her body, “what if De Lancre finds it?”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Hilarriak, the Dead-Stones of the Basque Country

During my first visit to the Basque Country, my cousin took me to Elorrio, not far from his hometown of Durango in Bizkaia. He took me and a friend to Argiñeta, which was simply amazing. They’ve collected a number of hilarriak, or funeral steles, there. These are large stone grave markers that are carved with a variety of symbols and designs that either speak to the dead person and their profession or more abstractly to the stars and the cosmos. Either way, they are a fascinating element of the Basque cultural heritage.

A collection of discoidal steles at the San Telmo Museum in Donostia. Photo from Wikipedia.
  • While the discoidal steles, with their round tops sitting on trapezoidal bases, are not unique to the Basque Country, they are particularly common there. They’ve also been found in other parts of Western Europe and Northern Africa. A few have even been found in Britain. The circular part is decorated with geometric shapes or, more recently, Christian symbols, including crosses. Rosettes are very common, as are lauburus. The edge is often decorated to resemble the rays of the shining sun. And, at least in modern hilarriak, the base is engraved with the name of the deceased. The oldest discoidal hilarriak date to the Iron Age, but most of those found in Nafarroa, which has a particularly large number, date between the 11th and 18th centuries.
  • One of the oldest discoidal steles was found in Berreaga, Bizkaia, in the lands surrounding the towns of Mungia, Zamudio and Gamiz-Fika. Decorated with solar imagery, it dates to the 1st or 2nd century BC. The stele was found in a necropolis, which has been designated a Cultural Asset by the Basque Government. While the site was discovered in the 16th century, excavations weren’t done until the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • The Necropolis of Argiñeta, in Elorrio, Bizkaia, is a fascinating site. It contains multiple steles and sarcophagi that date back to between the 8th and 10th centuries. Built of sandstone from Mount Oiz, these hilarriak also feature astral designs, things like concentric circles, extended radial lines, and cross shapes. Some of the tombs have inscriptions that are the oldest evidence of Christianity in Bizkaia.
  • There is also a museum dedicated to these hilariak. Located in the town of Larzabale in Nafarroa Beherea, Harriak Iguzkitan opened in 2007 and features nearly 100 pieces of art in an open air setting. It is the first interpretation center in the Basque Country dedicated to discoidal steles and Basque funerary art.
  • Of course, not all hilarriak are discoidal. One early example, dating from the 1st century AD, is the Andrearriagako estela. This headstone is noteworthy because it is one of the few from that time in Gipuzkoa with an inscription. The inscription says “VAL BELTESONIS.” The second word seems to be connected to Aquitanian, or pre-Basque.
  • Making an hilarria was a complicated process, requiring not only finding the right stones, but a wide selection of tools; something like twenty different tools were needed to carve the stone. Today, the art of making hilarriak is slowly fading. However, there are master crafters that continue on the tradition, such as Pello Iraizoz.
  • Update! Marc Cormier pointed out that Basques left similar grave stones in Newfoundland!

Primary sources: Hilarri, Wikipedia; Estelas discoideas de Puente la Reina/Gares, Koldo Colomo Castro;

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 78

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

The pub that Javi found was both familiar but completely different from the places Kepa hung out at home. It was full of students from the university as well as a mix of other people. Javi ordered two pints at the bar and led them to a table in the corner, where the crowd noise wasn’t quite so loud.

“I’m not sure how you do it, sitting in one place for hours and hours,” said Kepa as he took a sip of his pint.

Javi laughed. “As opposed to wandering the streets all night? I like that a lot too, but sometimes it’s nice to just find a quiet table and talk over beers. No pressure to finish up and find the next spot.”

“I can see that,” said Kepa. He took another sip. “You know, I really like these IPAs. We don’t get them very often back home.”

Javi shrugged. “They certainly are an acquired taste, but once you get it, it’s hard to drink anything else.”

“So,” continued Kepa with a smile, “tell me about this girlfriend.”

It was Javi’s turn to smile. “Oh, Julie’s great. We met in class and were study partners for a while before I got the courage to ask her out. That was about six months ago or so. Anyways, we’ve been dating ever since. She’s beautiful and smart. And she likes the same kinds of geeky things I do.” Javi took a sip of his own beer. “What about you and Maite? When did that start?”

“Well, it got more intense recently, but we’ve been flirting for a while now.”

“Oh, I remember. In the cuadrilla, you two could barely keep your eyes off of each other. I always figured you’d get together. Man, I always thought she was gorgeous. I always thought, if I knew a bit more Euskara, I could impress her. But, it wasn’t meant to be.” He raised his glass. “I’m happy for you cuz!”

Kepa raised his glass and chinged with Javi’s. “Thanks. You too. I’m glad to see you doing so well.”

Javi shrugged as he put his glass down. “Well, I graduate after this year and I have to figure out what to do next. And Julie is in a completely different field, so I’m not sure how easy it will be for us to stay together.”

“Different field? I thought you met in class?”

“We did, but it was Greek mythology. We were both taking it as a break for our core classes. I’m studying math and her major is history. Not many jobs out there for us with only bachelor’s degrees. So, probably we’ll both end up in grad school, but we have to get into the same school.”

“That’s tough. Maite is thinking of coming out this way for graduate school too. Berkeley. That’s why we’re out here, for her to interview with the professors.”

“Berkeley? Wow, that’s impressive. How did it go?”

Kepa shrugged. “Well, I think. I don’t really know. I don’t understand what she does, some kind of quantum stuff. Being around all of you makes me feel a little… inadequate.”

“Dude!” exclaimed Javi. “You’re with the most beautiful and smartest girl in all of the Basque Country! You are traveling the world! You have an amazing cousin. Your life is good!”

Kepa smiled as he raised his glass for another clink. He paused before taking a sip. “Bai,” he said. “Life is good.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

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