Basque Fact of the Week: Zugarramurdi, the Town of Witches

The year is 1609 in a small village at the very northern border of Nafarroa. The Inquisition has just descended on the quiet village, upending it as accusations of witchcraft fly about. Children describe strange rituals that involved Satan, cannibalism, and orgies. Primarily women, some in their eighties, but also men, including priests, are accused of being part of these dark happenings. Maybe these stories grew out of the activities of healers. In any case, the Inquisition interrogates and tortures many during the Basque witch trials, condemning several to death. At the heart of all of this resided the small town of Zugarramurdi.

A modern Akelarre in the Caves of Zugarramurdi, photo from Turismo Verde Navarra.
  • Zugarramurdi is another very small Basque village that has an outsized reputation. In 1800 Zugarramurdi had a population of 413. By 1900, that had grown to 582, but in 1998 had declined again to 239.
  • Zugarramurdi’s recorded history began in 1154, when it was under the lordship of the monastery of San Salvador de Urdax. It continued as essentially a farm associated with Urdax until 1667, when it became an exempt village and began its own development. However, up until 1834, the abbot of Urdax appointed the mayor. It wasn’t until then that Zugarramurdi became independent of their neighbors completely.
  • However, it was in the early 1600s when Zuagarramurdi became infamous. On January 12, 1609, the Inquisition of Logroño received complaints of wizards and witches in Zugarramurdi. Inquisitors were sent to the village, finding nearly 300 people involved in witchcraft. Forty were taken to Logroño to be tried and judged by the Inquisition. Despite the efforts of Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar y Frías, who was an advocate for the accused and doubted the claims of witchcraft, seven of the accused never recanted and were burned at the stake during the auto de fe in November, 1610, while five others died during their imprisonment. Eighteen confessed their guilt and were “reconciled.” The condemned were accused of demonic possession, celebrating black masses, causing storms, cursing fields and animals, and practicing vampirism and necrophagy.
  • Zugarramurdi’s association with witches came, in part, from the caves of Zugarramurdi and a nearby akelarre. Akelarre, literally meaning the pasture of the he-goat, was a place where witches congregated with Satan in the form of a he-goat, the akerbeltz. Akelarre now also means “witches’ Sabbath.”
  • The witches were also said to congregate in the caves, the Sorginen Leizea, or witches’ caves. A stream, named Olabidea but also known as Infernuko Erreka — the Stream of Hell — passes through the middle. The caves hosted pagan celebrations which may have inspired the accusations of witchcraft. Today, on the summer solstice, the town recreates the akelarre, the celebration of the witches.
  • Today, the town has embraced their legacy and association with witches. Thousands of visitors come to visit the “Town of the Witches.” In 2007, the Museum of the Witches opened, highlighting the way of life of those that lived in Zugarramurdi at the time of the Inquisition.
  • In the early 1900s, a number of prehistoric sites were discovered in the area. The Bidartia and the Akelarren-lezea caves contain Neolithic pottery and ceramics while the Lexotoa cave has carved flint dating to the Upper Paleolithic.

Primary sources: Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa; García Nieto, Fernando. Zugarramurdi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/zugarramurdi/ar-152430/; Cuevas de Zugarramurdi, Wikipedia; Zugarramurdi, Pueblo of the Witches

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 102

“What have we done?” moaned Kepa. “We need to go back and get Maite.”

Marina was half pulling, half dragging him through yet another dark tunnel. Kepa didn’t know where the others were, if Marina had simply abandoned them too. All he knew is that his stomach was revolting against him with the thought of Maite lying on the cold stone floor.

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!

“And what?” asked Marina in a biting voice. “Get caught ourselves? How would we be able to help anyone if we get caught too?”

Kepa pulled his arm free of Marina’s grip. “When did you get so cold? The Marina we met seemed much more… compassionate.”

Marina sighed, her shoulders slumping as she did. Kepa saw her face soften in the flickering light of the drone that floated above them, guiding them through the tunnels. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Fighting de Lancre, looking for the zatiak. Living through these… what did Maite call them? Bubbles? And when they pop, everything is undone. It’s hard to see the people or the things that happen in these bubbles as real.”

“They are real to us,” said Kepa, rubbing his chest where Donny McCowen’s bullet had pierced his heart. “Just look at you. You’ve changed. You’ve let them change you. Even if the people in the bubbles don’t remember what happened, you do.”

“Egia da. That’s true. And I’ve lived through so many of these. How many have you lived through?”

“This is our third bubble.”

“Three?” Marina laughed. “I can’t even remember my third. That was so long ago.”

“How many have you done?”

Marina’s eyes wandered absently for a moment. “At least one hundred, I think.” She shrugged. “I’ve lost count.”

“A hundred?” exclaimed Kepa. “How many zatiak are out there?”

“Too many. I feel like I’ll never finish.”

“I can understand how you can become jaded, doing this over and over, watching friends and family die, only to do it all over again. It has to wear you down.”

Marina nodded. “Bai. But, you are right. It is no excuse for becoming so cold. If I lose my humanity chasing these zatiak, it isn’t worth it.” She turned to Kepa, the weak smile on her face betrayed by the sadness in her eyes. “It’s good to have your… optimistic perspective.”

“You can say it. I’m naive. Maite often says so.”

“Optimistic, naive, idealistic. Whatever you call it, don’t lose it. It will keep both you and Maite sane during this ordeal. Now, let’s get to the safe house and figure out how we will rescue her.”

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

Basque Fact of the Week: Jaun Zuria, the White Lord

Last week, I introduced the House of Haro and the first Lords of Bizkaia. The mythical first Lord of Bizkaia was Jaun Zuria, the White Lord. Jaun Zuria is a foreigner, of Scottish ancestry. I find it interesting that the Basque legends rely upon a foreign figure to establish the Lordship of Bizkaia. Why invoke a foreigner to build these stories? Did connecting the Lordship of Bizkaia to foreign royalty give the legend more credence or give the ruling class more justification for their existence?

Art accompanying the single Jaun Zuria by Tartalo Music.
  • The legend of Jaun Zuria, first mentioned by Lope García de Salazar (1399–1476), starts with his mother. A Scottish princess, she arrives by ship to the Basque town of Mundaka. In some stories she is pregnant when she arrives while in others she becomes pregnant after arriving in the Basque Country. In some tales, the father is Sugaar, the mythical snake-god who is consort to Mari. She has a son.
  • At the time, Bizkaia was a vassal of the King of Asturias and León. Every year, the King demanded tribute from the Bizkaians in the form of a cow, an ox, and a white horse. The Basques, whose leader Zenon died while imprisoned by the Asturians, refused the tribute. Enraged, the King razed the countryside, destroying villages and killing many.
  • When he is 22 years old, the son of the Scottish princess is selected as a captain of the troops to meet and stop the advance of the King of León’s (or sometimes Asturias) son; the young man is chosen because only one with royal blood is allowed to fight in formal battle. The opposing forces are defeated in the battle of Arrigorriaga and the young man is selected by the Bizkaians to lead them as the first Lord of Bizkaia and christened Jaun Zuria – the White Lord.
  • Sometimes, it isn’t the son of a Scottish princess who becomes the first Lord of Bizkaia, but the son, Fortun Froes, of an exiled brother, Froom, of an English king. Some elements of this version are similar, particularly the battles against the Asturians.
  • In both stories, the battle of Arrigorriaga is prominent. Jaun Zuria or Fortun Froes lead the Bizkaians in battle. The year of the mythical battle is 870 or 888. Casualties are high on both sides and a blanket of blood covers the battlefield, giving the place Arrigorriaga – place of red stones – its name (though the name may also come from the iron mining and the resulting rust-red stones that were prominent in the area).
  • The illustrious Jon Bilbao suggested that the legend originates in a 9th century Viking settlement on the coast of Bizkaia, in Mundaka, and that the figure of Juan Zuria has his origins in the historical figure Olaf the White.

Auñamendi Entziklopedia. JAUN ZURIA. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/jaun-zuria/ar-63734/; Jaun Zuria, Wikipedia; Jaun Zuria: ¿leyenda o realidad?, EITB.eus; Jaun Zuria, Juan Manuel Etxebarria Ayesta

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 101

“What’s going on?” asked Kepa as the robed figures scurried from station to station.

“We’re getting ready to evacuate,” replied Marina. “They are getting too close and we can’t afford to be caught, not a single one of us.”

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!

“Where will we go?” asked Maite. 

“We have several spaces like this scattered in the underground across the city, with advance scouts to keep them prepped in case we need them. We’ll be ok, but we need to clear this one out and leave as little usable evidence as possible. They can’t find out who we are or where we are going next.”

Maite and Kepa watched as Argia dismantled her monitor system. Rather, as it folded in on itself, the edges coming together, the screens curling and folding up, until ultimately collapsing to a small cube about the size of a Rubicks cube from their own time. The rest of the equipment in the hall was doing something similar. 

“That’s amazing!” began Kepa.

“Shh!” warned Marina. “This is all pretty standard stuff for this time. No one from this time would be surprised by it.”

Maite nodded, the wonder still visible on her face. “It’s still pretty cool.”

Marina let a smile crack her grizzled face. “It is. Consider that I grew up in a time where lighting came from fire and stories came out of the mouths of elders.”

“We’re ready,” barked a man that Kepa recognized by voice to be the one who had drug him here and he assumed was Marina’s right hand.

Marina nodded. “We’re going to checkpoint dorrea. You all know what to do. Go your separate ways, reconvene there in…”

An explosion interrupted Marina’s orders as the doors to the hall burst from their hinges and erupted into a million pieces. Within moments, three uniformed officers on hoverboards burst into the room, followed by multiple spherical drones.

“Nola? How?” bellowed Marina but before she could get an answer, the drones were swarming the room, bolts of energy firing in all directions. 

Marina grabbed Kepa and Maite’s arms. “This way!” she yelled, pulling them to the desk as some of the robbed figures huddled behind tables, firing their own weapons back at the spheres that rolled through the air above them. Other drones spewed smoke that sunk into the room. The smoke stung their eyes as they half followed and were half dragged by Marina toward the desk.

As Marina led them back to her desk, it suddenly moved aside, revealing stairs that went down into inky blackness. 

“Come!” she hissed, pulling Kepa’s arm so hard he thought she might dislocate it. He turned to grab Maite’s hand when a bolt of energy hit her in the back. She immediately fell to the ground.

“Maite!” screamed Kepa as he jerked his arm free of Marina and rushed to Maite’s side.

Maite lay on the ground, looking straight up at him. “I can’t move my legs,” she said, tears flowing down her cheeks. 

Marina grabbed Kepa’s arm again. “We have to go! Or they’ll catch all of us.” She looked down at Maite. “We’ll find you.”

“Zer?” cried Kepa, anguish carved in his face. “We can’t leave her here!”

“And we can’t carry her either!” barked Marina back at him. “Your leg isn’t fully recovered, and she can’t move. If we don’t go now, they’ll catch us too.”

Kepa looked pleadingly at Maite, tears filling his eyes.

“Go! Zoaz! I know you’ll find me, if not in this bubble, in the next” said Maite.

Kepa nodded, wiping tears from his eyes as he rushed down the stairs with Marina. Maite watched as the desk moved back to cover their escape.

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

Basque Fact of the Week: The House of Haro and the Lords of Bizkaia

I have to admit that, whenever I look into the medieval history of the Basque Country, I quickly get lost. There are simply so many players, so many changing alliances, and so many intermarriages that it is hard for me to keep track – theoretical physics is easier! However, one thing is clear: the importance of the House of Haro and the Lordship of Bizkaia in the history of that province. By the way, if anyone has a good book suggestion for the medieval history of the Basque Country, please let me know!

Diego López V de Haro, Lord of Bizkaia from 1295-1310 and founder of Bilbao. Photo from Wikipedia.
  • There are at least two myths surrounding the founding of the Lordship of Bizkaia. The first, dating to at least the early 1300s, has Froom, the exiled brother of the King of England, fighting against the Asturians in Busturia with his son Fortun Froes. Froom was killed in battle but Froes was, for some reason, named Lord of Bizkaia for his efforts.
  • The second myth revolves around Jaun Zuria, the White Lord. In this story, the daughter of a Scottish king arrives by ship at the port of Mundaka, where she gives birth to a son. Some tales say that the boy, named Çuria, was the son of Sugaar, the mythical consort of Mari. The mother and son later move to Busturia, where the boy is raised. He is chosen by the people of Bizkaia to lead their resistance against the Asturians, defeating them in the battle of Arrigorriaga, for which he is rewarded by being named Lord of Bizkaia.
  • The first historical Lord of Bizkaia was Iñigo López Ezquerra, who became Lord sometime between 1040 and 1043. He was appointed to this role by king García Sánchez III of Navarre. Not much is known about Iñigo. He first appears in history in 1033, when he was mentioned in the writings of Sancho el Mayor of Nafarroa. Iñigo made the position hereditary, passing it along to his son, Lope Íñiguez.
  • Lope’s son, Diego López I de Haro, became the third Lord of Bizkaia and also took on the name Haro, using it for the first time in 1117. Haro was a place in La Rioja that was under the family’s control. His descendants continued to use the name from then on and, except for a brief moment in time, ruled the Lordship of Bizkaia until Juana Núñez de Lara y Díaz de Haro who was Lady of Bizkaia between 1352-1359. She died with no successor, ending the House of Haro’s control of the Lordship.
  • Though the first Lord of Bizkaia, Iñigo, gained his title through the king of Nafarroa, the family later aligned themselves with Castilla, and even later again with Nafarroa. During the House of Haro’s reign, in 1176, Bizkaia was divided along the Nervión river, with the left becoming part of Castilla and the right remaining with Nafarroa. Eventually, the Lordship fell completely under the domain of Castilla, until it was abolished in 1876, along with the Bizkaian fueros and the Juntas Generales.
  • The Lordship’s domain consisted of three parts. The Tierra Llana, or flatlands, was the rural middle region that was not protected by walls and was comprised of, amongst other towns, Mundaka, Busturia, Marikina, Amorebieta, Sondika, and Lemoa. To the west was the Enkarterri, including Muskia and Sestao, while to the east lie the Durangaldea, with Mallabia and Elorrio, amongst other towns.

Primary sources: Asarta Epenza, Urbano. CASA DE HARO. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/casa-de-haro/ar-27139/; Estornés Lasa, Bernardo. Íñigo López Ezquerra. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/inigo-lopez-ezquerra/ar-68947/; Lordship of Biscay, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 100


100 episodes?!? Who would have thought! I have no idea who might still be reading this, but if you are and you enjoy it at all, I’d love to hear from you!

“In this time,” began Olatz/Marina as they walked toward a large monitor screen that was manned by a young woman, “he has called himself Zalazar, a bit ironic as Salazar was one of the few who resisted the persecution of the Basque witches.” 

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!

Turning to the young woman, Marina continued. “This is Argia. She is our primary eyes out there, watching the government’s movements, looking for any glimpse of Zalazar.” 

The young woman, who was dressed in the same robe as everyone else but had her hood pulled down to reveal her bright blond curls and her dark eyes, looked up at them. “I haven’t seen any hint of him for quite some time,” she said. “Though there has been some extra activity at his home.” Argia pointed at one of the video feeds on her large monitor, which was covered by hundreds of different windows that flickered back and forth with images. The one Argia pointed to showed the top of a tall tower. On the roof, there were a number of the spherical drones flying back and forth, landing and taking off continuously. “There are more drones than normal,” continued Argia, “though I haven’t seen more people.”

“I’m sure they are huddled in their tower,” said Olatz/Marina. “Keeping their hands clean, so to speak.”

Maite looked over the huddled robed figures spread out through the hall and then at Kepa with her eyebrow raised. Kepa simply shrugged.

“How are you able to watch de Lancre, I mean, Zalazar’s place, so closely?” asked Maite. “Don’t they see you watching them?”

“Argia is hacking into their video systems, so we are watching them through their own drones. We have our own drone nearby, though not so close as to be in visual distance, that receives the feeds from Zalazar’s drones and sends them to us.”

“That’s pretty clever,” said Kepa.

Argia smiled at him. “Thanks! It wasn’t that hard, really. Sometimes, those in power get a little too overconfident in their own abilities.”

“You are too modest,” said Marina. “Argia is one of the premier computer scientists of the country. She is a literal genius when it comes to computer systems.”

Kepa noticed Argia blush as she turned away and back toward her monitors. 

“Anyways,” continued Argia, “beyond the extra drone activity, I haven’t seen anything else of note.”

“I suspect that activity is due to our new friends here,” said Marina. “Can you tell where they are going?”

“Not from this,” said Argia. “Our drone only receives feeds from the drones in the area. But,” she continued as she pointed to another video feed, “there is more activity in the plaza where we found these two.”

One of the video windows centered on the monitor and grew. Maite recognized the plaza where they had encountered the woman on the hoverboard. The plaza was filled with drones and several other uniformed people who were scouring the area. 

“They are looking for a way in,” said Marina with a sigh. She turned to the hall, her voice filling it as she spoke. “Everyone, we are in code Gorria. Be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.”

Murmurs filled the hall as all of the robed figures began to scuttle from one station to the next.

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

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Adventurer Marga d’Andurain

Adventurer. A spy, maybe for the British, maybe for the Nazis. Smuggler, black marketeer. Concubine? Marga d’Andurain was many things, though the details of her life have become too blurred between fact and fiction to know the whole truth. Men, including two husbands, died in her wake. She certainly was an adventurous soul that couldn’t stay in one place, writing in her memoir: “The worst boredom in life is monotony. This stubborn monotony that I always want to escape.”

Photograph of d’Andurain from her memoir, found on Wikipedia.
  • Marga was born Jeanne Amélie Marguerite Clérisse on May 29, 1893 in Baiona. Her father, Maxime Ernest Clérisse, was a judge while her mother, Marie Jeanne Diriart, was a housewife. In 1911, she married her cousin, Pierre d’Andurain, taking the surname with which she would become infamous.
  • She grew up studying at various religious schools, including the Ursuline school of Hondarribia. Even from a young age, she rebelled against the system that confined her, and other young women, to specific roles in society. She was so rebellious and wild that, according to her own account, her family attempted to have her exorcised. She later claimed to be heir of the famous adventurous spirit of the Basques.
  • She and Pierre shared a love for exotic countries, and they traveled extensively together, first to places like Portugal, Morocco, and Algeria and later to Argentina and the Middle East. Their stay in Argentina, where they had thought of starting up a ranch, was cut short by World War I and Pierre’s desire to fight for his homeland.
  • After the war, the family was broke and destitute. Marga, despite resistance from her family, started two businesses that proved successful, one decorating apartments which she bought and resold (maybe one of the first flippers) and another where she created artificial pearls. However, in 1925, after she inherited her father’s estate, the family, now with two sons, moved to the Middle East, starting in Algeria and stopping in Egypt before settling in Syria.
  • In Syria, Marga bought a hotel, the Zénobie, where the family lived for about a decode. She began an affair with a British intelligence officer, which raised suspicions that Marga was a spy.
  • In 1933, Marga decided she wanted to visit Mecca, which would make her the first western woman to visit the city. To make her visit happen, she arranged a marriage to a Bedouin, Soleiman Abdelaziz Dikmari. Marga took on the name Zeinab bent Maksime. As soon as they arrived in what is now Saudi Arabia, Soleiman died. Suspicion immediately fell on Marga and she was arrested, first held in the Governor’s seraglio, and later in the police dungeons. Prosecutors requested that she be stoned, but she was ultimately acquitted and released, thanks to the efforts of the French consulate, though some reports indicate she was pardoned by the king.
  • However, this episode led to a certain amount of fame and Marga recounted the events to counter the versions that appeared in the press. She claimed that the king of Nedj, Ibn Saud, convinced she was a spy, had Soleiman killed to frame her.
  • Upon her release, she remarried Pierre. However, Pierre was murdered not long after (either by poisoning or multiple stabbings), in December of 1936. As suspicion again fell on Marga, she fled Syria and returned to Europe.
  • Life in Europe, ravaged by two world wars, was difficult and Marga turned to dealing goods, especially paintings, on the black market. She also traded in opium. She was again put on trial, this time for the suspected poisoning of her cousin (or nephew) Raymond Clerisse. He had scrawled on a subway ticket “Candy which Marga gave me had a strange taste.” Marga was eventually acquitted.
  • Marga died on November 5, 1948 at the age of 55 while onboard her yacht off of the coast of Morocco, murdered by Hans Abele, a former Gestapo agent. Her body, thrown off the side of the yacht and into the sea, was never recovered.

Primary sources: Estornés Zubizarreta, Idoia. ANDURAIN, Marga de. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/andurain-marga-de/ar-53/; Marga d’Andurain, Wikipedia

Basque Fact of the Week: The Agotes, Outcasts of the Western Pyrenees

All over the world, people have a tendency to demonize others, to view others as different, as inferior, as outcasts. In Japan, there are the Burakumin; in India, the Dalit. Sometimes there is an ethnic or religious component to this marginalization, but not always. In Europe, there is a group of people who have been viewed as tainted, as inferior. In some parts of France, they were called Cagots, Ladres, or Colliberts. In the Basque Country, they were called Agotes.

An Agote man, photo from Sos del Rey Católico.
  • Little is known about the origins of the Agotes. That they were outcasts is certain, though exactly why is less clear. They aren’t a distinct ethnicity, so that isn’t the reason. There is some thought that their status was linked with leprosy. In any case, their status was hereditary: once a family was identified as Agote, their descendants also carried the stigma. They were forced to live away from others, to identify themselves with some badge, and to not touch food or water that was not separated from everyone else’s.
  • However, as opposed to those with leprosy, Agotes were not completely shunned physically, even though they were not afforded economic or political rights. Some believed that they had been punished by God for some moral failing (including being descendants of the carpenters who built the cross Jesus was crucified on), and thus their banishment was just. Some thought they were descended from Arians or primitive Christians who had been isolated in the mountains. They were always the other: on the south side of the Pyrenees, they were from the north, and vice versa.
  • In early descriptions, Agotes had attributes that varied wildly from author to author, ranging from the very negative – clumsy, unintelligent, miserable, sickly, lascivious – to the extremely positive – intelligent, docile, hard-working, haughty, brave. Sometimes, they were described as having magical powers, fabulous wealth, or colossal strength.
  • Even though they practiced the same religion as their neighbors, they were forced to use a separate door, often short so they were forced to bow; they had separate fonts for holy water; and they received the eucharist on the end of a stick or spoon.
  • They often took on manual jobs and careers, from ironworkers and blacksmiths to weavers and seamstresses, and, in particular, all jobs related to wood. On the coasts, they took the most dangerous jobs in the ports. They were limited in the types of jobs they could take, being forced into these types of manual labor trades.
  • They were excluded from public office and the use of community lands. If they tried to marry into non-Agote houses, they were often forbidden from taking on the house name. And, in the Roncal valley, they were not allowed to use the common red trim on their cloaks, being forced to wear yellow to distinguish them from their neighbors.
  • Basque Moonshiners have named their single malt whiskey Agot after these marginalized peoples.

Kerexeta Erro, Xabier. Agote: etnología e historia. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/agote-etnologia-e-historia/ar-10045/; Cagot, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 99


“Olatz…?” began Maite.

The woman smiled at her. “Marina. I’m in here.”

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!

“Marina, then. What is this place?”

Marina/Olatz looked out beyond where Maite and Kepa were sitting at the array of people working at their various desks and stations. She sighed. “It’s the resistance.”

“Resistance?” asked Kepa. “Against what? It seems so perfect out there. So clean. So lush. All of the technology is wonderful.”

Marina nodded. “On the surface, it certainly is. And, admittedly, almost everyone lives a health, productive life. But there is an element of control to make all of this happen. The cost of all of this is a loss of autonomy, of privacy.”

“So, you’d all rather throw all of this away to be able to do… what, exactly?” asked Maite.

Marina shrugged. “That’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. We just want the freedom to live our lives without oversight. You saw those drones at the airport. The second anyone steps out of line, there they are. We are always being watched.”

“What do you mean, we, anyways?” asked Kepa. “You aren’t even from this time.”

“No, that’s right,” continued Marina, “but I’ve spent a lot of time here. And de Lancre has been here for a while too.”

“You said that,” said Maite. “Where?”

“He’s part of the government. In fact, all of this surveillance grew when he appeared in the timeline. I believe it’s all because of him and his search for the zatia.”

“Ah,” said Maite, a smile crossing her face. She turned to the group of people behind her. “I think I understand. You don’t care about any resistance. They are your way of finding the zatia, of fighting de Lancre.”

Marina scowled. “Of course I care. This body, Olatz’s body… it is my flesh and blood. I want a future that is better for her.”

“But, you would sacrifice them all in a heartbeat if it meant getting that zatia.”

Marina’s scowl deepened as her face turned red. “What would you have me do? Sacrifice all of reality for them, when the moment we find the zatia it will all reset and they’ll never even know?”

“No, I understand,” said Maite. “Just don’t try to dress your motivations in this noble cause. It’s unbecoming.”

Marina stood, her face scrunched in anger. Some of the resistance fighters closer to where they sat noticed and began murmuring, pointing at Marina, Maite, and Kepa. Marina let out a long breath and sunk back into her chair.

“I’ve been doing this too long,” she said. 

“Look,” interrupted Kepa. “We know how it is. Well, at least a little. It’s hard not to view all of the people in these bubbles as something expendable, when we know the bubble will pop when we find the zatia. But they are still real lives. We have to treat them like real people.”

“De Lancre doesn’t,” replied Marina. “And if he wins…” She left her thoughts unsaid.

Maite nodded. “It will suck. But we can’t allow ourselves to sink to his level. We can’t dehumanize ourselves. Or any victory will be for nought.”

“I used to share your optimism, so many lifetimes ago.” Marina stood again, this time her face calm. “I’m glad you are here. I needed to reconnect with reality.”

Maite nodded as she stood. “So, where is de Lancre exactly?”

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

Basque Fact of the Week: Kattalin Agirre, Member of the French Resistance

Not long ago, we learned about Florentino Goikoetxea, a mugalari – a smuggler – who helped fugitives cross the French-Spanish border during World War II. Of course, he didn’t act alone. Those fugitives needed a place to stay, and sometimes heal, before they could make the crossing. That was the role of people like Kattalin Agirre. She gave the fugitives a temporary home before they made the trek across the Pyrenees with Florentino. Despite numerous accolades for her efforts, it is surprisingly hard to find much about Kattalin’s life.

Kattalin Aguirre, at the award ceremony for her work with the Comet Line. Photo from Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.
  • Kattalin was born in Sara on August 28, 1897. Her parents were Martin Lamothe and Joséphine Légasse. At a young age — thirteen — Kattalin began working at the Euskalduna Hotel in Ziburu then moved to Paris to work as a maid. In April of 1927, she married Pierre Aguirre and took his surname. Pierre died not long after from the lingering effects of a gas attack in World War I. She moved back to Ziburu and the Euskalduna Hotel, which was run by her cousin Catherine Muruaga. From 1936, she began helping refugees escaping the Spanish Civil War.
  • As World War II broke out, Kattalin used her connections amongst the smugglers in the Pyrenees mountains to help people flee the other direction. As part of the Margot network, she sheltered “children” – a code word for fugitives – in her home, beginning with a request by Marguerite Corysande de Grammont to shelter three such “children.” As part of the Comet line, she sheltered downed airmen, nursing them to health until she could get them to Florentino and across the border. She had a small farmhouse in the foothills of the Pyrenees where she would harbor these fugitives.
  • At some point, she was caught and sent to a concentration camp. She survived and was freed when the Allies liberated the camp.
  • Eventually, her role in the resistance grew beyond sheltering fugitives. She began passing intel to the Nana network, run by the US Office of Strategic Services. Aided by her daughter, 14-year-old Joséphine “Fifine,” she also helped smuggle money and radio equipment across the border.
  • For her efforts, she was recognized multiple times by the French government, receiving the Médaille militaire, the Croix de Guerre, and the Legion of Honour.
  • Kattalin died in Ziburu on July 22, 1992. On her deathbed she said “I didn’t do any more than I had to do.”

Primary sources: Kattalin Aguirre, Wikipedia; Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia. Aguirre, Kattalin. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/aguirre-kattalin/ar-154382/; Freedom Trails: Great Escapes from World War I to the Korean War by Terry C Treadwell

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