Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Ultra-running

One of the biggest features at any Basque festival, at least in the United States, is the sporting demonstration, the herri kirolak or rural sports. Events often include weight carries, tug-of-wars, and wood chopping. These are all inspired by the activities one might encounter on the family baserri, the work that kept the family farm alive. Given how central these are to the human experience, it might be a bit surprising that running doesn’t feature more prominently. However, while ultra-running — running distances of more than 26 miles — is gaining popularity, the Basques have a long tradition of running great distances.

Korrikalaris. Competition between Txikito de Aruiz (black shorts) and Aldaz, in 1961, in the bullring in Tolosa. Photo from the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

  • As far back as the 16th century, Basques were known for their endurance as runners. They were often employed by aristocrats to run messages for them. While others were also employed, Basques enjoyed a special reputation for their running prowess, leading to the phrase “to run like a Basque” in France and the recommendation by the writer Henri Estienne that letters be taken by “your Basque, who runs like the wind.” Indeed, one runner, employed by Vicomte Francois-Armand de Polignac, ran from Le Puy to Paris and back in 7.5 days, covering a distance of about 500 miles.
  • Actual competitions first appeared in the 18th century. Numerous races were held, and famous runners — or korrikalaris — were established. One of the most famous families was the Igarabides. The father, Domingo, was famous for his win in a race between Betelu and what is now Ordizia, a distance of 37 miles crossing the mountains between the two towns. His sons, Martín Miguel, Santiago, and Antonio were also famous runners.
  • These races were often between two runners, not a crowd, and not only did they involve endurance, but the runners had to pick their route. They weren’t given a course, they were just given the starting and finishing points and they had to figure out the fastest way between the two. However, as these races became more popular, fixed routes were established, to prevent fans from influencing the race. This also led to course records, where runners were not only running against their opponent, but also those runners who had already run the route.
  • With urbanization, running became a spectator sport and races were increasingly held in arenas, such as bullrings, starting in the early 20th century. One of the first such races was held in Eibar in 1911. One of the runners, Garrinaga, ran 60 laps, or 4.97 miles, in 25 minutes. At the time, the world record for 5 miles was held by Alf Shrubb at 24:33.4 minutes.
  • While distance running became more institutionalized with the advent of the Olympics and the Spanish Athletic Federation, the driving force for competitions in the Basque Country was always betting. Bets were made for who would win the race, how long it would take them to run certain parts of the race, and when runners would catch one another.
  • However, today, such races, involving only two runners over great distances, have disappeared, replaced by more popular races in which large numbers of runners compete. That said, Basques continue to compete in ultra-running. In 1983, Alfredo Uria ran from Bilbao to Madrid, almost 250 miles, in 48 hours. And, in 1996, he set what was then the fastest time known for running 1000 miles: 12 days, 17 hours, 59 minutes, and 19 seconds.

Primary source: The Great Running Traditions of the Basques by Andy Milroy.

Remembering Joe Telleria

One of my favorite pictures of grandpa.

I was going through some old papers and found a few obituaries and editorials I’d kept about my grandpa, Joe Telleria. I wrote about him way back in 2012 on the 20th anniversary of his death — about how he died while I was visiting the Basque Country for the first time. Anyways, I noticed that his birthday just passed — on January 14, so I thought I’d share some of these.

His obituary:

Jordan Valley, Ore. — The breath of life was taken from Jose M. “Joe” Telleria, 77, and his spirit was delivered to his Creator on Sunday, Dec. 1, 1991, at Jordan Valley, Ore.

Rosary for Joe will be recited at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, Jordan Valley, Ore. Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at St. Bernard’s with the Rev. Jocelyn St. Arnaud as celebrant. Burial will follow in the Jordan Valley Cemetery. Arrangements are under direction of the Flahiff Funeral Chapel, Caldwell.

Mr. Telleria was born Jan. 14, 1914, at Jordan Valley, Ore., where he was reared and educated. The son of Basque immigrants, he spent the early years of his life in the traditional manner of Basque shepherds, tending to the family sheep business. In 1944, Joe married Maxine Scott and the following year he entered into a general partnership in the Scott Cash Store (“Telleria’s Market”) with Hugh Scott, his father-in-law. Joe retired from the business in November of 1988.

In his 77 years of a principled life, Joe befriended many people who have come to know him as a sensitive conversationalist and listener, a caring father of nine children and grandfather to 20 grandchildren. He was a provider to those who passed through Jordan Valley, needing something to eat. Those privileged to be close to him, knew the extent of his generosity.

In the twilight of his life, Joe and Maxine enjoyed walking and driving in the Owyhee Mountains, from Parsnip Peak to Silver City, Idaho, reminiscing about their 47 years together and about the fine people in the Jordan Valley community, past and present.

Survivors include his wife, Maxine; his sons and their spouses, Robert, Scott and Christine of Jordan Valley, Steven of Hayward, Calif., Joe Jr. and Doris, Blas and Bobbie, Pat and Evelyn, all of Boise, and Hugh and Penney of Salem, Ore.; two daughters and their spouses, Monica and Pete Uberuaga of Homedale, Idaho, and Johanna and Mark Mastin of Seattle, Wash.; and 20 grandchildren.

The family deeply appreciates the kindness and love that the community bestowed upon Joe, Maxine, and the family during the past several months. May we all share in the memory of Jose M. “Joe” Telleria of Jordan Valley, Ore., and the peace he now enjoys.

Memorials may be made to Father Jocelyn St. Arnaud, or the Jordan Valley Clinic.

A Tribute to Jose “Joe” Telleria

Dear Editor:

Another favorite!

Funerals in close small communities like Jordan Valley are more than events in which the deceased and family are honored. Old friendships are renewed at them and those present have a look at their own mortality. Gray hair or the lack of the same has altered many of our appearances but the love and care we have for each other has grown stronger over time.

Today we said goodbye to Jose Telleria. Joe was the type of person that others sought out for counseling and advice for years. He was Jordan Valley’s volunteer notary public.

Joe was in partnership with his father-in-law, Hugh Scott, until he and Maxine bought him out and Scotts Cash Store became Telleria’s Market. Joe was always extending credit to bad risks. I remember him saying one time after a family had moved away without paying its bill, “I know I shouldn’t carry them, but what can I do?” I guess Joe did what he did. If more were as charitable as Joe the world would be a much pleasanter place.

Before a modern telephone system was installed from Jordan Valley to the upper country, Joe served as “Honorary” switch board operator for the OCD “Whoop and Holler” hand crank system. Since he was on the lower end of the line a call to Juniper Mountain was difficult because everytime the telephone rang most everybody would [pick] it up to listen, causing the signal to get weaker and weaker. Only Joe could get the rubber neckers to hang up. One time he said over the telephone, “I need to call Fenwick and if all of you will get off I’ll call each of you when I finish and tell you what I said.”

What a sense of humor Joe had. I was in the store one time when a neighbor came in: “Joe, why in the hell don’t you have a number one horse shoes?” “If you can’t find a horse shoes to fit your horses then why in the hell don’t you get horses that fit the shoes?”

We’re going to miss you Joe, but I and others will continue to make our way to the back of the store out of force of habit to visit you. In your office, son Robert will be doing the bookkeeping. Setting on your chair, using your desk. Like you Joe, Robert has a good sense of humor. He’ll need it.

Mike F. Hanley IV

My Daughter’s Christmas Gift: Lauburu Inlayed with Rosettas

Lauburu inlayed with rosetta designs. Photo by Lisa Van De Graaff.

My wife, Lisa Van De Graaff, and I made this for our daughter. A friend of Lisa’s dad cut out the lauburu outline a number of years ago for me (I used a few others to make cribbage boards for my brothers — over ten years ago). I asked my daughter to pick her favorite rosettas, carved them out, and then filled them with epoxy. Lisa put the finishing touches on it, giving it that lustrous shine. Given my amateurish woodworking skills, I think it turned out nice, though I think, with better tools and more skills, it could look even better. But, the important thing is that our daughter likes it!

Basque-themed cribbage boards, designed and made by me, for my brothers, back in 2009.

Finding the Voice of the Victims: An Interview with Emma Wilby

I recently read Emma Wilby’s most recent book, Invoking the Akelarre, which I found fascinating. She examines the records from the Basque witch trials of the 1600s, searching for evidence of what the victims who were accused of witchcraft really thought and believed and what was essentially placed in their mouths by their accusers and interrogators. There is a wealth of information and insight into the lives of those early modern Basques. This is her third book delving into the lives of the accused. Her previous books are Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits and The Visions of Isobel Gowdie, both published by Sussex Academic Press. Emma is a fellow in History at the University of Exeter, UK.

Emma agreed to virtually sit down with me to discuss her book, her research, and the impressions it left with her.

Buber’s Basque Page: If, as it is said, history is written by the winners, your research is focused on giving the “losers” a voice, and this book is not your first exploring this topic. What is it that has attracted you to giving a voice to the accused?

Emma Wilby: When I started studying early modern witchcraft at university in the early 1990s I was quickly frustrated by the academic emphasis on the mechanics of persecution and the way that witchcraft suspects were consistently portrayed as victims: powerless women being coerced by powerful male interrogators and angry communities into saying the things that other people wanted them to say. The more I studied suspects’ confessions the more I was impressed by the fact that in between all the stereotypical ‘yes-I-made-a-pact-with-the-Devil’ statements there were images, phrases and themes that had an air of authenticity and appeared to be genuinely reflective of the suspects’ lives and personal beliefs. As a student of history, I was only too aware that most of our insights into this period are derived from the literate, prosperous minority who, quite understandably, tended to write about themselves and how they thought the world should be. In this context, witchcraft confessions seemed to provide a rare and untapped opportunity to look into early modern mentalities ‘from below’. When I discovered the work of Italian scholar Carlo Ginzburg and realised how fruitful such lines of research could be, my direction of travel became clear.

BBP: What about the Basque witch-craze, in particular, that drew your interest?

EW: For many years I concentrated on British witchcraft trials. These were not only accessible but contained many folkloric and idiosyncratic references that could easily be attributed to the accused as opposed to their interrogators. But I was also aware that in a Europe-wide context, British witchcraft records were seen as relatively tame and that confessions from other parts of the continent contained more references to sensational activities, like witches’ sabbaths, orgies and cannibalistic feasts, that were widely perceived by historians to reflect stereotypes about witchcraft developed over the medieval period by prosecuting judges and intellectual elites. After finishing my work on British records, I was keen to search for the voices of the accused in these more stereotypical cases and here, the Basque witch-craze of 1609-14 quickly emerged as the most promising candidate. The Basque witch-craze records had not been subjected to any extended scrutiny in the English language since 1980. But more importantly, they were widely considered to contain the most elaborately demonic accounts of the witches’ sabbath to have come down to us from the whole of witch-hunting Europe. It was also widely argued, by scholars, that these accounts represented an almost wholesale regurgitation of elite stereotypes imposed on a paranoid population rendered vulnerable to suggestion through collective hysteria. For me, the challenge was to explore whether these records still had any value as windows into the mentalities of ordinary people living in the Basque country in this period.

BBP: What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned in the course of researching this book?

EW: I was most surprised by the fact that although, as expected, I found no evidence that the Basques were engaging in stereotypical witch-cult activity, I did find that they were engaging in quite a lot else. For example, although in this period the Church taught people to worship, think and behave in certain ways, the Basque peasantry managed to perform a clever balancing act in which they conformed with these dictates as necessary whilst also remaining committed to a range of beliefs and practices that completely contradicted them. While the contemporary Basques could dutifully go to church to baptise and confirm their children, attend Mass on holy days, pray to the saints and perform conventional mortuary devotions, they could also go back to their baserrias and invoke familiar spirits, propitiate capricious lamiñas, twist curse candles and, at carnival times, dress up as drunken abbots or theatrical devils to enact subversive, comedic parodies of sacred Catholic rites. Similar contradictions could be found in many parts of western Europe in this period, but in the Basque case archaic (possibly pre-Indo-European) roots and centuries of relative linguistic, geographical and cultural isolation made these behaviours particularly striking and complex.

BBP: Is there a lesson you would take from the voices you have reached back in time to hear that might apply to our own times?

EW: Many lessons could be learnt, but in recent months I have been thinking a lot about education. In the Basque witch-craze the three main prosecutors were highly educated men who were convinced that their superior schooling gave them a better grasp of the truth than the uneducated suspects they interrogated. As a consequence, they did not only superimpose upon them the completely false conviction that a trans-regional network of baby-eating, Devil-worshipping witches had infiltrated the Basque country but also, in the process, succumbed so thoroughly to confirmation bias that they overlooked and dismissed peasant worldviews that were far more nuanced, profound and worthy of respect than they assumed. Similar misunderstandings still fuel social and political conflicts today. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has notably depicted human nature as a rational mind (the rider) that is, for the most part, in service to the vastly superior strength of the emotional and intuitive impulses (the elephant). Through Haidt’s lens, the errors of the Basque witchcraft interrogators is a stark reminder that education doesn’t necessarily make us any more moral or rationally objective than anyone else – it can just make us better advocates for our elephants.

BBP: One thing that still isn’t very clear to me, even after reading your book, is the extent to which the average person believed in or practiced magic, as we might label anything related to the supernatural. They clearly invented stories as they were interrogated, but, as you argue, many of these stories grew out of practices of the day. What was the average Basque’s view about magic during that time?

EW: This is a hard question to answer, not least because the terms ‘magic’ and ‘supernatural’ can be defined in so many different ways. It could be more helpful to talk in terms of ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ – as decided by the Church authorities at any given point in time – but even then the ‘average Basques’ view’ is hard to gauge. The paucity of records means that we can only see unorthodoxy in relief, as it were, in prosecutions for witchcraft, magic, superstition, heresy and blasphemy – and these records can both under and overestimate the issue. There was undoubtedly a continuum, with strictly orthodox Catholics at one end and magical specialists who overtly invoked demons at the other – but where the majority of the population stood on this continuum is difficult to assess. That said however, even adjusting for possible exaggeration, there is a ring of authenticity to a sixteenth-century Basque cleric’s claim that weather conjurors ‘are so public in this kingdom that there is no town that doesn’t have one on the public payroll’ and that ‘we see every day in our own experience how poor women and needy clerics take up the office of conjurors, witches etc’. It’s also hard to completely dismiss the claim, made by interrogator Pierre de Lancre in 1609, that misrule traditions took place ‘in all their [the Basques’] parishes’ and that ‘during their many festivals they never fail to name one person bishop and in their games another one becomes the Abbot [of misrule] … this does nothing but profane the mysteries of the faith’.

BBP: I imagine that this type of research isn’t always easy, that finding all of the relevant and interesting records can be difficult. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing this book?

EW: The language barrier was a constant challenge, as was the fact that very little was written about Basque popular culture until the nineteenth century, with the latter frequently requiring me to extrapolate from later and/or geographically diverse sources. But perhaps the most difficult aspect was trying to tease out evidence of the voices of the accused from trial material that held so few clues. This lack of permeability meant that I had to be more creative and imaginative with the material than I might otherwise have been and – as emphasised in the book’s introduction – evolve a methodology that was particularly vulnerable to personal bias. I committed to this process in the belief that the search for suspects’ mentalities in testimonials this demonised and contaminated could not be approached in any other way. Ironically, I often found myself agreeing with Pierre de Lancre’s claim that ‘whoever seeks to explain the deeds of the Devil regarding what the mysteries of witchcraft are, proceeds as if he were using one of the little glow worms that shine in the night to bring light to the whole universe, which even the sun can barely do.’

Basque Fact of the Week: Oinkaris, the Basque Dancers of Boise

Dance is such a key component of Basque culture, especially for those living in the diaspora, where it is a central aspect of Basque identity. Almost all Basque kids who grow up in Basque-rich communities spend a few years in a dance group. I spent a few years in Caldwell’eko Eusko Dantzariak, started in 1980 by Gloria Lejardi (who now leads Herribatza Dantzariak in Homedale), until my parents finally relented and let me quit (if I’d only known then how much women appreciate men who can dance…). I never graduated to the big leagues, the Oinkaris of Boise, one of the most famous Basque dancing troupe outside of the Basque Country.

Image from the Oinkari’s website.
  • The Oinkaris were formed over 50 years ago. A group of aspiring Basque dancers traveled to the Basque Country in 1960, where they made contact with a dance troupe in Donostia. They were inspired to create a similar group in the United States, and the Oinkaris were born. “Oinkari” is a Basque word for dancer, literally meaning “one who does with his feet.”
  • The group was originally led by Albert Erquiaga and Diana Urresti, with music provided by Jim Jausoro and Domingo Ansotegui. Their first performance was at Christmas time in 1960 at the Sheepherder’s Ball. Since that initial performance, they have danced an untold number of times, expressing their Basque pride not only in Idaho, but also Washington DC, Seattle, New York, and Montreal. They have also performed multiple times in the Basque Country.
  • Literally hundreds of young men and women have called themselves part of the Oinkaris over the years. Their dance repertoire has grown from the original handful of dances they learned in the Basque Country to nearly forty different dances that represent all corners of the Basque Country.
  • Today, the Oinkaris have a full group of leaders that coordinate performances and practices, outreach, and fundraising. The musical accompaniment has grown to a full-on band, including Dan Ansotegui (Domingo’s son), Teresa Franzoia, Joey Haas, Alex Wray, Mitch Murgoitio, and Miren Aizpitarte.

Primary source: the Oinkari’s website.

Basque Fact of the Week: Buber’s Basque Page is 25 Years Old

Buber’s Basque Page is 25 years old! I first started working on what would become this site back in the fall of 1994. I had just started graduate school in the Physics Department at the University of Washington. I was very lucky to have a fellowship that freed me from teaching duties, so I used some of that extra time to learn HTML. That effort blossomed and flourished, becoming the site you see today. When I started, there was next-to-nothing in English about Basques on the internet and Buber’s Basque Page tried to fill that void, at least a little. Fortunately, the landscape is much richer today.

  • The first bits of content were taken from notes I had from my time living in Donostia. I had tried to learn Euskara, spending a semester in intensive Basque language courses at the University of the Basque Country as part of the University Studies Abroad Consortium, but it was always easier to speak Spanish (even with my crappy Spanish) and hang out with Americans and speak English. I did learn some, but not nearly as much as I wish I had. But, I took lots of notes and some of that became some of the first content on this site, such as this word list and the declension and conjugation tables.
  • Another critically important resource was the Basque-L mailing list. A collection of Basques scattered from all over the world, the discussion was usually pretty deep and pretty intense. But, there was a gold mine of information and, always with permission, I used some of that to build the early Buber’s Basque Page. For example, Maria Santisteban put together some Basque language lessons that I hosted on the site.
  • As the site continued to grow, some parts became particularly popular and important. Probably the most popular was Xabier Ormaetxea’s Surname Research. People could send in questions about their Basque surnames and Xabier would look them up in the various references he had. Others would then post comments on each entry. Unfortunately, I had to disable the comments as it was an easy way for hackers to get into the site. Eventually, Xabier became busy with other efforts and, for a while, Susan Ybarra took over. But, with the advent of other genealogical sites, particularly the group basque-genealogy, where people can post queries about their names.
  • Other popular items include Charles Shaffer’s list of Basque Restaurants, at the time one of the first comprehensive lists of Basque restaurants; chris’s translations of stories from Euskal Herriko Leiendak; interviews with people from the Basque world; the Guest Columns, particularly from the prolific David Cox; and the photo album of Basque tattoos. One part I’m very proud of is hosting an archive of the linguist Larry Trask’s website.
  • One thing I quickly learned in building this site is that everything about the Basque Country is political. Anything you say about the Basques becomes a political football. Just saying that Nafarroa is part of the historical Basque Country brought out a lot of critiques, and I was just quoting a standard encyclopedia. The most controversy I ever encountered, however, was when the Spanish newspaper ABC tried to connect my nascent page to ETA.
  • The two proudest moments I’ve had in running this page are when NABO recognized me and my site with a plaque of appreciation in 1998 and when I was recognized in 2006 with the Buber Sariak, an award for the best Basque websites, named after this site! That was truly an amazing honor! This site has opened a lot of new doors and opportunities for me and I’m extremely grateful.
  • It has been a great 25 years. This site, dedicated to the memories of my dad Pedro Uberuaga Zabala and my grandpa Jose Maria Telleria, is a monument to all of the volunteers who have helped me collect, translate, and identify content that forms the heart of this site. But it couldn’t thrive as it has without the constant support of the readers and visitors. To everyone who has had a hand in helping create this site or has ever visited, Eskerrik Asko!
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