Euskadi geurea

The tattoo photos keep coming in.

The latest tattoo belongs to Mikel Lataburu.  On his arm, he has the phrase “Euskadi geurea,” which translates to “Euskadi is ours.”  He had it done by a Kurdish friend of his in Istanbul, where Mikel currently resides.  He says it is a beautiful Sunday day in Istanbul and that he hopes everyone has a relaxing day.

This, and all the other tattoos, can be seen in the Photo Album.

Eskerrik asko, Mikel!

Euskara Umearentzat

My Euskara is very poor. I have a basic understanding of the grammar, but my vocabulary is very limited and I don’t have the declensions nor the conjugation of the verbs in my head.

Even so, I’d like to pass what little I can on to my daughter, to at least give her an exposure to the language.  Maybe, someday, when she is old enough to decide for herself, she may choose to study Euskara in some depth.  At the very least, I want her to be familiar with the sounds and some basic vocabulary for when we might visit family in Euskadi.

During one of our trips, we found this great book, Nire Lehenengo Hitzen Liburua, which is sort of a Baby Einstein book but in Euskara.  It is a book of pictures, with different topics on each page (like animals, the kitchen, transportation, and so on).  In fact, we have a Baby Einstein book that is very similar.  This book has the name of each item in both Euskara and English, so it is great.

I’m wondering if anyone has any other such books they’d recommend.  I’m not sure I’m up for a book with actual sentences (though we do have some of those in them too).  More, something that has pictures and names of the pictures, ideally in both Euskara and English.  Maybe something more advance as well.  What books have you found?  Any suggestions?

By the way, Nire Lehenengo Hitzen Liburura can be purchased online from Elkar.

Lauburu + Oak Leaves = Great Tattoo

Kevin Paul shares his tattoo, done by Tattoo 13 in Oakland, CA. It is a stylized lauburu in which each of the heads of the lauburu is an oak leaf. A great idea! Thanks for sharing Kevin. This, and all the tattoos, are in the Tattoo Gallery.

If you have a tattoo to share, feel free to send me a photo and a caption to

72nd Anniversary of the Bombing of Gernika

Sunday, April 26, marks the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Gernika.  When I posted on a previous anniversary, I wrote that the Wikipedia article on the bombing briefly mentions that, in addition to Gernika and Durango, Gerrikaitz was also bombed.  I was intrigued by this as my dad is from that town and I very much wanted to know more.

Joe Guerricabeitia’s dad is also from Munitibar/Arbatzegi-Gerrikaitz and he had the opportunity to talk to his grandfather about the bombing.  In this posting on the Seattle Euskal Etxea’s blog, Joe describes his Aitxitxe’s experience and how they were very lucky not to lose the family basseri.

The Basque Country: Insight into its culture, history, society and institutions

Finding nice overviews of the Basque Country — its history, culture, traditions, and language — is rare in English.  There are, of course, The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky and The Basque Country: A Cultural History by Paddy Woodworth.  But, both of those are rather lengthy and certainly have their authors’ respective biases.

The Basque government has released a “handbook” about the Basque Country.  Entitled The Basque Country: Insight into its culture, history, society and institutions, the stated goal of this publication is to introduce the Basque Country to immigrants, the diaspora, and tourists, to give them all some insight into the place they may live, their ancestors were from, or they are visiting.

I haven’t taken a close look yet, but it seems pretty comprehensive and, furthermore, as opposed to the two books mentioned above, is from a Basque perspective.  I definitely look forward to delving into it in more depth.

A PDF of this handbook can be downloaded from the site above or a hardcopy can be requested directly by writing to an email address supplied on that site.

Thanks to John Ysursa of NABO for pointing this out!

Oreka Tx and the Txalaparta

I had never heard of the txalaparta before my first visit to Euskadi in 1991, even though I was semi-active in Basque dancing and attended many festivals in the US.  In fact, I only learned about it once a friend of mine, Mikel Lopategi, who was also in Euskadi at the same time, had learned about it and was trying to build his own.  What little I had heard fascinated me.  I thought the music was great and the concept even better.  But, even my dad, having grown up in Munitibar, had never heard about it.

I went back in 1996 and visited a music store in Bilbao, asking for a compilcation or anything of txalaparta music.  Even then, the person working there couldn’t find anything.  Txalaparta was something old, maybe ancient, but which was still so new that no one knew anything about it.

That has changed in more recent years.  A number of popular Basque musicians, such as Kepa Junkera, have incorporated txalaparta in their music.  Even more impressive, there are now professional txalaparta duos who have released their own music.  When I was in Seattle, we had the honor of hosting the Ugarte Anaiak, a brother duo who pushed the boundaries of the txalaparta by using stone and metal in addition to the traditional wood to make their sounds.

Maybe one of the most well known efforts is Oreka Tx.  They are featured in an article appearing on Spinner.  The article includes some samples of their music and discusses their most recent project, Nomadik Tx, their effort to bring Basque music and the txalaparta to other parts of the world.  Well worth a read!

By the way, here is a video of Ugarte Anaiak, from YouTube.  I couldn’t find a website for them in particular.  Does anyone know of one?

A Tribute to Aita Tillous

Joyce Inchauspe is a member of the Big Horn Basque Club of Wyoming.  When she heard about Aita Tillous’ passing, it was snowing where she lives.  She was inspired to make a little Basque snowman as a tribute to a man who they had the pleasure to host many times in Wyoming.  She writes:
Father, may you be seated at the heavenly feast with all those you served so well, and that have gone before you to set the table with vino and cheese.

Joyce asks if anyone who speaks and writes Euskara could add a Basque prayer, she would be very grateful.

Eskerrik asko, Joyce!

The Basque Country: A Cultural History by Paddy Woodworth

Few and far between are the “popular” books on the Basque Country that give an overview of the people, the land, and the culture of Euskal Herria.  The Basque Histroy of the World, by Mark Kurlansky, is probably the most well-known.  Now, Paddy Woodworth, author of Dirty Wars, Clean Hands: ETA, the GAL, and Spanish Democracy (an excellent book, by the way, that I highly recommend), enters into this area with his The Basque Country: A Cultural History.

We read The Basque Country as part of the book club my wife, Lisa, has organized for our Basque club, the New Mexico Euskal Etxea.  It has been a long time since I read Kurlansky’s book, so I may misremember some of the details.

For the most part, I really enjoyed The Basque Country.  I think Woodworth took a fairly balanced view of the Basque Country, looking past the “glossy” surface of things and examining the “nitty-gritty” if you will, the politics that infuse everything that is Basque.  At times, I think he went a bit too far.  Especially in the first half of the book, it felt like he couldn’t say anything positive about the Basques without a corresponding negative spin.  FOr me, this was epitomized by his comments on the company AZTI, which is trying to respond to, for example, declines in fish populations due to overfishing and finding alternatives for the future.  They have developed an unmanned drone to scour the seas and find schools of fish.  Woodworth couldn’t leave it at that, and essentially chastises the company for developing what could become a tool of war.  This seemed too much to me, especially after all the negative spin he had done before.

Woodworth is definitely not a friend of the nationalists.  His most negative comments are often reserved for them and their policies.  He criticizes them for using the traditional symbols of the Basque people — the basseri, the dancing, the music — for political purposes, for not letting the country evolve past those symbols, for keeping the country stuck in the past in some sense.  This is an interesting dichotomy in the Basque Country.  The image of the country is strongly tied to these traditional images, but the Basque Country is nothing if not dynamic, always pushing their resources to be at the leading edge of industry and technology.  In the past, this was exemplified by their mining and steel production, which lead to some of the modern conflict between traditional Basque culture and a more modern, urban populace, as many of the people who worked in the mining industry were immigrants from other parts of Spain.  Today, the Basques are at the forefront of several more modern technologies in the information technology areas.  It will be interesting to see how these efforts further modify the Basque cultural landscape.

Even if Woodworth was negative towards nationalist policies, I still felt he was more balanced than Kurlansky’s effort.  Reality may lie somehwere between the two, and a more balanced perspective might be found by reading both books and “averaging” what the two authors say.  Kurlansky definitely glorifies Basque traditions much more than Woodworth, though Woodworth finds his most exhuberant descriptions of the Basques when he is in the small villages experiencing traditional festivals.

And, Woodworth is not immune to the mystique of the traditional Basque life.  Much of his book is spent wandering the villages of Nafarroa and Iparralde, describing their history and their ancient traditions.  While this gives a nice introduction of some lesser seen parts of Euskal Herria, at the same time I felt that what I might call the “modern” Basque Country, the intersection between the urban and rural, the modern and traditional, was neglected as a result.  The traditional values and practices are certainly an important part of the Basque Country and its identity.  However, in my mind, it will be how those traditions are incorporated into a modern and vibrant country that will determine the future of the country.  If the Basque Country is to become a modern nation where Euskara can thrive in a modern setting, the language and traditions can’t be relegated to the rural, traditional villages.  It has to become part of the urban setting, has to be a language in which science, politics, and technology can be discussed.  In that sense, I would have preferred to see more of that intersection between modern and traditional.  That is, in my opinion, where the real struggle for the future of the language and the cultural will occur.

I am definitely interested in what you thought about the book.  Did you feel differently?  Did you love or hate the book?  Please share your thoughts with the rest of us.

Understanding Guernica

It was one of the most horrific events in modern warfare.  During the Spanish Civil War, at the behest of Franco, the German Luftwaffe bombed the Basque town of Gernika, on a Monday, the traditional market day for the town.  They also bombed Durango and, I have read, the town where my dad is from, Gerrikaitz (though I have not found any details about that).  Gernika was one of the first examples of aerial bombardment of a city to provoke terror in its citizens.  Since then, there have been many other examples.  See this Wikipedia article for more information about the bombing.

At about the same time, Picasso was asked to paint a large mural for Spain’s contribution to the World’s Fair to be held in Paris.  Picasso ended up chosing the bombing of Gernika as his subject and painted his now famous and iconic Guernica.  It is an impressive painting, currently hanging in the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.  It is huge, encompassing an entire wall in the museum.  As with most works of art of this magnitude and importance, the meanings of the various elements — the bull, the horse, the various people — have been debated almost since Picasso first displayed the piece.

Author and Picasso expert Gijs van Hensbergen has recently written a new book about his interpretation of the meanings of those symbols, entitled Guernica: The Biography of a 20th Century Icon. In this BBC article, he describes what he believes the most significant elements of the painting mean.

Thanks to Jose Antonio Alcayaga for pointing me to this article.

Does language shape thought?

There seem to be two camps in linguistic circles on the role language has in shaping how we think.  I’ve read a number of books by Stephen Pinker, who is of the opinion that the particular language we speak doesn’t shape how we think, that there is a meta-language underneath, common to all of us, that really determines how we think.  (I hope I’m interpreting this right, as it is a complex subject and I’m a novice.)

I find Pinker’s arguments very compelling and his writing very clear.  What he says makes a lot of sense to me.  And he seems very analytical in his arguments, relying on the body of evidence to support his thesis in a very convincing way.

Even so, there is the romantic in me who wants to believe the opposite, that the language we speak does change how we think.  Why?  Because it makes the diversity of languages that much more interesting.  It means that each language represents a unique world view.  It means that we should try to save endangered languages since, if they die, a unique perspective of the world around us also dies.  And, I want to believe that each language is something special, especially since I like the idea that Basque is special and should be promoted and protected.  However, Pinker’s arguments are strong and the evidence he cites simply does not support this romantic notion.

On NPR yesterday, however, there was a segment on the work of Lera Boroditsky.  She did a simple experiment, showing German and Spanish speakers a picture of a bridge and asking them what they thought about it.  Both languages have genders, and in German, a bridge is feminine and in Spanish masculine.  This resulted in German speakers using feminine words to describe the bridge, such as beautiful, elegant, and slender, while the Spanish speakers used masculine words such as strong, sturdy and towering.  What does this say?  It implies that German and Spanish speakers, because in their language the noun bridge is either feminine or masculine, view bridges differently, assigning different attributes.  Similar results were found for other nouns.  Boroditsky went even further and invented a language in which nouns were assigned random gender.  Again, people who were exposed to the language used different types of adjectives to describe an object depending on if they were told it was feminine or masculine.

Boroditsky’s work suggests that language does indeed shape how we see the world.  I only speak English fluently, with a smattering of Spanish and just a small vocabulary of Euskara.  I wonder how people who grow up in Euskal Herria with Euskara as one of the primary languages and either Spanish or French as the other view things.  Does the way you view the world change even a little bit depending on which language you are thinking in?  How about the differences between say Spanish and Euskara, where Spanish has gender and Euskara doesn’t?  How do you think of puentes versus zubiak?  I’d love to hear from people on this topic.

It seems that the debate on the role of language in shaping thought is still open.  Boroditsky’s work suggests that language is important in determining how we see the world.  To the extent that this is true, it means that with every language that dies we lose one way of viewing the world, one unique perspective.  It gives extra impetuous to saving these languages.  I hope that the new government of the Basque Autonomous Community doesn’t ignore this fact.

%d bloggers like this: