Basques: Wikis


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Basque people.png

1st row: Arista - Sancho III - Elcano - Loyola - Urdaneta - Oñate - Francis Xavier
2nd row:Bolívar - Zumalakarregi - Gardoqui- Garat - Iraola - Arana - Errázuriz
3rd row:Garrastazu - Ravel - Evita - Atano VII - Basterretxea - Guevara -Mariano
4th row:Etxenike - Garamendi - Ibarretxe - Eyharts - Chao - Fernandez - Arteta

Total population
approx. 18,000,000 worldwide
Regions with significant populations
 Spain 2,304,000
       Basque Country 2,123,000
               Álava 279,000
               Biscay 1,160,000
               Guipuscoa 684,000
       Navarre 560,000
 France 285,000
          Labourd 225,000
          Lower Navarre 40,000
          Soule 20,000
 Chile 1.6 - 4.5 million [1][2]

[3] [4] [5]

 Argentina 3.1 million [6][7]
 Cuba 1.5 million [citation needed]
 Brazil 800.000 - 1.500.000 [citation needed]
 Mexico 1.000.000 [citation needed]
 Colombia 60.000 [8]
 United States 57,000 [citation needed]
 Uruguay 35,000 [citation needed]
 Costa Rica 9,800 [9]
 Venezuela 5,500 [10]

Basque - few monoglots
Spanish - 1,525,000 monoglots
French - 150,000 monoglots
Basque-Spanish - 600,000 speakers
Basque-French - 76,000 speakers[citation needed]

other native languages


Roman Catholic, Atheism, Agnosticism

The Basques (Basque: euskaldunak, Spanish: vascos) are the native people of the Basque Country (Basque: Euskal Herria).

The Basques as an ethnic group primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country, a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-eastern Spain and south-western France.

The Basques are known in local languages as:

  • Euskaldunak ("Basque speakers", also used loosely to describe all ethnic Basques) or euskotarrak ("Natives of the Basque Country", an often mentioned but rarely used neologism) in Basque
  • Vascos in Spanish
  • Basques in French
  • Bascos in Gascon


Etymology of the word Basque

The English word Basque comes from French Basque (pronounced /bask/), which itself comes from Gascon Basco (pronounced /ˈbasku/) and Spanish Vasco[citation needed] (pronounced /ˈbasko/). These, in turn, come from Latin Vasco (pronounced /wasko/), plural Vascones (see History section below). The Latin labial-velar approximant /w/ generally evolved into the bilabials /b/ and /β̞/ in Gascon and Spanish, probably under the influence of Basque and Aquitanian, a language related to old Basque and spoken in Gascony in Antiquity (similarly the Latin /w/ evolved into /v/ in French, Italian and other languages). This explains the Roman pun at the expense of the Aquitanians (ancestors of the Gascons): Beati Hispani quibus vivere bibere est, which translates as "Blessed (are the) Spaniards, for whom living is drinking."[citation needed] The Romans considered the Aquitanians akin to the Spaniards.

Barscunes coin. Roman period

Several coins from the 1st and 2nd centuries BC found in the north of Spain bear the inscription barscunes written in the Iberian alphabet. The place where they were minted is not certain but is thought to be somewhere near Pamplona in the heartland of the area that historians believe was inhabited by the Vascones. Some scholars have suggested a Celtic etymology based on bhar-s-, meaning "summit", "point" or "leaves", according to which barscunes may have meant "the mountain people", "the tall ones" or "the proud ones", while others have posited a relationship to a proto-Indo-European root *bar- meaning "border", "frontier", "march".[11]

Others suggest that Latin Vasco comes from a Basque and Aquitanian root used by these people to refer to themselves, eusk-, pronounced /eusk/, which is rather similar to Latin /wasko/.[citation needed] The name of an Aquitanian people which the Romans recorded as Ausci (pronounced /awski/ in Latin) appears to represent from the same root.

In modern Basque, Basques call themselves euskaldunak, singular euskaldun, formed from euskal- (i.e. "Basque (language)") and -dun (i.e. "one who has"); euskaldun literally means a Basque speaker. Not all Basques are Basque-speakers, and not all Basque speakers are Basques; foreigners who have learned Basque can also be called euskaldunak. Therefore the neologism euskotar, plural euskotarrak, was coined in the nineteenth century to mean an ethnically Basque person whether Basque-speaking or not. These Basque words are all derived from euskara, the Basque name for the Basque language.

Alfonso Irigoyen claimed that the word euskara comes from an ancient Basque verb enautsi "to say" (cf. modern Basque esan) and the suffix -(k)ara ("way (of doing something)"). Thus euskara would literally mean "way of saying", "way of speaking". One item of evidence in favour of this hypothesis is found in the Spanish book Compendio Historial, written in 1571 by the Basque writer Esteban de Garibay, who records the name of the Basque language as "enusquera". It may be however a writing mistake.

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In the nineteenth century, the Basque nationalist activist Sabino Arana posited an original root euzko which, he thought, came from eguzkiko "of the sun" on the assumption of an original solar religion). On the basis of this putative root Arana proposed the name Euzkadi for an independent Basque nation, composed by seven basque historical territories. Arana's neologism Euzkadi, in the regularized spelling Euskadi, is still widely used in both Basque and Spanish, since it is now the official name of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country.

In fact the root eusk- might come from the name of the aquitanian tribe Ausci that gave its name to the French city of Auch that was called before Elimberrum 'new town' (from basco-aquitanian ili-berri).


Basque and other related tribes at the time of Roman arrival (in red)

It is thought that Basques are a remnant of the early inhabitants of Western Europe, specifically those of the Franco-Cantabrian region. Basque tribes were already mentioned in Roman times by Strabo and Pliny, including the Vascones, the Aquitani and others. There is enough evidence that they already spoke Basque in that time (see: Aquitanian language, Iruña-Veleia).

In the Early Middle Ages the territory between the Ebro and Garonne rivers was known as Vasconia, being part of the Spanish kingdom under Visigothic rules with Toletum (Toledo) as capital. After Muslim invasions and Frankish expansion under Charlemagne, the territory of Spain was fragmented and eventually the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Pamplona arose as the main states with Basque population in the ninth century.

This Kingdom, later known as Navarre, experienced feudalization and was subjected to the influences of its vaster Aragonese, Castilian and French neighbours, with Castile annexing parts of it in the eleventh and twelfth century and from 1512 to 1521 after a civil war. The remainder of Navarre would end up being annexed to France.

Nevertheless the Basque provinces enjoyed a great deal of self-government until the French Revolution in the North and the civil wars named Carlist Wars in the South, when the basques supported infante Carlos and his descendants to the cry of "God, Country, and King" . Since then, despite the current self-governing status of the Basque Country, as settled by the Spanish Constitution, a significant part of Basque society are still attempting to establish a completely separate State (see Basque nationalism), sometimes by acts of terrorism.



Political and administrative divisions

The autonomous community (a concept established in the Spanish constitution of 1978) that is known as Euskal Autonomia Erkidegoa or EAE in Basque, and as (la) Comunidad Autónoma Vasca or CAV in Spanish (in English: Basque Autonomous Community or BAC),[12] is composed of the three Spanish provinces of Alava, Biscay and Guipuscoa. The corresponding Basque names of these territories are Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa and their Spanish name is Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa.

Although the BAC only includes three of the seven provinces of the currently called "historical territories", it is sometimes referred to simply as "the Basque Country" (or Euskadi), at times by writers only considering those three provinces, but also on occasions merely as a convenient abbreviation when this does not lead to confusion in the context; others reject this usage as inaccurate and are careful to specify the BAC (or an equivalent expression such as "the three provinces") when referring to this entity or region. Likewise, terms such as "the Basque Government" for "the government of the BAC" are commonly though not universally employed. In particular it should be noted that in common usage the French term Pays Basque ("Basque Country"), in the absence of further qualification, refers either to the whole of Euskal Herria or, not infrequently, to the northern (or "French") Basque Country specifically.

Under Spain's present constitution, Navarre (Nafarroa in present-day Basque, Navarra historically in Spanish) constitutes a voluntarily separate entity, called in present-day Basque Nafarroako Foru Erkidegoa, in Spanish Comunidad Foral de Navarra (the autonomous community of Navarre). The government of this autonomous community is the Government of Navarre. Note that in historical contexts Navarre may refer to a wider area, and that the present-day northern Basque province of Low Navarre may also be referred to as (part of) Nafarroa, to distinguish it from which the term "High Navarre" (Nafarroa Garaia in Basque, Alta Navarra in Spanish) is also encountered as a way of referring to the territory of the present-day autonomous community.

There are three other provinces claimed by the nationalist basque parties as parts of an expanded Basque Country: Labourd, Lower Navarre and Soule (Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa in Basque; Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule in French), have no official status within France's present-day political and administrative territorial organization and there is only a marginal political support to the Basque nationalists.

Population, main cities and languages

There are 2,123,000 people living in the Basque Autonomous Community (279,000 in Alava, 1,160,000 in Biscay and 684,000 in Gipuscoa). The most important cities in this region, which serve as the provinces' administrative centers, are Bilbao (Bilbo/Bilbao) (in Biscay), San Sebastian (Donostia/San Sebastián) (in Gipuscoa) and Vitoria (Gasteiz/Vitoria) (in Alava). The official languages are Basque and Spanish. Knowledge of Spanish and Basque are equally compulsory according to the Spanish constitution, and virtually universal. Knowledge of Basque, after declining for many years during Franco's dictatorship owing to official persecution, is again on the rise due to favourable official language policies and popular support. Currently about 33 percent of the BAC's population speaks Basque.

Navarre has a population of 601,000; its administrative capital and main city, also regarded by many nationalist Basques as the Basques' historical capital, is Pamplona (Iruñea in modern Basque). Although Spanish and Basque are official languages in this autonomous community, Basque language rights are only recognised by current legislation and language policy in the province's northern region, where most Basque-speaking Navarrese are concentrated.

Approximately a quarter of a million people live in the part of claimed French Basque Country. Basque-speakers refer to this as "Iparralde" ( Basque for North), and therefore to the Spanish provinces as "Hegoalde" (South). Much of this population lives in or near the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz (BAB) urban belt on the coast (in Basque these are Baiona, Angelu and Miarritze). The Basque language, which was traditionally spoken by most of the region's population outside the BAB urban zone, is today losing ground to French at a fast rate. Associated with the northern Basque Country's lack of self-government within the French state is the absence of official status for the Basque language throughout this region.

The Basque diaspora

Large numbers of Basques have left the Basque Country for other parts of the world in different historical periods, often for economic or political reasons. Basques are often employed in sheepherding and ranching, maritime fisheries and merchants around the world. Millions of Basque descendants (see Basque American) live in North America (the United States and Mexico; Canada mainly in the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec), Latin America, Southern Africa and Australia.

Miguel de Unamuno said: "There are at least two things that clearly can be attributed to Basques: the Society of Jesus and the Republic of Chile.[13] Over 4.5 million Basque descendants live in Chile and were a major influence in the country's cultural and economic development.

A large wave of Basques emigrated to Latin America and substantial numbers settled elsewhere in North (the U.S.) and Latin America, particularly in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Cuba, where Basque place names are to be found, such as New Biscay, now Durango (Mexico), Biscayne Bay, Jalapa (Guatemala), Aguerreberry or Aguereberry Point in the United States, and the Nuevo Santander region of Mexico.[14] Nueva Vizcaya was the first province in the north of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) to be explored and settled by the Spanish. It consisted mostly of the area which is today the states of Chihuahua and Durango.

In Mexico most Basques are concentrated in the cities of Monterrey, Saltillo, Camargo, and the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila. The Basques were important in the mining industry, many were ranchers and vaqueros (cowboys), and the rest opened small shops in major cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara and Puebla. In Guatemala most Basques have been concentrated in Jalapa for six generations now, while some have immigrated to the city of Guatemala.

The largest of several important Basque communities in the United States is in the area around Boise, Idaho, home to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, host to a Basque festival every year, as well as a festival for the entire Basque diaspora every five years. Reno, Nevada, where the Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Studies Library are located in the University of Nevada, is another significant nucleus of Basque population. In Elko, Nevada there is an annual Basque festival that celebrates the dance, cuisine and cultures of the Basque peoples of Spanish, French and Mexican nationalities arrived to Nevada since the late 19th century.

California is a major concentration of Basques in the United States, most notably in the San Joaquin Valley between Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield. The city of Bakersfield itself has a large Basque community and the city boasts several Basque restaurants.

There also exists a history of Basque culture in Chino, California. In Chino, there are two annual Basque festivals that celebrate the dance, cuisine, and culture of the peoples, and the surrounding area of San Bernardino County has many Basque descendants. They are mostly descendants of settlers from Spain and Mexico. These Basques in California are grouped in the ethnic group known as Californios.

In South Texas along the Mexican-Texan border of the Rio Grande Valley, many people are of Basque heritage or have Basque surnames. Along this area are many ranches given to colonial Spanish settlers from Basque Country to New Spain which still exist today. They are mostly descendants of settlers from Spain and Mexico, with a number from other parts of Hispanic America. These Basques in south Texas are grouped in the ethnic group known as Tejanos.

Basques of European Spanish-French and Latin American (Latino) nationalities also settled throughout the western U.S. in states like New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington state.

There are also many Basques and people of Basque ancestry living outside their homeland in Spain, France and other European countries.

Classification of population according to cultural identity



The identifying language of the Basques is called Basque or Euskara, spoken today by 25%-30%[15] of the region's population. An idea of the central place of the ethnic terms in Basque nationalist politicians is given by the fact that, in Basque, Basques identify themselves by the term euskaldun and their country as Euskal Herria, literally "Basque speaker" and "Country of the Basque Language" respectively. The language has been made a political issue by official Spanish and French policies restricting its use either historically or currently; however, this has not stopped the teaching, speaking, writing and cultivating of this increasingly vibrant minority language. It is important to remember that the sense of Basque identity tied to the local language does not exist in isolation. It is juxtaposed with an equally strong sense of national identity tied with the use of the Spanish and French languages among other Basques. As with many European states, a regional identity, be it linguistically derived or otherwise, is not mutually exclusive with the broader national one.

As a result of state language promotion, school policies, the impact of mass media, and the effects of migration, today virtually all Basques (except for some children below school age) speak the official language of their state (Spanish or French). Therefore, there are extremely few Basque monoglots: essentially all Basque speakers are bilingual on both sides of the border. This reality, coupled with the fact that Spanish or French is also typically the first language of citizens from other regions (that often feel no need to learn Basque), maintains the dominance of the state tongues of both France and Spain. Recent Basque Government policies aim to change this pattern, as they are viewed as potential threats against mainstream usage of the minority tongue.[16]

The Basque language is thought to be a genetic language isolate. Thus Basque contrasts with other European languages, almost all of which belong to the large Indo-European language family. Another peculiarity of Basque is that it has been spoken continuously in situ, in and around its present territorial location, for longer than other modern European languages, which have all been introduced in historical or prehistorical times through population migrations or other processes of cultural transmission.[17]

However, popular stereotypes characterizing Basque as "the oldest language in Europe" and "unique among the world's languages" may be misunderstood and lead to erroneous assumptions.[18] Over the centuries, Basque has remained in constant contact with neighboring languages in its western European surroundings, with which it has come to share numerous lexical items and typological features; it is therefore misleading to exaggerate the "outlandish" character of Basque. Basque is also a modern language, and nowadays firmly established as a written and printed medium, also used in present-day forms of publication and communication, as well as a language spoken and used in a very wide range of social and cultural contexts, styles, and registers.

Land and inheritance

Basques have a close attachment to their home (etxe(a) 'house, home'), especially when this consists of the traditional self-sufficient, family-run farm or baserri(a). Home in this context is synonymous with family roots. Old baserri names, themselves typically expressing short-range geographical orientations or other locally meaningful identifying features, have transmuted into modern Basque surnames, thereby providing even Basques whose families may have left the land generations ago with an important link to their rural family origins: Bengoetxea "the house of further down", Goikoetxea "the house above", Landaburu "top of the field", Errekondo "next to the stream", Elizalde "by the church", Mendizabal "wide hill", Usetxe "house of birds" Ibarretxe "house in the valley", Etxeberria "the new house", etc.[19]

A widespread belief that Basque society was originally matriarchal seems to conflict with the clearly patrilinear character of known family inheritance structures. There have been attempts to reconcile these points by assuming that the latter represents an innovation. In any case, the social position of women in both traditional and modern Basque society is somewhat better than in neighbouring cultures, and women have a substantial influence in decisions about the domestic economy. In the past, some women participated in collective magical ceremonies, and were key participants in a rich folklore, today largely forgotten.

In contrast to surrounding regions, ancient Basque inheritance patterns, recognised in the fueros, favour survival of the unity of inherited land holdings which generally fall to a single male heir, usually the oldest son. This system forced the other siblings to find other sources of sustenance, and before the advent of industrialisation resulted in the emigration of many rural Basques to Spain, France or the Americas. This system, harsh by modern standards, was no doubt responsible for sending out into the world a great many enterprising personalities of Basque origin, from Spanish conquistadors such as Lope de Aguirre to world-renowned saints of the Catholic Church such as Francis Xavier.


Basque cuisine is at the heart of Basque culture, influenced by the neighboring communities and the excellent produce from the sea and the land. A twentieth-century feature of Basque culture is the phenomenon of gastronomical societies (called txoko in Basque), food clubs where men gather to cook and enjoy their own food. Until recently, women were only allowed one day in the year. Cider houses (Sagardotegiak) are popular restaurants in Gipuzkoa open for a few months while the cider is in season.

Cultural production

Despite ETA and the crisis of heavy industries, the Basque economic condition has recovered remarkably in recent years, emerging from the Franco regime with a revitalized language and culture. The Basque language is expanding geographically led by large increases in the major urban centers of Pamplona, Bilbao, and Bayonne, where only a few decades ago the Basque language had all but disappeared.



Traditionally Basques have been mostly Roman Catholics. In the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, Basques as a group remained notably devout and churchgoing. In recent years church attendance has fallen off, as in most of Western Europe. The region has been a source of missionaries like Francis Xavier and Michel Garicoïts. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, was a Basque.

A sprout of Protestantism in the continental Basque Country produced the first translation of the new Testament into Basque by Joanes Leizarraga. After the king of Navarre converted to Catholicism to be king of France, Protestantism almost disappeared.

Bayonne held a Jewish community composed mainly of Sephardi Jews fleeing from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. There were also important Jewish and Muslim communities in Navarre before the Castilian invasion of 1512-21.

Nowadays only slightly more than 50% of Basques profess some kind of belief in God, while the rest are either agnostic or atheist. The number of religious skeptics increases noticeably for the younger generations, while the older ones are more religious.[20]

Pre-Christian religion and mythology

Anboto mountain is one of sites where Mari was believed to dwell.

Christianisation of the Basque Country has been the topic of some discussion. There are broadly speaking two views. According to one, Christianity arrived in the Basque Country during the 4th and 5th century but according to the other, it did not take place until the 12th and 13th century. The main issue lies in the different interpretations of what is considered Christianisation. Early traces of Christianity can be found in the major urban areas from the 4th century onwards, a bishopric from 589 in Pamplona and three hermit cave concentrations (two in Álava, one in Navarre) were in use from the 6th century onwards. In this sense, Christianity arrived "early".

Pre-Christian belief seems to have centered around a female goddess called Mari. A number of place-names contain her name and would suggest these places were related to worship of her such as Anbotoko Mari who appears to have been related to the weather. According to one tradition, she traveled every seven years between a cave on Mount Anboto and one on another mountain (the stories vary); the weather would be wet when she was in Anboto, dry when she was in Aloña, or Supelegor, or Gorbea. One of her names, Mari Urraca possibly ties here to a historical Navarrese princess of the 11th and 12th century, with other legends giving her a brother or cousin who was a Roman Catholic priest. So far the discussions about whether the name Mari is original and just happened to coincide closely with the Christian name María or if Mari is an early Basque attempt to give a Christian veneer to pagan worship have remained speculative.

Mari's consort is Sugaar. This chthonic couple seem to bear the superior ethical power and also the power of creation and destruction. It's said that when they gathered in the high caves of the sacred peaks, they engendered the storms. These meetings typically happened on Friday nights, the day of historical akelarre or coven. Mari was said to reside in Mount Anboto; periodically she crossed the skies as a bright light to reach her other home at mount Txindoki.

Legends also speak of many and abundant genies, like jentilak (equivalent to giants), lamiak (equivalent to nymphs), mairuak (builders of the cromlechs or stone circles, literally Moors), iratxoak (imps), sorginak (witches, priestess of Mari), etc. Basajaun is a Basque version of the Woodwose. There is a trickster named San Martin Txiki ("St Martin the Lesser").

It has been shown that some of these stories have entered Basque culture in recent centuries or as part of Roman superstition. It is unclear whether neolithic stone structures called dolmens have a religious significance or were built to house animals or resting shepherds. Some of the dolmens and cromlechs are burial sites serving as well as border markers.

The jentilak ('Giants'), on the other hand, are a legendary people which explains the disappearance of a people of Stone Age culture that used to live in the high lands and with no knowledge of the iron. Many legends about them tell that they were bigger and taller, with a great force, but were displaced by the ferrons, or workers of ironworks foundries, until their total fade-out. They were pagans, but one of them, Olentzero, accepted Christianity and became a sort of Basque Santa Claus. They gave name to several toponyms, as Jentilbaratza.


Historically, Basque society can be described as being somewhat at odds with Roman and later Western European societal norms.

Strabo's account of the north of Spain in his Geographica makes a mention of 'a sort of woman-rule - not at all a mark of civilization' (Hadington 1992), a first mention of the - for the period - unusual position of women. "Women could inherit and control property as well as officiate in churches. Combined with the issue of lingering pagan beliefs, this enraged the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition, perhaps leading to one of its most savage witch-burnings in the Basque town of Logroño in 1610".[21]

This preference for female dominance existed well into the twentieth century: "...matrilineal inheritance laws, and agricultural work performed by women continued in Basque country until the early twentieth century. For more than a century, scholars have widely discussed the high status of Basque women in law codes, as well as their positions as judges, inheritors, and arbitrators through pre-Roman, medieval, and modern times. The system of laws governing succession in the French Basque region reflected total equality between the sexes. Up until the eve of the French Revolution, the Basque woman was truly ‘the mistress of the house,’ hereditary guardian, and head of the lineage".[22]

Although the kingdom of Navarre did adopt feudalism, most Basques also possessed unusual social institutions different from those of feudal Europe. Some aspects of this include the elizate tradition where local house-owners met in front of the church to elect a representative to send to the juntas and Juntas Generales (such as the Juntas Generales de Vizcaya or Guipúzcoa) which administered much larger areas. Another example was the fact that in the medieval period most land was owned by the farmers, not the Church or a king.[17][23]

Sports in the Basque Country


The great family of ball games has its unique offspring among Basque ball games, known generically as pilota (Spanish: pelota). Some variants have been exported to the United States and Macau under the name of Jai Alai.

Rural sports

Trainera in the Bilbao estuary.
Barrenatzaileak in Barakaldo.

There are several sports derived by Basques from everyday chores. Heavy workers were challenged and bets placed upon them. Examples are:

Bull runs and bullock games

The world-famous encierro (bull run) in Pamplona's fiestas Sanfermines started as a transport of bulls to the ring. These encierros, as well as other bull and bullock related activities are not exclusive to Pamplona but are traditional in many towns and villages of the Basque country.


The largest symbol of Basque identity in football is Athletic Bilbao. While there are other clubs within the Spanish Basque country, such as Real Sociedad, Bilbao's cantera policy has meant the club refuses to sign any non-Basque players.[24]

Rugby Union

Rugby Union is a popular sport among French Basques, with major clubs Biarritz Olympique and Aviron Bayonnais traditional powerhouses in the premier division of French Rugby (the Top 14). Biarritz regularly play Heineken Cup matches in San Sebastian. Games between the Basque and Catalan club of USAP of Perpignan are always hard fought.

Professional Cycling

Cycling is popular and the Euskaltel-Euskadi professional cycling team frequently participates in the Tour de France.


While there is no independent Basque state, Spain's autonomous community of the Basque Country, made up of the provinces of Alava (Araba), Vizcaya (Bizkaia) and Guipúzcoa (Gipuzkoa), is primarily a historical consequence and an answer to the wide autonomy claim of the residents.

Navarre has a separate statute of autonomy, also based on the historical medieval fueros. Until recently, Basque only survived in the Northern part of Navarre in the areas designated as Basque speaking or mixed in Navarrese law. Questions of political, linguistic and ethnic allegiance and identity are highly complex in Navarre. Politically some Basque nationalists would like to integrate with the Autonomous Basque Community but this currently is not the view of the majority of the people of Navarre.[citation needed]

The Northern Basque Country today does not exist as a formal political entity and is officially simply part of the French department of Pyrénées Atlantiques, centered in Béarn. In recent years the number of mayors of the region supporting the creation of a separate Basque department has grown to 63,87%[citation needed]. So far, their attempts have been unsuccessful.

Political conflicts


Both Spanish and French governments have, at times, tried to suppress Basque linguistic and cultural identity. The French Republics, the epitome of the nation-state, have a long history of attempting the complete cultural absorption of ethnic minority groups. Spain has, at most points in its history, granted some degree of linguistic, cultural, and even political autonomy to its Basques, but under the regime of Francisco Franco, the Spanish government reversed the advances of Basque nationalism, as it had fought in the opposite side of the Spanish Civil War: cultural activity in Basque was limited to folkloric issues and the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, the Basque Country within Spain enjoys an extensive cultural and political autonomy. The majority of schools under the jurisdiction of the Basque education system use Basque as the primary medium of teaching.

However, in Navarre, Basque has been declared an endangered language, since the conservative government of Unión del Pueblo Navarro opposes Basque nationalism and symbols of Basqueness, highlighting Navarre's own autonomy.[25]

The situation of Basque is also delicate in the North, where lack of autonomy and monolingual public schooling in French exert great pressure on the basque language.

Political status and violence

Since its articulation by Sabino Arana in the late nineteenth century, the more radical currents of Basque nationalism have demanded the right of self-determination and even independence. It should be noted that within the Basque country, that this element of Basque politics is often in balance with the conception of the Basque Country as just another part of the Spanish state, a view more commonly espoused on the right of the political spectrum. In contrast, the desire for greater autonomy and/or independence is particularly common among leftist Basque nationalists. The right of self-determination was asserted by the Basque Parliament in 2002 and 2006.[26] Since self-determination is not recognized in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, a wide majority of Basques abstained 55% and some even voted against it 23.5% in the referendum of December 6 of that year. However, it was approved by clear majority at the Spanish level 87%. The derived autonomous regimes for the (Western) Basque Country was approved in later referendum but the autonomy of Navarre (amejoramiento del fuero: "improvement of the charter") was never subject to referendum but just approved by the Navarrese Cortes (parliament).

Political violence


As with their language, the Basques are clearly a distinct ethnic group in their region. They notably regard themselves as culturally and especially linguistically distinct from their surrounding neighbours. Some Basques, especially in Spain, are strongly nationalist, identifying far more firmly as Basques than as citizens of any existing state. Others are not, feeling as much Basque as Spanish[27]. Many Basques regard designation as an "ethnic minority" as incomplete, favouring instead the definition as a nation.

In modern times, as a European people living in a highly industrialized area, cultural differences from the rest of Europe are inevitably blurred, although a conscious cultural identity as a people or nation remains very strong, as does an identification with their homeland, even among many Basques who have emigrated to other parts of Spain or France, or to other parts of the world.

The strongest distinction between the Basques and their traditional neighbours is linguistic. Surrounded by Romance-language speakers, the Basques traditionally spoke (and many still speak) a language that was not only non-Romance but non-Indo-European. Although the evidence is open to question, the prevailing belief among Basques, and forming part of their national identity, is that their language has continuity to the people who were in this region not merely in pre-Roman times, but in pre-Celtic times, quite possibly before the great invasions of Europe by Asian tribes.


Although they are genetically distinctive in some ways, the Basques are still very typically West European in terms of their Mt-DNA and Y-DNA sequences, and in terms of some other genetic loci. These same sequences are widespread throughout the western half of Europe, especially along the western fringe of the continent. The Sami people of northern Scandinavia show an especially high abundance of a Mt-DNA type found at 11% among Basques. Somewhat higher among neighbouring Cantabrians, the isolated Pasiegos have a Mt-DNA V haplogroup of wider microsatellite variation than Sami.[28][29][30] Autosomal genetic studies confirm that Basques have a very close relationship with other Europeans, especially with Spaniards - who have a common genetic identity of over 70% with Basques.[31]

In fact, according to a Europe-wide study, the main components in the European genomes appear to derive from ancestors whose features were similar to those of modern Basques and Near Easterners, with average values greater than 35% for both these parental populations, regardless of whether or not molecular information is taken into account. The lowest degree of both Basque and Near Eastern admixture is found in Finland, whereas the highest values are, respectively, 70% ("Basque") in Spain and more than 60% ("Near Eastern") in the Balkans.[32][33]

Before the development of modern genetics based on DNA sequencing, Basques were noted as having the highest global apportion of the Rh- blood type (35% phenotypically, 60% genetically). Additionally, the Basque population has virtually no B blood type, nor the related AB type. These differences are thought to reflect their long history of isolation, as well as times during which the Basque population contracted, allowing genetic drift to dramatically influence genetic makeup. The history of isolation reflected in gene frequencies has presumably also been key to the retention of the distinctive Basque language. In fact, in accordance with other genetic studies, a recent genetic piece of research from 2007 claims: "The Spanish and Basque groups are the furthest away from other continental groups (with more diversity within the same genetic groups) which is consistent with the suggestions that the Iberian peninsula holds the most ancient West European genetic ancestry."

Since the Basques speak a non-Indo-European language and have the highest proportion of the Rh negative blood type of all the peoples of the world, they were widely considered to be a genetically isolated population, preserving the genes of European Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, until recent genetic studies found that modern Basques have a common ancestry with other Western Europeans.[34] The similarity includes the predominance in their male populations of Y-chromosome Haplogroup R1b, now considered to have been spread through Europe by new arrivals in the Neolithic period or later.[35]

mtDNA Haplogroup V was initially thought to have spread through Europe after the last Ice Age from a refuge in what is now the Basque Country.[36] However studies have found no V in ancient remains from three prehistoric sites in the Basque Country dating to 4000–5000 years ago.[37] In addition, haplogroup K (mtDNA), found at frequencies of 16%-23% in the prehistoric sites, is nearly absent from modern Basques, while haplogroup J (mtDNA) (thought to have arrived in Europe with Neolithic farmers), found in two prehistoric sites at a frequency of 16% and the early medieval necropolis at Aldaieta at 14.7%, has suffered a major reduction to 2.4% in modern Basques.[37]


Among the most notable Basque people are Juan Sebastián Elcano (led the first successful expedition to circumnavigate the globe after Ferdinand Magellan died mid-journey); Sancho III of Navarre; and Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, founders of the Society of Jesus.

See also


  1. ^ Diariovasco.
  2. ^ entrevista al Presidente de la Cámara vasca.
  3. ^ vascos Ainara Madariaga: Autora del estudio "Imaginarios vascos desde Chile La construcción de imaginarios vascos en Chile durante el siglo XX".
  4. ^ Basques au Chili.
  5. ^ Contacto Interlingüístico e intercultural en el mundo hispano.instituto valenciano de lenguas y culturas.Universitat de València Cita: " Un 20% de la población chilena tiene su origen en el País Vasco".
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Vascos en Colombia"
  9. ^ Ethnic groups - Costa Rica
  10. ^ Ethnic groups - Venezuela
  11. ^ Vascones - el nombre (Auñamendi Encyclopedia)
  12. ^ See EUSKALTERM, the Basque Public Term Bank, maintained by the Basque Government for these and other terms and their common translations
  13. ^ "«La Compañía de Jesús y la República de Chile son las dos grandes hazañas del pueblo vascongado», solía decir don Miguel de Unamuno". Miguel de Unamuno used to say "The Company of Jesus and the Republic of Chile are the two great achievements of the Basque people." [1]
  14. ^ Basque Culture Day
  15. ^ Sociolinguistics (
  16. ^ X. Aierdi Urraza, Routes to linguistic and cultural integration for immigrants in the Basque Autonomous Community
  17. ^ a b TRASK, R. Larry: History of Basque. New York/London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  18. ^ J.C. Moreno Cabrera, Misconceptions about Basque
  19. ^ Luis Michelena, Apellidos vascos (fifth edition), San Sebastián: Txertoa, 1997
  20. ^ Opinion poll on religion by GIZAKER, published by EITB
  21. ^ Hadingham 1992. Note that Logroño is not a Basque town, but it was the see of the diocesis covering Zugarramurdi in 1610. The Spanish Inquisition rarely acted against witches, devoting most of its attention to Judaizants, Moriscos and Protestants.
  22. ^ Gimbutas, M. The Living Goddesses University of California Press: 2001
  23. ^ Collins, R. The Basques Blackwell: 1986
  24. ^ Athletic Club sporting philosophy
  25. ^ Resolution of the General Assembly of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, 13 September 2003 (Helsinki), on the situation of the Basque language in the Autonomous Community of Navarre. Reported in MERCATOR Butlleti 55: "Speakers of a regional or minority language should have the right to use their language in private and public life. Contrary to these principles, local authorities from Iruña/Pamplona (capital city of the Autonomous Community of Navarre in Spain) have been implementing a series of reforms to the Autonomous Community legislation limiting the use of the Basque language. Basque is the only endangered language in the Autonomous Community of Navarre…"
  26. ^ EITB: Basque parliament adopts resolution on self-determination
  27. ^ Euskobarómetro series, Evolución de la identidad nacional subjetiva de los vascos, 1981-2006. "As Basque as Spanish" shows 33% of the citizens of the Basque Autonomous Community in late 2006.
  28. ^ Atlas of the Human Journey - The Genographic Project
  29. ^ I. Dupanloup et al., Estimating the Impact of Prehistoric Admixture on the Genome of Europeans
  30. ^ M. Pericic et al., High-Resolution Phylogenetic Analysis of South-eastern Europe Traces Major Episodes of Paternal Gene Flow Among Slavic Populations
  31. ^ "Estimating the Impact of Prehistoric Admixture on the Genome of Europeans" Isabelle Dupanloup*,1, Giorgio Bertorelle*, Lounès Chikhi and Guido Barbujani*
    • Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy
    UMR Evolution et Diversité Biologique, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Volume 21, Number 7, 2004. Pp. 1361-1372.
  32. ^ Table 3 Weighted Average Across Loci, and Standard Deviations (SD), of the Estimated Contributions of 4 Parental Populations to European Populations Oxford Journals
  33. ^ Estimating the Impact of Prehistoric Admixture on the Genome of Europeans
  34. ^ Santos Alonso et al., The place of the Basques in the European Y-chromosome diversity landscape, European Journal of Human Genetics (2005) 13, 1293–1302; Jun Z. Li et al., Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation, Science, vol. 319 (February 2008), pp. 1100-1104.
  35. ^ B. Arredi, E.S. Poloni and C. Tyler-Smith, The Peopling of Europe, in M. Crawford (ed.) Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods and Applications (Cambridge University Press 2007)
  36. ^ Stephen Oppenheimer
  37. ^ a b Levy-Coffman, Ellen (2006-08-17). "We Are Not Our Ancestors: Evidence for Discontinuity between Prehistoric and Modern Europeans". Journal of Genetic Genealogy. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 


  • The Basques, the Catalans and Spain, Daniele Conversi, 2000, ISBN 1850652686.
  • The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky, 1999, ISBN 0802713491.
  • The Oldest Europeans, J.F. del Giorgio, A.J.Place, 2006, ISBN 9806898001.
  • Ethnologue report for France for population statistics in France.
  • Euskal Herria en la Prehistoria, Xabier Peñalver Iribarren, 1996, ISBN 84-89077-58-4.
  • Gimbutas, Marija, The Living Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
  • Hadingham, Evan, "Europe's Mystery People," World Monitor, September 1992, vol. 5, Issue 9
  • Hamilton, Carrie, "Remembering the Basque nationalist family: daughters, fathers and the reproduction of the radical nationalist community," Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000,
  • Morvan, Michel,Les Origines Linguistiques du Basque, Bordeaux, 1996.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BASQUES, a people inhabiting the three Basque Provinces - Biscay, Alava and Guipuzcoa - and Navarre in Spain, and the arrondissement of Bayonne and Mauleon in France. The number of those who can be considered in any sense pure Basques is probably about 600,000 in Europe, with perhaps Ioo,000 emigrants in the Americas, chiefly in the region of La Plata in South America. The word Basques is historically derived from Vascones, which, written Wascones, has also given the name Gascons to a very different race. The Basques call themselves Eskualdunak, i.e. " those who possess the Eskuara," and their country Eskual-Herria.

Table of contents


The original and proper name of the language is Eskuara (euskara, uskara), a word the exact meaning of which has not yet been ascertained, but which probably corresponds with the idea "clearly speaking." The language is highly interesting and stands as yet absolutely isolated from the other tongues of Europe, though from the purely grammatical point of view it recalls the Magyar and Finnic languages. It is an agglutinative, incorporating and polysynthetic system of speech; in the general series of organized linguistic families it would take an intermediate place between the American on the one side and the Ugro-Altaic or Ugrian on the other.

Basque has no graphic system of its own and uses the Roman character, either Spanish or French; a few particular sounds are indicated in modern writings by dotted or accented letters. The alphabet would vary according to the dialects. Prince L. L. Bonaparte counts, on the whole, thirteen simple vowels, thirtyeight simple consonants. Nasal vowels are found in some dialects as well as "wet" consonants - ty, dy, ny, &c. The doubling of consonants is not allowed and in actual current speech most of the soft consonants are dropped. The letter r cannot begin a word, so that rationem is written in Basque arrazoin. Declension is replaced by a highly developed postpositional system; first, the definite article itself a (plural ak) is a postposition - zaldi, "horse," zaldia " the horse," zaldiak, " the horses." The declensional suffixes or postpositions, which, just like our prepositions, may be added to one another, are postponed to the article when the noun is definite. The principal suffixes are k, the mark of the plural, and of the singular nominative agent; n, " of" and "in"; i, "to"; z, "by"; ik, " some"; ko, " from," "of" (Lat. a); tik, " from" (Lat. ex); tzat, kotzat, tzako, " for"; kin, gaz, " with"; Batik," for the sake of"; gana, " towards"; ra, rat, " to," "into," "at," &c. Of these suffixes some are joined to the definite, others to the indefinite noun, or even to both.

The personal pronouns, which to a superficial observer appear closely related to those of the Semitic or Hamitic languages, are ni, " I"; hi, " thou"; gu, " we"; zu, "you" in modern times, zu has become a polite form of "thou," and a true plural "you" (i.e. more than one) has been formed by suffixing the pluralizing sign k - zuek. The pronouns of the third person are mere demonstratives. There are three: hura or kura, " that"; hau or kau, " this"; on or kon, " this" or "that." Other unexplained forms are found in the verbal inflexions, e.g. d, it, and 1, "1" or "me"; d-akus-t, " it see I" =I see it; d-arrai-t, " it follows me." The demonstratives are used as articles: gazt-en-or, " this younger one"; andre-ori, " this lady at some distance." The reflective "self" is expressed by buru, " head." The relative does not exist, and in its place is used as a kind of verbal participle with the ending n: doa, " he goes"; doana, " he who is going"; in the modern Basque, however, by imitation of French or Spanish, the interrogative zein, zoin, is used as a relative. Other interrogatives are nor," who"; zer, " what"; zembait, " how much" &c. Bat, " one"; batzu, " several"; bakotch, " each"; norbait, " some one"; hanitz or hainitz, " much"; elkar, " both"; are the most common indefinite pronouns. The numeral system is vicesimal; e.g. 34 is hogoi to hamalaur, " twenty and fourteen." The numbers from one to ten are: s, bat; 2, bi; 3, hire; 4, lau; 5, bortz or bost; 6, sei; 7, zazpi; 8, zortzi; 9, bederatzi; so, hamar; 20, hogoi or hogoi; 40, berrogoi (i.e. twice twenty); zoo, ehun. There is no genuine word for a thousand.

The genders in Basque grammar are distinguished only in the verbal forms, in which the sex of the person addressed is indicated by a special suffix; so that eztakit means, "I do not know it"; but to a woman one says also: eztakinat, " I do not know it, oh woman!" To a man one says: eztakiat (for cztakikat), " I do not know it, oh man!" moreover, certain dialectic varieties have a respectful form: eztakizut, " I do not know it, you respectable one," from which also a childish form is derived, eztakichut, " I do not know it, oh child!" The Basque conjugation appears most complicated, since it incorporates not only the subject pronouns, but, at the same time, the indirect and direct complement. Each transitive form may thus offer twenty-four variations - "he gives it," "he gives it to you," "he gives them to us," &c., &c. Primitively there were two tenses only, an imperfect and a present, which were distinguished in the transitive verb by the place of the personal subject element: dakigu, " we are knowing it" (gu, i.e. we), and ginaki, " we were knowing it"; in the intransitive by a nasalization of the radical: niz, " I am"; nintz, " I was." In modern times a conjectural future has been derived by adding the suffix ke, dakiket, " I will, shall or probably can know it." No proper moods are known, but subjunctive or conjunctive forms are formed by adding a final n, as dakusat, " I am looking at it"; dakusadan, " if I see it." No voices appear to have been used in the same radical, so that there are separate transitive and intransitive verbs.

In its present state Basque only employs its regular conjugation exceptionally; but it has developed, probably under the influence of neo-Latin, a most extensive conjugation by combining a few auxiliary verbs and what may be called participles, in fact declined nouns: ikusten dut, " I have it in seeing," "I see it"; ikusiko dut, " I have it to be seen," "I will see it," &c. The principal auxiliaries are: izan, " to be"; and ukan, " to have"; but edin, " to can"; eza, " to be able"; egin, " to make"; joan, " to go"; eroan, " to draw," "to move," are also much used in this manner.

The syntax is simple, the phrases are short and generally the order of words is: subject, complement, verb. The determining element follows the determined: gizon handia, " man great the" - the great man; the genitive, however, precedes the nominative - gizonaren etchea, " the man's house." Composition is common and it has caused several juxtaposed words to be combined and contracted, so that they are partially fused with one another - a process called polysyntheticism; odei, " cloud," and ots, " noise," form odots, " thunder"; belay " forehead" and oin, " foot," give belaun, " knee," front of the foot. The vocabulary is poor; general and synthetic words are often wanting; but particular terms abound. There is no proper term for "sister," but arreba, a man's sister, is distinguished from ahizpa, a woman's sister. We find no original words for abstract ideas, and God is simply "the Lord of the high." The vocabulary, however, varies extremely from place to place and the dialectic varieties are very numerous. They have been summed up by Prince L. L. Bonaparte as eight; these may be reduced to three principal groups: the eastern, comprising the Souletine and the two lower Navarrese; the central formed by the two upper Navarrese, the Guipuzcoan and the Labourdine; and the western, formed by the Biscayan, spoken too in Alava. These names are drawn from the territorial subdivisions, although the dialects do not exactly correspond with them.

Ethnology and Anthropology

The earliest notices of the geography of Spain, from the 5th century B.C., represent Spain as occupied by a congeries of tribes distinguished mainly as Iberi, Celtiberi and Celts. These had no cohesion together, and unless temporarily united against some foreign foe, were at war with one another and were in constant movement; the ruder tribes being driven northwards by the advancing tide of Mediterranean civilization. The tribes in the south in Baetica had, according to Trogus and Strabo, written laws, poems of ancient date and a literature. Of this nothing has reached us. We have only some inscriptions, legends on coins, marks on pottery and on megalithic monuments, in alphabets slightly differing, and belonging to six geographical districts. These still await an interpreter; but they show that a like general language was once spoken through the whole of Spain, and for a short distance on the northern slope of the Pyrenees. The character of the letters is clearly of Levant origin, but the particular alphabets, to which each may be referred, and their connexion, if any, with the Basque, are still undetermined. It was early remarked by the classical scholars among the Basques after the Renaissance that certain names in the ancient toponymy of Spain, though transcribed by Greek and Latin writers, i.e. by foreigners, ignorant'of the language, yet bear a strong resemblance to actual place-names in Basque (e.g. Iliberis, Iriberry); and in a few cases (Mondiculeia, Mendigorry; Iluro, Oloron) the site itself shows the reason of the name. Andres de Poza (1587), Larramendi (1760), Juan B. Erro (1806) and others had noted some of these facts, but it was W. von Humboldt (1821) who first aroused the attention of Europe to them. This greater extension of a people speaking a language akin to the Basque throughout Spain, and perhaps in Sicily and Sardinia, has been accepted by the majority of students, though some competent Basque scholars deny it; and the certain connexion of the Basques, either with the Iberians or Celtiberians, whether in race or language, cannot be said to be conclusively proved as long as the so-called Celtiberian inscriptions remain uninterpreted. (See also Iberians.) After so many centuries of close contact and interpenetration with other peoples, we can hardly expect to find a pure physical type among the present Basques. All that we can expect is to be able to differentiate them from their neighbours. The earliest notice we have of the Basques, by Einhard (778), speaks of their wonderful agility. The next, the pilgrim of the Codex Calixtinus (12th century), says the Basques are fairer in face (facie candidiores) than the Navarrese.

Anthropologists no longer rely solely on craniology, and the measurement of the skull, to distinguish race. The researches of Aranzadi (1889 and 1905) and of Collignon (1899) show them as less fair than northern Europeans, but fairer' than any of the southern races; not so tall as the Scandinavians, Teutons or British, but taller than their neighbours of southern races. There is no tendency to prognathism, as in some of the Celts. The profile is often very fine; the carriage is remarkably upright. Neither markedly brachycephalous nor dolichocephalous, the skull has yet certain peculiarities. In the conjunction of the whole physical qualities, says Collignon, there is a Basque type, differing from all those he has studied in Europe and northern Africa. There are differences of type among themselves, yet, when they emigrate to South America, French and Spanish Basques are known simply as Basques, distinct from all other races.

On the origin of the Basques, the chief theories are: - (r) that they are descended from the tribes whom the Greeks and Latins called Iberi; (2) that they belong to some of the fairer Berber tribes ("Eurafrican," Herve) and through the ancient Libyans, from a people depicted on the Egyptian monuments; (3) the Atlantic theory, that they belong to a lost Atlantic continent, whose inhabitants were represented by the Guanches of the Canary Islands, and by a fair race on the western coast of Africa; (4) that they are an indigenous race, who have never had any greater extension than their present quarters.

The remains of prehistoric races hitherto discovered in Spain throw little light on the subject, but some skulls found in southeastern Spain in the age of metal resemble the Basque skulls of Zaraus.

The megalithic remains, the dolmens, menhirs, cromlechs and stone circles are said to resemble more closely those of northern Africa than the larger remains of Brittany and of the British Isles. Aristotle tells us that the Iberi fixed obelisks round the tomb of each warrior in number equal to the enemies he had slain (Polit. vii. c. 2.6), but proof is wanting that these Iberi were Basques.

Iberian inscriptions have been found on the so-called toros de guisando, rude stone bulls or boars, on other monuments of northern Spain and in ancient sepulchres; some of these figures, e.g. at the Cerro de los Santos in Murcia, recall the physical type of the modern Basques, but they are associated with others of very varied types.

Of the religion of the Basques anterior to Christianity, little is certainly known. The few notices we have point to a worship of the elements, the sun, the moon and the morning star, and to a belief in the immortality of the unburnt and unburied body. The custom of the couvade, attributed by Strabo to the Cantabri, is unknown among the modern Basques. As elsewhere, the Romans assimilated Basque local deities to their own pantheon, thus we find Deo Baicorrixo (Baigorry) and Herauscorrtsehe in Latin inscriptions. But the name which the Basques themselves give to the Deity is Jaincoa, Jaungoikoa, which may mean lord or master, Lord of the high; but in the dialect of Roncal, Goikoa means "the moon," and Jaungoikokoa would mean "Lord of the moon." The term Jaun, lord or master, Etcheko fauna, the lord or master of the house, is applied to every householder.

There is no aid to be got from folk-tales; none can be considered exclusively Basque and the literature is altogether too modern. The first book printed in Basque, the Linguae Vasconum Primitiae, the poems of Bernard d'Echepare, is dated 1 545. The work which is considered the standard of the language is the Protestant translation of the New Testament made by Jean de Ligarrague, under the auspices of Jeanne d'Albret, and printed at La Rochelle in 1571. The pastorales are open-air dramas, like the moralities and mysteries of the middle ages. They are derived from French materials; but a dancing-chorus, invariably introduced, and other parts of the mise-en-scene, point to possibly earlier traditions. No MS. hitherto discovered is earlier than the 18th century. The greater part of the other literature is religious and translated. It is only recently that a real literature has been attempted in Basque with any success.

In spite of this modernity in literature there are other matters which show how strong the conservatism of the Basques really is. Thus, in dealing with the language, the only true measure of the antiquity of the race, we find that all cutting instruments are of stone; that the week has only three days. There are also other survivals now fast disappearing. Instead of the plough, the Basques used the laya, a two-pronged short-handled steel digging fork, admirably adapted to small properties, where labour is abundant. They alone of the peoples of western Europe have preserved specimens of almost every class of dance known to primitive races. These are (1) animal (or possibly totem) dances, in which men personate animals, the bear, the fox, the horse, &c.; (2) dances to represent agriculture and the vintage performed with wine-skins; (3) the simple arts, such as weaving, where the dancers, each holding a long coloured ribbon, dance round a pole on which is gradually formed a pattern like a Scotch tartan; (4) war-dances, as the sword-dance and others; (5) religious dances in procession before the Host and before the altar; (6) ceremonial dances in which both sexes take part at the beginning and end of a festival, and to welcome distinguished people. How large a part these played in the life of the people, and the value attached to them, may be seen in the vehement defence of the religious dances by Father Larramendi, S.J., in his Corografia de Guipfszcoa, and by the large sums paid for the privilege of dancing the first Saut Basque on the stage at the close of a Pastorale. The old Basque house is the product of a land where stone and timber were almost equally abundant. The front-work is of wood with carved beams; the balconies and huge over-hanging roof recall the Swiss chalet, but the side and back walls are of stone often heavily buttressed. The cattle occupy the groundfloor, and the first storey is reached often by an outside staircase. The carven tombstones with their ornaments resemble those of Celtic countries, and are found also at Bologna in Italy.

In customs, in institutions, in administration, in civil and political life there is no one thing that we can say is peculiarly and exclusively Basque; but their whole system taken together marks them off from other people and especially from their neighbours.


The most marked features in the Basque character are an intense self-respect, a pride of race and an obstinate conservatism. Much has been written in ridicule of the claim of all Basques to be noble, but it was a fact both in the laws of Spain, in the fueros and in practice. Every Basque freeholder (vecino) could prove himself noble and thus eligible to any office. They are not a town race; a Basque village consists of a few houses; the population lives in scattered habitations. They do not fear solitude, and this makes them excellent emigrants and missionaries. They are splendid seamen, and were early renowned as whale fishermen in the Bay of Biscay. They were the first to establish the cod-fishery off the coast of Newfoundland. They took their full part in the colonization of America. Basque names abound in the older colonial families, and Basque newspapers have been published in Buenos-Aires and in Los Angeles, California. As soldiers they are splendid marchers; they retain the tenacity and power of endurance which the Romans remarked in the Iberians and Celtiberians. They are better in defence than in attack. The failure to take Bilbao was the turning-point in both Carlist wars. In civil institutions and in the tenures of property the legal position of women was very high. The eldest born, whether boy or girl, inherited the ancestral property, and this not only among the higher classes but among the peasantry also. In the fueros an insult done to a woman, or in the presence of a woman, is punished more severely than a similar offence among men. This did not prevent women from working as hard as, or even harder than, the men. All authors speak of the robust appearance of the women-rowers on the Bidassoa, and of those who loaded and unloaded the ships in Bilbao.


In their municipal institutions they kept the old Roman term respublica for the civitas and the territory belonging to it. All municipal officers were elective in some form or other, and there is hardly any mode of election, from universal suffrage to nomination by a single person chosen by lot, that the Basques have not tried. The municipalities sent deputies to the juntas or parliaments of each province. These assemblies took place originally in the open air, as in other parts of the Pyrenees, under trees, the most celebrated of which is the oak of Guernica in Biscay, or under copses, as the Bilzaar in the French Pays Basque. The cortes of Navarre met at Pamplona. Delegates from the juntas met annually to consider the common interests of the three provinces. Besides the separate municipalities and the juntas, there were often associations and assemblies of three or five towns, or of three or four valleys, to preserve the special privilege or for the special needs of each. Hence was formed a habit of selfgovernment, the practice of legislative, judicial and administrative functions, which resulted gradually in a code of written or unwritten laws embodied in the fueros or fors of each province, and the cartas-pueblos of the towns. In form these fueros or charters are often grants from the lord or sovereign; in reality they are only a confirmation or codification of unwritten customary laws in practice among the people, the origin of which is lost in antiquity. The kings of Castile, of Spain and of Navarre were obliged at their accession, either in person, or by deputy, to swear to observe these fueros; and this oath was really kept. While the cortes were trampled upon and absolutism reigned both in Spain and in France, the Basque fueros were respected; in Spain to the middle of the 19th century and in France down to the Revolution. The fueros thus observed made the Basque provinces a land apart (una tierra apartada), a self-governing republic (una verdadera autonomia), under an absolute monarchy, to which, however, they were always loyal. And this independence was acknowledged, not only in local, but also in international and European treaties, as in art. 1 5 of the treaty of Utrecht 1713. So the act of the 3rd of June 1876, which assimilated the Basque Provinces to the rest of Spain, acknowledged the true selfgovernment which they had enjoyed for centuries.

The circumstances and methods which enabled the Basques to preserve this independence were, first, the isolation caused by their peculiar language; next, the mountainous and easilydefended nature of the country, its comparative poverty and the possession of a sea-board. Then there were the rights and the safeguards which the fueros themselves gave against encroachments. The rights were: - freedom of election to all offices and to the juntas; exemption from all forced military service except for the defence of the country and under their own officers; and payment beforehand exacted for all service beyond their own frontiers (this did not of course exclude voluntary service of individuals in the Spanish or French armies). Then there was free trade with foreign nations, and especially between the Basques of both nations. The customs' frontier of Spain really began on the Ebro. Then no decree or sentence of the royal authorities could have effect in the provinces except countersigned by the junta. Otherwise the resisting and even the killing of a royal officer was no murder. But chiefest of all the safeguards was the provision that no tax or contribution should be levied or paid to the crown till all petitions had been heard and wrongs redressed; that such a vote should be the last act of the junta or cortes, and the money should be paid not as a demand of right or a tax, but as a free gift and above all a voluntary one. It was paid in a lump sum, and the repartition and levying were left entirely in the hands of the junta and the municipalities.

As a further precaution against the inroads of absolutism, no lawyer was allowed to be a deputy to the junta and all clergy were likewise excluded. The Basques considered that men of these professions would be always on the side of tyranny. One lawyer (letrado) was present at the juntas for consultation on the points of law, but he was not allowed to vote. So strictly was this observed that after the battle of Vitoria in 1813, when it was difficult to get together a quorum for the reorganization of the country, the letrado, though one of the most active and influential members in consultation, was not allowed to vote.

The relations between Church and State among the Basques have been very remarkable. They are a highly religious people, eminently conservative in their religious practices. In religion alone, through Ignatius de Loyola of Guipuzcoa and Francis Xavier of Navarre, they have left their mark upon Europe. They have kept the earliest form of Christian marriage and of the primitive order of deaconesses, forgotten elsewhere in the West. The feast of Corpus Christi instituted by Pope Urban IV. (1262) still appears in Basque almanacs as Phesta-berria, the New Feast. The earliest notice that we have of them speaks of their liberality to the clergy; yet with all this religious conservatism they have never allowed themselves to be priest-ridden. They constantly resisted the attempts of the crown to force upon them the authority of the Spanish bishops. When Ferdinand the Catholic came to Biscay in 1477 to swear to the fueros, he was compelled to send back the bishop of Pamplona whom he had brought with him. No strange priest could enter the town when the junta was sitting, and in some places if a deputy was seen speaking to a priest before a session he lost his vote for that day. The bishops had no share in ecclesiastical patronage in Guipuzcoa; all was in the hands of the king, of the nobles or of the municipalities, or else the priests were chosen by competitive examination or elected by the people. They would not allow the priest to interfere with the games or dances, and when the drama was forbidden in all Spain in 1757 by the authority of the Spanish bishops, the cortes of Navarre compelled the king to withdraw the order.

For a stranger coming from lands of larger farms and apparently higher cultivation, the agriculture of the Basques seems poor, but the old scattered homesteads show a sense of security that has been lacking in many parts of Spain; and the Basques have shown great adaptability in suiting their agriculture to new conditions, helped by the presence of the courts at San Sebastian and Biarritz. When the old self-sufficient village industries declined, in consequence of the invention of machinery and manufacture elsewhere, the Basques entered at once upon emigration to the agricultural parts of the Americas, and the result has been that the Basque Provinces and the Pays Basque probably have never been more prosperous than they are now, and perhaps a new Eskual-herria and a new Eskuara are being built up in the distant lands to which they are such valued immigrants.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.-FOr so restricted a literature the Essai d'une bibliographie de la langue basque, by Julien Vinson (Paris, 1891), with the volume of additions and corrections, 1898, is practically exhaustive, and is a mine of information on the principal works. See also for the language, A. Oihenart, Notitia utriusque Vasconiae (Paris, 1638 and 1656), 4to., ch. xiv.; Fl. Lecluse, Manuel de la langue basque (Toulouse, 1826); C. Ribary, Essai sur la langue basque (1866), translated from the Hungarian by Julien Vinson (Paris, 1877); W. J. Van Eys, Grammaire comparee de dialectes basques (Paris, London, Amsterdam, 1879); Prince L. L. Bonaparte, Le Verbe basque en tableaux (London, 1864-1869); J. Vinson, articles in Revue de linguistique (Paris, 1867-1906); L'Abbe Ithurry, Grammaire basque (Bayonne, 1895-1906); Dr H. Schuchardt, Die Entstehung der Bezugsformen des Baskischen (Wien, 1893) W. J. Van Eys, Dictionnaire basque francais (Paris, 1873); R. M. de Azkue, Diccionario vascongado espanol francais (Tours, 1906); Monumenta Linguae Ibericae, edidit Aemilius Hubner, fol. (Berlin, 1893) (texts and introduction good; analysis and interpretation faulty). Other works of interest on various subjects are: - Wentworth Webster, Basque Legends (London, 1877 and 1879); Puyol y Camps, "La Epigraphia Numismatica Iberica," in tomo xvi. of Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia (Madrid, 1890), (for geographical distribution of the alphabets); T. de Aranzadi, El Pueblo Euskalduna. Estudio de Antropologia (San Sebastian, 1889); and the same author's Existe una rata Euskara ? Sus caracteres antropologicos (1905); La Tradition au pays basque (Paris, 1899), (a collection of papers by local authorities); Julien Vinson, Les Basques et le pays basque (Paris, 1882), a sufficient survey for the general reader; the same author's Le Folk-Lore du pays basque (Paris, 1883), treats of the Pastorales and embraces the whole Folk-Lore; Le Codex de Saint-Jacques de Compostella, lib. iv. (Paris, 1882), by R. P. F. Fita and J. Vinson, gives the first Basque vocabulary; Les Coutumes generales gardees et observees au Pais b' baillage de Labourt (Bordeaux, 1700); G. Olphe-Galliard, Le Paysan basque a travers les ages (Paris, 1905); Pierre Yturbide, Le Pays de Labourd avant 1789 (Bayonne, 1905), (for the time of the English domination); Henry O'Shea, La Tombe basque (Pau, 1889), (valuable for the comparison of Basque and Celtic sepulchral ornament). See also the bibliography to BASQUE PROVINCES. (W. WE.; J. VN.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of Basque.


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