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Mauléon, capital of Soule

Soule (Basque: Zuberoa Zuberoan Basque: Xiberoa Gascon: Sola) is a former viscounty and French province and part of the present day Pyrénées-Atlantiques département. It is divided into two cantons of the arrondissement (district) of Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Mauleon-Licharre and Tardets-Sorholus), and a part of the canton of Saint Palais (arrondissement of Bayonne).

Its provincial capital is Mauléon, which fused with Licharre in 1841 to form "Mauléon-Licharre", but today is often known as "Mauléon-Soule". Historically, Soule is the smallest province of the Basque Country (785 sq.km.). Its population has been decreasing (23,803 in 1901; 16,006 in 1990; 15,535 in 1999).

Contents

Geography

The whole territory extends around the axis provided by the Saison River (Uhaitza in Basque) flowing south to north until it joins the Oloron River.

Soule borders:

  • in the north roughly with the Oloron River, which divides it from Béarn
  • in the east with the Barétous valley in Béarn
  • in the south with the Salazar and Roncal valleys in Navarre
  • in the west with Lower Navarre

Soule comprises three geographical areas:

  • Pettara or La Barhoue or Soule Lowlands in the north
  • the forest massif of Arbailles (Arbaila) in the west
  • Basabürüa or Soule Highlands in the south, attaining its highest point at 2017 m at the Orhi peak

Culture

After decades of emigration and demographic, social and cultural decay, the territory is showing a strong determination in recovering the lost vitality of centuries ago. Assorted cultural events linked to old traditions bear witness to that dynamism.

Maskarada actors in a melée

There is a tradition of folk musical theatre, the pastoral: the inhabitants of a village spend the year preparing and rehearsing the play and its dances. Traditionally, the subject of the play was Catholic, but recently pieces of Basque history are also presented. Another event akin to the pastoral beloved of the people of Soule is the maskaradas. This theatrical performances are put on in many villages of Soule in carnival time through spring. Each year a specific village takes the responsibility of arranging a new performance. It consists of a music band in due carnival outfit surrounded with a group of set carnivalesque characters and dancers parading up and down the main street of the host village; at the end, they stage an informal play usually in the market place or handball court[1].

Soule is also renown for its singing tradition, elegant dances and local music instruments, such as xirula and ttun-ttun. These instruments are gaining new dynamism thanks to music schools founded to that end by local cultural activists[2].

Language

The proper language of Soule has been Basque for centuries, with the region featuring its own dialect, the Souletin. Notwithstanding this fact, the neighbouring Béarnais has been widely understood, even spoken in recent centuries as a lingua franca. However, both Basque and Béarnese have lost ground to French with both languages struggling to survive in the next generations. Basque is attested to have been widespread farther east of the territory into the Pyrenees in previous centuries.

The inhabitants call non-Basque speaking foreigners Kaskoinak, while other Basque speaking people (especially when referring to those of the French Basque Country) are dubbed Manexak after a commonplace sheep breed in the area.

References

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