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Monday, April 5, 2010

Basque National Day 2010

Yesterday was the Aberri Eguna, the Basque "Day of the Fatherland". It was invented a century ago or so by the Arana brothers, who are also entitled with the creation of
Basque Nationalism as such modern political movement, as well as its iconography. Being of Carlist extraction and hence hyper-Catholics, they were happy to fill all their newly invented symbols of Christian references. Therefore the Basque flag has two crosses: St. Andrew's or Burgundy Cross for tradition and the regular Christian cross for Christianity, what else?

The ikurriña or Basque flag, the red background stands for the land

And of course, they chose the Christian holiday of Resurrection Sunday as the Basque National Day. Meh, they could have chosen August 15, which is the day we kicked the ass of the most powerful army of the Middle Ages, securing the independence of would-be Navarre.

Well, whatever the case, this Aberri Eguna brought us these two images:

On one side the unitary celebration across the imposed border at Hendaia-Irun, participated by all formations but the Basque Nationalist Party:

The act was presided by the portraits of seven independentist figures from the country and around the world: Queen Jeanne of Navarre, who lead the Hugenot rebellion in France and promoted Basque literature and culture, Agosti Xaho, famous Basque Romantic writer from whom I borrowed the name for this blog, José Antonio Agirre, who was Lehendakari (President of the Basque Government) in the Spanish Civil War, Teleforo Monzón, who lead the struggle in the Fascist period, eventually helping to found Herri Batasuna, Simón Bolívar who led the liberation struggle in Latin America, José Martí, who led the independence struggle of Cuba and Mahatma Gandhi, who led India towards its freedom as well.

The number seven, figure of the historical regions or provinces of the Basque Country, synthesized in the commonplace phrase Zazpiak Bat (the seven one), was central to the act and hence also seven different musicians performed for the public.

Txutxi Ariznabarreta declared in the act:

Let everybody know, in particular the Spanish and French states, that we are here and we are going to be every day more who want to achieve the Basque state.
Police road controls were very apparent on the southern routes, in an obvious attempt to intimidate the participants.

And on the other side the separate celebration of Basque Nationalist Party at Bilbao:

The party's president, I. Urkullu, has attacked the current pro-Spanish government of P. López, saying that "their only project is to paralyze the Basque Country; that's what they call 'to normalize': to their strategy of impoverishing the Basque people, a people that feels it doesn't have a Lehendakari (President) who defends their interests".

He also attacked the minor nationalist parties that joined the unitary Aberri Eguna of Hendaia-Irun, denouncing the "atomization" of the "democrat" Basque Nationalists. Quite ironic in my opinion, being EAJ-PNV the only party to go on its own in this date.

Source: Gara[es]: link1, link2.


manju said...

So, it's 'fatherland' and not 'motherland' for the lapsed matrilineal Basques?

Maju said...

Lets' see:

1. Aberri (fatherland) is a neologism made up by Sabin Arana some 100 years ago based nothing else that in Sumerian aba (father) and Basque herri (people, nation, village). His Basque was poor but he believed that no foreign words should be used, and in those Romantic times everything was being hypothetically realted to Sumerian, you know. Also Basque has two such words beginning with aba: abere (cattle) which is surely a Neolithic or Chalcolithic import and apaiz (priest, surely from the same Semitic root as abbot).

So well, he did not just invent the flag and the national day, but a whole list of neologisms some of which remain because they really stuck while others are now rejected.

There's no archaic word for fatherland/motherland in Basque. The only word is herri, that means village, people and nation at the same time (notice that the same double meaning of village and people happens in some romances like Spanish "pueblo").

2. There's no evidence for Basque being "lapsed matrilineal". The "Basque matriarchy" thingy has been much criticized for lacking any clear fundamentals.

Historical Basques (and Gascons) are soft patriarchal... but patriarchal anyhow. And certainly patrilineal, as only men (one arbitrarily chose by the father) inherited the family house (unless thee were no male heirs). It's "the father's home and the mother's fire", whatever that means.

That doesn't mean they could not be matrilineal once upon a time but the words for man and woman rather suggest ancestral patriarchalism:

- gizon (man) < giza (society) + on (probably ondo: junto a...)
- emakume (woman) < eme (female) + kume (applied to newborn animals, similar to ume: child)

Also notice the similitude between male (ar) and to take (har(-tu)), while female (eme) is similar to to give (ema(-n) and to tame (eme(-tu)).

I don't think there's anything in Basque culture other than religious aspects that could be considered "matriarchal" in any sense. However witchcraft, the cult of the ancestors (male line ancestors) and the pre-Christian religion are quite clearly female-centric.

Also Basque society was always more egalitarian than neighboring IE ones.

Marnie said...

The word "herri" sounds very similar in meaning and concept to the ancient Greek word "πόλις" from which we get the word political.

Nice article. Eclectic and informative.

Maju said...

Polis is more like city, right? And, correct me if I'm wrong, it's related to the preffix poli- meanings "lots", "many"

We don't get just politics but also police and probably polite from it.

The Basque term herri is more "rural", I'd say. It does not have any known etymology but it's found in the term baserri (farmhouse), etim: basa (wild) + herri (village): village (or rather settlement) of the wilderness. It has a clear archaic meaning of people, even when meaning village.

City instead is said hiri (variants in toponimy: iri, ili, uri and even uru and iru-, shared with ancient Iberian), which is probably from Neolithic/Chalcolithic West Asian origin, as it's also found in that area, including the oldest ever known "city" (walled settlement) of Jerico (Iriko originally) and some of the oldest Mesopotamian cities (Eridu, Ur, Uruk), as well as the alias of Troy (Ilion), and others (Jerusalem was for instance Irisalem originally). The Sumerian word for city was uru.

Marnie said...

My understanding is that polis was either a city or a town. The size of the polis wasn't so much important as the responsibilities of those who lived in a polis.

Here is a superb video that defines the concept of the polis:

Maju said...

Yah, city/town. Neither in Basque nor Spanish there's any clear difference between city or town made. Technically, in Spanish only, there was some minor legal differences between "ciudad" (city) and "villa" (town) in the Middle Ages but the distinction was totally lost upon arrival to modernity and important cities such as Madrid or Bilbao are still technically "villas" (towns), while mere villages like Orduña or Oñati are "cities" instead. It matters only for heraldic purposes and such.

Both city and town are not "herri". Herri means village or settlement in the rural sense and, probably by extension, people and nation.

Maju said...

I should add that even, in some cases at least, towns were excluded from the institutional process to some extent. In Biscay at least, the various towns and the city of Orduña did not take part in the provincial parliament (nor therefore government either) nor were subject to provincial law (but to general Castilian one instead). However they were technically part of the Lordship for other purposes, albeit autonomous.

AFAIK, it was also the case in Gipuzkoa and Araba. Araba was constituted as County but also around certain "Brotherhood" institution which excluded at least the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Gipuzkoa's capital used to be in the large village of Tolosa and San Sebastian was not part of the province originally, like Oñati (what caused the famous revenge of Lope de Aguirre, after being flogged as plebeian by Castilian law for that reason - rural Gipuzkoans were "nobility"). Similarly in Biscay the capital was not in Gernika as such (a town) but in the outskirts, in the rural parish of Lumo (now they are fused).

Marnie said...

I read somewhere, maybe in one of Brian Sykes books, that they now estimate that in the Atlantic Coast, from Spain to Britain, there must have existed a vibrant economy, certainly three or four thousand years ago, and probably before.

That "polis" video I put up brings up a number of issues, ones that often interest me about ancient societies:

How did they resolve conflict?
How did they decide?
Who decided?
How did they resolve property disputes?
What was the role of women?
What was their system of justice?

I've observed rather complex systems to deal with the above, both in Ghana and amongst the Inuit, so surely the Basques also must have had a set of beliefs to help them function as a society.

Maju, I'd like to ask you some more questions about some of the things you mention in this article.

I probably can't get to a serious blogging session until Friday evening.

Hopefully, talk to you then.

manju said...

Where are the first two comments? By the way, thank you for the information.

Maju said...

"I read somewhere (...)that they now estimate that in the Atlantic Coast, from Spain to Britain, there must have existed a vibrant economy, certainly three or four thousand years ago, and probably before".

That's correct as far as I can tell. Since Chalcolithic (called late Neolithic in Britain, c. 3000 BCE or so) within the Megalithic cultural area there was some very dynamic trade. Evidence of this are amber from the Baltic and/or NW Germany, as well as ivory and ostrich egg products from Africa, found at least in southern Iberia (where there were towns and what then would be called cities probably). Evidence of trade with the Eastern Mediterranean is very scarce but there is some too. This cultural, economical and maybe to some extent political area persisted through the Bell Beaker period (which is generally associated with Megalithism west of the Rhine) and even to some extent beyond it in the so-called Atlantic Bronze Age (up to c. 700 BCE).

But the transition from late Megalithism to Atlantic Bronze, c. 1200 BCE was marked by the dissolution of both Iberian civilizations, the first migration southwards of Celts (?? Indoeuropeans in any case: Urnfields culture) and probably some decline in trade. While Tartessos probably took over the void, Phoenicians would arrive a few centuries later and took over from their strategic base at Gadir (modern Cádiz).

Soon after Phoenician arrival, Celts took over the richest parts of West Iberia and the cultural area got dissolved.

"That "polis" video I put up"...

Can't find it. It's a generic link.

"I've observed rather complex systems to deal with the above, both in Ghana and amongst the Inuit, so surely the Basques also must have had a set of beliefs to help them function as a society".

Of course. That's a human feature. And anyhow, even the Greek polis and other civilizations had once tribal origins (and political structures) they had to adapt to the urban reality.

What I meant is that, unlike the Greek case, the Basque case (or say the Scottish one, for instance) was one of a rural society, not one of a society dominated by the cities/towns. Even metallurgy (common in the pre-industrial Basque Country) was rural. Towns existed but were essentially walled marketplaces (and some crafts and services).

However it was not a feudal society. But a republican one.

This trait we probably owe to the native tribal origins or maybe even the "revolutionary" ideas of the Bagaudae, whose late offshoots caused the Basque area to become disengaged from the late Roman Empire in what was a struggle against feudalization (a Christian-Roman creation, not really Germanic, as many seem to believe).

Maju said...

"Where are the first two comments?"

The first one to comment were you and your post is there. Maybe, if you're reading at gmail, you see the thread split but that's a gmail feature not of the blog.

Marnie said...

Maju, I've reread this article and your comments.

In some ways, it seems to me that Basque country has been very romanized, and then swept with a very patriarchal notion of "fatherland" in the last several hundred years. "Fatherland" does seem anachronistic to me. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there doesn't seem to be much of a liberal tradition on the Iberian pennisula. Maybe it's just the effect of a rather strict form of Catholicism. I don't get the "Sumerian" reference. It does seem like there is a need for an image makeover.

"I don't think there's anything in Basque culture other than religious aspects that could be considered "matriarchal" in any sense. However witchcraft, the cult of the ancestors (male line ancestors) and the pre-Christian religion are quite clearly female-centric."

My sense is that the Basques would do well to embrace this ancient sense of themselves. It would be nice to know more about some of these pre-Roman traditions.

The flag seems to be washed clean on the rich culinary, fishing, and pastoral traditions that most foreigners associate with Basques.

I'm wondering if there is any sense of the ancient form of government of the Basques? And what of its judicial traditions?

You say it was a mostly rural society. That doesn't mean they wouldn't have needed to come up with a system to govern themselves.

It would be nice to know more about early Basque maritime navigation, as well as farming technology.

Has anyone looked on the genetic record of plants to understand what was farmed there three and four thousand years ago?

Huguenots. I'd love to know about the Basque connection to that. To be honest, I've always been interested in why my Puritan and Scottish Presbyterian ancestors so fervently resisted Catholicism. (By the way, I do have some more moderate Jacobite ancestors on my mother's side.)

The thing about amber trade is a very West European thing. Amber is common in Scottish jewelry. And no, it's not only a New Age thing.

And what about cheese making? And shepherding?

Maju said...

Label: Basque religion. You can also use the search function on the top strip of the blog.

You are correct that the Basque Country was rather Romanized and that it is culturally in the context of Latin Europe, hence the use of the word "Fatherland" (Patria, Patrie), or Latin origins.

"Huguenots. I'd love to know about the Basque connection to that".

The remaining Navarre after the Spanish invasion of 1512-21 was a tiny country very tied to France (and most of its territories were in fact Occitan/Gascon rather than Basque anymore). Queen Jeanne (Jeanne d'Albret) converted to Calvinism and promoted Basque language (the first Basque language books, including a bible, are from that period). Her son, Henri, King of Navarre became eventually the natural heir to the French throne but the Catholics opposed him. Eventually a deal was reached and he acessed the throne by converting formally to Catholicism ('Paris is well worth a mass'), inaugurating the Bourbon dynasty. He was a highly appreciated monarch who kept freedom of religion and also the independence of Navarre (against French dynastic law).

Eventually Navarre was annexed to France but the dynasty always used the title of Kings of France and Navarre, and also the two heraldries.

You can read more in Wikipedia, just search for Kings of Navarre or French Wars of Religion or Jeanne d'Albret...

"And what about cheese making? And shepherding?"

What about it?

Marnie said...

"And what about cheese making? And shepherding?"

How much does this history is now in the mindset of the Basque identity.

For instance, there is still a sense within Canada that part of our identity and way of thinking comes from being farmers. It is hard to explain, but "farmer" rather than serf is in the way of thinking.

And to illustrate further, California and parts of the American west have more of a "cowboy" way of life.

In both Canada and the US, there are a number of Basques who emigrated here as shephards, so shepharding must still be common in Basque Country. Of course there is also the tradition of fishing. How do these traditions influence the political thinking of modern Basques?

If this still doesn't make sense, let me know and I will try to illustrate further.

Maju said...

Colonial countries are different than Old World ones. You can't compare: our identity is language and history... not a mere economical activity.

Basque used to be sepherds but also farmers and fishermen and blacksmiths and traders and miners and coal makers and industrial workers and religious professions...

Sure sepherding and fishing and metallurgy were surely the there more distintictive professions of our people, but nothing too exclussive anyhow.

I think what is most distinctive from the surrounding peoples in the economical way is a matter of law, traditional law, still in effect in the South, that makes the farm to be inherited by only one son, what makes the rest look for fortune in other professions.

Marnie said...

Mari and Sugaar:

Very beautiful.