WHO ARE THE BASQUES?

The Basques are thought to be the oldest culture in the world; direct descendents of Cro-Magnons. The Basque language, Euskera, has not been directly traced back to any other language.

The Basque region is located in the southwest corner of France and spans across the northwest corner of Spain. Despite much struggle by the Basque people, the Basque region is not an independent nation; it is part of Spain and France, respectively. The Provinces of Nafarroa, Araba, Gipuzkoa, and Bizkaia (called Navarra, Alava, Guipuzcoa, and Vizcaya in Spanish) are located in Spain. The provinces of Lapurdi, Benaparre, and Zuberoa are located in France (called Labourd, Basse Navarre, and Soule in French). The provinces of Alava, Guipuzcoa, and Vizcaya in Spain make up the Autonomous Basque Community of Euskadi. the Entire Basqueland is 8,218 square miles, slightly less than the area of New Hampshire. The provinces are defined by the language, and so there are 7 different Basque dialects.

The Basque region is called Euskal Herria by the Basques, which means "land of Euskera speakers." Their language has always been what defines a Basque. Because the culture is based on language, there are no ancient written records written by the Basques, only oral history that has been passed down. The first written accounts of the Basques are from two centuries after Romans arrived in 218 B.C.

Building a large economy on whaling and cod fishing, the Basques were very successful. They also built some of the best built wooden ships and even built ships that made some of Spain's first voyages to the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. Basque whalers fished whales almost to the point of extinction off the Spanish coast. Atlantic cod then became their main commerce. They refined the curing process by drying and salting the cod. It is believed that Basque fishing vessels made it to Greenland, Iceland, and North America around the time the Vikings were first arriving there.

THE BASQUE HOUSE - ETXEA

The Basque house represents a clan and plays a very important role in Basque identity. Historically, and even sometimes today, Basques associated themselves more with their house name than with their family name. Most Basque houses were white with red trimming. They were located in the small vallies between the miles of rugged mountains. Farming was done in the valley, while shepherds tended flocks grazing along the mountain side.

Their place in the mountains was convenient for fighting invaders. However, until modern history, the Basques had many friendly passers-by with whom there was no need to fight. Many surrounding nations saw no use for the mountainous region, but many armies had to trek across them to travel from one part of Iberia to the other. The Basques let them pass through their land and use their safe ports in return for small fees, and with the promise they would not be invaded.

THE FUEROS

Basque laws, known as the Fueros, were based on ancient custom. The laws were decided on at large region-wide meetings where delegates represented communities. These local assemblies were held in Guernica under the Great Oak, an important symbol of Basque identity. The Fueros were not written in a legal code until the twelfth century, when they began to be called Fueros, a Spanish word meaning "codified local customs." The Fueros were extremely important to the Basques because their customs were there laws. They would even compromise their independence as long as the Fueros remained. The struggle to keep the Fueros would later become a great centerpiece in the Basque nationalist struggle.


Guernica Oak

 

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