Euskadi (Basque) or El país Vasco (Spanish) means the Basque country. It is a country in two countries, Spain and France.
Pic courtesy of Seccowine
The region above is called Euskal Herria. It means ‘the land of people who speak Euskara’. Euskara is Basque word for Basque language. People who originally come from the regions are called the Basque. They have their own language and culture. However the autonomous Basque region which is officially acknowledged by Spanish government consists only of the region as shown below. The autonomous region is called Euskadi.
Pic courtesy of Commons Wikimedia
The rich history of Basque learns that this old tribe has lived for a long time in the region. Years passed by, the Basque gained the autonomy from the French and Spanish (the Iberian) kings. However with the time it had decreased. During Franco’s administration the Basque were repressed. They were not allowed to speak their own language nor practice their own culture. This has resulted in the establishment of ETA, the movement for the free Basque country. For some ETA is a terrorist group, for others ETA is a freedom fighter. In 1979 Basque region was officially acknowledged as an autonomous province of Spain.
The Basque language is very old. Experts believe this language existed in pre historic time at both side of the Pyreneans. It was spoken even before the Iberian (ancestors of the Spanish people) settled in the Peninsula. The Basque language is originally a pre Indo-European language that has no connection with other languages.
Basque language sounds hard. It uses many R, K and Z. This is a text in Basque language to give you an impression:
Gizon-emakume guztiak aske jaiotzen dira, duintasun eta eskubide berberak dituztela; eta ezaguera eta kontzientzia dutenez gero, elkarren artean senide legez jokatu beharra dute. If you want to know more about this, how it sounds, visit Omniglot page about Euskara.
My basque experience
When I was in Bilbao I had an excellent time interacting with the Basque people. During my last evening there I even participated in a Basque tradition.
After dinner, my friends and I took a walk through Casco Viejo. All of the sudden, nearby Plaza Nueva, we heard people singing. The plaza was packed with locals singing traditional Basque songs.
There were two guitarists, one accordionist, one drummer and one was behind the music panel. A leader sang and everybody sang along. Before I was really aware of what was going on, a friendly man gave me the book full of 200 Basque folk songs.
He spoke something in Basque language which I didn’t understand. But hey, I solemnly sang along. The tune was easy to follow. After a while, I got the system. The public shouted the song they wanted to sing, the leader picked it up and the band started playing the music.
Another man approached me in Spanish. We engaged in a conversation about the Basque country, its culture, language and food. He told me this singing session is a tradition in Bilbao. Every second Saturday of the month, Bilbaians start to gather at Casco Viejo around 8.00 pm. They walk through the alleys, picking up people and end in Plaza Nueva where they sing their folk songs.
Standing there in the crowd I felt the spirit of the Basque people although I did not understand any single Basque word! They proudly sang together, they had fun together. Young and old participated with high spirit. This touched me deeply. I felt like I witnessed them preserving their culture realtime. Singing is a part of an oral tradition. I imagined the lyrics have been told from grandparents to parents to grandchildren. During the civil war doing this must have been dangerous.
My instant guide enthousiastically warned me for the coming songs as soon as he recognized the intro. He screamed (otherwise I barely heard him): “Oh, this one is dramatic” “This one is heroic” “This one is about forbidden love” “This one is about the proud of Euskal Herria (Basque for Basque Country)”.
This event lasted until 11.30 pm that night. It was ended with dancing. Our new friend from Bilbao took me dancing together with the public. I felt like I was in the middle of a travel programme on TV. I believed I was the only Asian there as people started asking question where I was from.
This is me with the friendly Bilbaian. He highly recommended me to visit Bilbao during La Semana Grande in August. This is a yearly event full of culture, food and music all over the city. Perhaps I’d come with my husband and daughter.