1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Basques
BASQUES, a people inhabiting the three Basque Provinces—Biscay, Álava and Guipúzcoa—and Navarre in Spain, and the arrondissement of Bayonne and Mauléon in France. The number of those who can be considered in any sense pure Basques is probably about 600,000 in Europe, with perhaps 100,000 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.
Language.—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, thirty-eight 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”; gatik, “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”; ori or kori, “this” or “that.” Other unexplained forms are found in the verbal inflexions, e.g. d, it, and t, “I” 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 ta hamalaur, “twenty and fourteen.” The numbers from one to ten are: 1, bat; 2, bi; 3, hiru; 4, lau; 5, bortz or bost; 6, sei; 7, zazpi; 8, zortzi; 9, bederatzi; 10, hamar; 20, hogoi or hogei; 40, berrogoi (i.e. twice twenty); 100, 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 eztakikat), “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”; belar, “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 Guipúzcoan and the Labourdine; and the western, formed by the Biscayan, spoken too in Álava. 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 candiliores) 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:—(1) 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,” Hervé) 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 Jauna, 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 1545. The work which is considered the standard of the language is the Protestant translation of the New Testament made by Jean de Liçarrague, 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-scène, 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 Guipúzcoa, 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 ground-floor, 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.
Character.—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.
Institutions.—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 self-government, 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. 15 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 self-government 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 easily-defended 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 Guipúzcoa 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 Guipúzcoa; 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 comparée des 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’Abbé Ithurry, Grammaire basque (Bayonne, 1895–1906); Dr H. Schuchardt, Die Entstehung der Bezugsformen des Baskischen (Wien, 1893); W. J. Van Eys, Dictionnaire basque-français (Paris, 1873); R. M. de Azkue, Diccionario vascongado español-français (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 raza 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 générales gardées et observées au pais & baillage de Labourt (Bordeaux, 1700); G. Olphe-Galliard, Le Paysan basque à travers les âges (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 see Basque Provinces. (W. We.; J. Vn.)