From an early period, Basques looked beyond their borders for resources and inspiration, a trait that keeps them on the cutting edge of global economic and sustainability movements. However, their commitment to language and cultural preservation may be the key to their success. To present this intricate tension, musicians, dancers, boat makers, cooks, and other experts from the Basque country and diaspora communities shared their unique traditions and perspectives as part of the Basque: Innovation by Culture program.
Basque culture has always emphasized innovation. The Basque were among the earliest European explorers, fishermen, and whalers to venture to the Western Hemisphere, and their culture reflects this historic influence. Many iconic Basque foods have their roots in the Western Hemisphere and the seafaring heritage, including bakailao (salted cod), piperrada (pepper-based sauce), and marmitako (tuna and potato stew). Today, Basque cuisine sets the standard for farm-to-table and sea-to-table quality.
The Basque have long been leaders in industry, helping usher in the Industrial Revolution after discovering rich bands of iron ore in their mountains. They prospered during the cooperative movement of the mid-twentieth century and are now innovators in car part manufacturing, sustainable energy, transportation, and engineering.
While Basque culture is innovative and outward looking, the people maintain strong cultural roots. They constitute one of the oldest communities in Europe, and today approximately one million people worldwide speak Basque, or Euskara, a language once on the brink of extinction and now an example of successful language revitalization. To many Basques, language is a key component of their identity.
This program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Basque Country institutions: the Basque Government
In Basque communities around the world, frontoia is at the symbolic and often literal center of social and cultural life. Frontoia started as a single wall, sometimes on the side of the local church, where children and adults gathered to play pilota or handball during festivals, feast days, and leisure time.
Limited size and resources have not limited Basque creativity. From the clay-rich soils of Araba to the rich veins of iron in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa and the dense forests of Nafarroa, the landscape of Basque country has shaped the daily lives of its people.
Euskara, the Basque language, is spoken on both sides of the far Western Pyrenees, in territories belonging to both Spain and France. Unrelated to any other and thought to be the oldest in Europe, it was spoken prior to the arrival of Indo-European languages (about 4400 BCE). The Basque homeland was originally called Euskal Herria, literally “the land of the Basque language” and its population euskaldunak, “the possessors of the Basque language.”
Iconic images of the Basque countryside include the baserria, or farmstead. It not only represents home and family but hard work and production of goods. Everything for the family, from cheese to clothing, was made on the baserria.
As the start and end point of many journeys, portua, or the port, connects the Basque to their seafaring heritage, loved ones abroad, and innovative marine technologies. Basque country hugs the Atlantic Ocean, providing abundant fish and, by the eleventh century, whale meat and oil.
Basque Country is no stranger to immigration. Basques have emigrated from their homeland for over two centuries, establishing roots in Chile, Argentina, the Philippines, Mexico, the United States, Australia, and more. An estimated one million people comprise the overseas Basque diaspora.
From the earliest explorers to present-day members of communities around the globe, Basque people have demonstrated their creativity and resilience.
Eneko Goiburu Murua, Felix Goiburu Errazquin, Maria Carmen Murua Jauregui, cheese makers
Olga Uribe Salaberria, weaver
Sandrine Lasserre, Jean-Pierre Errecart, espadrille makers
Alberto Plata, Edorta Loma, salt makers
Irati Anda, Xabi Paia, bertsolariak
Jose Francisco “Kinku” Zinkunegi, Errukine Olaziregi, language teachers
Iurdana Acasuso, Amaia Ocerin, language advocates
Aitzol Atutxa Gurtubai, Batirtze Izpizua, Nerea Egurrola, Karmele Gisasola, Idoia Etxebarria Kutza, Juanan Compañon “Konpa,” athletes