Basque culture

   The Basque homeland consists primarily of the Spanish provinces of Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Alava, and areas North of the Pyrenees in southwestern France. Navarre is claimed by Basques as part of Euskadi, but this inclusion is disputed by many Navarrese, who are predominantly Spanish-speaking, and who claim a distinct cultural and historical identity for Navarre. The Basque language, though a powerful focus for nationalist sentiment, is not the sole determinant of Basque identity, as the language was in serious decline by the end of the nineteenth century, and many of those who would regard themselves as Basques do not speak it. Nor is there a strong literary culture in Basque, though in the last quarter of the twentieth century writing in Basque underwent a revival, paralleling the modest expansion in the number of Basque speakers. Arantza Urretabizkaia is a notable woman author who writes in Basque, and Joseba Irazu, who writes under the name of Bernardo Atxaga, won the National Prize for Narrative in 1989, with Obabakuak (The People From Obaba). Apart from the language, important expressions of cultural identity are found in traditional music and dance. As in Morris dancing, many Basque dances derive from ritual dances performed exclusively by men, such as the ezpata-dantza (sworddance), with its distinctive 5/8 beat. Whereas these are usually danced in square formation by eight men, mixed dances of a more social kind are usually in a circle, and have much in common with other European folk-dances, in which, for example, the dancers change partners, or pass under arches formed by the linked hands of other dancers. In the Baztán valley in Navarre there is an unusual dance called the jauziak (high jumps). The musical accompaniment for all these dances is provided by a one-handed flute called the txistu, the performer simultaneously beating a small drum or danbolina attached to his left wrist. There is also the txalaparta, a kind of wooden xylophone, and the alboka, a double-reed instrument, which needs a special technique of breathing to make the sound flow continuously, as in a bagpipe.
   The best-known Basque sport is pelota, which exists in several variants, ranging from handball to playing with racquets or the special large wicker gloves which enable the ball to be thrown at extremely high speeds. There are also various competitions involving the lifting, throwing and carrying of heavy weights.
   CARLOS ÁLVAREZ ARAGÜÉS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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