Basque ethnography at a glance


Intangible cultural heritage is in vogue. With this clear statement, we seek to reflect on the evolution that this heritage area has undergone since UNESCO produced the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003. It was ratified by Spain in 2005 and subsequently embodied in tools such as the Spanish National Plan for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (2011), the Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage Act 10/2015, of 26 May, and the different reforms implemented to include the term and their application in regional legislation.

In recent years, its development has led to the emergence of debates mainly focused on the different management models for the heritage status processes, its consideration in relation to other tangible heritage areas, and the role played by the carrier community, with the latter taken to be the set of key players of the different intangible practices classified according to the areas established by the 2003 Convention.

Festivity of Our Lady of the Snows (Lanestosa, 05/08/2015). Photo: E. X. Dueñas.

Leisure and festivities sharply contrast with work. Any festive calendar is studded with celebrations in the public and private spheres, and a mix of elements from the past and more recent ones.

The autumn – season and cycle – gets underway with St. Michael’s Day, a real stalwart of the saints calendar and which is celebrated in Artzentales and Sestao, to name a few. Halloween leads the way into November. Even though it is an imported festivity, we must not forget scaring neighbours with carved pumpkins already existed in days of yore. On All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, relatives and friends visit the cemeteries and that has led to the borrowed “tradition” of bringing and laying flours and wreaths on the graves.

Accordionists in Croatia (Split), 2013. Courtesy of the author.

The accordion is a musical instrument consisting of two wooden boxes. The musician uses the one on the right to play the main melody and the one on the left for the bass and the chords of the accompaniment. The bellows is between the two boxes. Accordionists use their arms to open and close the bellows to allow air to flow and vibrate the reeds in each of the wooden boxes to produce sound. There are two types of accordions, with buttons or keys on the right.

The accordion was brought to the Basque Country, as to many other places of Europe and the Americas, after the success of its invention in Vienna in 1829. The first accordion was brought here by the workers from the French and Italian Alps who came to lay the first railway tracks at the end of the 19th century.

Inude eta Artzainak in Donostia. Source: Donostia Kultura.

Just as dance is at the heart of many celebrations, it also plays a leading role in the carnivals of Gipuzkoa. Although these lines are an approximation of the carnival dances of Gipuzkoa, it must be remembered that dances do not exist in a vacuum and are therefore inevitably intertwined with other elements of the carnival. For example, dancers may wear costumes, or dancing may take place while alms collecting.