Basque ethnography at a glance

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Slopes of Eneabe. Ubide (Bizkaia), December 1996. José Ignacio García Muñoz. Labayru Fundazioa Photographic Archive.

Spring-summer transhumance and transterminance, both implying movement of flocks to high pastures, were defined and dealt with in a previous post published on 17 May 2019.

With winter approaching, herds are brought down from the highlands, since adverse weather hamper the stay. And as the vegetative growth of grass stops or slows down due to cold winter temperatures, and there is not enough pasture in the lower valleys, herds are moved towards coastal areas, where milder temperatures prevail, or to warmer innermost regions of the country, such as the Royal Bardenas, frequented by most Pyrenean flocks, or even as far as Ebro Valley.

The latter is the great transhumance par excellence in the peninsular Basque Country, leaving from the Navarrese valleys of Roncal and Salazar towards the pastures of the Ribera, mainly to the Bardenas. In the old days the journey would take some ten days.

In search of winter pastures, herds and herders from Carranza moved to neighbouring locations in the valley or elsewhere along the left bank of the Nerbioi river, sometimes reaching the valley of Txorierri on the other side, or to the Cantabrian coast. From the highlands of Gorbeia Mountain they descended to the surrounding valleys. From the slopes of Oiz Mountain and Aramotz Range they headed to the valleys around Durango, the vicinity of Larrabetzu, or the region of Gernikaldea, Lekeitio or Ondarroa on the coast. The stay lasted approximately two months. Journeys were made on foot with the flock. The practice began to decline in the 1950s and is now forever lost.

The length of the stay varied with climate. Transhumance, or rather transterminance, around Oiz Mountain, in particular, started quite late, usually after Christmas, and went on until April or May, but would be advanced to November or delayed to February depending on the weather.

Shepherds from Urbia, in Aizkorri Range, travelled either to the coast in Gipuzkoa or the region of Durango. Some made their way to Amorebieta-Etxano, Galdakao, Larrabetzu and Lezama, and from there to Mungia or Gernika. From Aralar Range flocks were brought down to pastures nearby Tolosa, Orio, Renteria, Hondarribia and Irun.

Shepherds from Agurain migrated to winter pastures in Beasain and Ormaiztegi. More recently transhumant herds would stay in the plains of Álava, a region known as Llanada Alavesa.

Grazing land and places to stay, often empty houses, were verbally agreed to before departure. Stocked with supplies for the journey, transhumant shepherds would prepare and warm food upon arrival at the place of destination. They occasionally stayed in accommodation provided by the pasture owner. Sheep lambed in the meantime, and young lambs as well as cheeses made by shepherds themselves were sold wherever they happened to be. Payment of pastures and lodging was generally made in cash. Part would be paid in kind, however, should owners wish to let the flock fertilize their croplands, fresh cheeses being added to the bargain.

Segundo Oar-Arteta – Etniker Bizkaia – Etniker Euskalerria Groups

Translated by Jaione Bilbao – Ethnography Department – Labayru Fundazioa

Reference for further information: Livestock Farming and Shepherding, part of the Ethnographic Atlas of the Basque Country collection.

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