Basque ethnography at a glance


Author: Zuriñe Goitia

One of the most important vital functions of people is breathing, which we do unconsciously and involuntarily, without having to think about it. Sometimes though, our breathing is disturbed by the sudden contraction of the muscle at the base of the lungs, the diaphragm, causing the vocal cords to close and generate a distinctive sound, “hip”, which produces hiccups. It is a reflex act, which usually has a finite duration, disappears by itself, and it’s not serious. Although it may appear for no apparent reason, transient hiccups (zotin, txopin, txokin, kika, ipotz, txokoleta), are associated with eating quickly or abundantly, drinking alcoholic or gaseous beverages, or experiencing a sudden emotion.

The appearance of hiccups makes the person who suffers from it uncomfortable, often causing smiles in the people around. It is quite common, traditionally, trying to scare the hiccup using different methods. A very common one has usually been to scare the person suffering from it, accusing them for example, of having stolen something and asking, in a joking tone: did you steal something? For example, accusing him of having stolen something and asking him, in a joking tone, what have you stolen? In Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, when a child had hiccups he was reproached: Aphezaren moltsa ebatsi duk (you have stolen the priest’s bag). It might also be a fright by an unexpected sound or by suddenly throwing cold water into the back of the head by surprise. The babies were thrown high, scaring the child to get rid of the hiccups.

Other remedies were based on drinking water (zurrutekoak) in a certain way, for example, as it was collected in the 1920s, drinking seven sips without breathing, or while praying the Lord´s Prayer. In some places, the same thing had to be done by pinching the nose or covering the ears. There were other peculiar ways to get rid of hiccups by drinking water. It had to be done in a certain way though: without tilting the glass that contains the water, holding it by the farthest edge of the mouth or resting it on a flat surface while sipping without touching the glass with the hands.

Another commonly used method was to hold the breath for as long as possible, first inhaling strongly. Azkue collected in Bizkaia that, those who suffered from hiccups had to count up, in one breath, to the largest number as possible.

The solutions varied in each location or area. In some places, action was taken on different parts of the body of the one who had hiccups, such as in Abadiano and Elgoibar, where the artery of the left wrist was squeezed with the right hand. In Hondarribia, however, the remedy consisted of tapping the forehead three times with the fist, before hiccupping three times or in Telleriarte (Legazpi), where the joint of the last phalanx of the ring finger was tightly tied.

In our environment, as was confirmed in surveys carried out during the first decades of the 20th century, there have also been remedies of a more superstitious nature. The most widespread consisted of turning a garment or an object inside out. To cure hiccups, it was enough to put the beret, cap or hat backwards, that is, with the inside part facing out. Those who did not wear anything on their head could turn over some garment they were wearing, the edge of the sleeve, the cuff of the shirt or the apron. In Berastegi and Hondarribia a stone was kissed and placed on the ground, with the kissed part touching the earth. In Hiriberri, however, you had to move anything from one side to the other three times before hiccupping again, reciting the following verse on each of the three occasions:

 Jesus, Ama Birjina,

ongi etorri txopina,

bart etorri bazina,

ongi afaldurik fain zina.

 (Jesus, Virgin Mary, welcome, hiccup, if you had come last night, you would have had a good dinner).

The list of home remedies for curing hiccups is very large, and, although there is no scientific evidence on their effectiveness, those who apply or recommend them do so because it usually works for them. So, in our case, if we notice the discomfort of hiccups, we will try to combat it with some action that has worked for us before, or maybe we could trust a method that has worked for the person who proposes it to us.

Zuriñe Goitia – Anthropologist

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