Basque ethnography at a glance

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Bobo and dancers. Danzas e indumentaria de Navarra [Dances and clothing of Navarre], by Francisco Arrarás.

The beautiful Pyrenean city of Ochagavía (Navarre) is located in the north of the Salazar Valley, and high above it, at an altitude of about 1025 m, the Sanctuary of Muskilda and its unique environs. Built in the 19th century and restored in the 17th, the Romanesque hermitage stands on top of the mountain of the same name, at the foot of the Irati Forest, a Gothic sculpture of the Virgin being preserved therewithin.

The Marian sanctuary keeps a long history and legends, a regulated secular council (renewed on St Lucia’s Day, 13 December, with transfer of duties, books of accounts and symbols of authority) elected annually by the inhabitants of Ochagavía, and a dance troupe, consisting in a structured group of eight dancers under the leadership or tutelage of a special figure, namely the so-called ‘Bobo’. The first references to the festivity, the attraction or devotion of the people of neighbouring valleys (Roncal, Zuberoa or Lower Navarre), and its dancing events are reflected in the following 17th century documentary quotes:

En Ochagabia en estos días, azen grande regocijo con sus jublares, con danças y bailas, y también tienen muestras de armas y alardes. ‘These are days of great joy in Ochagavía, with minstrels, dances and exhibition of weapons and displays.’ (1666) [1]

Item assi mismo se libran a Joseph Goiena: Juglar, tambor ocho danzantes y Vobo por la ocupación del sobre dicho dia de Nra. Señora de Musquilda dia ocho de sep. e Incluiendo la enseñanza de los Danzantes cinquenta y seis reales. ‘Joseph Goiena is likewise rewarded fifty-six reals for the services of a minstrel, a drummer, eight dancers and Bobo on the feast of Our Lady of Muskilda, 8 September, including the instruction of the mentioned dancers.’ (1695) [2]

Dancers of Our Lady of Muskilda, 1966. Josu Larrinaga Zugadi.

In such a scenario and context, there have been many voices who have seen in the peculiar set of ancient fertility rituals clear nods to classic mythological references, or other paths. But we should not forget that in the Mediterranean side of the Basque Country, we have the paloteados (rustic dances performed with sticks) and theatrical dances of Ebro River in the south (similar to those of southern Aragon) and the paloteados of the Pyrenees (extended in Jacetania, Higher Gállego and Sobrarbe).

Celebrations in Ochagavía begin on the evening of the eve of the feast of the Virgin (8 September) with the dancer’s walk, paying visit to the administrators of the council of Muskilda and the local authorities. Encouraged by the sound of bag-pipers, they dance in the typical dark suit of the Salazar Valley and accompany themselves in their evolution with the rhythm of castanets on their cheerful walk. At the end of the evening religious service, in the square, they execute the whole series of dances that characterizes them: Paseoa, Emperadorea, Katxutxa, Danza, Modorro, Pañuelo and Jota.

Stick dance, 1966. Josu Larrinaga Zugadi.

On the main day of celebration, from the very early hours of the morning, and dressed in white, the dancers gather the authorities on their walk, and they all head to the hermitage of Muskilda to fulfil the duties of the council, hear mass, participate in the procession, and preside over the cycle of dances in honour of the Virgin. In the afternoon they return to city square to execute again the entire cycle of courtship dances in front of the attentive eyes of the local and foreign population.

Josu Larrinaga Zugadi – Sociologist

Translated by Jaione Bilbao – Ethnography Department – Labayru Fundazioa

[1] Iribarren, José María. De Pascuas a Ramos [From Easter to Palm Sunday]. Diario de Navarra ed., Pamplona, 2002, p. 154.

[2] Villafranca, Rosa and Aldaia, Ángel María. Danzas de Ochagavía. 300 años de historia [Dances of Ochagavía. 300 years of history]. Mintzoa ed., Pamplona, 1996, p. 38. 1695 annual accounts of the Basilica of Muskilda and first reference to Joseph Goiena, native of Ochagavía, musician and dance master at a time when all types of choreographies were being staged at sacred precincts.


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