Basque ethnography at a glance


Postcard entitled “Romeria-Erromeria” (Pilgrimage festivities), illustrated by the painter José Arrue.

Summer is the time of festivities and dancing is part of those celebrations. Even though few dancers are seen in the town squares today, it was not so long ago that people wanted to dance, but were banned from doing so “in hold” or waltzing as it was also known.

During the Basque Festivities organised in Areatza-Villaro (Bizkaia) in 1897, J. Larrea, the chronicler for El Nervión newspaper, wrote the following on 12 September: “… and as regards the social mores of Arratia, they cannot be overemphasized enough; suffice it to say that waltzing was forbidden during the open-air festivities as part of the pilgrimage in Arteaga (Artea), and it is the same case in this charter town, as the “mutilleks” (young men) were not allowed to hold the “neskatillaks” (young women) in their arms to dance to the sound of the drum”.



Local authorities in Arantzazu. Arratia, 1919. Photo credit: Indalecio Ojanguren.

The 29th of September is an important date on the Basque calendar, as it is the feast day of St. Michael, our patron saint, and the best known and beloved of the archangels in heaven.

However, the date was also known for practical reasons, as it marked the end of the farming year in popular culture. In other words and going even further back in time, it is the Christianised festivity of the equinox when summer ended and winter began.

In many places, that day was the start of the period that leaf litter or fern could be gathered from the common uplands, the livestock were taken to the winter pastures, the start of the work to get the forges or cold chambers ready, and the renewal of leases of mills, taverns or dwellings. And, among other interesting facts, that of renewing the posts of the elected officials of the village.


Source: Labayru Fundazioa Photographic Archive.

Hidden on one of the hills that span the eastern slopes of Mount Jata, the chapel of St. Michael of Zumetzaga stands in an isolated and mysterious setting. Ancient oaks, chestnut trees and the odd age-old holm oak provide the shade protecting this simple, but historically important chapel; it is believed to date back to the end of the 12th century and is in the late Romanesque style. The Zumetzaga farmstead, the guardian of this gem, can be found beside it.

The chapel faces east and is a modest building, consisting of a single rectangular nave, ending in a almost square apse. This is shored up by sturdy buttresses outside that give a peculiar look to the building. All the walls, along with the vaults, are in stone masonry and there is only an opening on each façade. Three of them are entrances, and there is a small window in the chevet which lets in the little light to the dimly lit chapel. That, and the south-facing door, are the most interesting features of the building. (more…)

Charanga dance band during the Feast of the Cross in Lezo. Photo: E. X. Dueñas (15/09/2019).

We may not be aware due to the current inertia of daily life, but music is something that is usually at the centre of entertainment and, particularly, at festivities, weekends and different celebration.

Even though the need to play melodies, for different reasons, can be traced far back in time, we can basically differentiate between two uses for music performed in the street: entertainment or leisure and enjoyment; and ritual (religious and/or secular). Furthermore, whether travelling or mobile, on the one hand, and fixed or static, on the other, it coincides with the presence of the people in the spotlight, the musicians: who can be literate and illiterate; enthusiasts, professionals and beggars; instrumental or with voice accompaniment; locals or incomers.