Basque ethnography at a glance

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Bakio beach, 1956. Source: Jorge Royo.

Our last blog looked at the relationship of the local residents from Bakio, the baserritarras as they are known, with their beach. Let us continue.

Apart from sand and gravel, gathered from the shore as we described in the first part of this article, the residents of coastal rural areas also used the salty seawater, as they believe it to be healthy and medicinal.  Collecting seawater in demijohns was a common practice. The water could be put in a basin and the injured and inflamed part of the body (usually legs, feet or arms) soaked in it. Seawater was also an effective remedy for a head cold; people would put a small amount in their cupped hands and then sniff it into their nasal passages. This would reduce phlegm. Medical science also considered the sea to be beneficial for people’s health and this led to spas (Igeretxe in Getxo, La Perla in San Sebastián) and sanatoriums (Gorliz) being built next to the sea. There were no such buildings in Bakio, but Luisene, an establishment in the dunes, offered summer holidaymakers “salt baths” with seawater in large wooden tubs.

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Bakio beach, 1952. Source: Jorge Royo.

The Bay of Biscay is something that towns and villages along the Basque coast have in common, but their relationship with it is often very different.  It is strange how, except for the odd exception, the harbour villages alternate with ones with beaches. Some have cliffs that have hindered their residents’ access to and contact with the sea.

Bakio, a municipality in Bizkaia with a long beach, has been traditionally known for its agriculture and livestock farming. It is significant that the original town centre and most of the farmstead are set back from the coast. Fishing has played a very small role in the life of the bakiotarras, as the local residents are known. The only part it has, nearly exclusively, played is to provide fish for the table, but even then, not in great quantities. However, small shallops would be used to fish near the coast, just off the rocky areas of the beach where they would catch enough limpets, sea-snails (magurioak), octopus(amorrotzak) and barnacles for their needs.

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Jose Ereño, shepherd from Orozko (Bizkaia). Itziar Rotaetxe. Labayru Fundazioa Photography Archive.

Jose Ereño, a shepherd from Orozko, who has been the subject of a previous blog, published on 26 June 2020, finishes making the cheeses and begins to shear his sheep between the second fortnight of June and the first two weeks of July. By June, José and the other shepherds have already made their way up to Gorbeia, where the shearing takes place later than in the lower pastures as it is cooler up there.

He starts work early, before daybreak, as he knows that he needs to take advantage of the cool morning, before the sun begins to heat up. Anyhow, he has built a roof out of interwoven beech branches as protection from the sun.

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Irezabaleta Farmstead (Mañu – Bermeo, 2011). Photographer: Akaitze Kamiruaga.

The farmhouse (baserria) is the Basque house that is characteristic of the dispersed settlement system prevailing in much of Bizkaia.Yet the term baserri includes, apart from the house, the lands belonging to it. In that regard, the approach to the farmstead as a production and family unit was aimed at acquiring the maximum degree of social autonomy and economic self-sufficiency.That was in keeping with the principle of indivisibility of the family wealth.Furthermore, the customary law affecting property and the family would aim to ensure the preservation and development of the wealth, of the family and of the farmstead, by ensuring that the latter remained within the family unit. The basic institutions of the customary law in Bizkaia, such as lineage rights (troncalidad), freedom of testation and transfer of jointly-owned property rights (comunicación de bienes), make sense in this context.

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