This is one of the oldest living languages in Western Europe, the survivor of an ancient language that predates the invasion of Europe by Indo-European populations during the 2nd millennium B.C.
Basque is currently spoken by 600,000 people of whom 10% are in France, in the West of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Basques call themselves “Euskaldun” which roughly means «he who speaks Basque».
The Basque language, until now limited to family and church life, has penetrated into a number of areas in social life over recent years. It is taught and it is used by the media. It can be seen on road and shop signs. On the Spanish side, it sits alongside Castilian where both are the official languages of the autonomous Basque community called Euskadi.
This language is also very visible in many cultural activities that have gained ground and some of which are specific to the Basque Country: singing, pastorals (highly codified rural sung theatre), masquerades, ‘bertsularism’ (the art of improvising in song verse form on subjects taken from life)…
Throughout the Basque domain or Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, one quarter of the population is bilingual in Basque and French or Spanish. In France, this proportion is declining and Basque speakers are often to be found among the older members of the population. Spain, frequently as the result of systematic teaching encouraged by the autonomous Basque Government, is witnessing a rise in the proportion of young Basque speakers.
Source: Basque Cultural Institute
Basque farms can be seen scattered like so many red and white dots throughout the verdant countryside. In places, houses are grouped round the fronton and the church, forming attractive villages. Basque houses blend into the countryside and their names often reflect the local topography: for instance, Etxe Mendi means “the house on the mountain”. Lower Navarre is the province where you can see the greatest architectural diversity. There, a house is generally decorated with lintels above its doors or windows and these lintels tell the story of that house (name of the householder, build or conversion date etc.).
When you look at a Basque house, you are also experiencing the etxe, the basic social unit symbolized by the family. Each house is identified by a name handed down from generation to generation and, quite often, the people living in a house are known by the name of that house.
Did the Basques invent the games of pelota? One thing is certain, the gesture involved in throwing and returning a spherical object is one that is instinctive to men. It would seem that this gesture dates back to early prehistoric times and ball games were recorded in Ancient History. The first records of Basque pelota mention a practice derived from the “longue paume” (long palm) game which was later transformed after the introduction of latex and the widespread use of rubber in Europe: in the beginning, the ball was made of wool and cotton and covered in leather. The production of very elastic and bouncy balls changed the game by including a wall at one end of the court and so Basque pelota was born.
Nowadays, this sport has 19,000 registered members and is played by 70,000 enthusiasts making up 11 national leagues. The various pelota specialities are played on twenty-four countries.
The bare-hand game is regarded as the basic version. It is also the most natural because it uses no appliances.
The chistera joko garbi tends to be played in an “open-air” fronton measuring at least 50 metres. The aim is to return the ball as soon as it is received, creating a very fast and lively game.
Grand chistera is only played in France in an “open-air” fronton measuring at least 80 metres. The shape of the basket (heavily curved with a glove) makes blocking the pelota easier. It also breaks down the gesture and allows the player to take a run up before returning the ball.
The rubber paleta is the version most often played by the mass public as a leisure pursuit.
Source: French Basque Pelota Federation
The force basque trials have their origins in the pursuit of routine rural tasks. For centuries, farmers challenged each other. Forestry work gave birth to the aizkolari (woodcutters) and segari (pit sawyers). Several trials have been derived from field and farm work and the most famous of these are the lasto altxari (bale lifting), orga joko (cart lifting) or zakulari (relay sack race). Finally, there is the soka tira (tug-of-war), a discipline that is known and practiced internationally in 14 countries.
The first force basque festival was held in Saint-Palais in 1951. The organizers came up with the idea of bringing these traditional and very ancient games onto the public highway. Nowadays, continuity is ensured by the captains of various teams which, each year, involve 150 participants attracting 3,000 to 4,000 spectators, holidaymakers and local fans.