Tag Archives: France

#BasquesAbroad

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 “Someone said that forgetting is full of memory, but it is also true that the memory does not give up”

(Mario Benedetti, Echar las Cartas, 2002)

In 2013, the number of Basques abroad, registered with a Spanish consulate from a municipality in the Basque Autonomous Community (Euskadi), was nearly 72,000. As shown in the map, they are living in over 50 countries, being France (13,000), Argentina (11,000), Venezuela (6,500), Mexico (6,300) and Chile (5,000) the countries that host the majority of them. All evidence indicates that Basques will progressively go abroad. A recent survey points out that nearly half of the Basque young population are willing to look for a job in a foreign country. Sixteen percent of Basques between 15 and 29 years old believes that in the future they will be forced to “emigrate abroad to work, unwillingly.” For instance, from 2009 to 2013, the number of Basques registered with a Spanish consulate has increased by 35%. They preferred destination was the European Union, followed by Asia and America.

MAPA-PERE-VASCO-2013“Number of Basques residing abroad.” Source: Spanish National Statistics Institute, 2013.

On December 18, 2013, the University of Deusto presented the results report of its first social survey on Euskadi (DeustoBarómetro Social / Deusto Gizarte Barometroa, DBSoc). According to the report, in relation to the attitudes toward the welfare policies, the five areas where the majority of Basques believed that there should not be budget cuts under any circumstances were “health” (86%), “education” (79%), “pensions” (68%), “unemployment benefits” (49%), and “Science and R+D” (36%). That is to say, while nearly three quarters of the Basque society’s priorities focused on health, education and pensions, the five areas that obtained the least support were “embassies and consulates” (7%), “defense” (6%), “equality policies” (6%), “development cooperation” (5%), and “support for Basques abroad “ (5%)

After taking into account the internal degree of relevance established by comparing the response options, the result of the question related to the welfare policies in the Basque society seems logical, particularly, within the context of a prolonged and deep socio-economic and financial crisis and extreme public budget cuts. When reflecting on the possible reasons behind such low support, it comes to my mind the existing distance between the Basque society and its diaspora, the knowledge that homeland Basques might have on the diaspora, and above all their interest on the Basques abroad.

The respondents established a degree of significance regarding the option “support for Basques abroad” in relation to their own quotidian and vital world. It can be considered the “emotional distance” that exists between the respondents and the “Basques abroad”, which goes together with the existing geographical, temporal and/or generational distances. Secondly, evidences suggest that the degree of knowledge that homeland Basques (especially the youngest generations) might have on diaspora Basques and the degree of proximity to the diaspora issue is marginal. This knowledge has been relegated to the confines of the intimate memory of migrants’ family members and close friends and to the micro-history of villages and valleys. To a great extent, the history of Basque emigration, exile and return is not adequately socialized, for instance, through formal education (e.g., textbooks and didactical materials). Consequently, the collection, preservation and public dissemination of the testimonies of Basque migrants is not only necessary but urgent. This indicates that there is a wide “information and knowledge gap” between the Basque society and the Basques outside the homeland. But, beyond the inquiry regarding such a lack of awareness about the Basque diaspora, a fundamental question remains open. Is there a motivation or interest to know?

Finally, in addition to the aforementioned gaps, the absence of the issue of the Basque diaspora in the public debate in Euskadi impedes it for being even discussed or included in the Basque political parties’ list of priorities. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the diaspora lacks of a voice and of an organized lobby, preventing the penetration of any of its potential official discourses into the Basque society. In other words, nowadays, the Basque diaspora is defined by a high degree of invisibility and silencing in the daily life as well as in the imaginary of the Basque homeland rather than the opposite.

What all this tell us about the Basque identity and the homeland’s collective imaginary? Do you believe that the integration of the history of the Basques abroad and the returnees into the official homeland history and collective memory will have an effect on its visibility and recognition? Do you believe that emergent technologies of information and communication have a role to play in narrowing the gap between the Basque Country and its diaspora?

Please leave us your opinion or alternatively follow the conversation in Twitter, #BasquesAbroad, @deustoBarometro and @oiarzabal

I would like to thank Iratxe Aristegi and the rest of the team of DeustoBarómetro Social / Deusto Gizarte Barometroa at the University of Deusto for their help.

Here, for the Spanish version of this post “¿La comunidad invisible? #VascosExterior

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Yes!

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“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark”

Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, 1862)

Against the backdrop of the secular Basque immigration history to the United States of America, a five-year-old girl, Maite Echeto, awaits the return of her father to the Old Country with her mother. In a visit to her cousins’ farm Maite meets a new-born goslin, by the name of “Oui Oui Oui,” that she ends up adopting. As one could imagine this is the beginning of their numerous and unexpected adventures throughout the colorful countryside of the Basque Country in France (Iparralde). Maite and the goslin are the main characters of the children’s book Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is the posthumous and first short story of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton. As a well-known local artist she also illustrated the book with original drawings. Mary Jean was born in 1921 in Reno, Nevada, and passed away in 2008 in Verdi, Nevada. She lived in Iparralde for a number of years in the 1950s. According to her family, “Mary Jean had a vehicle and was popular with the family because the roads then were in bad shape. She lived most of the time in a little house named Bakea, in Laxia of Itxassou [Itsasu], Lapurdi.

Mary Jean’s parents were Jean Pierre Etcheberry and María Simona “Louisa” Larralde. Jean Pierre was born in 1891 in the small town of Saint-Just-Ibarre (Donaixti-Ibarre), in the Basque province of Lower Navarre, Nafarroa Beherea. He arrived in New York City at the age of 18. He worked as a sheepherder in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later on in the Winnemucca area. Jean Pierre arrived in Reno around 1914 and worked for the Jeroux family, a successful rancher at that time. María Simona “Louisa” was born in 1896 in Erratzu in the province of Nafarroa. She was the seventh of ten children, of whom six migrated to Nevada and California. Louisa arrived in New York City in 1914. Upon arrival in Reno, she worked as a maid in the mansion of the Jeroux family. “No doubt this is where she met her future husband Jean Pierre Etcheberry,” Paul Etxeberri, a nephew of Mary Jean, states. They married in 1917 in Reno and had three children: St. John, Paul John and Mary Jean. A decade later, Jean Pierre and Louisa bought a sheep ranch in southwest Reno and managed the Santa Fe Hotel, a successful Basque boardinghouse in downtown Reno, for over thirty years. Jean Pierre passed away in 1943, and Louisa in 1989 at the age of 93.

Mary Jean has now become part of Basque-America’s literary legacy, alongside Frank Bergon (Jesse’s Ghost), Martin Etchart (The Good Oak, The Last Shepherd), Robert Laxalt (Sweet Promised Land, The Basque Hotel…), Gregory Martin (Mountain City), and Monique Urza (The Deep Blue Memory), among others.

Before passing away Mary Jean entrusted her great-nieces, Marylou and Jennifer Etcheberry, with her precious manuscript, although it was just recently published.

Oui-Original-ManuscriptBook cover of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees alongside the original type-written manuscript. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Reno Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees was published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012, the second book of its Juvenile Literature collection. It follows Mark Kurlansky’s The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, published in 2005 in English and Basque. With more than eighty titles ranging from diaspora and migration books to graphic novels it is by far the largest publishing house in the world on Basque topics for the English-speaking audience. Not shy to admit that academic presses should welcome other types of non-academic quality literary works, the Center for Basque Studies has issued a call for the first annual Basque Literary Writing Contest. (Please note: Entries closed on September 15, 2013.)

Marylou-EtcheberryMarylou Etcheberry, proud great-niece of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton, poses with a copy of Oui Oui Oui. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Elko, Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the English-speaking reader, and especially for its younger members, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. I hope that many more titles would follow the adventures of Maite and her goslin.

My dearest darlings,” Jacque, Maite’s father, writes. “This is the letter I’ve dreamed of writing for four long years…Our future in America looks bright, and I can look forward to having my darlings with me…” This might well echo the wishes of many families that became strangled due to the physical separation upon leaving their homes and their loved ones behind. It very much resembles the family histories of our recent past. For Maite and her mother, it marks the beginning of a new quest.

Many thanks to Paul Etxeberri for gathering information on the Etcheberry family.

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The fourth man of California

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Comrades, the doors opened, and slavery ended, breaking the heavy chains that oppressed youth. Be rebellious and never daunt before the enemy oppressor”

(The 1938 Fort San Cristóbal escape anthem written by Rogelio Diz Fuentes, Prisoner #1104, and Daniel Robado, Prisoner #1133)

Next May 22 marks the 75th anniversary of the massive escape from Fort Alfonso XII, also known as Fort San Cristóbal, which became one of the largest and most tragic prison breaks, during wartime, in contemporary Europe. However, History has not been too keen on recording this episode compared with similar events. Paul Brickhill’s autobiographical book “The Great Escape” (1950) narrates the heroic prison break of 76 allied prisoners of war from the German Stalag Luft III camp (Żagán, Poland) in March 1944. Fifty escapees were caught and murdered by the Gestapo, and only 3 succeeded by reaching Sweden and Spain, which were neutral territories during World War II. The story was immortalized by the memorable film “The Great Escape” (1963). On the other hand, in the case of the escape from Fort San Cristóbal, 795 people broke free, 206 were murdered, and, coincidentally, only 3 succeeded by crossing the French border. Contrarily, only silence, fear, and brutal repression resulted from this prison break.

Fuerte San Cristóbal / EzkabaAerial view of Fort San Cristóbal-Ezkaba. Image source: Iñaki Sagredo ©.

Located at the top of San Cristóbal or Ezkaba Mountain, a few miles away from Iruña (Nafarroa), the fort was built as a military compound between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Obsolete for its original purpose, the fort was turned into an improvised political prison from the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War until 1945.

Although it is difficult to know the exact number of inmates at the time of the escape, it is estimated that there were approximately 2,487 prisoners from different areas of Spain. Many of them were affiliated to or sympathizers of leftist and nationalist political parties and trade unions as well as soldiers and militiamen, loyal to the Republic and the Basque government. The harsh living conditions within the fort walls, hunger, sickness and the sadistic behavior of some wardens fuelled the prison break with the clear political goal of continuing the fight against the rebel troops. A planned mutiny led by Leopoldo Picó Pérez (Prisoner #319) and Baltasar Rabanillo Rodríguez (Prisoner #1012)—communist militants from Bilbao and Valladolid, respectively—resulted in freeing one-third of the total prison population. Many were ill-prepared for the escape, without provisions and proper clothing.

During the following days, nearly 28% of the escapees were brutally murdered by Francisco Franco’s army in the nearby fields and mountains, while the rest of the men were soon captured enduring forty days of isolation and inhuman treatment. Thirteen so-called leaders, including Baltasar, were sentenced to death. Leopoldo was also intercepted and brought to prison. He was shot without trial. Another 46 captured fugitives died in the fort between 1938 and 1943 due to sickness and sordid cruelty.

Only 3 men—Valentín Lorenzo Bajo, José Marinero Sanz, and Jovino Fernández González—as it was documented later on, succeeded in getting to the French border, 30 miles away from the fort.

However, the story did not end here. In 1998, a man visiting from California had a series of casual encounters with six different people in an area from where he recalled escaping to France after fleeing away from Fort San Cristóbal sixty years earlier. The man told them that he was born in Azagra (Nafarroa) in 1918, being imprisoned in the Ezkaba fort from where he broke free in 1938. He finally managed to cross the border, finding refuge in Martin Urrels’ farmhouse in Banka. There, he learnt about Martin’s two brothers, Michel and Jean, who lived in the Cedarville area, California, working as sheepherders. Michel and Jean had immigrated into the United States in 1910 and in 1914, respectively. From France he left to Mexico, crossing the border to California, where he worked for the Urrels brothers for a few years. The man went to explained how he enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, being deployed to Europe as part of a tank battalion. After the war, he got involved in the trucking business that his sons inherited.

This was the story as remembered by some of the people who met the strange visitor. In his 80s the man from California decided to reencounter the past through revisiting his memories. Though his identity is still a mystery, the story should corroborate the existence of a fourth escapee. This could mean that the Ezkaba escape was the most successful prison break in contemporary Europe.

Back in 1938, Diario de Navarra, a local newspaper, published a distorting note on the tragic event, while describing the escapees as “murderers, robbers, and thieves who had abused the human regime of Franco’s Spain.” The escape was another clear example of the official amnesia imposed by Franco during his four-decade dictatorial regime. However, it became part of the collective memory of many who never forgot May 22, 1938. In 2000, the Association Txinparta was set up to recover the historical memory of the Fort of San Cristóbal prisoners between 1934 and 1945. Similarly, in November 2002, the Association of the Family Members of the Executed, Murdered and Missing People in Navarre in 1936 was also established to honor the memory of more than 3,300 people who were murdered in Nafarroa during the Spanish Civil War. In 2006, Iñaki Alforja directed the documentary “Ezkaba, the great escape from Franco’s jails”.

If you have any information on the Fort San Cristóbal escape and, particularly, on the identity of the fourth man please contact us by sending a message. We would love to hear from you!

Many thanks to Fermín Ezkieta for sharing his excellent and extensive work on the history of the escapees from Ezkaba.

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The Flag

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Johnson County, Wyoming - encompassing the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s a land rich in both history and scenery. A place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s…and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian.”

(Johnson County, 2012)

Within this grand introduction to the singular history of the Johnson County in the State of Wyoming, surrounded by wild beauty and its frontier origins, lie the story of the Espondas from Baigorri; the Harriets, the Etchemendys, the Urrizagas, and the Caminos from Arnegi; the Iberlins from Banca; the Ansolabeheres, the Iriberrys, and many others. All these Basque pioneers came from the tiny province of Nafarroa Beherea (approximately 511 square mile), in the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees in France, and with a current population of 28,000 people. On the other hand, Johnson County, established in 1879, and its main city Buffalo, has a population of over 8,500 people on an area of 4,175 square mile.

The history of the Basque presence in the Johnson County begins with the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 as reported by Dollie Iberlin and David Romtvedt in their book “Buffalotarrak”. Most Buffalo Basques originated in the village of Baigorri, because Jean Esponda, a successful immigrant from Baigorri, settled in that area of Wyoming. Esponda immigrated into California in 1886 and then moved to Wyoming in 1902, where he set up a thriving sheepherding operation, claiming many Basques from his own natal village and neighboring villages for nearly two decades. Esponda became known as the “King of the Basques”. He passed away in 1936. By the end of the 1960s, Basque sheepmen owned over 250,000 acres (approximately 390 square mile) of Johnson County land, which was about 76% of the land of the entire province of Nafarroa Beherea. According to the United States Census, in 2000 there were only 869 Basque people in Wyoming, being the smallest, but nonetheless vibrant, Basque community in the American West.

basq04111Basque group photograph at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the late 1960s. (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Basque Studies Library, University of Nevada, Reno)

110 years have passed since Jean Esponda set foot in Wyoming, and much of the Basque heritage is still flourishing. It has become part of the social and cultural fabric of Wyoming. In this regard, Johnson County designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair’s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag (originally designed in 1894 in Bilbao, Bizkaia) with the county’s seal in the center, as a way to honor the county’s Basque origins. The Johnson County’s “Basque” flag is the first official Basque flag outside the Basque Country, and the first in the nation. Its symbolism will definitely help to preserve and assure the continuity of the Basque history in the State of Wyoming. It will be publicly displayed, for the first time, at the State Fair that is going to be held on August 11-18 in Douglass.

Do you know similar stories to this one?

jo_co_flag The Johnson County, Wyoming “Basque” flag

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No place for children

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“A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”

(Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, United Nations, 2007)

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1959. This international norm was followed, three decades later, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 20, 1989)—the first legally binding instrument “to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”—and by the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (May 25, 2000). This protocol “establishes 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities.” It entered into force on February 12, 2002, marking the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Since then, more than 140 countries have ratified the protocol.

Ounder18-red

As of February 2012, 27 United Nation Member States have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol, while another 22 have signed but not ratified it. According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research 2011 has been the most violent year since World War II, with twenty more wars than in 2010. Currently, it is estimated that tens of thousands of boys and girls under the age of 18 take active part in armed conflicts in at least 15 countries. The children, once again, are powerless to escape from such violence. They are forced to fight or participate somehow “voluntarily” in popular insurrections that have taken place within the context of the Arab Spring, for instance. However, the military use of children is not a new phenomenon and goes hand by hand, almost inevitably, with our tragic history of human self-destruction. This was the case of some of the children caught at the outbreak of the war between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Russia in June 1941. The children had previously been evacuated from Spain—immersed in a fratricide war—to Russia.

It is estimated that 30,000 Spanish children were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War, and 70,000 more left after the end of the war in 1939. Among them 25,000 Basque children went also into exile. Most of the children were temporarily sent to France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well as Switzerland, Mexico, and Denmark. They became, and are still, known as “los niños de la guerra” (“the war children”) and the “Gernika Generation,” in the specific Basque case.

Between March 1937 and October 1938 nearly 3,000 children, between 5 and 12 years old, were evacuated from Spain to then the Soviet Union in four expeditions. Most of the children were from the Basque Country (between 1,500 and over 1,700), and Asturias and Cantabria (between 800 and 1,100). In the majority of the cases their parents were sympathetic to the anarchist, socialist, and communist ideals. On June 12, 1937 over 1,500 children and 75 tutors (teachers, doctors, and nurses) left the Port of Santurtzi in the Basque province of Bizkaia on board of the ship “Habana.”

From the moment of the children’s arrival to the German invasion of Russia they lived in good care in the so-called “Infant Homes for the Spanish Children.” There were 11 homes located in the current Russian Federation—including 1 in Moscow and 2 nearby Leningrad—and 5 in Ukraine—including 1 in Odessa and another in Kiev. Soon, their lives were, once more, dramatically turned upside-down. The homes had to be evacuated.

ChildrenRussia“The war children” from Spain and tutors, August 1940, Russia (Image source: Sasinka Astarloa Ruano)

During the Siege of Leningrad, the children Celestino Fernández-Miranda Tuñón and Ramón Moreira, both from Asturias, were 16 and 17 years old respectively at the time of enlisting as volunteers to defend the city, while Carmen Marón Fernández, from Bizkaia, worked as a nurse and dug trenches at the age of 16. Over 40 children were killed before they could be evacuated in 1943. It is considered the longest and most destructive city blockade in history. It resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million people and in the evacuation of 1.4 million civilians.

The survivors of Leningrad together with the rest of the children were taken to remote areas such as today’s republics of Georgia and Uzbekistan, and Saratov Oblast in southern Russia. It is during this time when it is reported that some children were victims of sexual assaults and exploitation, and a few of them ended up in delinquent gangs in order to survive.

ChildrenClassParamilitary training in one of the children’s colony. Shooting practices were a norm in many of the homes (Image source: Spanish Citizenship Abroad Portal)

According to the Spanish Center of Moscow, over 100 “niños de la guerra” voluntarily enlisted in the Red Army, while many others had to carry out some type of work to support the war efforts alongside their schooling time. For instance, Begoña Lavilla and Antonio Herranz, both from Santurtzi, worked at an arms factory in Saratov at the age of 13 and 14, respectively. Eight of the Basque niños—six of them from the “Kiev home”—entered in combat after receiving flight training courses in a military academy. It has been said that some of the children were able to pass themselves off as older men such as Luis Lavín Lavín who was just 15 years old at the time. The eight young Basques were Ignacio Aguirregoicoa Benito (born in Soraluce in 1923), Ramón Cianca Ibarra, José Luis Larrañaga Muniategui (born in Eibar in 1923), the aforementioned Luis Lavín Lavín (born in Bilbao in 1925), Antonio Lecumberri Goikoetxea (born in 1924), Eugenio Prieto Arana (born in Eibar in 1922), Tomás Suárez, and Antonio Uribe Galdeano (born in Barakaldo in 1920). Larrañaga, Uribe, and Aguirregoicoa died in 1942 (Ukraine), 1943 (Dnieper), and 1944 (Estonia), respectively. Aguirregoicoa took his own life in order to avoid being captured by the enemy.

Between 207 and 215 Spaniards were killed as active combatants at the Eastern Front of World War II (also known as the Great Patriotic War; June 22, 1941-May 9, 1945), while another 211 people died of extreme starvation, disease, and the intensive bombardments. According to Lavín, 50 of the enlisted “children” out of a total of 130 were killed during the war.

After two long decades of exile, the first convoy of “children” was allowed to return to Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1957. As of 2012, it is estimated that 170 “niños de la guerra,” all of them over 80 years old, live in the former Soviet Union. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Basque cities and villages and the evacuation of their children—fatidic preamble to World War II.

For more information see the interview (in Spanish) to Mateo Aguirre S.J., on the Democratic Republic of Congo child soldiers’ situation at Alboan’s EiTB Blog; and the Child Soldiers International organization; and Luis Lavín Lavín’s conference of 2007 (in Spanish).

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The Irízar Island

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“Many hundred dreams have been dreamed in our island but I do not know if they helped to brighten our existence. They grouped themselves around two objects—food and rescue”

(Carl Skottsberg at Paulet Island, 1903)

In the Antarctic Argentine Islands of the Wilhelm Archipelago lies a pretty tiny island called Irízar (65° 13′ 0″ S, 64° 12′ 0″ W). The Argentine Islands are a group of sixteen islands, which were named as such by Jean-Baptiste Charcot—scientific leader of the first French Expedition to Antarctica that took place between 1903 and 1905—in gratitude to the Republic of Argentina. One of the islands was named in honor of Basque-Argentinian Lieutenant Commander Julián Irízar who had previously led the rescue of the failed Swedish Antarctic Expedition in 1903.

map_3031_64_303_400_400The Antarctic Irízar Island (Map source: Australian Antarctic Data Center)

It was the era of the international scientific and geographical exploration of Antarctica, which, in turn, also favored private commercial pursuits (e.g., the whaling industry) and fuelled the feeling of personal adventure by becoming, for example, the first person to reach the geographical South Pole. This era was initiated by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, sponsored by the Belgian Geographical Society and led by navy officer Adrien de Gerlache in 1897, and it concluded in 1922 with the British Shackleton–Rowett Expedition. This was considered the last significant scientific voyage before the introduction of the aerial exploration in the late 1920s, which opened up a modern era for Antarctic discovery. It also meant the slow end of the maritime voyages of scientific exploration that began in the late 17th century.

During more than two decades sixteen major polar expeditions were launched by Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, France, Japan, Norway, and Australia. It was some time before the revolution in transport and telecommunications technologies, and all pioneers’ efforts were confronted with the crude hostility of an unknown continent. Many crew members suffered severe injuries and others died under extreme weather conditions, lack of supplies, illnesses, and accidents.

The 1901 expedition led by Swedish scientist Otto Nordenskjöld and Norwegian explorer Carl Anton Larsen soon was about to face the hardships of Antarctica. As part of an agreement with the government of Argentina, military geologist José María Sobral Iturrioz joined the crew of Antartic, the expedition’s steamship. He became the first known Argentinian (and first Argentinian of Basque origin) to live in the southernmost continent of the planet. Nordenskjöld and five of his men were dropped off at Snow Hill Island in 1902 to establish a campsite from where to carry their work for one winter, while Captain Larsen sailed back to Malvinas. In November 1902 Larsen returned for Nordenskjöld and his group, but the ship was crushed by ice and finally sank 25 miles from Paulet Island. Both parties had to spend another isolated winter while ignoring each other’s fate. Their nightmare just began. A young sailor, Ole Christian Wennersgaard died in June 1903.

Concerned about the members of the expedition, Sweden, Argentina and France began to make arrangements for their rescue. Meanwhile, Carlsen’s party managed to reunite with Nordenskjöld’s group at Snow Hill where were successfully rescued by Lieutenant Commander Julián Irízar and its corvette Uruguay in November 1903. On December 2, 1903, the steam relief ship safely arrived at Buenos Aires after dealing with a huge storm that destroyed the mainmast and the foremast. It was greeted by tens of thousands of people. The rescue was considered one of the most triumphant and heroic episodes in the history of Antarctica as echoed by the international press of the day. It was also the first official voyage of Argentina to the frozen continent. Upon return Irízar was promoted to Captain.

Uruguayx10The corvette Uruguay (Photo source: Fundación Histarmar)

Among the 22 members of the Uruguay, the surgeon, José Gorrochategui, was also of Basque ancestry. Irízar and Gorrochategui were the first known Basques or Argentinians of Basque origin who set foot on the Antarctic continent (in addition to Sobral). Sobral Iturrioz was born in Gualeguaychú and Gorrochategui in Concepción del Uruguay, both in the province of Entre Ríos. Irízar was born in Capilla del Señor, in the province of Buenos Aires, in 1869 and died in Buenos Aires in 1935. Gorrochategui’s parents were from the Basque province of Bizkaia—his father was from Bilbao and his mother from Bermeo. Irízar’s parents were also Basque migrants, but this time they were from the province of Gipuzkoa; his father, Juan José Irízar was from Oñati and his mother, Ana Bautista Echeverría from Zumarraga.

On December 10, 1903, the Basque association Laurak-Bat of Buenos Aires organized a banquet to honor Irízar and his crew for the rescue of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition as well as for Sobral Iturrioz. During the ceremony, Irízar and his officers were given a silver-plated copper medal, while the sailors might have received a copper medal. The Basque-language inscription in the silver medal read: “Guidontzi “Uruguay”-ko adintari Julian Irizar Jaunari. Biltoki “Laurak-Bat”-ek” (Obverse); “Joair Doaitea “Antartic”-ari laguntzeko * Buenos Aires 1903 * (Reverse). (“The Center “Laurak-Bat” to Mr. Julian Irizar, captain of the ship “Uruguay” that leaves to help out the “Antarctic” * Buenos Aires 1903 *”).

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The banquet at the Laurak-Bat clubhouse (Photo source: La Baskonia, Number 368: 1903).

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The Laurak-Bat Irízar Medal (Images source: La Baskonia, Number 368: 1903). According to Glenn M. Stein, FRGS, polar and maritime historian, “this may very well be the only polar-related medal ever created in the Basque language.

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Irízar became Admiral of the Argentine Navy and retired after 50 years of military service. Through his career Irízar received many distinguished awards including the insignia of Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor of France. On the 50th anniversary of the rescue, the Argentinian government built a monolith at the Buenos Aires port to commemorate “la hazaña de Irízar” (Irízar’s heroic deed). In 1979, the icebreaker of the Argentina Navy was named Almirante Irízar in his honor. The corvette Uruguay became a naval museum in 1967, and nowadays it is moored to the dock of Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires. The Argentine Antarctic summer base, built in 1965, was named after Lieutenant Sobral, considered the father of Argentinian explorations in Antarctica.

For more information (in Spanish) see: “1903 – Hazaña de la corbeta Uruguay y la colectividad baskongada” (Luis Héctor Carranza, 2003) and “Julian Irizar y la ‘Uruguay’” (Martha González Zaldua, 2003).

Many thanks to Shannon Sisco at the Basque Library, University of Nevada, Reno

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connected…lertxun marrak, the “Republic of Letters,” and the dabbawala‏s

  • Menéame0

“Think on the last 24 hours of your life. And now ask yourself what percentage of that time you have devoted to think on social issues. You will discover that it has been 99% of the time. How is your wife? And your child? And the person who works with you?”

(Michael Gazzaniga, 2011)

Leading neuroscientists such as Gazzaniga argue that humans are inherently social creatures. According to them, being social is one of the characteristics that make us unique from other species. That is to say, the more intelligent we are, the more social we are. Then, the more social we are, the more experienced we are, which, in turn, facilitates what we are and what we achieve. Undeniably, the fact that we have developed a complex language has provided us with the ability to express ourselves, communicate, and transfer knowledge. Our desire for being social is at the core of the development of an increasing array of tools and resources, which have helped us to be in contact with each other (e.g., lertxun marrak); to create networks and communities of knowledge regardless of time and space (e.g., the “Republic of Letters”); and to establish low-tech supply businesses such as the one of the dabbawalas, and which may seem anachronic in a world increasingly determined by technology.

Tree carvings (arborglyphs) or lertxun marrak (in the Basque language) have been part of the American West landscape since the massive influx of Basque migrants from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. The majority of the young Basque men from France and Spain who came to America worked in the sheep industry as sheepherders and camp tenders. Their jobs required to work in the sierras for extended periods of time and demanded physical and mental strength. The feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by Basque sheepherders provoked on some of them mental illnesses and drove some others to commit suicide. Names, dates, human and animal figures, phrases, poems, warnings for other sheepherders, were carved on the bark of thousands and thousands of aspen trees, thereby recording the historical presence of Basques in the most remote areas of the American West. The tree carvings are not only “banal” expressions of Basques’ identities, dreams, nightmares, and artistic ability, but they are also a “primitive” information and communication system, which desperately attempted to break down the barriers of the physical and mental isolation imposed on them.

Joseph C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, pioneers in promoting the development of the Internet in the early 1960s, had begun to conceive of the computer as a communication device more than a calculating machine. That is, they forecast computers as machines able to create communities, bounded by common interests and not by space or time. This idea echoes the “Republic of Letters” that described the exchange of private correspondence between philosophers and other influential intellectuals from the 15th century to the 19th century in Europe and America. The development of various “Republic of Letters” was linked to the invention and further improvement of the printing press, which meant a technological revolution in terms of dissemination of information and ideas. Similar to the carvings on the bark of trees, the ink on the paper draws maps of social connections, which, in this case, transcended the thinkers’ immediate communities. This proves that there was a great need for sharing ideas and experiences across borders. The “Republic of Letters” constituted informal social networks based on scholarly, literary, and artistic correspondence, which facilitated the circulation of information and exchange of ideas.  The “Republic of Letters” became the foundation of today’s scientific knowledge communities in the Western world.

The dabbawalas (literally, “one who carries the box”) are self-employed workers associated to the Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association, and whose main job is to deliver lunches in tin boxes from the homes of their customers to their work places on a daily basis and for a very low monthly fee. The origin of the business dates back to the late 19th century when India was under British rule. A system was set up to distribute British-style (home cooked) meals to British workers in Mumbai. Soon, Indians became the primary customers of the dabbawalas. The impossibility for workers to go back to their homes during lunch time makes the work of the dabbawalas essential to establish the connection between individuals and their families’ home cooking. Often, the lunch boxes also include messages between home and the family member. In a city with nearly 14 million people, the dabbawalas rely on local trains and bicycles to carry out their deliveries in an area from 60 to 70 kilometers. Around 5,000 dabbawalas deliver approximately 200,000 lunches every day. Most of the dabbawalas are male, have a low level of formal education, and do not rely in modern technology to manage the logistics of the business. They do not use any electronic barcode system or tracking device. However, their distribution system is extremely accurate. (Just recently, the Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association has set up a website and a text messaging system to take orders.) The tin boxes are color-coded with small series of letters painted by hand that identify the destination and the recipient as well as the railway stations to be used to deliver them efficiently. The boxes can change hands three to four times until it reaches the customer. After lunchtime, the empty boxes are collected and returned to the respective houses. In 2002, Forbes Magazine awarded the dabbawala supply-chain business a Six Sigma performance rating on the basis that only 1 in 16 million tins get lost (i.e., 1 tin gets lost every 2 months). Its reliability rivals with the best global logistic businesses in the market.

The previous examples are all attempts to connect. We all have the need to express ourselves and to establish communication with others, particularly when facing acute isolation. There is a further need to transfer information and ideas across continents as well as to establish connections between people in the most populous metropolitan areas of the planet.

Are you socially connected?

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