The Basque History Of The World (Anglais) Broché – 2 novembre 2000
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1.The Basque Myth
The Basques share with the Celts the privilege of indulging in unrivaled extravagance on the subject of themselves. —Miguel de Unamuno quoting Ampère, HISTORY OF FRENCH LITERATURE BEFORE THE TWELFTH CENTURY, 1884
The Basques seem to be a mythical people, almost an imagined people. Their ancient culture is filled with undated legends and customs. Their land itself, a world of red-roofed, whitewashed towns, tough green mountains, rocky crests, a cobalt sea that turns charcoal in stormy weather, a strange language, and big berets, exists on no maps except their own.
Basqueland begins at the Adour River with its mouth at Bayonne-the river that separates the Basques from the French pine forest swampland of Landes-and ends at the Ebro River, whose rich valley separates the dry red Spanish earth of Rioja from Basqueland. Basqueland looks too green to be Spain and too rugged to be France. The entire area is only 8,218 square miles, which is slightly smaller than New Hampshire.
Within this small space are seven Basque provinces. Four provinces are in Spain and have Basque and Spanish names: Nafaroa or Navarra, Gipuzkoa or Guipúzcoa, Bizkaia or Vizcaya, and Araba or Alava. Three are in France and have Basque and French names: Lapurdi or Labourd, Benafaroa or Basse Navarre, and Zuberoa or Soule. An old form of Basque nationalist graffiti is "4 + 3 = 1."
As with most everything pertaining to Basques, the provinces are defined by language. There are seven dialects of the Basque language, though there are sub-dialects within some of the provinces.
In the Basque language, which is called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word to identify a member of their group is Eushaldun-Euskera speaker. Their land is called Euskal Herria-the land of Euskera speakers. It is language that defines a Basque.
The Central Mystery Is: Who are the Basques? The early Basques left no written records, and the first accounts of them, two centuries after the Romans arrived in 218 B.C., give the impression that they were already an ancient-or at least not a new-people. Artifacts predating this time that have been found in the area-a few tools, drawings in caves, and the rudiments of ruins-cannot be proved to have been made by Basques, though it is supposed that at least some of them were.
Ample evidence exists that the Basques are a physically distinct group. There is a Basque type with a long straight nose, thick eyebrows, strong chin, and long earlobes. Even today, sitting in a bar in a mountainous river valley town like Tolosa, watching men play mus, the popular card game, one can see a similarity in the faces, despite considerable intermarriage. Personalities, of course, carve very different visages, but over and over again, from behind a hand of cards, the same eyebrows, chin, and nose can be seen. The identical dark navy wool berets so many men wear-each in a slightly different manner-seem to showcase the long Basque ears sticking out on the sides. In past eras, when Spaniards and French were typically fairly small people, Basque men were characteristically larger, thick chested, broad shouldered, and burly. Because these were also characteristics of Cro-Magnons, Basques are often thought to be direct descendants of this man who lived 40,000 years ago.
Less subjective physical evidence of an ancient and distinct group has also surfaced. In the beginning of the twentieth century, it was discovered that all blood was one of three types: A, B, or O. Basques have the highest concentration of type O in the world-more than 50 percent of the population-with an even higher percentage in remote areas where the language is best preserved, such as Soule. Most of the rest are type A. Type B is extremely rare among Basques. With the finding that Irish, Scots, Corsicans, and Cretans also have an unusually high incidence of type O, speculation ran wild that these peoples were somehow related to Basques. But then, in 1937, came the discovery of the rhesus factor, more commonly known as Rh positive or Rh negative. Basques were found to have the highest incidence of Rh negative blood of any people in the world, significantly higher than the rest of Europe, even significantly higher than neighboring regions of France and Spain. Cro-Magnon theorists point out that other places known to have been occupied by Cro-Magnon man, such as the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the Canary Islands, also have been found to have a high incidence of Rh negative.
Twenty-seven percent of Basques have O Rh negative blood. Rh negative blood in a pregnant woman can fatally poison a fetus that has positive blood. Since World War II, intervention techniques to save the fetus have been developed, but it is probable that throughout history, the rate of miscarriage and stillborn births among the Basques was extremely high, which may be one of the reasons they remained a small population on a limited amount of land while other populations, especially in Iberia, grew rapidly.
Before Basque blood was studied as a key to their origins, several attempts were made to analyze the structure of Basque skulls. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a researcher reported, "Someone gave me a Basque body and I dissected it and I assert that the head was not built like that of other men."
Studies of Basque skulls in the nineteenth century concluded, depending on whose study is believed, that Basques were either Turks, Tartars, Magyars, Germans, Laplanders, or the descendants of Cro-Magnon man either originating in Basqueland or coming from the Berbers of North Africa.
Or do clothes hold the secret to Basque origins? A twelfth-century writer, Aimeric de Picaud, considered not skulls but skirts, concluding after seeing Basque men in short ones that they were clearly descendants of Scots.
The most useful artifact left behind by the ancient Basques is their language. Linguists find that while the language has adopted foreign words, the grammar has proved resistant to change, so that modern Euskera is thought to be far closer to its ancient form than modern Greek is to ancient Greek. Euskera has extremely complex verbs and twelve cases, few forms of politeness, a limited number of abstractions, a rich vocabulary for natural phenomena, and no prepositions or articles.
Etxea is the word for a house or home. "At home" is etxean. "To the house" is etxera. "From home" is etxetik. Concepts are formed by adding more and more suffixes, which is what is known as an agglutinating language. This agglutinating language only has about 200,000 words, but its vocabulary is greatly extended by almost 200 standard suffixes. In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled from a data base of 60 million words, but English is a language with an unusually large vocabulary. It is sometimes said that Euskera includes just nouns, verbs, and suffixes, but relatively simple concepts can become words of formidable size. Iparsortalderatu is a verb meaning "to head in a northeasterly direction."
Euskera has often been dismissed as an impossible language. Arturo Campión, a nineteenth-century Basque writer from Navarra, complained that the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defined Euskera as "the Basque language, so confusing and obscure that it can hardly be understood." It is obscure but not especially confusing. The language seems more difficult than it is because it is so unfamiliar, so different from other languages. Its profusion of ks and xs looks intimidating on the page, but the language is largely phonetic with some minor pitfalls, such as a very soft b and an aspirated h as in English, which is difficult for French and Spanish speakers to pronounce. The x is pronounced "ch." Etxea is pronounced "et-CHAY-a." For centuries Spanish speakers made Euskera seem friendlier to them by changing xs to chs as in echea, and ks, which do not exist in Latin languages, to cs, as in Euscera. To English speakers, Basque spellings are often more phonetic than Spanish equivalents. The town the Spanish call Guernica is pronounced the way the Basques write it-Gernika.
The structure of the language-roots and suffixes-offers important clues about Basque origins. The modern words aitzur, meaning "hoe," aizkora, meaning "axe," aizto, meaning "knife," plus various words for digging and cutting, all come from the word haitz or the older aitz, which means "stone." Such etymology seems to indicate a very old language, indeed from the Stone Age. Even though the language has acquired newer words, notably Latin from the Romans and the Church, and Spanish, such words are used in a manner unique to this ancestral language. Ezpata, like the Spanish word espada, means "sword." But ezpatakada means "the blow from a sword," ezpatajoka means "fencing," and espatadantzari is a "sword dancer."
Though numerous attempts have been made, no one has ever found a linguistic relative of Euskera. It is an orphan language that does not even belong to the Indo-European family of languages. This is a remarkable fact because once the Indo-Europeans began their Bronze Age sweep from the Asian subcontinent across Europe, virtually no group, no matter how isolated, was left untouched. Even Celtic is Indo-European. Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are the only other living European languages that are not related to the Indo-European group. Inevitably there have been theories linking Finnish and Euskera or Hungarian and Euskera. Did the Basques immigrate from Lapland? Hungarian, it has been pointed out, is also an agglutinating language. But no other connection has been found between the Basque language and its fellow agglutinators.
A brief attempt to tie the Basques to the Picts, ancient occupants of Britain who spoke a language thought to be pre-Indo-European, fell apart when it was discovered the Picts weren't non-Indo-European at ... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
Revue de presse
"[An] informative, quirky and delightful book" (Express)
"A riveting [story] told with charm and dexterity" (Independent on Sunday)
"The award-winning author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World takes an equally unconventional and engaging approach to those curmudgeonly nationalists, the Basques... Each chapter...addresses a particular facet of Basque culture...while the whole is punctured with simple but mouth-watering recipes reflecting the glorious tradition of Basque cuisine. Proof - if proof were needed - that learning about history can be fun" (Kirkus Review)
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Précis, détaillé tout en étant pas barbant
Pour tous ceux qui s'intéressent à ce peuple ou à cette région il me semble que c'est l'ouvrage de référence qui permet de comprendre
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I found this book very readable and hard to put down, Kurlansky has a knack for presenting the material in an entertaining and readable fashion without getting stylistically bland. Despite that, I have some gripes with it. Kurlansky is obviously a journalist and writes the book as such, but I for one would have wanted more of a historians account. His choice of not using footnotes or endnotes, but just supplying a general bibliography at the end, is very annoying, because that way he is able to put down statements without backing them up. I even found one wrong statement, that basque ships had been sighted in Iceland in 1412. That's wrong, these ships were english, ushering in what is called the English Age in icelandic history (basques didn't arrive in Iceland until the end of the 16th. century, there are at least no accounts available of earlier encounters). Kurlansky is not the only one guilty of making this mistake, but if he would have dug a bit further he would have found out the truth. So it goes to show, if he trusted is sources so blindly in this case, what else is inaccurate there? Again, the use of footnotes/endnotes would have solved this, as one would have been able to verify each statement.
Kurlansky is also quite romantic, and even if he tries to criticize when criticism is due, it's quite obvious that his sympathy lies with the basques. This mix works quite well in the earlies chapters on prehistory, but not as well when he talks about the political situation today. Although I doubt that what he says of the Madrid government is wrong, but he doesn't back it up sufficiently, again, something that would have been solved by using footnotes or endnotes. Furthermore, he doesn't tell much of the deeds of ETA except for the more heroic ones in the 60's and 70's. ETA has of course been guilty of extreme cruelty through the years, which Kurlansky fails to mention. He also fails to describe how ETA has changed through the years, getting more extremist every year as more moderate members leave. He also is guilty of inaccuracies such as stating that "Euskal Herritarrok" is just "Herri Batasuna" with another name, which is not entirely true. He's also not entirely right that the street violence (or "kale barroka") is not favourable to ETA or its supporters, as members of Herri Batasuna have recently shown support publically. He also doesn't mention that there are members within Herri Batasuna that feel that ETA should give up their violent struggle. I don't know why Kurlansky chose not to give a more balanced account, perhaps he found it necessary because the spanish (Madrid) press is usually is very biased against basque nationalism (not just ETA), and that is usually the viewpoint that comes across in the international media. Kurlanskys viewpoint deserves to be heard, though, the spanish government has not been the innocent bystander they like us to believe and it is amazing that accounts have not yet been settled after the Franco years. The authorities just seem to trust that these times will be forgotten in the "New Spain". Anyway, I give the book 3 stars, it's very readable and hard to put down and gives a good overview of the history of the basques, but shouldn't be taken at face value as it is not without bias and also is guilty of some inaccuracies and sometimes a bit careless handling of source material.
I felt that Kurlansky presented basically unbiased information, particularly about the history of the Basques in centuries past. The book is filled with revelations about this formidable and fascinating culture, and I feel that these kinds of explorations in Kurlansky's research and writing dominated this work much more so than current political issues or separatist violence. Sure, it is easy enough for me to say this, completely isolated from the violence and the everyday problems these tense relations may create, but I can say that there are groups in the world who are routinely terrorized by other groups without provocation. (Perhaps "terrorized" is not the ideal word choice because I do not see a reign of terror in the making. I do see that some people may perceive the unrest as such depending on their vantage point).
I, however, was an interested reader who was wholly ignorant of Basque culture and history and wanted to learn more. I got lucky when I wandered through the Halifax, Nova Scotia airport one afternoon and found this book there. Kurlansky has written a well-organized, clear, and thoughtful introduction to the Basque people... people who are misunderstood, underrepresented, and unknown in some cases (I rarely meet Americans, for example, who know what a Basque is. When I tell them they scoff and wonder why I would care to know). I emphasize that I consider this book to be only an introduction or a stepping stone. Kurlansky has not provided the definitive and comprehensive history of the Basque people. He has merely provided a useful tool for further study. One thing that was a fascinating, albeit seemingly random, addition to his work was the interweaving of Basque culinary information. Although I sincerely enjoyed those tidbits, I found their placement a bit annoying.
At the heart of the book is the question that lingers on... "if Euskera is the oldest living language in Europe, are the Basques the oldest European culture?" Euskera has been called an impossible, obscure and incomprehensible language, and for much of history the Euskera speakers were left to themselves, and they developed and explored (as other reviewers point out). They became expert whalers and fishermen, the world's first capitalists, industrialists and the first modern bankers in Spain. Yet there is little more than speculation to corroborate ideas that the Basques were so advanced, particularly in crossing the Atlantic earlier than anyone else.
Major turning points for the Basques have included the 1600s, when, as a nationless nationality, they were more or less locked out of the fishing industry. In the 1700s, the abolition of the Basque traditional laws, the Fueros, followed by the abolition of traditionally collectively held land, also seemed to change things. A pivotal character in the history of Basque nationalism was Sabino Arana, who invented words to create a nation, if in language only, for the Euskera speaking people. "In the Basque language, which is called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word to identify a member of their group is Euskaldun-Euskera speaker. Their land is called Euskal Herria-the land of Euskera speakers. It is language that defines a Basque." Arana wanted to change this by making a new word-Euskadi-to give their region a name.
This is another key question-what exactly makes a person Basque? Is it parentage, residence in Basqueland, or speaking the language? The definition of a Basque has changed over time, but Kurlansky did a fine job exploring some of the changes in attitude and questions surrounded what makes a person Basque. In recent years, there has been a renaissance of "Basqueness" and trying to discover Basqueness. People in the region have been learning and teaching Basque language and culture, and there has been a more prolific creation of a Basque literature. I felt that these issues were key to the book, or at least I hope they were, because that was the most beautiful idea I could think of. The Basque people have survived centuries of adversity, and I think it is much more useful to look at the everyday people rather than ETA extremism. I feel inspired to travel to the Basque region and also to take up the study of Euskera myself (for anyone interested, the University of Nevada in Reno, USA offers online courses and even a PhD program in Basque!)
Unfortunately, Mr. Kurlansky has reverted to his old habits of exageration, bias and a highly selective use of fragmented and questionable historical evidence ranging from the supposed medieval design of steam engines to the existence of multiple north and south American whaling colonies in the fourteenth century, all the product of Basque genius and daring. The reader is treated to an almost laughable interpretation of European history; to wit: the Basques invented nearly everything, they discovered the entire world, were the bravest soldiers, the best seafarers, most intrepid businessmen and greatest thinkers of the Iberian Peninsula. Oh, by the way, no footnotes.
To say that many of Kurlansky's claims are suspect or subject to interpretation, or possibly just a teeny bit overblown, would be charitable. Some are just wrong and others are impossible to verify. It is at least arguable the Basques are not the most Catholic people in Europe. Elcano was not the first man to circumnavigate the globe as Kurlansky suggests. Magellan had reached the Philippines sailing east before undertaking the westerly journey to the same area where he lost his life in a skirmish.
It's one thing to say the Basques were great fishermen which is true. It's something else to claim, as does Kurlansky without doubt or reservation, that they were the first to fish cod and whales off north America. That is a proposition which has sharply divided historians for years. To assert that the Basques developed the first commercial law of the sea is to ignor the Rhodian Code, Amalfi "Tablets", Rules of Oleron, parts of Justinian's Digests and the Llibre del Consolat de Mar of Barcelona.
The point of all this is that Kurlansky's book about Basque history is biased, misleading and distorted. His fondness and respect for the people of Basqland apparently has clouded his judgement to the point that credibility becomes an issue in the second or third chapter. I had trouble finishing the book. He is an author desperately in need of an editor, fact checker and some balance in his approach to European history.