Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who are the Basques?

Poster on the side of a building in San Sebastian.

Basque Houses

Basque Houses

Basque Coutryside

San Sebastian, Spain

If any of you ever take a trip down to the Basque region of France (where we currently live), you will no longer feel like you are in France. Throughout my travels of this beautiful country I've come to notice that everything here is different, from the colours of the houses to the language they speak, to the food they eat and the wine they drink.

Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques (called Euskal Herria in the Basque language) has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. Their history pre-dates the Roman invasion of the region and has carried on to the present day, frequently earning them the label of one of the oldest peoples in Europe.

There have been claims that the Basques are the original Europeans, this is based largely on the grounds of Euskara, the Basque language, which appears to have no linguistic relative and is likely the oldest European language still spoken.Written Basque is as strange looking as the language is sounding, featuring an extraordinary number of x's and an apparent disregard for vowels.

The Basques seldom get good press – especially with regards to the current news items about ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, translated as Basque Homeland and Liberty) , the Basque nationalist group. For over thirty years, this group has been fighting Spain to win the independence of the Basque region, and killing some 800 people in the process.

Nevertheless, the Basques are without a doubt a distinctive and unique people who speak their own language, have their own radio stations and newspapers, have their own educational system, and continue to embrace a culture spanning thousands of years. But, perhaps the most remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist. Without a defined country and with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques seem to be a bit of a European anomaly.