4 Zenbakia 1998-10-02 / 1998-10-09


A Social Anthropoligist's View of Basque Society

OTT, Sandra

A Social Anthropoligist's View of Basque Society A Social Anthropoligist's View of Basque Society Sandra Ott Although much has been written about trans Pyrenean communication, no in depth ethnographic study has been made of the varying ways in which Spanish and French societies have influenced contemporary Basque culture. As William Douglass has noted in his recent contribution to Borderland Identities, where North meets South in Euskadi is subject to constant negotiation. Euskadi is sometimes conceived of as a "seamless territory"; and yet to even the casual observer there are apparent, striking cultural differences between Egoaldia and Iparraldia. The social rythms of the two, in both urban and rural contexts, are different. Contemporary Basque society has been differently affected by Spanish and French cultures respectively. In the South there is a marked pattern of public sociability which is manifested in the circulation of cuadrillas through the streets and bars of towns and cities, in gastronomic societies found in both urban and rural contexts and in rural auzoa societies where neighbours meet regularly to cook for each other. In the rural North, by contrast, the baserri tends to be the centre of social life, a private domain into which mainly close kin and nearest neighbours congregate. There is very little public social life in Iparraldia and the most striking examples (when a community hosts a pastorale, for example, or hold its annual village fête) are not institutionalised, common and public expressions of key social relationships in the community, as is often the case is the South. It is the task of the social anthropologist to determine whether or not there are in fact Basque values and concepts which, although not fundamentally Basque, are nevertheless at work in both northern and southern Basque social organisation and in ways not found in either Spanish or French society. Only the detailed ethnographic study of borderland communities in Euskal Herriawill reveal this. In the existing literature and in the results of field work I have carried out in different parts of North and South, there is evidence to suggest that certain values and concepts do play an important role in the social organisation of the Basques on both sides of the "border", in both urban and rural settings. It is my aim to explore this evidence in an expanded version of my recent paper for the international conference held in Reno, Nevada (July 6 9, 1998) on "Basques in the Contemporary World: Migration, Identity and Globalization". At the same time, such ethnographic research should seek to show in a substantive, not an anecdotal manner, the sometimes striking, sometimes subtle ways in which Spanish and French cultures have influenced Basque society. Together these two approaches might contribute significantly to our understanding both of the rich cultural diversity of Euskal Herria and of its cultural unity. Sandra Ott, University of Oxford