The Winter Solstice on either the 21st or 22nd of December is the
shortest day of the year (least sunlight) in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is in the midst of these short days that the Basques celebrate the
Inauteria (Ihauteria) or carnival. An aspect of this season
remains inextricably bound to meat in the Basque country. It is
during this season that the Basque baserritarrak (farmers) butcher their
pigs in order to make lukainkak (chorizo or sausage), odolkiak
(morcillas or blood sausage); xolomoa (pork steaks), and those
perennial delicacies of pig's feet and ears!
The connection with this meat ritual is most apparent when we look at the root of the term
carnival or carne (meat). But unlike most other European
carnival celebration, it does not seem that the Basque version
originated with the "carne" as the central element.
The Basque term for carnival is
inauteria or ihauteria which informs us a clue as to the
original Basque perception of
this season. Gorka Aulestia's Basque-English Dictionary defines
the root inau in relation to pruning. Jose Dueso argues that
the root of the term goes
deeper than defining just an agricultural process. He translates inaute
as sickness, vice or negativity. Similarly, Juan Antonio Urbeltz also writes
about the significance of
words with Inauteri
and Aratuste, both meaning "the time of pruning" that references
the tasks carried out in
the month of February before the arrival of Spring. But why the
pruning? Urbeltz points out it was done to at least try and
minimize the arrival of damaging insects that would emerge. These
activities, which possibly date from the Neolithic period, clean the
trees and fields of insect larvae which are dormant but will soon come
to life. Thus during the carnival
season, there are still no insects but only larval that are left on
branches to emerge in the springtime. Prune back the branches and you
are able to remove much of the larvae that was left behind.
Juan Antonio Urbeltz has played a leading role in the world of Basque dance and
culture for a generation, and his mark is clearly visible today,
specifically in bringing about a profound change in how Basque dance
groups think about dance and how they now present it. His
experience and teachings provide us a unique opportunity to look into
the world of folk dance to learn something more about the Basque people. He has played a
pivotal--if not the central role--in a virtual revolution in the world
of Basque dance: how it is prepared, portrayed, presented and
To read the
entire article that explores the connection between magic and
Basque folk dance, click on:
J.A. Urbeltz: The Meaning of
Urbeltz's theory of the Basque
carnival's origins explores the correlation between the Basque words
for "disguise" and "insect." He notes that the
Basque words for
"disguise," zomorro, mozorro,
koko, orro, mumua, etc., also mean "insect."
He infers that the original origins of the costumes was to
i.e., people "became" insects.
This is consistent in a world of magic which characterized earlier
worldviews. A parallel is the Native American "Buffalo Dance" were
the person/performer "becomes" the buffalo. Urbeltz argues that
"the disguises replace the spring insects which must be warded off.
The exorcising of the insects," Urbeltza notes, "is seen when
disguised callers go from house to house and are given offerings of
money, wine or bacon. This means that the insects have received their
payment, and will not be able to come begging a second time."