Tag Archives: Basque language

The Irízar Island

“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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The Basque Global Time

Time present and time past

are both perhaps present in time future,

and time future contained in time past”

(T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets, 1945)

Some Basque diaspora communities and some groups in the Basque Country share, depending on the type of celebrations, some highly symbolic temporal commemorations. According to Michel Laguerre, “diasporic new years, holy days, and holidays incubate the memory of the homeland, heighten the temporal dissimilarity between the mainstream and the ethnic enclave, intensify transnational relations, maximize revenues in the diasporic economy…raise the public consciousness about the presence of the group in their midst, induce changes of the diasporic community, and help the group reproduce itself as a transglobal entity” (In Urban Multiculturalism and Globalization in New York City, 2003: 5). That is to say, different temporal commemorations such as religious, cultural, political, and hybrid are currently celebrated by Basques worldwide. However, the boundaries between religious, political, or cultural temporalities are not so clear-cut. For example, religious celebrations, such as Saint Ignatius of Loyola can be understood as strong Basque nationalist events while nationalist events, such as the Aberri Eguna are imbued with religious symbolism; and cultural events such as Korrika, the bi-annual pro-Basque language race are seen as highly political.

Following the Roman Catholic calendar Basque diaspora communities celebrate different religious festivities, such as Christmas, Easter Week, and Basque Patron Saints days (e.g., Saint Sebastian, January 20th—e.g., Madrid—Saint Fermín, July 7th, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, July 31st—e.g., Miami—Our Lady of Arantzazu, September 9th, or Saint Francis Xavier, December 3rd). Despite the obvious religious content of those festivities, for example, Saint Francis Xavier, the Patron Saint of Nafarroa, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Patron Saint of the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, were not only considered religious symbols but also political symbols, particularly during the time of the Basque government-in-exile.

Similarly, Aberri Eguna (the Day of the Homeland) coincides, intentionally, with the Catholic festivity of Easter Sunday, as a metaphor for the resurrection of the Basque nation. It has been, and still is, commemorated in the Basque diaspora (e.g., London and Havana) since the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV in its Spanish acronym) established it in 1932. From 1936 to 1976, the Spanish Workers Socialist Party also commemorated the date, which was legalized in Spain in 1978. Since then, only the Basque nationalist parties, separately, celebrate it. However, since 2005 the annual Aberri Eguna celebration in Argentina were jointly celebrated by representatives from the nationalist youth group JO TA KE of Rosario, the extraterritorial assembly of the PNV in Argentina, and Eusko Alkartasuna-Argentina. In addition, the aerial bombardment of Gernika by Nazi Germany on April 26, 1937, is another highly commemorated date by Basque diaspora institutions and communities (e.g., Argentina and San Francisco, United States).

The main common cultural celebrations refer to the Basque language or Euskara. Euskararen Eguna, the International Basque Language Day, was instituted by Eusko Ikaskuntza, the Society of Basque Studies, in 1948, and it is celebrated on December 3rd, the day of St. Francis Xavier. It has been, and still is, celebrated in the diaspora. The bi-annual and very popular pro-Basque language event Korrika—a run and walk-a-thon to raise money for Basque language schools—is also celebrated abroad (e.g., Barcelona and Shanghai).

In the 2003 World Congress of Basque Collectivities, the institutional representatives of the Basque diaspora recommended the establishment of a “Day of the Diaspora” to be celebrated in both the Basque Country and the diaspora as a way to achieve an official social recognition in the homeland. (Unfortunately, as of April 2011, the “Day of the Diaspora” has not been established yet). Despite the fact that Basque migrants are physically removed from their home country, they are able to be united with their co-nationals by sharing cyclical common events throughout time. The aforementioned celebrations unite Basques from all provinces, including diaspora Basques. These specific temporalities for communal gathering, fraternity, and for renewing pledges of identity, help diaspora and homeland Basques to imagine themselves as a Basque united global community regardless of their geographical location.

Are we ready to build a Basque global community?

For a version of the post in Spanish please visit: http://www.euskonews.com/0578zbk/kosmo57801es.html

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