This article was translated by John R. Bopp
On the last day of our recent stay in Xiberoa, or Soule, we were lucky enough to be able to make our visit coincide with the celebration of the Souletin Maskarada in Barkoxe (Barcus). We could only see the morning part, unfortunately, but we were still able to prepare a video on it.
As is our rule in this section, we don’t wish to be a tour guide nor, in this case, film a documentary about the Maskarada. We would just like to convey our personal feelings and offer a compilation of places where there is interesting information on the matter.
We have to admit that the first thing that caught our attention when we got to Barkoxe was the multicolor image that this small town’s main plaza offered us. The participants and the audience gathered in rings where they had lively conversations while waiting for the Masquerade to start.
This was all happening at the feet of City Hall, on the façade of which flew three flags, each in its place. We couldn’t help smiling imagining the hissy fit a delegate of the Spanish government would throw upon seeing the sight of the Ikurriña occupying the place of honor among the three flags.
Soule is the smallest of the Basque territories in size and population. This means that maintaining, and in many cases recovering, these traditions requires a huge effort on the part of the whole community, especially the youngest. This is explained in one of the texts that we recommend reading in order to better understand this manifestation of traditional Basque culture:
“Every year, the young people in a town become responsible for preparing and taking the masquerades to the other towns. This decision is not easy, as most of them are small towns, and in order to face such a chalenge, almost all the town’s youth have to take on some tasks. Experienced dancers, singers, and showoffs are needed to joke and laugh, as are provocative theater actors and musicians”
It’s an effort that, as we’ve seen, is worth it. It’s a beautiful event that helps preserve the culture and traditions of our nation, unites our community, and, also, during its preparation, allows youths to bond.
The Souletin Masquerade is, without a doubt, the most important and best preserved of all the carnival traditions of Basque culture.
The whole morning session of this Masquerade was simply fantastic, and we were sorry we couldn’t stay for the second part. But we still had a lot of things to see, and a long road back home.
As Oier Araolaza explains in one of his articles, which we’ve referenced:
“The Masquerade participants make up a colorful and noisy troupe. ‘The Red Ones’ (Gorriak) are great dancers. ‘The Black Ones’ (Beltzak) are wild, provocative, and boisterous. ‘The Sharpeners’ (Txorrotxak) sing twice, acting as presenters and chroniclers. ‘The Gypsy Tinmakers’ (Kauterak) and ‘The Gypsy Bohemians’ (Buhameak) use their irreverent eloquence to get people smiling and making social commentary. The five Frontmen (Aitzindariak), trained in the polished dance technique of Soule (zamaltzaina, txerreroa, kantinersa, gathuzaina, and entseinaria) show off their amazing dancing talents. The Souletin dancers dance the jumping dances (dantza-jauziak) with measured steps, caressing the ground, but challenging gravity in barricades, gavottes, branles, and the glass dance (godalet-dantza). When the perform steps like the ‘frijat’ or the ‘antritxat’, they launch off the ground, but they don’t dance looking toward the sky. As in most traditional dances of Western Europe, the Souletins dance united to the ground. When they jump, they ascend as high as possible, but they also imprint their strength upon landing. The small flute, called a ‘txirula’, the ‘ttun-ttun’, or the ‘salterio’, and the drum, and the violin mark the points at which the feet touch the ground.
What we are sure of is that we’ll be going to back to Xiberoa, in order to continue enjoying this part of the Land of the Basques, and to be able to attend the whole celebration.
It’s a celebration that was about to disappear after the Second World War. Its survival has fundamentally depended on the commitment in the last few years of youths and especially women.
Those who would like to know more about this beautiful traditional Basque festival ought to read the following:
Euskal kultur erakundea (Iparralde)
Ensayo sobre los orígenes de las Mascaradas de Zuberoa (Violeta Alford)
Our recommendation, which we we’re going to repeat everytime we talk about Soule: you have to visit this part of our land, which has extraordinary and even striking beauty, and you really must see, at least once, a Souletin Masquerade. It’s a magnificent way of getting in touch with our roots.
Our stay in Soule was at the Maison Biscayburu in Sauguis. It’s a place we recommend. The owners, Helene and Pantxo Etchebehere are magnificent hosts who open up their home. The rooms are elegant, comfortable, and roomy. Also, the breakfast was wonderful, with homemade gateau basque and pastries. Our stay in Biscayburu was not an invitation, and our comments stem only from our experience as customers.