This article was translated by John R. Bopp
A while back, we were commenting on how a Basque pelota championship was being held on Réunion, one of those places where it never ceases to surprise that it’s played. We’ve already done a bit of a tour to some of those places where the presence of this sport seems to be almost a miracle to the Basques living south of the Pyrenees, including places like Saint Pierre et Miquelon, the Republic of Togo or on New Caledonia. Basques from north of the Pyrenees have a long history in places like these, but to those from the south, they sound exotic and far away. Centuries of borders imposed by distant states and kingdoms has that kind of consequence of mutual lack of understanding.
But while the cases of St. Pierre and Miquelon or New Caledonia are explained by a traditional and stable population of Basques, the case of the Island of Réunion is different. Nobody played pelota on that island until a Navarrese priest arrived: Father Étienne Dattas (1914-1996).
This Basque priest and missionary was born in Bastida Arberoa, in Lower Navarre, and reached Réunion in 1969, after having spent time in Cameroon and Congo (we include a short note about his life and missionary commitment below). He moved into the suburbs of Saint-Denis and there, like many Basque missionaries, set forth on integrating. Among the activities he set in motion were the two sports that are most important to Basques south of the Pyrenees: pelota and rugby. He built the first jai alai court in the Indian Ociean, and sowed the seed of this sport in that corner of the world.
The results, the fruits of his labor, are still being harvested today, as we’re told by Guy Leblond in a very interesting article published in Lotrinfo, the digital newspaper on Réunion.
As is said in the article, it’s a shame Basque pelota is not an Olympic sport, which we find incomprehensible, unless one reads the real reasons behind such a decision between the lines. It’s also sad how much the pelotaris of Réunion, and many other places, have to go through in order to be able to practice in events with pelotaris from other parts of the world.
How far these clubs have reached and the commitment to Basque pelota in such remote places should not be seen as an exotic curiosity, but rather as an opportunity, and hope, for one of our national sports, the one that has the greatest reach in the world.
Lotrinfo – 14/1/2019 – Réunion, France
La pelote basque à La Réunion : une curiosité mondiale !
La pelote basque consiste à envoyer de volée ou après un rebond, une balle, la pelote, contre un mur principal, nommé frontis, afin qu’elle retombe sur l’aire de jeu nommée cancha. Ce sport encore méconnu malgré l’exceptionnel palmarès de ses pratiquants, a été introduit à La Réunion à la fin des années 60. Comme souvent, il est le fait d’un immigré basque, le père Etienne Dattas de la paroisse des Camélias à Saint-Joseph-Ouvrier. En 1975, un premier fronton « place libre » est construit à Saint-Denis. En 1985, le premier mur à gauche couvert est inauguré, suivi de deux autres à découvert à Saint-Leu et Cilaos. Le début d’une belle histoire jalonnée de succès.
Spiritains forums free – 1996 –