We’ve had the pleasure of discussing the Colombian department of Antioquia an its very active Centro Vasco on numerous occasions. Today, we get to again because on their website, the Antioquia Center for Basque Studies recently has shared an article published in the Colombian daily El Tiempo back in 2001.
And why are we digging up news from 20 years ago? Quite simply because the main point of that article was to cast doubt on the idea, which seems to be quite common around there, that the hardworking image the residents of Antioquia enjoy is due to the influence of the Basque migrants who arrived in colonial times.
It bases that argument against popular perception on a report published in the Spanish daily El País, in an article signed by Mónica Salonome, carried out by the American Journal of Human Genetics. This study, carried out in Medellín, analyzed the DNA of 80 individuals who were studying and working at the University of Antioquia’s Faculty of Medicine and the San Vicente de Paul University Hospital.
The conclusions of the study state that the colonists who reached that part of South American came mostly from Southern Spain, as well as some from the Basque Country and Catalonia; there were even typical genetic traces from the Jewish population and from the north of Africa.
So this study then is enough to confirm to Mr. Iragorri (that name couldn’t be more Basque if it tried) that it is highly unlikely that the nexus between Antioquia and their hardworking nature is because their Basque.
In all actuality, the year 2000 study only proves the obvious, at least as far as the number of Basques who arrived in the New World colonies that were the property of the King of Spain is concerned: very few Basques actually went there.
It’s just that what happened to the Basques in the New World is the same thing that happened to kings in hell, or at least that’s what was posited by one of the few Basques who went to the Americas: Lope de Aguirre, born in Oñate and died on Isla Margarita. This conquistador wrote a letter to Philip II in 1561, declaring the independence of “Pirú” as it stretched from Panama to Patagonia. In that letter, he claimed that, “few kings go to hell, because there aren’t many kings”. As Francisco Igartua, another Basque from Oñate, who was born in Perú, recalled, It goes without saying that his memory was damned because of his temerity to face up to a king.
Of course few Basques reached that part of the Americas. It’s because there weren’t many Basques when compared to Castilians, Andalusians, Catalans, etc. Therefore, regardless of how big the Basque emigration was when compared to its own population, it was small when compared to others.
What is true is that it was different. This small population managed to achieve positions of great social, economic, and political importance, both in the Spanish colonies in the New World as well as in the republics they would become after independence.
The Vasco-Vicuña War that took place in Potosí, in the-then Viceroy of Peru and current Bolivia, just sixty years after Lope de Aguirre’s letter, is a great example.
This strong position, economically, socially, and politically, was based on the principle of universal nobility that meant that most Basques are born nobles and therefore have rights, in an age when arbitrary abuse of the vast majority was common.
In most of the Basque lands south of the Pyrenees, meaning most of Araba, Biscay, Gipuzkoa, and Navarre, Basque were able to win the right of universal nobility, which meant that manual laborers, fishermen, businessmen, everyone was noble. That meant that the Basques who went to the New World, unlike those from other kingdoms in the peninsula, were able to join their culture of hard work and collective commitment with the rights that being noble gave them. Yes, it was the lowest rung of nobility, but they were all nobles.
Now, this work ethic is not encoded in one’s genes, but is rather a product of one’s upbringing, and is transmitted from generation to generation by Basques who were used to living in areas where life was hard and resources scarce. This poor soil, where only a good work ethic and a strong community spirit, auzolan, could guarantee success.
Perhaps it was this work ethic taken by the Basques that took such deep root in the community in Antioquia. This is by no means a quality that is limited to the Basques, but it is a fundamental part of the what defined, and defines, what it means to be Basque.
Today, the genetic makeup of our country is not the same as it was in the 16th century. But genes are hardly the most important thing today’s Basques have received from our ancestors. That most important thing is that feeling of belonging to a culture that is committed to society, respect, and keeping one’s word.
We have no doubt that the people of Antioquia have earned their image as hard workers thanks to that very hard work that they have done. Nor do we doubt that popular wisdom is just that, wise, and that popular idea that this way of being is due in no small part to the region’s Basque heritage is deeply ingrained, and rightly so.
By the way, seeing the views around Antioquia, it’s not hard at all to image that the Basques who moved there felt like they were “home”.
We’ll leave you with the El Tiempo article, the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, and the Paco Igartua article about Lope de Aguirre.
El Tiempo – 8/1/2001 – Colombia
LOS ANTIOQUEÑOS NO SON TAN VASCOS
No son pocos los que atribuyen la laboriosidad de los habitantes de Antioquia a la inmigración de vascos a esa zona del país durante la Conquista. Pero, ojo: pueden estar equivocados, según divulgó recientemente en una nota el prestigioso diario madrileño El País.
Google Translate. El Tiempo does not allow for Google to automatically translate, so you’ll have to copy and paste yourself
American Journal of Human Genetics- 13/10/2000 – USA
Strong Amerind/white sex bias and a possible Sephardic contribution among the founders of a population in northwest Colombia.
Historical and genetic evidences suggest that the recently founded population of Antioquia (Colombia) is potentially useful for the genetic mapping of complex traits. This population was established in the 16th-17th centuries through the admixture of Amerinds, Europeans, and Africans and grew in relative isolation until the late 19th century.
Google Translator. American Journal of Human Genetics
does not allow for Google to automatically translate, so you’ll have to copy and paste yourself
Euskonews – 2003 – Euskadi
Que jamás haya memoria del traidor
Lope de Aguirre, vilipendiado por muchos y por otros tenido como el primero que proclamó (sin fortuna) la independencia de un Perú que comenzaba en Panamá y concluía en el estrecho de Magallanes, se autoretrata en la insolente carta que le envió al rey Felipe II, el poderosísimo hijo del “invencible” Carlos V, tratándolo de tú. Es la carta de un alucinado que expone las razones de su rebeldía e, indirectamente, responde a sus enemigos.