Discover the reach the 2023 Day of the Basque Diaspora has had in the article we wrote about it, including the video of the official event, reports in the media, and stories about Basques in Australia (the special protagonists of this year’s events) here.

On September 8, 2023, the sixth annual Day of the Basque Diaspora will be held in Guernica.  For us as Basques looking out at the world, paying special attention to the Basques who live all over it, this celebration is hugely important, so we have followed it closely ever since the Basque Government got it going.

Each year’s celebrations have been special, and every year’s location for the main event has been well chosen, though, of all the places that have been chosen, our favorite so far was last year’s, at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the capital of Lower Navarre.

The place chosen for this year’s event is extremely symbolic for the Basques: it is none other than Guernica, the Basques’ Holy City, where the Tree of Guernica has become a symbol of Basque freedoms.  It is also the City of Basque Martyrs, having suffered the Bombing of Guernica, the savage war crime totalitarians committed against our people and against all those who love democracy and freedom.

 Día de la Diáspora Vasca
Day of the Basque Diaspora

The main event will be presided over by Lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu Renteria at 6:30 PM at the Gardens of the Basque Country Museum in Guernica; entry for all those who wish to attend is free.  It will also be streamed via the Irekia website.

Five years ago, in collaboration with the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima, we recorded a very special video, under the shade of the Tree of Guernica, recalling the bombing.

Alongside this year’s article which we drew up in conjunction with the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Basque-Peruvian journalist Francisco Igartua, we wanted to do something very special to mark the occasion, and we’ve been mulling it over and over without ever having a lightbulb moment that to us seemed worthy of the importance of the time and place.  Then, all of a sudden, from Samaniego, Alava, we received word that we were being given a poem, and that finally gave us the appropriate focus and topic.

The Protagonist
Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda obra de Federico de Madrazo 1857 (Museo Lázaro Galdiano)
Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda by Federico de Madrazo 1857 (Lázaro Galdiano Museum)

The poem in question was written by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga (1814—1873), a novelist, playwright, and poet whose biography is as extensive as it is interesting.

She was an avowed abolitionist, and her novel Sab was the first anti-slavery novel in Spanish, and even predated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin by 11 years.  The authorities in Cuba, which was still a colony, prevented the book from being imported onto the island, given its anti-slavery stance, though of course copies were smuggled in an circulated.

She was also a feminist, and the way she drew her female characters in her works made her one of the leading figures of nascent feminism, as she argued in favor of equal rights for women and the freedom of their feelings.

In her play Balthasar, she stood up in favor of the necessary independence and freedom of all peoples.

Moreover, she was able to confront conventions and the ways of life and behavior that were defined for women of the period, and she sought, and achieved, a position of equality and respect among the male authors and artists with whom she shared her literary activity.  Nevertheless, despite being highly esteemed in her time, she was forgotten for a long period, before being saved from oblivion and recognized now as one of the great figures of Hispanic American romanticism of the 19th century.

And a quick glance at her surnames will reveal her Basque heritage.  Although her father’s Basque roots are forgotten when he’s defined as “Manuel Gómez de Avellaneda, Spanish navy officer at La Ciudad de Constantina, Seville province,” her mother, Francisca María del Rosario de Arteaga, is defined as a Basque-Cuban creole, from a powerful Cuban family with roots in the Basque Country and the Canaries.

Therefore, what we have here is a “potential” Basque-descendant born at the beginning of the 19th century, who lived through the First Carlist War (1833—1840) and who died during the third conflict (1872—1876).

However, she led her life far away from the Basque Country, in Cuba, Madrid, Seville, and La Coruña.  So what does she contribute to a festival like this one, dedicated as it is to the Basque Diaspora?

A Poem for the Tree of Guernica

The answer lies in a poem we were sent that appears in her “Antología poética.”  It was written during the years when the Basque fueros system was being torn apart, and is dedicated to the Tree of Guernica.  It was written by a Cuban, who called Cuba her “homeland” in her poem “La Vuelta a la Patria,” but who recognized the enormous value that this symbol of Basque freedoms has.

Al árbol de Guernica To the Guernica tree*
Tus cuerdas de oro en vibración sonora
Vuelve a agitar, ¡oh lira!,
Que en este ambiente, que aromado gira,
Su inercia sacudiendo abrumadora
La mente creadora,
De nuevo el fuego de entusiasmo aspira.¡Me hallo en Guernica! Ese árbol que contemplo,
Padrón es de alta gloria
De un pueblo ilustre interesante historia
De augusta libertad sencillo templo,
Que -al mundo dando ejemplo-
Del patrio amor consagra la memoria.

Piérdese en noche de los tiempos densa
Su origen venerable;
Mas ¿qué siglo evocar que no nos hable
De hechos ligados a su vida inmensa,
Que en sí sola condensa
La de una raza antigua e indomable?
Se transforman doquier las sociedades;
Pasan generaciones;
Caducan leyes; húndense naciones
Y el árbol de las vascas libertades
A futuras edades
Trasmite fiel sus santas tradiciones.
Siempre inmutables son, bajo este cielo,
Costumbres, ley, idioma…
¡Las invencibles águilas de Roma
Aquí abatieron su atrevido vuelo,
Y aquí luctuoso velo
Cubrió la media luna de Mahoma!
Nunca abrigaron mercenarias greyes
Las ramas seculares,
Que a Vizcaya cobijan tutelares;
Y a cuya sombra poderosos reyes
Democráticas leyes
Juraban ante jueces populares.
¡Salve, roble inmortal! Cuando te nombra
Respetuoso mi acento,
Y en ti se fija ufano el pensamiento,
Me parece crecer bajo tu sombra,
Y en tu florida alfombra
Con lícita altivez la planta asiento.

¡Salve! ¡La humana dignidad se encumbra
En esta tierra noble
Que tú proteges, perdurable roble,
Que el sol sereno de Vizcaya alumbra,
Y do el Cosnoaga inmoble
Llega a tus pies en colosal penumbra!

¿En dónde hallar un corazón tan frío
Que a tu aspecto no lata,
Sintiendo que se enciende y se dilata?
¿Quién de tu nombre ignora el poderío
O en su desdén impío
Tu vejez santa con amor no acata?

Allá desde el retiro silencioso
Donde del hombre huía
-Al par que sus derechos defendía-
Del de Ginebra pensador fogoso,
Con vuelo poderoso
Llegaba a ti la inquieta fantasía;

Y arrebatado en entusiasmo ardiente
-Pues nunca helarlo pudo
De injusta suerte el ímpetu sañudo-
Postró a tu austera majestad la frente
Y en página elocuente
Supo dejarte un inmortal saludo.

La Convención francesa, de su seno,
Ve a un tribuno afamado
Levantarse de súbito, inspirado,
A bendecirte, de emociones lleno
Y del aplauso al trueno
Retiembla al punto el artesón dorado.

Lo antigua que es la libertad proclamas…
-¡Tú eres su monumento!-
Por eso cuando agita raudo viento
La secular belleza de tus ramas
Pienso que en mí derramas
De aquel genio divino el ígneo aliento.

Cual signo suyo mi alma te venera,
Y cuando aquí me humillo
De tu vejez ante el eterno brillo,
Recuerdo, roble augusto, que, doquiera
Que el numen sacro impera,
Un árbol es su símbolo sencillo.

Mas, ¡ah! ¡Silencio! El sol desaparece
Tras la cumbre vecina,

Que va envolviendo pálida neblina…
Se enluta el cielo… El aire se adormece…
Tu sombra crece y crece
¡y sola aquí tu majestad domina!

Your golden strings in sound vibration
Shake again, oh lyre!
That in this atmosphere, how aromatic it rotates,
The inertia of her shaking overwhelming
The creative mind,
Again the fire of enthusiasm aspires.I am in Guernica! That tree that I contemplate,
Padrón is of high glory
Of an illustrious town, interesting history
Of august freedom simple temple,
That -to the world giving example-
Consecrates memory of the country’s love.

Get lost in the dense night of time
Its venerable origin;
But what century can we evoke that does not speak to us?
Of facts linked to his immense life,
Which in itself condenses
That of an ancient and indomitable race?
Societies are transformed everywhere;
Generations pass;
Laws expire; nations sink
And the tree of Basque freedoms
To future ages
Faithfully transmits its holy traditions.
They are always immutable, under this sky,
Customs, law, language…
The invincible eagles of Rome
Here they brought down their daring flight,
And here mournful veil
Covered Muhammad’s crescent!
They never sheltered grayes mercenaries
The secular branches,
That Vizcaya shelters tutelaries;
And in whose shadow mighty kings
Democratic laws
They swore before popular judges.
Hail, immortal oak! When he names you
I respect my accent,
And the thought proudly fixes itself on you,
I seem to grow under your shadow,
And on your flowery carpet
With lawful arrogance I seat the plant.

Hail! Human dignity is elevated
In this noble land
That you protect, enduring oak,
May the serene sun of Vizcaya shine,
And the immovable Cosnoaga
It reaches your feet in colossal darkness!

Where to find a heart so cold
That doesn’t matter to your appearance,
Feeling it light up and expand?
Who of your name ignores the power
Or in his unholy disdain
Does your holy old age with love not abide?

There from the silent retreat
Where I fled from man
-At the same time that he defended his rights-
Of the fiery thinker of Geneva,
With powerful flight
The restless fantasy came to you;

And caught up in burning enthusiasm
-Well, he could never freeze it
Of unfair luck the vicious impetus-
He bowed his forehead to your austere majesty
And on an eloquent page
He knew how to leave you an immortal greeting.

The French Convention, from its bosom,
See a famous tribune
Get up suddenly, inspired,
To bless you, full of emotions
And from applause to thunder
The golden coffered ceiling trembles immediately.

How old freedom is you proclaim…
-You are his monument!-
That’s why when a swift wind stirs
The secular beauty of your branches
I think that you pour into me
From that divine genius the fiery breath.

What sign does my soul venerate you,
And when I humble myself here
Of your old age before the eternal shine,
I remember, august oak, that, everywhere
That the sacred numen prevails,
A tree is the simple symbol of it.

But ah! Silence! The sun disappears
After the neighboring summit,
That is enveloping pale mist…
The sky falls into mourning… The air grows sleepy…
Your shadow grows and grows
and alone here your majesty rules!

*Google automatic translation

It’s hard to find a poem, or text, which does a better job of capturing the symbolism of the Tree and the importance of what happens in its shade and how it is such a powerful symbol of freedom.

But it is also the text of someone who is interested and well-informed about just what this Basque symbol means.  Otherwise, one could not understand that the poet not only names the mountain overlooking the Tree, Cosnoaga, but also quotes the “ardent thinker from Geneva” and the “French Convention.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Convention

The first reference, to the man from Geneva, is to none other than Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778), the philosopher and author of “The Social Contract.”  He was a friend of Manuel Ignacio Altuna (1722—1762), the mayor of Azpeitia and one of the founders of the Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, later becoming one of the philosopher’s supporters.  Through him, Rousseau learned of the Tree of Guernica and its meaning, and said, “Guernica is the happiest town on earth.  Its matters are governed by a Meeting of farmers who meet under an oak tree and always make the fairest decisions.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

What may seem merely kind words from an enthusiastic friend about what that oak tree means eventually became a part of “The Social Contract” as is seen when he writes, “When, among the happiest people in the world, bands of peasants are seen regulating affairs of State under an oak, and always acting wisely, can we help scorning the ingenious methods of other nations, which make themselves illustrious and wretched with so much art and mystery?” (Book IV, Ch. 1)

The second reference seems to have to do with an even that occurred during the War of the Pyrenees (1793—1795), when the troops of the newly-created French Republic occupied a good part of the Southern Basque Country.  In July 1795, General Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, commander-in-chief of the French republican troops, ordered his men to salute the Tree of Guernica, the grandfather, he said, of all the trees of freedom in the world.

None of that could have been written, at least in such clearly precise references, without the poet having had a clear interest in Basque affairs in general and in the Tree of Guernica in particular.  To our mind, that interest could only have arisen out of a personal bond Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga had with all things Basque.

Of course, it could all be a coincidence, an interest in something exotic, far removed from her personal life and feelings.  Yes, that too could be true.

The Song of Altabiscar

Nevertheless, if we continue analyzing the rest of her oeuvre, we come across a poem published in the same book dedicated to the Battle of Roncevaux Pass under the name “The Song of Altabiscar.”  The title is an allusion to the Basque poem “Altabizkar-ko kantua,” published in 1834 (just a few years before Gómez de Avellaneda’s), in an article by Françoise Eugene Garay de Monglave, secretary of the Institut Historique.  It was presented as a song dating from the times of Charlemagne, preserved by oral tradition on both sides of the Pyrenees.  It was presented as a retelling by the Basques of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass when they handily defeated the rearguard of Charlemagne’s troops in revenge for having sacked and burned Pamplona.  In the French version, in the “Song of Roalnd,” this victory was attributed to the “Saracens.”

El canto de Altabiscar The Song of Altabiscar*
Súbito se alza un grito en las montañas
De los valientes euskaldunes. Presta
Todo su oído el bravo echeco-jauna,
Que de su noble hogar guarda la puerta.
-¡Qué es eso!, exclama- y se levanta al punto
Su perro fiel, irguiendo las orejas.
¡Escuchad! ¡Escuchad cual sus ladridos
De Altabiscar en derredor resuenan!
Pero un ruido mayor, más espantoso,
Parte veloz de lo alto de Ibañeta,
Y va, de monte en monte retumbando,
A ensordecer las solitarias crestas.
¡Es la voz de un ejército que avanza!
Otras mil, otras mil responden fieras,
Del ronco cuerno al áspero sonido,
Entre montes, peñascos y malezas.
¡Los nuestros son! -El bravo echeco-jauna
Salta blandiendo la acerada flecha.
-¡Con él todos!… ¡Mirad! Sobre esas cimas
Móvil bosque de lanzas centellea,
Y en medio, sus colores ostentando,
Majestuosas ondulan las banderas.
¡Oh!… ¡Qué bajan!… ¡Qué vienen!… ¡Qué desfilan,
Cual lobos a caer sobre su presa!…
¡Qué guerrero tropel!¡Cuéntalos, mozo!
-Diez… quince… veinte… veinticinco… treinta…
¡Y otros tantos!… ¡Y cien!… Se pierde el número,
Porque son más, señor, que las arenas.
-¿Qué importa? Venid todos, ¡euskaldunes!
De cuajo arrancaremos estas peñas,
Y sobre el vil enjambre de enemigos
Las lanzarán nuestras nervudas diestras.
¿Qué vienen a buscar a nuestros montes
Esos hijos del Norte en son de guerra?
¿Entre ellos y nosotros puso en balde
El mismo Dios una muralla eterna?
¡Caiga sobre ellos, caiga desplomado
Todo este monte, piedra sobre piedra!
¡A una todos!… ¡Así! -Se anubla el aire;
La tierra cruje; los peñascos ruedan;
Jinetes y caballos confundidos
Con sus despojos los breñales siembran;
Y palpitan las carnes aplastadas,
Chorros brotando, que en el suelo humean.
¡Cuántos huesos molidos!¡Cuánta sangre,
En la que el sol medroso reverbera!…
-¡Huid si aún podéis, reliquias miserables!
El que aún tiene bridón métale espuelas,
Y corra como ciervo perseguido
El que aún conserve para hacerlo fuerzas.
¡Huye con tu pendón, rey Carlo-Magno,
Que el rico manto entre las zarzas dejas,
Mientras el viento en remolinos barre
De tu casco rëal las plumas negras!
¿Qué aguardas? ¿A quién buscas? Tu sobrino,
El que rival no tuvo en la pelea,
Tu famoso Roldán, bravo entre bravos,
¡Allí tendido entre los muertos queda!
Ya huyen veloces, ¡euskaldunes!… ¡Huyen!…
¿Do sus lanzas están? ¿Do sus enseñas?
¡Cuál huyen!… ¡Oh! ¡Cuál huyen!… ¡Cuenta, mozo!
¿Cuántos los vivos son que aún aquí restan?
¿Veinte?… ¿quince?… ¿diez?… ¿ocho?… ¿siete?… ¿cinco?…
-No, señor. -¿Cuatro?… ¿dos?…- ¡Ni uno siquiera!
Todo acabó. -Valiente echeco-jauna,
Llama a tu perro; vuelve do te esperan
Los tiernos hijos, la querida esposa,
Y en tu cuerno de buey guarda las flechas;
Que ya en el campo, herencia de tus padres,
Puedes dormir tranquilo sobre de ellas.
¡Pronto la noche tenderá su manto,
Y acudiendo de buitres nube espesa,
Se cebarán en carnes machacadas,
Esparciendo las blancas osamentas,
Que en polvo convertidas por los siglos
Darán abono a nuestra agreste tierra!
Suddenly a cry rises in the mountains
Of the brave Basque speakers. Lend
All the brave Echeco-jauna heard from him,
Who guards the door of his noble home.
-What is that!, he exclaims-and he gets up immediately.
His faithful dog, pricking her ears.
Listen! Listen to his barking
From Altabiscar around they resonate!
But a louder, more terrifying noise,
Fast part of the top of Ibañeta,
And it goes, from mountain to mountain, rumbling,
To deafen the lonely ridges.
It is the voice of an advancing army!
Another thousand, another thousand respond wildly,
From the hoarse horn to the harsh sound,
Between mountains, rocks and weeds.
Ours are! -The brave Echeco-jauna
He jumps brandishing the steel arrow.
-With him all!… Look! On those peaks
Moving forest of spears flashes,
And in the middle, their colors showing off,
Majestic flags wave.
Oh!… They come down!… They come!… They parade,
Like wolves to fall on his prey! …
What a troop warrior! Count them, young man!
-Ten… fifteen… twenty… twenty-five… thirty…
And so many others!… And a hundred!… The number is lost,
Because they are more, sir, than the sands.
-Does matters? Come all, Basque speakers!
We will uproot these rocks,
And over the vile swarm of enemies
Our sinewy right hands will throw them.
What do they come to look for in our mountains?
Those sons of the North in war?
Between them and us put in vain
God himself an eternal wall?
Fall on them, fall down
All this mountain, stone upon stone!
Everyone together!… Like this! -The air becomes cloudy;
The earth creaks; the rocks roll;
Confused riders and horses
With their remains they sow the bushes;
And the crushed meats palpitate,
Jets gushing out, which smoke on the ground.
How many ground bones! How much blood,
In which the fearful sun reverberates!…
-Flee if you still can, miserable relics!
He who still has a bridle, put spurs on him,
And he runs like a hunted deer
Whoever still has the strength to do it.
Flee with your banner, King Charlemagne,
That the rich mantle among the brambles you leave,
While the swirling wind sweeps
From your royal helmet the black feathers!
What are you waiting for? Who are you looking for? Your nephew,
The one who did not have a rival in the fight,
Your famous Roldán, brave among braves,
There he lies among the dead!
They are already fleeing quickly, Basque speakers!… They are fleeing!…
Where are your spears? Do you have your banners?
Which ones flee!… Oh! Which ones are fleeing!… Count, young man!
How many living people are still here?
Twenty?… fifteen?… ten?… eight?… seven?… five?…
-No sir. -Four?…two?…-Not even one!
It’s all over. -Brave Echeco-jauna,
Call your dog; come back when they are waiting for you
The tender children, the dear wife,
And in your ox horn keep the arrows;
That already in the field, inheritance from your parents,
You can sleep peacefully on them.
Soon the night will spread its mantle,
And thick cloud vultures flocking,
They will fatten themselves on pounded meats,
Scattering the white bones,
That turned into dust by the centuries
They will provide fertilizer to our wild land!

*Google automatic translation

A Basque Descendant

How and why would a poet who felt no connection to the Basques dedicate these two works to two topics that are so “Basque,” thereby proving a deep interest in such matters?  It would seem not to be a coincidence.

Quite the contrary, her works place her into the group of Basque-descendants who are aware of their origins and interested in the reality, history, and land of their forebears.

That is to say, this is a clear-cut case of a Basque-descendant.

So on this day we celebrate:

  • and remember all those who, all over the world, have passed away without ever feeling that they were not part of this national community,
  • and recall their stories, the ones we know and the one whose circumstances have been written by those who stole them from us,
  • and we rejoice in being a part of this community, especially feeling united and as siblings regardless of the temporal and geographical distances that separate us.

This year, at the Basque Country Museum, near the Tree of Basque Freedoms, right in the heart of the sacred, martyr city of Guernica, we can be proud of the work carried out by all those generations of Basques all over the world, who, since the 16th century, have been creating guilds and fraternities, founding new nations, incorporating themselves into others, always without ever losing their feeling of belonging to the Basque Country.

This year, next to the Tree of Guernica, we must be aware of our commitment to continue down the path they started, opening ourselves up to the world and protecting the roots that bind us to our homeland.

Happy Day of the Diaspora 2023

A candle for those who came before us, and a commitment to never break the chain that joins our past, our present, and our future.

Written in collaboration with the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima, and Oiga magazine.



Last Updated on Feb 12, 2024 by About Basque Country

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