Who are the Basques?

The Basque homeland, Euskal Herria, is a region between France and Spain, near the Pyrenees Mountains and the Bay of Biscay. The Basque Country is comprised of seven provinces. Ninety percent of all Basques live in the four Spanish provinces of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Araba, and Nafarroa. The remainder live in the three northern French provinces of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea, and Zuberoa.

It is a small place, only about 125 miles wide (about the distance from Boise to Twin Falls, Idaho). Basque families have made a living in both agricultural and fishing traditions for many years. Some say the Basques are hasierak or “mystery people” of Europe because although their presence has been speculated since prehistoric times, their origin is largely unknown. Basques call themselves Euskaldunak, or “speakers of Euskara,” the Basque language. Euskara also has no known origin, and it is not related to any other Indo-European language, other than possibly Aquitanian.

Basques have a long tradition of mobility far beyond their borders due to various political, economic, and social forces throughout history. As early as the 11th century, Basques were whalers, ship-builders, mariners, explorers, and missionaries who navigated ocean waters as far as Newfoundland and South America.  Basques built and sailed Christopher Columbus’ fleet. The Basque Juan Elcano completed Magellan’s ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the world.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque, began the Jesuit Order of Priests.

Basques have a long-standing history of self-determination, which has resulted in resistance to external political, religious, and social control. This has caused internal division and strife with nation-states such as Spain and France that has resulted in a global Basque diaspora. Today, the Basque Country is a modern and progressive region, with places such as the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the tourist areas of Donosti/San Sebastian, Spain, and Biarritz, France. It conducts alternative energy and environmental research; leads science, engineering and high-technology industries; and has a thriving GDP. Traditional Basque culture is a source of pride in the homeland and the diaspora, where centuries-old music, dance, food, religious, and other traditions are revered and maintained in contemporary society.