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Bertan > The Basque language > Oral literature
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Oral literature


For centuries, oral transmission was the only vehicle for passing on the beliefs, legends, wisdom and fears that the Basque people had amassed over the millennia. Oral literature, which is very deeplyrooted in Basque society, has ensured the survival of many traditions, sayings, tales and songs that contain the collective imaginarium of Basque culture. That intangible heritage has been passed down in all the forms of oral literature, and in others created over the years by Basque society.

398. Basque is very rich in proverbs and idioms. The first compilation, dating from the seventeenth century, was Les Proverbes Basques, compiled by Arnaud Oihenart (Paris 1657), which contained 706 proverbs in Basque with their French translations. 399. Other interesting compilations include Naparroako erran zarrak by Damascus Intza (1974) and Atsotitzak, refranes, proverbs, proverbia (1998) by Gotzon Garate, a comparative study with proverbs in other languages. 400. 400. Kopla zaharrak. These date back to the Middle Ages and are sung in rounds in series from 8 to 10 stanzas, though some run to over 80. They are sung by groups collecting money on occasions such as St. Agatha's Day and Christmas. One of the most popular forms involves songs accompanied by a trikitrixa or diatonic accordion. The anonymous poem from the fifteenth century Bereterretxeren Kanthoria, begins with a stanza that follows the same technique as these stanzas: Haltzak ez dü bihotzik, Ez gaztanberak hezürrik. Ez nian uste erraiten ziela aitunen semek gezurrik. 401. Euskal Erromantzeak/Romancero Vasco, is the most extensive corpus of Basque ballads. 402. The most complete collection of riddles in Basque was compiled by Resurrección Maria de Azkue. Before him, other collections were published by Çerquand (1874) and by the French Basqueologist Julien Vinson (1843-1926), author of many studies on Basque language and literature for the Revue de Linguistique. 403. The series Hilarriak and Kosmogonika by Nestor Basterretxea recreated the universe of the Basque. Created in the 1970s they are the most representative ensemble in his extensive work. Yo no hablo euskera pero mis eulturas sí. 404. Contemporary disc-shaped stele by Jose Rota (Garralda 1920- 2006). The master stonemasons have continued this tradition, representing ancestral symbols. 405.From 1974, Eresbil, in Errenteria, became the archive for the compilation, preservation, protection and dissemination of Basque musical heritage. 406. Oral literature in the Basque language has been investigated and compiled by some great authors. Manuel Lekuona (Literatura oral Vasca), Resurrección Maria de Azkue (Cancionero Popular Vasco and Euskalerriaren Yakintza), Joxe Miel Barandiaran (Obras completas), Juan Mari Lekuona and Jose Maria Satrustegi. 407. Jose Maria Satrustegi (Arruatzu, 1930-2003) specialist in Ethnography, Anthropology and the lexicography and onomastics of the Basque Language, worked with Barandiaran on promoting ethnographic studies in Navarre, centring on the groups Etniker and the magazines Fontes Linguae Vasconum and Cuadernos de Etnología y Etnografía. 408. In 1888, José María de Lakoizketa (Narbarte, 1831-1891) published his Diccionario de los nombres euskaros de las plantas [Dictionary of the Basque names of plants] (Pamplona, 1888). The priest and botanist was considered an authority on the scientific description and classification of plants. 409. The writer Rosa Bustintza Mañariko Errose (1899-1953), travelled from farmhouse to farmhouse collecting stories and fables, which she published in Euskalerriko Ipuinak. Joxe Arratibel (Ataun 1923-2011) compiled the popular stories he had heard as a child. His book Kontu zarrak (1980) is considered to be a gem. 410. In 1879, Wentworth Webster, an English Anglican priest and Basqueologist published his compilation of popular stories Basque Legends collected chiefly in the Labourd. Ibarron Farmhouse, Senpere. 411. One of the high points of Benito Lertxundi's extensive musical career was his work with Ez Dok Amairu, recovering many traditional texts. A prolific composer and performer, he still packs venues wherever he sings. 412. The music group Oskorri has popularised many lyrics and tunes from some of the oldest "ludico-choral" poetry, including the rhyming dialogues Bela bela jauna, on his album Katuen Testamentua, in which he revives children's songs from Biscay. It was turned into a highly successful show by the theatre company Kukubiltxo. 413. Justo Maria Mokoroa Mujika (Tolosa, 1901-1990). His oeuvre includes Ortik eta emendik, Repertorio de locuciones del habla popular vasca (1990), containing over two hundred thousand expressions and idioms in Basque, which are now available online. 414. The Euskal Herriko Ahotsak project, at www.ahotsak.com, is devoted to collecting, cataloguing and publishing the oral heritage of the Basque Country through the voices of its elderly people. It is backed by Mintzola and financed by the Basque Government and the Territorial Government of Gipuzkoa. The testimonies compiled on the website reflect the history and way of life of each municipal district, as well as its euskalki or local dialect. All the information on the archive is available on the Internet. 415. Archives of Intangible Heritage are being set up in various territories. The Department of Philology and Language Teaching at the UPNA is backing the project for an archive of the oral and intangible heritage of Navarre and Lower Navarre. Associations and organisations such as Euskokultur Fundazioa from Pamplona and Euskal Kultur Erakundea from Ustaritze locate, record, publish and archive that whole rich cultural and human capital. 416. Mintzola, the centre for Oral Studies, is a project promoted by the Territorial Government of Gipuzkoa, Euskal Herriko Bertsozale Elkartea and the Town Council of Villabona. The University of the Basque Country, Kutxa and the Basque Government also lend their support to this workshop of Basque oral tradition 417. Aita Donostia. José Gonzalo Zulaika y Agirre (San Sebastian 1886-1956), devoted his life to recovering hundreds of popular songs and melodies. A writer and musicologist, he composed the famous Basque Preludes, compositions for piano based on arrangements of popular tunes.
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