The Basques - Cultures around the World

With a truly unique and isolated language separate from any other, the Basques are an endlessly interesting people of the European continent.

Cultures around the World: The Basques

Basque people are an ethnic group who primarily live along the Franco-Spanish border, near the coast of Bay of Biscay in the Western Pyrenees Mountains region. Administratively. the historic 'Basque country' falls within the present administrative boundaries of the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre in Spain, and the Department of Pyrenees Atlantiques in France. The principle cities of the Basque country are Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vitoria-gastez in Spain. There are altogether upwards of two-and-a-half million people who self-identify as Basque. Most of these people live in Spain and France, in addtion to a sizeable diaspora of Basque ancestry being present throughout certain groups of peoples in the Americas. For instance, Basque heritage is considered to be an integral constituent heritage of the culture of the Republic of Chile. Further north, there are at least 50,000 people in the US who claim to have Basque ancestry.

Most Basque people practice Roman Catholicism, and the region provided some of the most influential Christian missionaries to the world, such as Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola. The culture gives primary importance to the family homesteads on Basque land, which bind the people into a putative national community. Traditional inheritance rights stress the indivisibility of family land and follow primogeniture, wherein the eldest male offspring are commissioned to maintain the integrity of the family homestead.


Basque cuisine is related to, but distinct from, the broader Iberian culinary culture of their neighbor countrymen. It is characterized, for instance, by generous smatterings of New World tomatoes and red peppers introduced centuries ago. Traditional Basque cooking often prominently features slow-grilled meat, or fish and various meat stews. Perhaps the most famous Basque stew is 'Marmitako', a type of tuna stew, which is slow-cooked with onions, potatoes, and, of course, the customary use of tomato and red pepper. The Basque palate is influenced equally by the produces of the sea and land. The region is also noted for its unique variety of cider, called the 'Basque Cider', and its many 'cider houses' wherein it may be enjoyed.


The Basque language is one of the few surviving languages in Europe which is unconnected with the Indo-European group of languages. This had led to widespread belief regarding the Basque people to be among one of the indigenous peoples of Europe. The Basque language (Euskara in Basque language) has a central place in the cultural imagination of the Basque people still. The name for Basque country in Basque language is Euskal Herria, etymologically meaning 'Basque speaker', which, roughly translated into English connotations, would be "the place where Basque language is spoken".

State of the Culture

The Basque language has seen its usage continuously decreasing throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. It is only now, in the wake of more recent Basque separatist and secessionist movements in Spain, that first-language usage of Basque has seen an increase. In France, the language is still facing a continuous decline in terms of number of speakers. The language issue had been at the center of a long, at times violent, secessionist movement continuing for more than 30 years in Spain. Throughout their diaspora, many Basques have reported that they speak Basque at home still today. Nonetheless, everywhere in the world where these people live, the Basque language faces the threat of cultural passivity and extinction, as dominant language assimiliation comes with increased pressures from globalization and mass media.

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