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buber.net > Basque > Diaspora > The Arrival of Basques to Argentina
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The Arrival of Basques to Argentina

by Hilario Urionaguena

This document was sent to me by my "cousin", Martin Urionaguena. Eskerrik asko, Martin!

It was the decade of 1860, already on its way toward national organization, Argentina was growing in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and there was impetuous and incipient industries processing abundant and cheap products arriving from the country farms lately colonized, everywhere.

Established in "La Boca" and "Barracas", there were several salt companies where they prepared for their conservation, meat and leathers with salt coming from Cadiz (Spain); they worked there among other immigrated people, many Basques, not very charmed with those not very progressive works, when, suddenly, coming up from the "Riachuelo River", "San Telmo", "Monserrat", and until "Retiro", on the whole city swooped the horrendous drama of the "yellow fever"; the cause, the origin, was ignored and how it was transmitted. The poor people fell in the streets victims of convulsions, and they succumbed without any possible aid, abandoned for the terror of the frightened survivors.

When the salt companies went out of business, the Basques afraid of seeing falling their compatriots fulminated by the extended epidemic, and having heard in the taverns of the "Riachuelo River" people saying to the boatmen, that beyond San Fernando there was not pest and that going there to make firewood and taking that lands, it was a not so risky thing, so that they did.

So, a lot of firewood and white woods coal started to arrive to Buenos Aires from the first section of the Delta, also tasty and fresh fruits, but according to what they told, beyond the "Parana de las Palmas River" there was a unknown place with coasts closed by impenetrable forest, and that occasionally hunters that had penetrated it, told about a long river (about 8 leguas) that they called "Carabelas", and that in tide seasons it was covered of "camalotes" (strange floating vegetables), but that it had really big acres of virgin land ready to be cultivated, in its coasts immense heights, almost clean of trees, where nobody lived thereabouts.

Those stories, almost legends, sounded in the ears of the worried Basques as exciting music; tight for the epidemic and the penury, they, that had left the old Euzkadi behind in search of the America, changing the green Cantabrian valleys for this hard new land, and hounded by so much impotence, felt something depressed, but with their unbroken and virile temper decided to leave Buenos Aires in search of "that Carabelas, with its high and new land that they say"; there, could be the America that God was reserving for them.

And so, they took the few belonging, and with almost no money, a couple of cows, and full of hope, those 20 or 30 Basques, arrived to San Fernando, the "main gate" to that land ; once there, they bought the few foods that the stores sold them for the few "patacones" (the currency in those days), some canoes and..."go ahead !". They went down the "Capitan river" in the canoes, crossing the wide and strong rivers by towline that was the common way of sailing the Parana pulling of the rope from the coast.

Once there, in the beginning of the Carabelas River, confirming references, they found one man already established that told them that well inside of the river there was extensive highlands, this, sounded to them like an invitation to cultivate them, something unusual for local residents. Raked the spirits in order to finally find in America land to be cultivated, the patriarchal occupation of their native Europe , these almost conquering Basques continued ahead, leaving behind the last sings of civilization in the turn of the "Remancito river".

After this point, by own choice, they no longer camped together again: always two at a time went disembarking, leaving 2 or 3 Kms. of distance between one couple from another, they agree that the last two would return with the canoe in ten days, and then they^d decide to continue, stay there or come back.

The meeting was full of emotion; all of them celebrated the gift from America, with the humid black earth in their fists, with the whole horizon just for them and their illusion.

They were returning to the agriculture-based life, and to that peaceful and free shepherd^s way of life, they were no longer living compelled and snub in the cosmopolitan and complicated city. Here they met God again, in their generous creation the decision was unanimous: " This is our home , we stay here !" and they cut firewood immediately, made coal and shipped it to San Fernando City and in the way back the canoes came with oxen, plows, seeds, hens, dogs, etc.; they sowed wheat, beans, and they planted the first "Carolinos" poplar trees..

Years were getting better and better, and then more and more compatriots arrived, and the ships from Buenos Aires freighted the wheat and bought chips of firewood and everything was traded on board.

And one day, in a turn of the river then called "of the old school", one Basque (my father) began to sell and buy fruits, serving coffee, home-made cakes, and offering rooms, so that one was the first tavern; there on Sundays, the traditional "Aizkolaris" faced each other cutting logs with their best axes, the same they used to cut firewood, as an sporting competition, , or they bet for who could lift more weight with big stones.

A few months after, the first single Basque girl (my mother) arrived, and then, others, and the romance was born, and with that, the family, and with the family, many children: 10, 12 or 15; later, each of them found their girlfriends and those highlands were witness of the end of that ancestral silence, the laughs and games of Argentinean children, were a sublime retribution from that noble people to the prodigality of this land.

It was necessary to build new houses, they made their home-made bricks, cut the poplar trees for wood, they brought tiles and with their better craft left us these worshiped large houses that even last.

They didn't fear of the river that sometimes took and destroyed almost everything with its tides; neither of the tigers that ate so many hens, dogs and even destroyed mattresses; then, the Italian boatmen from Buenos Aires pursued and extinguished those feared and beautiful exponents of an already historical fauna.

After this point, the chronicle would lose the sense of evocation, but I^d like to add that I^m very proud to live in these days in this land full of memories and stories. It was here where they built the base of many great forest local industries and companies; those pioneers didn't stay only in order to make firewood and coal; right away planted and produced all kind of forest products, everything, they could wait from their own planted trees.

And there, in those same places, through several generations, we find the Basque People of the Carabelas River and their plantations as authentic pioneers of the most modern and efficient forestry industries of Argentina.

I^ll never get tired of telling these stories and many others, to whom may want to know, because, I^m very proud of having this red, green and white blood in my veins.

Thank you.

Hilario Urionaguena

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Eskerrik asko!