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buber.net > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: A Book of the Basques by Rodney Gallop
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Book Review: A Book of the Basques by Rodney Gallop

by Blas Pedro Uberuaga

June 28, 2003

Read: November to December, 2001.

This book is a classic in the field of Basque studies, mostly because, it seems to me, it covers a lot of ground and tries to approach things from a scholarly point of view. Many aspects of Basque culture that don't get a lot of attention in English are covered to a substantial degree. Gallop discusses bertsolariak, pastorales, the architecture of caserios, and many other relatively marginalized topics. His discussion includes things like meter, historical influences and many other aspects of these subjects. He is definitely coming from a French Basque perspective, as many of his examples of bertsos are from French poets, and much of his discussion of pilotaris is focused on French players.

This is the first of two major impressions one gets from reading his book. He seems to have left out half of the Basque Country. He doesn't seem to know the Spanish side very well. It is true that, by his time, the French side was likely viewed as the last bastion of true Basque Culture, untainted by capitalism and industrialization. But, it was also true that the Spanish side had a much higher population and that most of the interior villages were 100% Basque (as they are today). His neglection of the Spanish side leaves the book incomplete, at least for people whose Basque connection is to the Spanish side.

The other major theme that really stands out is his description of most aspects of Basque culture as being borrowed from other cultures. There isn't anything but the language that is indigenous to the Basque people. In and of itself, this isn't too surprising, as the bulk of most cultures is made up of pieces taken from their neighbors. But Gallop contends that everything that is considered Basque today was borrowed from the Spanish, the French or the Celts, that nothing is their own in that sense. The lauburu, the architecture, the traditional songs are all borrowed from other groups of people. He doesn't seem to consider that the opposite may have happened, at least in some cases. This really jumped out at me, maybe too much in the sense that I was more sensitive to it than I should have been. Gallop views the Basques as sort of a living museum of ancient Europe, not as a unique culture in and of themselves. As a Basque, this is a little hard to take the first time, as it seems to downgrade a little bit the uniqueness of the Basques. I, in any case, took his perspective a little too personally. Even though his thesis may be the correct one, it was a little hard to see some of his points through feeling a little attacked.

In all fairness, his descriptions are very detailed and he does seem to have a great love for his subject matter. His scholarliness is uncertain. He comes across as very knowledgable on some of his subjects, but it isn't completely clear how much he really knows about others, especially since it seems that he personally does not know the Basque langauge, and he is trying to analyze songs and inscriptions. His long discussion of the origins of witchcraft in the Basque Country seem to be counter to some more modern knowledge on the subject, and really doesn't add much to the discussion in his book.

This book is the only place to get some discussion about some of these topics, at least in the English language, and for that alone it is well worth the read. However, a modern version of this book, updated with the current understanding of the Basques, would be most welcome.

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