Zuberoako Pastorala: Joxe Mendiague

BordaxarThe author of the 2012 pastoral was Jean Bordaxar.  Born in the Zuberoa town of Arrokiaga in 1959 (it was in this town that the performers came forward for this Pastoral).  He remains very active in the folk world of Zuberoa, having written several pastoral (previously Agirre presidenta, 1995 and Telesfora Monzon, 2011) and he released two CDs:  Adiskideer, 1999 and Aitzina, 2003).  He has also traveled to the United States on several occasions to perform at Basque festivals.

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The 2012 version of the Zuberoa Pastoral (it rotates from town to town in Zuberoa, covering a different subject each year) focused on Jose Mendiague from Aldude, a very important personality in the South American Basque Diaspora, but who was for many almost an unknown until 1992, when academic Piarres Xarriton gathered and published his complete work.  Mendiague left for America at age 18 and lived in Argentina, Chile, and most of all in Uruguay.  He wrote in Basque and some of his works have been published in magazines such as Euskal Erria and in Haitza from Montevideo, as well as in Eskualduna and Eskualdun Ona in Bayonne among others. His influence in the diffusion of the Basque culture and revitalizing the connection between the Basque community and Euskal Herria made him a very relevant personality in the “Eight Province,” despite his remaining an unknown to many.  He composed many songs, including "Kantuz sortu naiz eta." 

Pastorala: Ancient Basque Theater of Zuberoa

[1930's excerpt from Rodney Gallop's A Book of the Basques]

The Pastorales are traditional outdoor plays that have been unique to Xiberua (Soule) for the past 3 to 4 centuries.  There has been much speculation over the origin of the Pastorales, although little is known of their history.  The first performance for which there is a record is that of "Saint-Jacques" at Atarratze (Tardets) in 1634. There is nothing to suggest that the Pastorales have been performed in any of the other Basque provinces.  There are approximately sixty-seven surviving plays that are centuries old.  They are divided into seven different groups with regards to their subject matter:  those taken from the Old Testament, the New Testament and early Church history, the lives of the Saints, plays from classical antiquity, comedies, romances of chivalry, and French history. One such example of these performances is "Francois I," first performed in 1901.

The theater for the performances is quite simple.  It is placed in the center of a handball court.  The backdrop is only a few white sheets with openings through which the actors pass.  A small square hole is cut in the center so that the "pastoralier" (stage-manager, prompter and author) can peek through.  The left of the stage is for the good "Christians" in the play, while the right is for the "Turks" where the black puppet (the "idole" or "Mahoma") with pointed horns is poised.

The Pastorale begins with a procession or "passe-rues" in which the whole company Standard-Bearer, "Christians," "Turks" and "Satans" ride around town before arriving at the theater.  Then, the Standard-Bearer invades the stage while waving his flag, followed by two "Christian Warriors" at which time there is a recital of the "Lehen Pheredikia" or Prologue in verses of four short lines to the sound of a Gregorian Chant.  The actors movements resemble liturgical drama of the Middle Ages, preserved intact into the twentieth century. 

Each scene is enacted with the same formal entrance and exit.  Each verse of the 1000 is recited in the same way, to the same tune; only the pitch of the voice varies, as each individual actor chooses his own.  There are no sets, no acting, no scenery, no historical accuracy in costumes and thus no attempt to convey the meaning of the dialogue, however the effect is extraordinary.  The chanting is melodic and rhythmic, yet monotonous because there are no expressions and gestures are kept to a minimum.

The actors are peasant boys, shepherds, farmers or village artrisans and often illiterate, with no acting experience.  And a village will perform a Pastoral only once in twenty years so they do not acquire acting experience. There is something strangely and unexpectedly impressive in their rigid stylization of the performance and the sincerity and gravity with which they play their parts.  The beauty lies also in "the clear manly voices ringing out from the theatre across the valley to the green hillside and distant farms, the homes of the pastoral players."

[SOURCE:  Rodney Gallop, A Book of the Basques (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1930, 1970).]



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