Ihauteria: The Basque Carnival

For a people that have kept their cultural traditions alive across centuries, it is no surprise that there are numerous carnival celebrations throughout the Basque Country.  Here is a general overview of these events.

LantzThe Winter Solstice on either the 21st or 22nd of December is the shortest day of the year (least sunlight) in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is in the midst of these short days that the Basques celebrate the Inauteria (Ihauteria) or carnival.  An aspect of this season remains inextricably bound to meat in the Basque country.  It is during this season that the Basque baserritarrak (farmers) butcher their pigs in order to make lukainkak (chorizo or sausage), odolkiak (morcillas or blood sausage); xolomoa (pork steaks), and those perennial delicacies of pig's feet and ears! 

The connection with this meat ritual is most apparent when we look at the root of the term carnival or carne (meat).  But unlike most other European carnival celebration, it does not seem that the Basque version originated with the "carne" as the central element.

The Basque term for carnival is inauteria or ihauteria which informs us a clue as to the original Basque perception of this season.  Gorka Aulestia's Basque-English Dictionary defines the root inau in relation to pruning.  Jose Dueso argues that the root of the term goes deeper than defining just an agricultural process.  He translates inaute as sickness, vice or negativity.  Similarly,  Juan Antonio Urbeltz also writes about the significance of words with Inauteri and Aratuste, both meaning "the time of pruning" that references the tasks carried out in the month of February before the arrival of Spring.  But why the pruning?  Urbeltz points out it was done to at least try and minimize the arrival of damaging insects that would emerge. These activities, which possibly date from the Neolithic period, clean the trees and fields of insect larvae which are dormant but will soon come to life. Thus during the carnival season, there are still no insects but only larval that are left on branches to emerge in the springtime. Prune back the branches and you are able to remove much of the larvae that was left behind.

Urbeltz's theory of the Basque carnival's origins explores the correlation between the Basque words  for "disguise" and "insect."  He notes that the  Basque words for "disguise," zomorro, mozorrokokoorromumua, etc., also mean "insect."  He infers that the original origins of the costumes was to  "insectisize" people; i.e., people "became" insects.  This is consistent in a world of magic which characterized earlier worldviews.  A parallel is the Native American "Buffalo Dance" were the person/performer "becomes" the buffalo.  Urbeltz argues that "the disguises replace the spring insects which must be warded off.  The exorcising of the insects," Urbeltza notes, "is seen when disguised callers go from house to house and are given offerings of money, wine or bacon. This means that the insects have received their payment, and will not be able to come begging a second time." 

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