NABO has celebrated an annual Convention. This year it was hosted
by the Big Horn Basque Club of Buffalo, Wyoming. For a weekend in
July a town of 4,000 inhabitants became the home of 5,000 festival-goers
who made this a festival to remember.
today counts nearly three dozen Basque organizations as members.
Most NABO member
organizations are Basque clubs or social organizations, while a few
are educational. Our
membership ranges from east to west (New York to San Francisco) and
north to south (Seattle to Chino). Some organizations are very
active while others might just have an event or two a year. Some
have larger memberships in the hundreds while some count members by the
dozen. For all this diversity, however, we all share the pursuit
of a common goal: the preservation of our Basque heritage here in
America. And that is what we all gathered to celebrate on the
slopes of the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming in the town of Buffalo.
For two days in July this town of about 4,000 inhabitants became the
home of 5,000 festival-goers who made this a Basque festival to
has been a home for Basques for a century.
many of our
stories, most Basques found their way there as sheepherders so it was
fitting that the Big Horn Basque Club choose to make this a Sheep wagon
Festival. The Saturday morning parade had three dozen sheep wagon
entries. Most all of the local Basque families had a connection to
the sheep business, and while hardly any are still directly involved
anymore, most have kept a sheep wagon in the family as a way to pay
tribute to their ancestors. The streets of Buffalo were
lined with thousands of spectators--the whole town seemed to be there
along with plenty of outsiders who heard about the Basque festival.
The parade came to an end at the city park, and that is where soon the
festival gathered three dozen sheep wagons for the Saturday
morning parade. While few Basques are still directly
involved in the sheep industry, many local families have kept a
wagon as a way to pay tribute to their ancestors.
In this photo,
a creative family did their impersonation of the Shriners in
their mini-racers darting around through different formations.
Instead they used self-propelled mini-wagons for the
choreographies through the streets of Buffalo.
this visitor, and a good many others that I spoke with, the town of
Buffalo has a special feel about it.
Maybe its the
altitude (4,645 feet), its location at the base of the Big Horn National
Forest, the wide-open spaces, the old-time downtown (image at left), the
small-town ambiance, or most likely, the people we meet there.
Everyone was so friendly, and everyone seemed to be into the festival
spirit. As you went through the town there where ikurrinas or
Basque flags everywhere. The club there might be small of
membership, but they sure did put on a great party! On Saturday
the city park was filled with thousands of people, and most of them
weren't Basque. The word is starting to get out--partying with the
Basques is a good time! And this is a plus. The
participation of non-Basques in our events not only helps us
financially, it also lends another crucial dynamic--validation that what
we're doing is worthwhile and that it's not just for a select few.
Others too are welcomed to take part and we love it.
Whereas most Basque
festivals are lucky to count one visiting Basque band, Buffalo gave us
two! We were treated to some great music with
Tapia eta Leturia and
their band, as well as the band Ketxo. Other entertainers included
the local "Zaherrer Segi" Basque dances, the visiting Utah-ko
Triskalariak dancers, and Wyoming's own bertsolari Martin Goikoetxea.
The local theater sponsored two showings of the "Last
Link" documentary that chronicles the story of sheep herding and
features local Basques. Both showings were filled, and copies of
the DVD ran out with orders being taken for a hundred more! Part
of the proceeds from this film go to NABO's education fund.
The kids loved it! With
"rocks, sticks & water" and some time behind bars--they lived
large in Wyoming!
It wasn't just all
play as NABO delegates did find some time to get some work done.
We assembled Friday morning for one of our tri-annual NABO meetings.
A special treat was the lunch which featured talks by two long-time
Buffalo Basques who told us the story of Basques in Buffalo. We
hammered out some new procedural rules to hopefully make our meetings
more efficient, delegates shared the latest from their clubs, and work
began on preparing for our upcoming
Biltzarra (previous Astero) or Basque Forum in October. We're
trying to take a serious look ahead to develop a strategy to keep our
young Basques involved. Mary Gaztambide was once again elected as
President, and all of the
and chairpersons remain the same for another year.
Whereas most Basque festivals
are fortunate to have one visiting Basque band, Buffalo counted
with two! We were treated to the music of "Tapia eta
Leturia" (pictured) and "Ketxo".
I wish we could have
stayed, because it sounded like Monday's mountain tour was a special
treat. Fifty five people took part in this fishing expedition into
the Big Horns. The morning's catch was then served up at a
mountain cabin along with barbecued lamb and other potluck offerings.
Lunch was followed by Mus and plenty of conversations. That's what
makes Basque festivals so much fun--good food, good entertainment and
good times. Catching up with old friends--or making new ones--is
what makes it a special time. We don't remember whole years, nor
whole months, nor weeks nor days. We remember the moments.
And the festival in Buffalo gave us plenty of those. If you went,
you know what I mean. If you missed it, you'll have another chance
next year. We're getting together in Winnemucca the first weekend
of June. So come ready for the good times!
Thanks to our friends
in Buffalo--you made us feel very welcomed and you gave us an
opportunity to create some special memories. Here's hoping we'll
be back there before too long, and that you'll be able to "Zaharrer Segi"
("Follow the old ways"). Mil esker (thanks)!
Following is an additional article brought to my attention by Kirstie
Auzqui that appeared in the Billings, Montana Gazette. It is
reproduced here in case it moves.
Story available at
Published on Tuesday, July 25, 2006; Last modified on 7/25/2006 at 1:38
Photo by Ruffin
chases sheep that were used Sunday during a sheep-hooking
contest and sheepdog demonstrations that were part of the Sheep
Wagon Festival in Buffalo, Wyo.
Basques celebrate culture at festival
BUFFALO, Wyo. - Anyone
worried about the survival of Basque culture would have that fear laid
to rest after spending time with the hundreds of Basques and their
descendants who gathered in Buffalo this past weekend to celebrate their
"I wouldn't say we were overrun, but we were overwhelmed," said Dollie
Iberlin, one of the Sheep Wagon Festival organizers who helped host the
annual gathering of the North American Basque Organization.
Photo by Ruffin
left, and Hayley White practice their dancing Sunday in
preparation for a fandango contest. Dancers in traditional
Basque outfits performed Saturday and Sunday at the Sheep Wagon
Festival in Buffalo, Wyo.
She wasn't sure how many
people attended, but in a town of about 4,300 people, the Bighorn Basque
Club had sold more than 10,000 food and drink tickets by noon Saturday,
"We ran out of lamb burgers and went through 800 pounds of sausage," she
said. People waited up to two hours Saturday for lukainka, a spicy
Basque pork sausage made with garlic and peppers.
Chad Jones visited the lukainka stand Sunday, hoping to chat with his
grandmother, Jeanine Eyhrabie Jones. But with dozens waiting in line for
her "secret" recipe, she was too busy to talk.
Jones and his wife, Kaila, had their young daughters, Kaisa and Joee,
decked out in red, green and white, the colors of the Basque flag.
"I want them to hang out with grandma and learn the Basque language and
culture," Jones said. "It's important to keep that link going with each
Photo by Ruffin
|While a large
crowd gathers in line, Pete Reno cooks lukainka, Basque sausages
made with pork, garlic and peppers. Lukainka and lamb were among
the traditional Basque foods offered Saturday and Sunday at the
Sheep Wagon Festival in Buffalo, Wyo.
Jones' comments echoed those
of others at the festival, a celebration of the centuries-old heritage
of the Basque people of Spain and France. Believed to be the longest
continuous inhabitants of a single region of Europe, they share a strong
cultural and ethnic identity.
"We want to keep it going," said Rhonda Spivey, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
"We're a close community, and everything about it is really fun. The
kids are involved in everything, too, which is what passes it down to
During a weekend when nearly everyone seemed to be an honorary Basque,
or at least behaved like one, the appeal of the culture was obvious.
Music, dancing, food and drink were omnipresent.
Children learn traditional dances at an early age, said Ianire Rivera, a
16-year-old Basque exchange student spending a month in Utah with Spivey
and her family.
"The music here today is very similar to what it is like at home," she
said in Spanish. Rivera, from the coastal Basque province of Gipuzcoa,
speaks Basque and Spanish, but little English. "It's good to see this
Events at the festival included a parade with three dozen sheep wagons,
dance contests, sheepdog and sheep-hooking demonstrations and
traditional displays of strength, including a tug-of-war and a
of Colorado, performs an irrintzi Sunday during the Sheep Wagon
Festival in Buffalo, Wyo. The irrintzi is a war cry believed to
have developed among Basque women during the Spanish Civil War.
Photo by Ruffin
But the most singularly
Basque display was the irrintzi contest. Part yodel, part holler and
part improvised squeal, the irrintzi is a ululating screech ending in a
kind of shrieking laugh.
Like the yodel, the irrintzi was a means of calling out across the
mountains. But some say it was later adopted as a kind of war cry by
Basque women in the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War.
As important as the events and activities are, the festival represents
for Basques an affirmation of a way of life centered on family and a
strong sense of place.
"I didn't speak English until the fifth or sixth grade," said Simon
Iberlin, husband of Dollie.
Born in Wyoming to Basque parents, Simon first learned the Basque
language, which he said is unique among European tongues.
"With him, I sometimes think it's Basque first, American second," Dollie
Martha Arambel Judice, of Great Falls, Mont., didn't learn the Basque
language as a child but plans to study it with friends in her Basque
"My parents used it as a language we couldn't understand," she said.
"But now my mom is really sad she didn't teach it to us."
At a time when the world is becoming more homogenous and unique cultures
struggle to survive, Judice said she's optimistic the Basque ways will
"There's a lot of interest in it, and lots of young kids picking things
up," she said. "We're very proud of our heritage. I think it's going to
Contact Ruffin Prevost at
email@example.com or (307) 527-7250.