Basque-Indian of the 16th century
writes that the oldest pidgin language in North America between
Europeans and Indians was that which originated with the
exchanges of Basques and Native Americans in the 16th century of
"The oldest pidgin in eastern North America and one of the most
durable was born on the hard coasts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence
early in the sixteenth century when Basque fishermen and whalers
worked, traded, and ate with local Micmacs and Montagnais and
possibly visiting Inuits.
language is a simplified language that develops as a
means of communication between two or more groups that
do not have a language in common. It is most commonly
employed in situations such as trade, or where both
groups speak languages different from the language of
the country in which they reside (but where there is no
common language between the groups).
"Since their languages were' completely different," testified a
group of Basque fishermen in 1710, "they created a form of
lingua franca composed of Basque and two different languages of
the Indians, by means of which they could understand each other
quite well." When the codfishers greeted their Montagnais
helpers each year, they asked them in Basque "Nola zaude?" (How
are you?), to which the natives replied politely, "Apaizak
hobeto" (The priests are better)."
Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North
America. (Oxford, 2001): 57.
In the past thirty years
historians have come to realize that the shape and
temper of early America was determined as much by its
Indian natives as it was by its European colonizers.
No one has done more to discover and recount this story
than James Axtell, one of America's premier
ethnohistorians. Natives and Newcomers is
a collection of fifteen of his best and most influential
essays, available for the first time in one volume. In
accessible and often witty prose, Axtell describes the
major encounters between Indians and Europeans--first
contacts, communications, epidemics, trade and
gift-giving, social and sexual mingling, work, cultural
and religious conversions, military clashes--and probes
their short--and long-term consequences for both
cultures. The result is a book that shows how encounters
between Indians and Europeans ultimately led to the
birth of a distinctly American identity.
"The cod, of course, were called bacail/os or bakalaos even by
the local Micmacs, whose own name for them was apege. Four
hundred years later, two words of Basque origin are still used
by Micmac-speakers: atlai, "shirt" (from Basque atorra; modern
Micmac has no "r") and elege, "king" (from Basque errege)."
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
begins with the mysterious medieval source of the
codfish, in the fishing vessels of an equally mysterious
people, the Basque. Cod was sometimes caught
closer to the Continent, but never in such vast numbers
as the Basque supplied.
Catholicism gave the Basques their great opportunity.
The medieval church imposed fast days in which sex and
the eating of flesh were forbidden, but eating "cold
foods" was permitted... In total, meat was forbidden for
almost half the days of the year, and those lean days
became salt cod days...The Basques were getting richer
every Friday. But where was all this cod coming from?
The Basques, who had never even said where they came
from, kept their secret.
To follow the Basque to their secret source of cod
became a goal of money-seeking adventurers. In 1475,
following the successful attempt by the Hanseatic League
to cut Bristol off from Icelandic cod, Thomas Croft went
into partnership with John Jay to find the island in the
Atlantic called Hy-Brasil, believed to be the source of
Basque cod. They found enough (although they never
revealed where) to leave them uninterested when the
Hanseatics tried to negotiate to reopen the Iceland
trade with Bristol in 1490. Interestingly, their cod
...arrived in Bristol dried, and drying cannot be done
on a ship deck.... a letter has recently been
discovered...sent to Christopher Columbus, a decade
after the Croft affair in Bristol... [The letter]
alleged that [Columbus] knew perfectly well they had
been to America already... Fishermen were keeping their
secrets, while explorers were telling the world.
Not to miss this point, Kurlansky cites two other
explorers who "claimed" shores in the New World for
various governments. John Cabot (nee Giovanni Caboto, of
Genoa), claimed "New Found Land" for Henry VII, and
reported as part of its wealth rocky coastlines suitable
for drying the cod that teamed in its waters. When
Jacques Cartier "discovered" the mouth of the St.
Lawrence and claimed the Gaspé Peninsula for France, he
found 1000 Basque fishing vessels already there.
But the Basques, wanting to keep a good secret, had never
claimed it for anyone.
Online review source:
When French colonists arrived in Acadia in 1604 and founded
Quebec four years later, the language of the coastal tribes,
noted one observer, with only small exaggeration, was "half
Basque" and had been for a long time.
Depending upon how they were treated, natives uttered such
Basque phrases as "Endia chave normandia" (The French know many
things) and "Maloes mercateria" (Those from Saint-Malo are
unfair traders). They even referred to their own moose as
orignac (Basque for "deer"), their shamans as pilotoua (pilots),
and their celebratory feasts as tabaquia (shelter, indicating
the place where they were held). Although in the 1540s the
Indians of the St. Lawrence Gulf palavered with foreign
fishermen in "any language," French, English, Gascon, or Basque,
by the seventeenth century, a French lawyer said, they traded
with the French only in Basque.
Map of the Gulf of St. Lawrence
in eastern Canada. Note the "Port aux Basques"