Basques - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Basques are Roman Catholics, with strong Jansenist overtones. On occasion, the church has assigned a Basque chaplain to minister to the Basques of the American West. In Old World Basque society there was a belief in witchcraft and supernatural dwellers in mountain caverns and forest fastnesses. There is little carryover of this tradition to the Basque-American context.

Religious Practitioners. With some exceptions, Basque-Americans are not particularly devout. The isolation of sheep camp and ranch life precluded regular church attendance. Basque-American demographics in which a small population is scattered over an enormous geographic expanse militated against the development of a Basque ethnic church. Conversely, few Basques have converted to other religions and a number of Basque-Americans attend parochial schools and Catholic universities.

Arts. There are several Basque folk-dance groups and txistu players in the American West. There are also a few bertsolariak, or versifiers, who spontaneously comment on any subject in sung verse. The literary spokesman of the Basque-American experience is Robert P. Laxalt, whose book, Sweet Promised Land, described his father's life as a sheepman in the American West and his return visit to his natal village. The Basque festival incorporates several Old and New World features including a mass, folk dancing, Social dancing, barbecue, athletic events (woodchopping, stone lifting, weight carrying, tugs-of-war) and possibly sheep hooking and sheepdog trials. In 1989, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder was dedicated in a public park in Reno, Nevada. It contains a seven-meter-high contemporary sculpture by the noted European Basque sculptor Nestor Bastarretxea.

Medicine. There is nothing distinctively Basque about their New World medical beliefs or practices.

Death and Afterlife. Standard Christian beliefs in heaven, purgatory, and hell obtain. Funerals are taken seriously and mobilize the widest range of kinship and friendship ties. Basque-Americans will travel hundreds of miles to attend the funeral of a family member, fellow villager, or former companion.

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