The stories behind Whalers, Witches and Gauchos
As a history and myth-lover, I have always been fascinated by the fact that the Basques were often involved in “obscure”, risky, or even violent activities such as whaling, witchcraft, or being a gaucho (I should add to the list privateers, smugglers, and kaskarots, who will probably appear in another book!).
Emigration is also inherent to Basque history. From Canada to Argentina, from the USA to Uruguay, the Basques have constantly moved to the other side of the world to take on thankless jobs and improve the lives of their family. All my Basque grandparents have a parent, (grand) uncle or (grand) aunt who emigrated to Argentina at some stage, or settled down there definitely.
There are certainly whalers, witches and gauchos in my pamphlet, but it expands on the theme of modern migration as well. I wanted to blend my ancestors’ experience with my own of being a foreigner in Britain, Ireland and Italy. Actually, the majority of my Basque poems were written abroad, and vice versa!
Many poems from the “Whalers” section are family-related, from my own father to his grandparents’ emigration to Argentina before returning to a continent at war.
I organised the “Witches” section to accommodate my interest in witchcraft, the history of the 1600s Basque witch-hunt, and my passion for languages. After all, what are hexes and spells if not a way of using language to make things come true? Pierre de Lancre found Basque women suspicious because they could speak two or three languages. I wanted to include some elements of Basque mythology with the figure of the Basajaun, and a few poems emerged from visits to the grottos of Zugarramurdi where local witches were supposed to meet for sabbaths.
Finally, the “Gaucho” subpart deals with various forms of violence, either physical (war) or psychological (bullying), with devastating effects in the short-term (dementia) or long-term (childhood trauma).
Whalers, Witches and Gauchos describes insidious forms of rejection, from emigration to persecution, being considered as an outcast by a group of people or being a foreigner who does not feel at home anywhere. I hope you’re going to enjoy reading these poems of belonging and not-belonging as much as I enjoyed writing them!