Tradition and Syncretism


The Basque government’s culture department has awarded a literary prize to Joseba Sarrionandia, Basque writer and poet whose whereabouts have remained unknown after he escaped from a San Sebastián prison over 25 years ago. The Euskadi Prize was awarded to Sarrionandia for a Basque-language work, “Moroak gara behelaino artean?”.
Sarrionandia escaped from the Martutene jail in 1985 by hiding himself in one of the loudspeakers of a singer who had given a concert in the prison. He was serving a 27-year sentence for being a member of ETA. The Basque government will retain the 18,000-euro payment that accompanies the Euskadi Prize.

Basque writer Sarrionandia has been awarded the prestigious Euskadi Prize. He escaped from prison in 1985 and had since lived in hiding
The present cultures are not trees rooted on the earth with their branches flying in the wind without moving from their place. Today, as never in history, the world is opened and we feel part not just of our mother land but also of the whole world, which in fact we could even call mother land. Universality did not conquer us by force, even though many new emperors, emulating Alexander the Great, tried to do so. And it did not conquer us because an universal language is spoken, considering that despite the English the world continues to be a Babel. Economic expansion and technological progress have more to do with universalisation and they concern everybody in unequal ways with their certainly cosmopolitan avidity. In any case the development of the means of communication has been impressive in the last decades, the geographical contacts have multiplied and the cultural attitudes have adopted universal models.
There are now two types of universal languages: that of the images and that of music. The more universal language of the present times is the iconographic, that is to say the images one. Photographs, television and other media offer us an immediate and reach know- ledge. As much as images spread and become popular in the world, all of the citizens of the world are aware of the fact that they are all part of the same film. The language of images is so much universal that it is able to unravelled the Babel tower tangle. But there is another universal language, that of music. Classical as well as rock music are universal language, which crossed all latitudes of the planet. They don’t offer knowledge but identification, so that we can figure out that in our Babel tower images give us the cognitive mediation and the music gives us the affective mediation.

There has been no linguistic uniformity. No language has totally dominated the others and, despite the new words which integrate in the lexicon are common, today a language maintain its roots. And also thank to this cultures and peoples as such survive. Speaking about us the homeland of the basques is Euskara, because homeland is not just language, but it is language and it is tradition that pushes us through the language. Euskara is our homeland, but an homeland which has been violated and taken away for generation, because the basques are born a subjected and humiliated people to which a different language and culture have been imposed on. And this oppression sustained by autoctonous vassallage has been so strong that still makes difficult for us a natural relation with our language and nationality, so that to express ourselves in Euskara, and not in an other language, is a choice and a political and cultural action. I believe that almost all of us basques dream of a natural, practical and innocent use of our language, we aspire to a country in which we won’t have to claim and riaffirm our nationality, but in which we can be basques without restrictions, almost inadvertently. Basques in the world, without abandonment nor seclusion. Without loosing roots and the loyalty to the heritage, what could be called sense of the earth, but opened to universality and to other traditions and other sensibilities, which represent a different sense of the earth. The world must form part of us, if we want to be part of the world. We can’t really say that greek-latin mythology, or the Middle Age religious theatre, or the american literature, or the quantistic phisic do not belong to us, they belong to us as much as we participate to universal culture. We are heirs, beyond our basque tradition of the universal tradition, our peculiar culture, for example, is bertsolari, but we enjoy Xalbador as much as the jazz improviser. If the bertsolari belongs exclusively to us, we take possession of jazz, it is not exclusively ours but this jazz comes from far away, from New Orleans and has a space between us. Nobody doubts that Axular is the legacy of the basque culture even though it presents in his book a theory as casual as the others. But William Shakespeare is ours too and so we have translations of Shakespeare in the vizacaino dialect of B. Larrakoetxea. The loyalty for and with our ancestors completes itself with the acknowledgement of the world.

One of the fundamental characteristic of the present culture is syncretism, that is the union of knowledge and traditions coming from different sources and heritage, the mixing of traditions. [..] Our roots in the language and in the basque culture are not there to close ourselves but on the contrary to open ourselves to other traditions. Our tradition is complementary to others, universality and syncretism are not only general features of our age but are things which allow us to know more, to create better and to be more united and freer.

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