Tuesday, April 15, 2008 • Annual dinner celebrates Basque culture

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, April 15, 2008, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Nearly 100 of Susanville’s descendants from the Basque region in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain spent an evening last week enjoying their ancient culture.

The Susanville Eskualdunak Basque Club’s Eighth Annual Stew Feed held at the Monticola Club on Saturday, April 5 featured a traditional Basque dinner and 14 dancers from the Mendi Danzarriak, or Mountain Dancers, performed several traditional Basque dances.

Following the performance on Saturday, April 5, the Mendi Danzarriak, or Mountain Dancers, posed for a team picture. Pictured are Madie Camacho, front row left, Erinn Zubillaga, Madee Cluck, Autry Satica, middle row, Nathan Neely, Kimberly Neely, Miren Zubillaga, Mica Zubillaga, Jolene Weir, John Cluck, and, back row, Angelique Neely.

Club spokesperson Michelle Zubillaga said the local club has been around for about 30 years — since the 1970s — and its membership is made up of Basque descendants and their families.

The club hopes to preserve the traditions and culture of the Basque people and pass those traditions down to the next generation.

The evening began with a traditional dinner prepared by Angie Goni. The dinner featured a green salad, garbanzo beans with chorizo, a slice of Monterey Dry Jack, bread and butter and of course, lamb stew.

Maddee Cluck, left, Erinn Zubillaga, Jolene Weir and Madie Camacho dance the Matelota. The baskets the girls are holding with fish in them represent the Basque fishing industry and the people’s love of the sea.

Zubillaga said except for the cheese — the club couldn’t get any real Basque cheese this year — the dinner was very authentic. But she said the hard, dry cheese they served was very close to the traditional cheese enjoyed by the Basque people.

For many years, the Basque club held a potluck and the Annual Basque Picnic, but now the Stew Feed has replaced those events as a fundraiser for the Mountain Dancers.

“We never had a dance group when I was young,” Zubillaga said. “I learned to dance at home from my parents.”

She said about 10 years ago her sister, Jeanette Goni, started teaching traditional dances.

Dominica Zubillaga, Miren Zubillaga and Kimberly Neely dance a traditional Fandango and Arin Arin.

The money raised will be used to send the dancers, all between the ages of 3 and 18, to a two-week summer camp called Udaleku. The camp focuses on Basque culture and includes a variety of activities to teach the campers about Basque music, Basque sports, Basque cooking and the Basque language.

“I’ve been to the camp to help a couple of years, and it’s just wonderful,” Zubillaga said. “It’s really fun. I wished they would have had it when I was a kid.”

Dressed in traditional costumes, the dance group performed several folk dances to Basque music — much to the delight of the audience.

Dancers from the Susanville Eskualdunak Basque Club’s Mendi Danzarriak, or Mountain Dancers, perform a Polka during the club’s eighth annual Stew Feed held at the Monticola Club on Saturday, April 5. John Cluck and Erinn Zubillaga dance on the left and Nathan Neely and Maddee Cluck dance on the right while Jeanette Goni, the dance instructor, looks on.

Zubillaga said the dance group would be happy to perform for any community organization that was in need of a program.

The Basque people are the subject of mystery. For example, no one is sure exactly where they came from. Anthropologists estimate they may have lived in the mountains between Spain and France for as long as 75,000 years. They have their own unique language, and scientists have been unable to discover its source.

“They don’t know where the language came from,” Zubillaga said, “even after all these years.”

Some sources even claim these questions are easily answered because the Basque people are really the descendants of the survivors of the disaster that destroyed Atlantis.

Zubillaga said she isn’t sure exactly when the Basque people arrived in the Honey Lake Valley, but sheepherders are depicted on the mural on the Doyle Motors building.

Many Basques took advantage of their sheepherding skills during the days of the Gold Rush, raising meat for the gold miners to eat.

“When the Basque people first came here, they were herding sheep,” Zubillaga said. “Later a lot of them went to work at the mill when it was Fruit Growers, before Sierra Pacific took over. A lot of them stayed at the mill through all the changes. The Basque people assimilated well, but they still kept their traditions and language.”

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, the club will sponsor a Mus Tournament — a game often referred to as Basque poker. Zubillaga said each Basque club usually holds a Mus tournament.

The game, played by two teams of two partners, is actually four games in one — high card, low card, pairs and game — and the best draw in a four-card hand is one where the point value of the cards is 31. Players also place bids.

The Susanville tournament is expected to draw 15 or 16 teams. The winner progresses to the national tournament held in Chino this year. The winner of the national tournament advances to the international tournament in Barcelona, Spain.

Zubillaga said the competition is always fierce, as all the teams want to advance to the next level.