Cavalcade is a manifestation of Basque folklore in the province of Benafarroa. I say
Benafarroa because this event is most characteristic of this province, however, Luzaide
which lies in Nafarroa shares the same tradition. Due to geographical proximity, Luzaide
is culturally and linguistically more similar to Benafarroa. Luzaide is the only town in
Nafarroa that has consistently maintained the tradition of the Cavalcade, and is often
used as a point of reference when discussing this event that is characterized as belonging
The word Cavalcade is of French origin; it means procession. As in
other carnival processions from neighboring areas, there is a variety of characters who
participate. In this case the most important are the "bolantak". I will describe
them in detail a little later.
While the cavalcades of Izpura, Bidarrai, Baigorri, and Donibane Garazi
among others were all very important celebrations, after the ebb they experienced after
second World War, they have never fully recuperated their splendor. Since then they have
not always been celebrated consistently or fully with all their characters and traditional
Upon discussing the cavalcade and bolantak, it is imperative to mention
the name of Faustin Bentaberry (1865-1936) from Izpura. The traditions of Benafarroa have
lived on in great part due to his documentation of these dances and traditions. 80 to 90%
of the melodies and dances from Benafarroa that have been preserved are attributed to his
work. He is considered the greatest master ever of Jauziak and also played the violin and
clarinet to accompany the dancers. His nephew, also named Faustin Bentaberry , but from
Huart-Cize has also been instrumental in the preservation of these traditions.
Around the Epiphany (Jan. 6) the young people from a particular town
get together to assign the roles that will be carried out during the cavalcade. In the
past, the cavalcade was held on the Sunday of Mardi Gras, but has been moved to Easter
Sunday (Bazko-zahar). This day has also become known as Bolant Eguna. At one time it was
held on both of the mentioned dates.
Although this event now takes place after carnival, it is still
considered a manifestation of Ihauteria (Basque carnival or Mardigras). It differs from
other ihauteriak in at least two aspects: 1) the absence of masks or disguises, and 2)
instead of the chaos and informality prevailing, this event takes the form of structured
The order of the procession is as follows:
Courtesy of Jean Escoz
These characters ride on horses. They collect food and other donations.
They wear red military jackets and carry riding whips. They are in charge of crowd
control. The number of zaldizkoak varies.
This character is dressed similar to a drum major and twirls a baton
while dancing to a special melody.
The number of these characters varies. The presence of zapurrak is an
influence of the French army. They wear tall hats covered with black wool with mirrors on
the front, leather aprons, and carry wooden axes over their shoulders. According to Juan
Antonio Urbeltz, the origin of this character is the "basa jauna" of Basque
These giants are both female and are usually frail blonds. Their
clothing has changed over the years from elaborate "belle epoque" dresses to
white dresses with a red band and a red txapela. The are around two to three meters tall
and are lightweight.
There are usually two young men who carry the flags (ikurrina and
These are the treasurers of the procession. They carry bags in which
they collect money. They are in charge of paying the musicians and making sure they are
attended to. They carry wooden swords. They serve more or less the same function as the
Besta Gorri in Lapurdi.
The girls who later dance the contradances and Madari dantza with the
bolantak are a recent addition to the procession. They are not present in some places.
in white. They wear starched white shirts with gold chains and buttons adorning the shirtfront.
Multicolored ribbons stream down their backs from the shoulder to the back of the knee.
They wear a silk scarf around the back of their necks of which the ends are tucked into
the front of the pants like suspenders. They wear white gloves and carry a short stick
wrapped in ribbons. Their pants are decorated with ribbons and bells or kuxkulak, as are
their shoes which may also be embroidered. The headdress of the bolantak has undergone
changes over the years. Juan Antonio Urbeltz states that until 1922 they wore kaskak
(Urbeltz 1978:211). Kaskak styles varied from place to place. Some were nearly two feet
tall and had ribbons attached to the back, in some cases substituting the ones on the
dancer's back, in others in addition to the other ribbons. These kaskak also had a mirror
on the front and were decorated with artificial flowers and feathers. In other places the kaskak
were round like a crown and topped with flowers. This type of kaska was often made of
cardboard and decorated with metallic trim. They were most often confectioned by the
dancer's sister or girlfriend. These two types of kaskak I have just described are
becoming less and less frequently seen. Once in a while they show up again when someone in
the town is willing to make them. The most common headdress now, however, is a red txapela
decorated with gold trim, and with pompons hanging down to one side or the other. The
other more characteristic types are fading from the collective memory of the Basque
The bolantak form two lines and their number varies. In the case of an
odd number, the one who is left without a partner dances between the last two at the end.
Bolantak were traditionally young unmarried men.
The musicians occupy the last position of the procession. For seventy
years or so there have been about seven different instruments collectively known as fanfarre.
In addition to these characters, there are several more who have more
or less disappeared over the years. They are:
These were boys dressed as women. In some versions they were wild women
dressed raggedly and in others they dressed more elegantly. In both versions, however
their faces were covered with some sort of veil. They occupied the spot that the nexkatoak
A bertsolari who accompanied the musicians. He improvised verses from
time to time between dances often using the antics of the participants as inspiration.
KABALIER ETA KABALIERSA:
These two young men are similar to the jaun anderea of Lapurdi and
Zuberoa; the lord and the lady with the exception that these rode horses. These characters
would be at the head of the procession.
These were raggedy characters similar to the beltzak of
Zuberoako maskarada. They dance and jump around chaotically.
|Among these characters we find the "axe eta tupiña". One of
these characters represents a fox and wears a tail. They are both raggedly dressed and
covered with hawthorn branches. At the end of the festivities the audience is invited to
attack these characters and try to steal the fox's tail. This may be a version of the
typical sacrifice made during other ihauteriak, such as the burning of the giant Miel
Otxin in Lantz. The exception here is that these two figures are equipped with whips and
Many dances that we see in the cavalcade are the same ones
traditionally done on a Sunday afternoon in the plaza. The order of the dances performed
within the cavalcade are as follows:
This consists of two parts. One is danced the other consists of
marching. We refer to this as Baxenafarroako Martxa. This is used to go from place to
place in the town.
According to Sagaseta this is danced to a slower rhythm and in a
dignified manner. This dance is done to "take the plaza" and to get into
There are varying melodies and choreographies. This is considered as a
kind of "coda" to Bolant Dantza. Sagaseta remarks that this is danced to a much
more vigorous rhythm and unlike Bolant dantza, the dancers all start on the same foot.
This genre of dance is also known as muxikoak in other places. There
are many different melodies and choreographies. Zenbat Gara currently does
"Ostalerrak". In 1977 in his Bailes de Valcarlos, Sagaseta states that,
Traditionally jauzis like the bolant dantzak are only danced by men
andwomen have never been permitted to dance them in public, although the truth is that
more than a few of them know them as well as the men. (35, my translation)
These dances are performed in a circle, always beginning in a
counter-clockwise fashion with the outside foot. Sagaseta states,
The dancer maintains a dignified and serious appearance with controlled
inner joy. His greatest effort and satisfaction lie in executing each step with perfection
and great enthusiasm (35, my translation).
He also notes that over the years these dances have come to be
performed faster and faster and have lost some of their dignity. He attributes the faster
pace to the poorer skills of the dancers, restating the known fact, that the less skill a
dancer has, the faster he prefers to dance in order to blur the steps. Shorter jauziak are
referred to as SEGIDAK and are often added as a coda to a longer one.
This is where the makilari dances by himself twirling and tossing his
baton. The melody can vary.
this dance is referred to as "Madari dantza" (Pear dance). Women have
traditionally participated in this dance along with men. This is a manifestation of
community unity. Each participant is linked to the next with a handkerchief. The men
occupying the first and last positions of the chain carry a "pear tree", tree
branch or other agricultural symbol representing fertility. The turns executed by the
first and last dancer have been interpreted by Juan Antonio Urbeltz as a metaphor in which
members of the community as pearls on a string are held together by these knots formed by
These are borrowed social dances that
were adopted in other areas of Europe as well. In Luzaide and Benafarroa, however, they
have acquired their own personality. According to Sagaseta, the young people had at one
point lost interest in these kontra-iantzak or polkak. They considered them old people
dances and they were only done at an occasional wedding by older people. In 1967, however,
a group of these young people decided to resurrect this part of the festivities. Since
then they have been reintegrated.
These dances were traditionally only danced at the public dance held
after the cavalcade, but now are often incorporated as a performance dance. They are
usually performed by dancers other than the bolantak, since these dances have no ritual
significance, however, upon the addition of the nexkatoak, they are now sometimes
performed by bolantak.
These are dantza jokuak or game dances. The are not performed as part
of the cavalcade, but do form part of the folk dance of Benafarroa. They are usually
danced in taverns and gathering places for entertainment. These dances also alleviate the
monotony of communal tasks such as corn-husking usually done on winter evenings.
(Argi-iantza, aulki-iantza, etc.)
As I mentioned above, this procession takes place on Bazko-Zahar. There
are two other important events in Benafarroa that share some of the same elements. One is
Corpus Christi, the other the Tobera-Mustra. I would like to examine the latter in brief
detail. The tobera-mustra can be held at any time there is a need for the public
humiliation of a wrong-doer. Now these are seldom held except for the sake of maintaining
the tradition. When a citizen of a given town committed a morally questionable act, the
townspeople would stage a mock trial to condemn him or her. A stage was set up in the town
square and actors would take on the role of that person and disguise themselves
accordingly. The "crimes" of these people included the marriage of an old man to
a girl far younger, a widow who remarried too soon, and husband beating. The perpetrators
of these offenses usually stayed locked up in their houses in shame as the trial took
place. A procession of a judge, bailiff, bolantak, gorriak, and others entered the plaza.
The judge would announce the offense, and the trial would begin. At a certain point, the
judge would announce that he needed a messenger to go for more evidence. This was a
pretext that allowed the bolantak to enter the stage and dance to entertain the crowd. At
the end, the defendant was condemned and often was made to ride a donkey in shame. The
characters and the procession are very similar to that of a cavalcade. The Tobera mustra,
however, is not held on Bazko-zahar or Bolant Eguna. It is a separate event held only when
Now that we have examined the details of the cavalcade and its
participants, we must somehow interpret this phenomenon. First, many similarities to other
carnival processions are evident. The bolantak bear a striking resemblance to the
kaskarotak of Lapurdi. Their dress is very similar and the flowers that dominate suggest a
link to ancient spring rituals. They both have also been compared to the English Morris
dancers who perform spring rituals. In addition, they share a common formation; two lines
and many of the dances are similar. The gorriak of Benafarroa are almost a mirror image of
the Besta Gorri of Lapurdi. Certain elements of the cavalcade also appear in the maskarada
of Zuberoa, specifically, the presence of the "maskak" who are the counterparts
of the "beltzak". The presence of "axe eta tupiña" remind us of
sacrificial characters like Miel Otxin of Lanz, who must lose his life so that winter may
end. These comparisons lead us to the conclusion that the cavalcade is essentially a
spring ritual. We are almost certainly correct in this. However, there is another element
that does not fit neatly into this category; that is the military element. Many of the
characters wear military uniforms. They also arrange themselves in a militaristic
hierarchy in the procession. The zapurrak wear headdresses and uniforms common to some
members of the French army. While Basque communities did not have formal armies, they were
organized into militias for centuries. A certain military element could have, therefore
coexisted with an ancient spring ritual. As history passed, elements of the French army
may have crept into the Basque tradition. If indeed Urbeltz is correct in his
interpretation of the Zapurra as Basa Jauna, at some point these traditions melded
together. What began as a spring ritual was embellished and structured by a military
influence of a later origin.
While archeology looks at the different levels of remains of a people
layer by layer, it is impossible for us to examine our folklore in the same manner.
Instead of isolated layers of culture being superimposed on one another, some elements of
folklore filter down from ancient times to the present, often bringing with them diverse
elements from other historical moments that have stuck to them on the way to the present.
The cavalcade of Benafarroa is an excellent illustration of this process. While observing
this event taking place in the present, we are actually experiencing elements that have
accumulated over the centuries of our collective past.
Addendum August 2000:
Buffalo, Wyoming residents Simon Harriet (originally from Arnegi)
and Jean Escoz, Sr. (originally from Luzaide) both participated in the cavalcade in
Euskalherria as bolantak. They told me in August of 2000 that the ribbons worn on the
bolantas back are called "xingolak." They also confirmed something that
Ane Albisu of Argia had told us in 1991; that is that the bolantak used to borrow brooches
and possibly other jewelry from women to decorate the "pecheras" on the front of
their shirts. Jean referred to part of this jewelry as "brazaletak." Jean also
added that they borrowed the scarves, as well. Simon said the bolantak danced a couple
times a year. Jean said that one of the dates was Andre Mari on August 15, and the other
was at the beginning of January.
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Barandiaran, Jose M. Mitología vasca. San Sebastián: Txertoa,
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Madrid: Taurus, 1965. 187-199.
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Nevada Press, 1970. 190-194.
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Copyright © 1995 Lisa M.Corcostegui