November 9, 2011


Forgotten traditions: the collection of the dead and the ericeras (a kind of hermitage)

D. Gabriel Imbuluzqueta.
Journalist and ethnologist

Traditions are created by the people, who are also the ones who, when the time comes, forget or abandon them. In this sense, many changes have taken place in the popular culture of death and its celebration. In the lecture a brief review of the modifications registered in the last decades was made, contributing the informative scoop of a sample of mourning linked to the house, that of covering with a black cloth the family shield of the facade, tradition disappeared in fact in the middle of the last century and that has resurfaced - it will be necessary to see if it is a merely anecdotic fact - in the coat of arms of a family of Elbete.

The first part of the lecture focused, however, on a children's tradition whose disappearance -although it is still maintained in some places, such as Elizondo, in a very shaky way and without the original meaning it had- is directly or indirectly linked to the changes derived from the Second Vatican Council in the 60's of the 20th century. It is the collection that the children made at the doors of the churches in the afternoon of All Saints' Day (after the Rosary) and on the mornings of All Souls' Day (after the three consecutive Masses celebrated by each priest). Coinciding with the prolonged recitation of responsos in the temple and taking advantage of the fact that adults -mainly women- used to make "stations" to gain plenary indulgences applicable to the souls in Purgatory, the children assaulted them to ask them, by means of different formulas in each town, for some coins committing themselves in exchange, explicitly or implicitly, to pray for the souls of their deceased. From agreement with the old collected letrillas, coins in disuse such as "mai" (a quarter of a cent), "maravedí" and "sos" were demanded. As for the commitment to prayer (in a way, a child's response in imitation of the one prayed by the priest), it is found in several of the formulas used, such as "Aita gure" (Our Father), "mattuttine" (matins) or "shalmo" (psalm), as well as specific references to the beginning in Latin of two psalms: "Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me" (psalm 6) and "De profundis clamavi ad Te, Domine" (psalm 129).

The second part of the exhibition dealt with a totally different and unrelated topic : the ericeras, open-air enclosures traditionally used for the storage and preservation of chestnuts, which disappeared definitively in the fifties of the 20th century. The word ericera derives from the hedgehog or spiky sheath in which the fruit of the chestnut tree grows. The same model of storing and conserving chestnuts exists in the Cantabrian coast, although it is interrupted in Guipúzcoa, where no specimen has been located. There is evidence of its existence (current or past) in Navarre in Baztan Malerreka, Bortziri or Cinco Villas and Basaburua.

The ericeras that have come down to us, some in a very good state of conservation and others practically in ruins, are built of dry stone, with round or oval shape in most cases. Sometimes they were built with wooden hedges and branches; these specimens have disappeared for logical reasons as they were located in the mountain, in the open air and subjected to all kinds of weather conditions subject . In these small spaces (they can be calculated as average about three to five meters in diameter and between one and a half meters in height) the chestnuts were stored with their spiked wrappings -erizos- after the trees had been cleared. Once filled, the ericera was covered with ferns, grass sods, hawthorns, branches, small trunks, etc., to prevent pigs, wild boars, cows or other animals from having access to the fruits. These were kept in very good condition for consumption until late spring or until Easter.

The ericeras are popularly known (in the farmhouses) with different names, always in language Basque, such as "gaztandei", "gaztaindegi" (in both cases, "chestnut place"), "gaztantxea" (chestnut house") and others like "silo", "zilu", "nest", "ezpile" or "iskindie".

Shield covered with a black mourning cloth

Shield covered with a black mourning cloth. Elbetegaraia House. Elbete (Baztan)

Shield surrounded by holes made by the nails that once held black mourning cloths in the Zanukenea House.

Shield surrounded by holes made by the nails that once held black mourning cloths in the Zanukenea House. Elizondo

Ericera in Barrio de Berro

Ericera in Barrio de Berro. Elizondo