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A 'pastoral', theatrical play from Xiberoa, was performed in San Francisco, in memory of aita Tillous


High school students from Sohüta (Xiberoa) performing 'Euskamerikan artzain' at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center
High school students from Sohüta (Xiberoa) performing 'Euskamerikan artzain' at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center


The Basque Community from both the diaspora and Euskal Herria converged on the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, California the weekend of August 28th-30th 2009. The gathering celebrated the life of Aita Tillous, the Basque Chaplain responsible for the Basque Community of the Western United States for the past 14 years. Aita Tillous passed away on March 30, 2009 in his native Euskal Herria. An advocate of all that is Basque, it was fitting that the weekend was full of pilota, dance, music, singing, bertsolaritza, pastoral from Xiberoa, and his ama hizkuntza (mother tongue). Euskera was present in all aspects. Crowds of over 600 people each day were entertained and helped celebrate his life.

Xabier Berrueta/South San Francisco, USA. The Basque Community of the San Francisco Bay Area celebrated its traditional end of summer festival at the Basque Cultural Center in conjunction with N.A.B.O.’s Pilotako Txapelketa. Large crowds were entertained by activities starting with a dinner and Pastorale Friday evening all the way through to the traditional mozkor zopa on Sunday evening.

Friday kicked off the weekend with pilota games as some of the N.A.B.O. Pilota semifinals were played. This was followed by an enjoyable dinner and singing from the bertsolari Jean Louis Laka, Mixel Xalbador, Johnny Kurutxet, Jesus Goni, Gracien Alfaro and Martin Goicochea.

The main event was the opening night theatrical performance of a pastorala, a unique theatrical play specific to the Basque province of Xiberoa. The pastorala, Euskalamerikan artzain, was written by Mixel Etxekopar and directed by Nicole Lougarot. It was performed by high school students at the Lycee du Pays de Soule in Sohüta-Cheraute (near Maule, Xiberoa). The students were here as part of an exchange between young adults of N.A.B.O., who had visited Xiberoa in June, and those at the Lycee. 

The theme of the pastorala centered upon the main character Han (There) and the hardships he faced in America. Han experiences many of the hardships faced by the Basque sheepherders including loneliness, homesickness, poverty and difficulty with a new language. Mixel Etxekopar was inspired by the quote from Miren Azkarate "In the United States you have found a new way to be Basque." The Pastorala shows Basque Americans working together to form N.A.B.O. and finding ways to maintain their culture in a modern world.

Saturday the Fronton was filled with championship games, as eight N.A.B.O. finals were contested. The evening continued with the traditional barbeque steak dinner served in the same fronton, followed by a dance animated by Jean Louis Bergara and Michel Violet from Euskal Herria.

Sunday started with an emotional and moving mass celebrated by Aita Lastiri from Fresno. The San Francisco Klika, txistulari, Elgarrekin Choir, and Jean Louis Bergara made sure that the mass was filled with music, as Aita Martxel would have preferred. Bertsolaris from both sides of the Atlantic sang the prayers of the faithful. Johnny Kurutxet, Jesus Goni, Martin Goicoechea, Gratien Alfaro, as well as Mixel Xalbador and Jean Louis Laka from Euskal Herria gave us great examples of this form of improvised singing.

The homily was a tribute to Aita Martxel Tillous given by Gratien Goyhenetche and Mixel Etxekopar. Gratien encorporated aspects of the Prayer of St. Francis into the life experiences of Aita Martxel from Africa, his time as a member of the Paris Basque Community and his work here in the United States. Mixel Etxekopar, accompanied by Jean Charles Sans, sang his own tribute to Aita Martxel as well as a song written for the occasion by Jean Bordaxar. It finished with dances by Batitte Berrogain, the group from Xiberoa, and the local Zazpiak Bat dance group.

The large crowd continued the celebration after mass with the traditional rack of lamb Barbeque lunch. For those who missed the Friday performance, the afternoon entertainment offered a matinee performance of Euskalamerikan artzain and singing by the bertsolaris.

Overall, the weekend represented all that is Basque Culture. It was a true testimony to the contributions of Aita Martxel Tillous to the Basque Community in the United States.

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