Interview with Joseba Sarrionandia: Kokuioak, the new journal of Basque-Cuban research

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


The first issue of Kokuioak was published in October. The purpose of the journal is to study the relationships between Cuba and the Bas que Country through literary and research articles. We caught up with author Joseba Sarrionandia, currently a reader of Basque language and culture at the University of Havana and coordinator of Kokuioak to ask him a few questions.

The first issue of Kokuioak was published in October. The purpose of the journal is to study the relationships between Cuba and the Bas que Country through literary and research articles. We caught up with author Joseba Sarrionandia, currently a reader of Basque language and culture at the University of Havana and coordinator of Kokuioak to ask him a few questions.

Where did the idea of a Basque-Cuban research journal come from?

As soon as the Etxepare Institute launched the Basque Language and Culture Readership at the University of Havana over a year ago, the idea began to take shape.

It has a striking title. What exactly does it mean and why was that name chosen?

Fire beetles in Spanish are called cocuyos (that’s where the Basque translation kokuioak comes from). They’re dark coloured tropical insects between 3 and 5 centimeters long in the order Coleoptera. They have two greenish-yellow lights, a bit like fireflies, which are called ipurtargi (‘light in the bum’) in Euskara. We know where the light comes from in fireflies, but fire beetles have two lights on their backs near their heads. Science and conscience also come from the head, right? Since the word is not in the Basque dictionary, at least we can contribute that.

How did the building process go? Did you find many stumbling blocks along the way?

Collecting the articles was easy. The question was whether to print the journal in Cuba or Euskal Herria. In the end we opted for the Basque Country. When it was almost done, nearly a year ago, we had a computer accident and had to start all over again.

What is the goal of Kokuioak?

The mere act of publicizing the Basque-Cuban relationship is important since there are is so much research that deserves in-depth attention. The bibliography on historical links between Cuba and the Basque Country put together by Alex Ugalde for the first edition is a good starting point.

Why is the first issue in paper and the rest digital?

We still haven’t decided how to continue. We’ll have a meeting to talk about that. The following issues may be published in Euskal Herria, like this first, but it takes money and a lot of work. There is also the possibility of printing it at the University of Havana, but you never know how or when it will come out. And it might also be published in digital format, since that’s the least expensive and easiest solution.

Besides the main articles, the journal also has sections called Catauro de textos, Anecdotario insólito and Reseñas y comentarios. Why those sections?

First of all, we wanted to include literary pieces in addition to the actual research articles and essays. So we came up with Catauro de textos (Basket of texts). There we can included the writing of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sindo Garay, Gabriel Aresti, Francisco Oráa, Bernardo Atxaga, Koldo Izagirre, Bingen Amadoz, Ray Fernández and Xabier Mendiguren. The Anecdotario insólito (Unusual anecdotes) section has more humorous things, mainly because not everything can be serious, not even reality itself. The section called Reseñas y comentarios (Reviews and comments) is for students to write their opinions about books and films.

And what can we find among the articles in the first section?

There are several interesting essays and research articles. The first one is on Lope de Aguirre, conqueror and rebel; this month Josu Landa has offered a week-long seminar on Lope de Aguirre in our Faculty. He was a historical character who warrants further scrutiny. Josu Landa, is a Venezuelan-Mexican philosopher and Basque speaker.

The second article, which focuses on a sport called barra, goes into detail about a poem by José Martí.

That’s right. Hardly anyone in Cuba has heard of barra, a sport that involves throwing a kind of metal bar. And I doubt many people know about it in the Basque Country. José Martí used it as a metaphor to formulate his poetry. That is what the article is about. José Martí was sentenced to forced labour at the age of only 15, and had to work in a quarry. The next article transcribes several letters that Jean-Baptiste Lahirigoyen, a native of Hazparne (French Basque country), received in Gibara (Cuba) from his Basque relatives.

The author of the fourth article, Juan Manuel Dihigo, is also the name of the University of Havana Faculty of Arts, isn’t it?

Yes. Dihigo, the son of a couple from Zuberoa in the French Basque country, was the founder of the Cuban science of language and in 1933 gave a lecture on Euskara dedicated to his father. The lecture is printed in full in the journal. Dihigo used Julio Cejador as a reference. His lecture may be weak on science but it provides a very interesting window into the period.

There is another character that appears in this edition that represents the relationship between Cuba and Euskal Herria: Jesús de Sarría. Koldo San Sebastian’s biography of Jesús de n the fifth article is very interesting. When I say that it represents a relationship between the two places, I don’t only mean that he was born in one and died in another. Sarría tried to sow Martí´s ideology in the Basque independence movement, which, like Francisco Ulacia, was not easy for him. The nex article, by Edorta Jiménez, talks about the religious relationship between Ernest Hemingway and the priest and pelotari Andrés Untzain. It is believed that their relationship transcended the mere religious aspect.

How often will new issues of the journal come out?

The idea is to publish one issue a year.

Is Basque culture very influential in Cuba?

No, Basque culture is practically non-existent in Cuba. The thing is that many Basque people live here, like so many other parts of the worlds, and every Basque carries with his or her baggage filled with their language, customs and other things. But we can also open those bags here every once in a while, can’t we?

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