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Farming equipment did not undergo any important changes until the early part of the 20th century. Spades, ploughs, rakes, sickles, scythes and threshers were the essential implements for farm work.

The modernising process was slow until the mid-20th century. Farming began to be mechanised to a greater extent on the Mediterranean side of the watershed in the Basque Country. Even so, it could be seen in some towns that using spades continued to be more practical than the plough in small or steep plots of land, because the plough would easily slip (Obanos-N). On the other hand, this process was hindered on the Atlantic side as the narrow valleys and steep land mean that it was not profitable and in some cases impossible to introduce more sophisticated ploughs or machines.

The gradual mechanisation, from the last quarter of the 20th century, was a step forward in the modernising of the agricultural equipment and to adapt and update the farming industry. Due to this process, today’s farmers are forced to constantly improve their machinery and get rid of the traditional implements used by their father and grandfathers. Those implements, in the best of cases, end up decorating the walls of the house and its front garden or in an ethnographic museum.

The farming equipment, covered by our surveys, is prior to the mechanisation of farming, to a great extent. Some of those traditional tools still continue to be used and come in many types and forms overall. Many of them were produced by local farriers and carpenters. As regards the names, it should be noted that they are frequently local ones and can even vary from one neighbourhood to another within the same village.

Implements for working the land


Spades have been used, as far as we know, in the Basque Country since earliest times. Their use was very widespread by the farmers of the Southern Basque Country.

There is a variety of sizes and shapes, but there are two fundamental types: the so-called Gipuzkoa spade, with very long iron blades and short wooden shafts, and the Navarra spade, with a wider cutting edge and shorter blade (around 35 cm) and long wooden shaft. There was a type between the two as can been seen in the pictures of St. Isidore the Labourer from the 18th century[1].

Barandiaran notes that the opinion of Th. Lefebvre[2], who argues that the claim that use of the spade in the Basque Country dates back to the 16th century, when corn began to be grown, lacks merit. He believes it to be implausible that the introduction of this new cereal from The Americas would end the use of the plough to work the land to grow wheat and other cereals. The farm labourer, accustomed to work his land with the old goldea (plough) pulled by cows or oxen, would be unlikely to turn their back on this method to perform the hardest farm work with their own brute force. Furthermore, ethnologists in general believe that the spade was prior to the plough or goldea in the Basque Country.

Hoes and their types

The hoe has been the most widely used implement by farm labourers[3]. Produced in the past by local farriers, it is the tool that is the epitome of farm work. It was formerly used to break up the land to be used for crops. When someone wanted to appropriate a sandbank formed by alluvium soil in the backwater of a river, they would just have to give one or more blows with the hoe on its still intact surface to be acknowledged as the owner. Our respondents said that it is the tool used for all tillage work. The majority of times both hands are used to work it. They are different models that differ in size, shape, use or function.

In Sara (L), as Barandiaran described, the hoe, aintzurra, is a quadrangular iron blade. One of its sides is sharp and the opposite one is fitted with a ring for the D-shaped handle at an acute angle to the blade. The chop of this is called agua; the ring, begia; the handle, giderra. Two types of hoes were used in this location: larre-aintzurra and jorraintzurra.

Larre-aintzurra is a hoe, whose blade generally measures 28 cm long and 11 cm wide on the cutting or sharp edge. Its ring sometimes has a cubic protrusion or heel called aintzur-burua on the opposite side of the blade. The handle is 80 cm long. It is used to clear uncultivated land, in other words, the first turning over of the new earth, luberria, and in general, to dig and turn over the soil or also to break up hard and stony soil. The heel can be used as a hammer if necessary. There were hoes with the ring on the arch of the blade and there were ones with it within the arch itself. The first were imported from Bera (N); others were manufactured by the local farriers and from other towns of Labourd.

Jorraintzurra is a light hoe with a broad (12 cm) and short (20 cm) blade. Its handle is sometimes 120 cm long. It is used to work vegetable garden, to weed corn and turnip, etc. The ring was also in a different position, depending on whether it was made in Navarre or Labourd.

  1. José M.ª JIMENO JURÍO. "Diccionario etnográfico y Folklórico" in Etnografía histórica al airico de la tierra. Pamplona: 2010, p. 376.
  2. Th. LEFÈBVRE. Les modes de vie dans les Pyrénées Atlantiques Orientales. Paris: 1933, pp. 208-210.
  3. As Barandiaran explained, the hoe seems to have been one of the oldest tilling tolos. At the Bidartea dolmen, from the Neolithic period and located near to the Otzaurte pass (Zegama-G), a polished stone ítem was found whose shape and cut is similar to a hoe blade. In Basque, the noun itself “aitzur” seems to mean “Sharp cutting stone”, which would refer back to a time when the implement was made out of stone.