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Ways of declaring their love. Babarrunak jan

The most common way that the young man declared his love to a young woman was verbally, sometimes using explicit set phrases and sometimes by resorting to rather more indirect ways such as suggesting to the girl that he would like to eat some of the dishes that she cooked. There was no real mention of a written declaration in a letter or on a card.

Gestures were also used or gifts or garments offered and if accepted would mark the start of the relationship.

Formalising the courtship. Ezkongaiak

Value of the courtship and its ending

The value attributed to the courtship and therefore to the ending of the relationship changed during the century. It was more unusual for a courtship to end in the past and it led to numerous problems.

When a couple ended their relationship after a certain length of time, in some Basque-speaking areas, particularly in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, the person who believed they had been wronged would commission a bersolari [improviser of sung verse] to compose several verses relating what had happened and the reason for the break-up. Those lyrics were called ezkontza galdutakoak and were printed on a piece of paper with the name of the printer but not the writer. The bertsolari was well paid for his work and the written verses were sold at a good price. The residents of the place where the relationship had ended or the surrounding towns and villages bought the written verses out of curiosity; the people from further away, who did not know the people involved, bought them when the verses were ingenious and had a certain literary quality. The party who believed that they had been most hurt felt restitution had been made. However, there were times when the person referred to in the verses responded by having their own published with their arguments[1].

Sweethearts meeting

Nowadays, people see each other frequently, but that was not the case in the past, as they usually only met at the dance on Sunday evenings. The most common places to meet up were the same as the places they had first met.

Relationships between the couple and their single friends

Once the courtship was established between two young people, their relationship with their respective groups of friends has been very different, sometimes continuing as before and sometimes they grew apart from the group. Those customs do not seem to follow a time or local pattern, but rather seem to be down to personal reactions. Even so, some general characteristics can be made out. At the start of the courtship, it was common for the couple to maintain their relationship with their single friends and, in some locations, which would remain the same nearly right up to the marriage.

It was and continues to be usual for them to grow apart from their group of single friends as the courtship consolidated. Even if they continue to be in contact with their friends, the common expression “going out alone” reflects the strength of the courtship.

Realm of the courtship


In the majority of the places surveyed, there was no evidence of frequent intermarriages, although there were more in the past than in the present.

One of the reasons for that could have been the greater isolation of the villages and the low mobility of their residents. Economic interests sometime prevailed as well.

The most frequent kinship between kindred spouses was between cousins or uncle and niece.

The main reason given by the people interviewed for shying away from marriages between relatives was the fear that the offspring would be born with birth defects.

Local inbreeding

The causes contributing to high inbreeding in the past are in general similar to those for intermarriages. The main one was the small area in which the young people found their partners, due to their low mobility. Given the lack of transport, they walked to all the dances and pilgrimages of their villages and the neighbouring ones, and they therefore hardly ever left their place of residence. Consequently, marriages were normally between people from the same or neighbouring villages or towns.

Toll on a suitor from another area

In several rural areas or medium-sized towns, the people interviewed explained that young men from another area and who started to court local girls were harassed by the local youths.

The situation was even more critical when his girlfriend was courted by a local youth. The most widespread way of attacking the suitor from another area was precisely to stone him.

  1. Many of these verses have been compiled and published. Thus, they can be consulted in the Auspoa collection edited by Antonio Zavala: Ezkontza galdutako bertsoak. San Sebastián, 1962. Compositions of this type can also be found in the collections of some famous bertsolaris.