From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Common property and its use

A distinction must be made between common property and private property. The difference should also be made between common and municipally-owned property. The older people surveyed were very clear about that division. They referred the expression “land or forests belonging to the people” to refer to the common land in some locations and differentiated them from those belonging to the local council. There has been some confusion, particularly today between common land and municipally owned land in certain places.

In Zeanuri (B), the Basque expression inorenak ez direnak (what is not property of anyone in particular), in other words of everybody, was found for common property. In Améscoa (N), the people surveyed said that any land where nobody could provide documentary proof of title is considered common land. It can be deduced from data and information collected in our field research that common land and forests were much larger in the past than nowadays and that for different reasons that property is now owned by the municipality and in many cases, private individuals now own them.

The reason for those losses is that from the 19th century onwards and due to the Peninsular War and the Carlist Wars, local councils were forced to sell common land to be able to meet the huge debts run up from provisioning the armies and the levies of the liberal troops. As was pointed out in Viana (N), there was also the abuse by the local residents themselves with blind eyes being turned to the illegal damage to paths and slopes.

Tierras de Misericordia and Arca de Misericordia (Ecclesiastic and Secular Land and Wheat Bank in Time of Hardship)

Some villages such as Abezia, Berganzo, Treviño and La Puebal de Arganzón (A) had small plots of land, known as Tierras de Misericordia, which could be farmed by families in times of hardship. In Treviño, they reported that that custom nearly completely died out with the Mendizabal disentailment (1836-37).

For the same purpose, as they reported in Abezia, the Arca de Misericordia (charity wheat bank) was in the church porch so the local residents could leave part of their crop to feed the needy or families who had suffered mishaps; it was in the Town Hall in Berganzo. In Treviño and La Puebla de Arganzón (A), the people surveyed explained that there was one belonging to the council and another the property of the parish or chapel.

In San Martín de Unx (N), there was still the custom in 1980 for poor residents to ask the council for a vegetable garden or a plot —measuring no more than 3 robadas and previously 6— of the common land to meet their most pressing needs. The local council awarded it for eight years free of charge and would then draw the plots every ten years to avoid any unfairness. The grace and favour ended if the user began to pay rates to the council. In the past, when a poor resident married, he automatically received this gift from the council.

Owners who directly farmed their land

There were families everywhere who directly farmed their land and others who leased it. It is not always easy to know which the prevailing system has been, as there have been owners farming their land and tenants, and the situation has also changed over time.

In Abezia, Ribera Alta (A), Ajangiz, Ajuria (B), Izurdiaga, Améscoa, Obanos and Valle de Roncal (Ustárroz, Isaba amd Urzainqui-N), the majority of the residents have been and continue to own the land they farm. Traditionally each family has farmed their land in Bernedo and in Valderejo (A) as well. In Apodaka (A), they reported that owners directly farmed their land until the 1970s, after which there were more tenants. Ownership in the village is very scattered and there were no great differences in the land that each farmed.

In Zamudio (B), the local residents are today owners of the farmsteads. In the past, that was also the case of many of them, but others belonged to powerful families who rented them out. At the end of the 1940s, many of those farmsteads were purchased by the Caja de Ahorros Vizcaína savings banks who allowed the tenants to remain on them and the tenants became the owners in the 1980s.

Owners who farmed by means of tenants

Some families had been tenants of the same farmsteads for over a century and opted to buy them by relying on the legislation that facilitated access to the property. That legislation also allowed the rents to be updated, which had not been changed for many years, and allowed the tenants to be evicted in certain cases. Nowadays, each family is usually the owner of the farmstead on which it lives and there are fewer living in rental property.