De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Up until the early 20th century, some regions of the Basque Country were very self-sufficient and the people used the material obtained from their livelihood to make their garments and footwear. The shepherds cured the skins of their livestock to make warm clothing or shoes for their feet; they also used wool from their sheep to weave certain garments.

It should first be noted the difference in the way of dressing of the shepherds of the wet regions of the Basque Country (Gorbea, Aizkorri, Entzia, Aralar, Urbasa) from those who worked in the Toloño mountains (A), in the Sierra de Codés range (A-N) or in the Salazar and Roncal valleys (N), whose livestock are brought down in the transhumance to the Ebro and whose traditional garments are more similar to the shepherds of the Alto Aragón or the Béarn. In the same way as has happened in other aspects of life, the changes to the shepherd’s apparel during recent decades has been due to the introduction of new materials to make clothes and footwear and to the mass production processes.

Shepherds dressed in a very similar way to the farmer, but they had to use special warm or protective garments as they spent so much time out in bad weather. These included the gilets and aprons made out of sheep or goat skin; the kapusai or txartesa[1], a cape made out of woollen fabric; the hongarina that was a type of coat made out of coarse cloth with a hood; the tapabocas or field blanket; trousers sheathed in mantarrak, peales or piales; the sandals made out of cowskin whose laces were crisscrossed by the calves and tied under the knees.

The shepherd’s apparel also included the sheepskin bag and the hazel crook.

According to Caro Baroja, the Basque shepherd usually wore an age-old traditional outfit made up of the following garments: kapusai, made out of brown fabric, a goatskin marraga or equivalent garment known as the xartex, which was usually grey in colour; a goatskin bag (zorro), and the kurkubita, the gourd in which the milk or water was carried. He covered his legs with tights that he made himself (along with garters) or with strips of wool and sandals, abarkak, were the usual footwear for farmers and labourers, which were slightly different to those used in others areas of Spain[2].

The shepherd's apparel today

Nowadays, as has been shown in our surveys, shepherds dress in a similar way throughout the Basque Country. The older ones continue to use dark blue trousers or overalls, a plaid shirt made out of cotton or another type of fabric; they wear a wool jumper or jacket over it when the weather so required. Blue breeches continue to be used, but blue overalls with an up-down zip have gradually been introduced. The overalls are used both in winter and in summer. Some shepherds in Aoiz (N) explained that the overalls keep their clothes clean as well as keeping them warm.

Shepherds in Álava still wear corduroy trousers (Agurain, Sierra de Badaia, Moreda, Pipaón, Ribera Alta, Urkabustaiz, Valdegovía), but young people prefer to use jeans.

They use jackets, coats, sheepskin jackets, anoraks, cagoules or raincoats to protect themselves from the cold and rain. Shepherds are increasingly using mountaineering footwear and boots to keep warm and dry.

And by the ends of the 1950s, sandals began to fall out of fashion as people started to wear canvas shoes, known as espartinak (Ultzama-N). Shepherds began to use them when the weather was dry.

Up until the 1960s, shepherds also wore leather boots with studs, which were popularly known as borceguíes; in Sangüesa (N) borceguines; in Aria (N) borzaiak; in Gorbea-Zeanuri and Orozko (B) and Larraun (N) bortzegiak.

Boots with rubber shoes and brown corduroy leggings called chirucas were worn.

Young shepherds now use trainers and hiking boots. They also use katiuskas, wellington boots up to the knee or halfway up the calf. They are waterproof and protect against the rain, mud and manure and are therefore always worn when cleaning out the pens.

  1. Manuel de LARRAMENDI in his Corografía de Guipúzcoa written at the end of the 18th century pointed out that “men and women on the farmsteads still have capisayos and charteses with hoods, short and wide sleeves, which they use on the mountains when it is raining and when they collect spiny broom and clear thorns and briers, along with other tasks. But those capisayos are no longer worn by the normal villagers and have been popular with women”. Vide Corografía o descripción general de la Muy Noble y Muy Leal Provincia de Guipuzcoa. Barcelona: 1882, p. 180.
  2. Julio CARO BAROJA. Los vascos. San Sebastián: 1949, p. 230.