Six Swans | Basa-Jauna, The Wild Man (A Basque Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.


IV.--Basa-Jaun, Basa-Andre, and Lamiñak

IT is somewhat difficult to get a clear view of what Basa-Jaun and Basa-Andre, the wild man and the wild woman, really are in Basque mythology. In the first tale here given Basa-Jaun appears as a kind of vampire, and his wife, the Basa-Andre, as a sorceress, but we know of no other such representation of the former. Basa-Jaun is usually described by Basque writers as a kind of satyr, or faun, a wood-sprite; and Basques, in speaking of him to us, have frequently used the French term, "Homme de Bouc," "He-goat-man," to describe him. In some tales he appears rather as a species of brownie, and has received the familiar sobriquet of Ancho,1 from the Spanish Sancho. In this character he haunts the shepherds' huts in the mountains, warms himself at their fires, tastes their clotted milk and cheese, converses with them, and is treated with a familiarity which, however, is never quite free from a hidden terror. His wife, the Basa-Andre, appears sometimes as a sorceress, sometimes as a kind of land-mermaid, as a beautiful lady sitting in a cave and "combing her locks with a comb of gold," in remote mountain parts.2

The Lamiñak are true fairies, and do not differ more from the general run of Keltic fairies than the Scotch, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish fairies do from each other. In fact, the legends are often identical. The Lamiñak were described to us by one who evidently believed in, and dreaded them, as little people who lived underground. Another informant stated that they were little people who came down the chimney. They long to get possession of human beings, and change and carry off infants unbaptized, but they do not seem to injure them otherwise. They bring good luck to the houses which they frequent; they are fond of cleanliness, but always speak and give their orders in words exactly the opposite of their meaning. In common with Basa-Jaun and Basa-Andre they hate church bells,3 and though not actively hostile to Christianity, are driven away as it advances. They were formerly great builders of bridges, and even of churches,4 but were usually defrauded of their wage, which was to have been power over some human soul at the completion of the contract. Fairies' wells and fountains are common in the Landes and neighbouring Gascon provinces, but we know of none in the Pays Basque.5 We failed distinctly to make out what are the "fairies' holes (Lamiña-ziloak)," spoken of in the Heren-Suge tale (p. 36); as far as we could gather from the narrator they are simply bare places in hedges, when covered by the web of the gossamer spider. We know of no dances by moonlight on fairy rings of green herbage; but if the reader will carefully eliminate from his memory the rare fancies of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson about Puck, Oberon, and Titania, he will find little otherwise to differentiate between the Basque Lamiñak and the fairies of Sir Walter Scott, of Campbell, and of Croker's "Irish Legends." One peculiarity certainly is that all the Basque Lamiñak are sometimes said to be all called "Guïllen,"6 which appears to be the same as the French Guillaume, and our William.

It must be a sign of a failing belief and interest that witches and fairies are so often confounded. In these few stories it is evident that the witch is often a fairy, and the fairy a witch.

Basa-Jauna, The Wild Man

ONCE upon a time there lived in one house the landlady and the farmer's wife.7 The farmer's wife had three sons; one day they said to their mother to give each of them a ball and a penny roll, that they wished to go from country to country. The mother was sorry to part with her three much-loved sons; but all three started off.

When they were in the midst of a forest they saw that night was coming on, and the eldest brother said that he would climb up the first tree. He finds a tall tree, and climbs up to the top, to the very tip-top, and the second says to him:

"Do you see nothing?"

He says, "No, no; there's nothing to be seen, nothing; not a feather! nothing!"

"Come down then; you are an old donkey."

And the second climbs, and he sees nothing. The third says to him:

"You are no good at all, you others. I will climb up."

And he climbs, to the top, to the very tip-top. The others say to him:

"And do you not see anything?"

He says to them:

"Yes; I see a long column of smoke, but very, very thin, and far, very far away. Let us go towards that."

And the three brothers set out together. At eight o'clock in the evening they come to a grand castle, and they knock at the door, and the Basa-Andre (wild woman) comes to answer. She asks:

"Who is there?"

And they reply, "It is we who are here."

"What do you want, young children? Where are you going to at this time of night?"

"We ask and beg of you to give us shelter for to-night; we will be satisfied with a corner of the floor, poor wretches as we are."

"I have my husband, the Basa-Jaun, and if he catches you he will eat you; that's certain."

"And if he catches us outside he will eat us all the same."

Then she let these three brothers come in, and she hides the three in three different corners. Afterwards, at nine o'clock, the Basa-Jaun comes. He made a great noise and blustering, and then the Basa-Andre goes out, and says to him:

"There is nobody here."

"Yes, you have somebody; bring them out, or else I will eat you myself."

And she goes and brings out the eldest brother, trembling with fright. The Basa-Jaun says to him,

"Will you be my servant?"

He says to him, "Yes."

And Basa-Jaun begins again to sniff about.

"You have still somebody else here?"

And she brings out the second, and he says to him:

"Will you be servant to me?"

And he said, "Yes."

Again, he smelled the smell of some one, and at the third time she brings out the third, and he says to him:

"All three of you shall sup with me to-night, and afterwards we shall go to bed. But to-morrow we will all go hunting."

And they go hunting the next day until eight o'clock in the evening.

Now they had at home a little sister. She was little then, but in time she grew up. One day the landlady and the farmer's wife had put out the new maize in the garden to dry; and when no one saw her, the little girl took some from her mistress' heap, and put it to her own. When the mistress saw that, she began to cry out, saying to her,

"Bold hussey that you are, there is no one like you! You will come to a bad end like your brothers."

And the young girl began to cry, and goes to find her mother, and says to her,

"Mother, had I any brothers?"8

She says to her, "Yes, my child."

"What were they?"

"Child, they went away a long time ago," she said to her.

This little girl says,

"I, too, must be off to-day. Give me a distaff to spin with, and a penny cake."

She sets off, and comes to the house of the Basa-Jaun, and she knocks at the door, and she lets her in. While his wife was telling her that it is the house of the Basa-Jaun, the elder brother comes in; but they did not recognise one another at all. And afterwards Basa-Jaun comes, and says, as he enters the house:

"You have something here for me," says he.

"No," says she.

"Show it."

And immediately she shows her. Basa-Jaun says to her:

"Will you engage yourself as my servant?"

She says to him, "Yes, sir."

Some days afterwards the brothers recognised their sister, and they embraced each other very much. And this young girl who was so well before began to grow thin. And one day one of her brothers asked her:

"What is the matter with you that you are getting thin like this?"

And she answered:

"The master every evening asks me to put my little finger through the door, and he sucks the finger through the door, and I become every day more sad and more languid."9

One day, when the Basa-Andre was not at home, these brothers and the sister plotted together to kill Basa-Jaun, if they could catch him in a ravine in a certain place. And they kill him.

One day the wife asks,

"Where is Basa-Jaun?"

And Basa-Andre takes out three large teeth, and brings them to the house, and tells this young girl herself, when she beats the water for her brothers' feet in the evening, to put one tooth in the water of each.10And as soon as the third had finished washing the three brothers became oxen; and this young girl used to drive all three into the fields. And this young girl lived there on the birds they (the oxen) found, and nothing else.

One day, as she was passing over a bridge,11 she sees Basa-Andre under, and says to her:

"If you do not make these three oxen men as they were before, I will put you into a red-hot oven."

She answers her:

"No! go to such a dell, and take thence three hazel sticks,12 and strike each of them three blows on the back."

And she did what she told her, and they were changed into men the same as they were before; and all the brothers and the sister lived happily together in Basa-Jaun's castle, and as they lived well they made a good end also.



1: Cf. Cerquand, Part I., p. 27, Ancho et les Vaches," and notes. Also Part II., 341 et seq.
Return to place in text.

2:Cf. Cerquand, Part I., pp. 33, 34, "La Dame au Peigne d'Or."
Return to place in text.

3: Cerquand, Part I., p. 30, "Basa-Jauna et le Salve Regina."
Return to place in text.

4: Cerquand, "L'Eglise d'Espés." "Le Pont de Licq," Part I., pp. 31, 32, and Part II., pp. 50-52.
Return to place in text.

5: But compare the well or marsh of the Basa-Andre in the Tartaro tale, p. 15.
Return to place in text.

6: Cerquand, Part I., pp. 32, 33.
Return to place in text.

7: The owner of the farm and the "métayère," or tenant's wife. Under the "métayer" system the landlord and tenant divide the produce of the farm. This is the case almost universally in South-Western France, as elsewhere in the South. The "métayer's" residence often adjoins the landlord's house.
Return to place in text.

8: Cf. "The Sister and her Seven Brothers."
Return to place in text.

9: This is the only representation that we know of Basa-Jaun as a vampire.
Return to place in text.

10: As the Basques commonly go barefooted, or use only hempen sandals, the feet require to be washed every evening. This is generally done before the kitchen fire, and in strict order of age and rank. Cf. also "The Sister and her Seven Brothers."
Return to place in text.

11: The running water, we suspect, gives the girl power over the witch.
Return to place in text.

12: "Hazel sticks." In the sixteenth century the dog-wood, "cornus sanguinea," seems to have been the witches' wood. In the "Pastorales," all the enchantments, etc., are done by the ribboned wands of the Satans. This tale ends rather abruptly. The reciter grew very tired at the last.
Return to place in text.

Webster, Wentworth. Basque Legends. London: Griffith and Farran, 1877. Buy the book in paperback.


Back to Top