The Souletin mascarade

The mascarade is a carnival festival from the province of Soule which combines both dance and theatre.

Although the rural exodus put a stop to this practice for may years, its recent revival bears witness to its vitality thanks to the local population which has managed to combine both tradition and modernity.

Ania Lucero - Javier Garayalde (iturria: - (CC-BY-SA)
Ania Lucero - Javier Garayalde (iturria: - (CC-BY-SA)
In the heart of winter and sometimes in the spring the Basque Country maintains masked traditions where dance plays a central role. In 1671 the Count of Guiche declared that during the carnival it was impossible to do anything else other than dance in the Basque Country. The world of the Basques was essentially rural and has ancient customs which we believe are different from those of towns.

From December to March traditions highlight a time dedicated to seeing out the old year and nomad souls, waking the bear, encouraging the fertility of the earth and animals for a better herd and organising weddings enabling the generations to be renewed

Most of these rituals are performed in different celebrations, organised under the auspices of the village elders by the young men, often in large numbers in order to play all the roles.

The Souletin mascarade is undoubtedly the most important and best preserved of these traditions. They are divided into two groups:

  • The Reds: Elegantly dressed and whose most famous character is zamalzain (half-man, half-horse) with dances which require great skill.
  • The Blacks: More bawdy, wilder, dancing more violently, sometimes even obscene.

Source: Extract translated from the "Thematic Dictionary of Basque Culture & Civilisation" with kind permission from the author  - Editions Pimientos (Urrugne, 2001).