Wednesday, November 9, 2011

La. history meeting provides food for thought

I attended my very first Louisiana Historical Society meeting last night. After struggling with questions about historical dates and lineage for my writing assignments, I decided that becoming a member might provide some ready resources for future use.

The lecture was held in a huge St. Charles Avenue mansion, the Round Table Club. A surprising number of people had gathered to hear Michel-Anthoine Goita-Nicolas, an expert on Basque history.

Now, you might wonder, why should we be so interested in the tiny country lodged between France and Spain but, as I would soon learn, the Basques were pretty much responsible for everything.

First of all, Basque territory was not always small. There was a fight between brothers when they killed off the rightful king and divided the state into French Aquitaine and Spanish Navarre. (Its history is way more complicated than that, trust me, but I couldn't follow all the marriages, wars and invasions.)

As Sr. Goita-Nicolas started going through his slide presentation, we learned that Basques were the only sailors in France and Spain, so they got the jobs looking for the New World. Thus, all the great explorers were, actually, Basque, including Christopher Columbus; Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle; Louis Jolliet and just about everybody else who ever voyaged up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway.

There are 400 Canadian towns with Basque names, Basque shipwrecks sunk in the Seaway and Basque derivations for the names of folks in the audience - undeniable proof!

He explained Basques were fishermen who followed Cod fish - not just up the Western European coast, but to Iceland and Greenland and waters further west. They salted the Cod because it was such a long way home and also harpooned a few whales en route, which they had to boil down for oil - on land. And this point is key.

They had to set foot on land to salt and boil, which meant that Basques were first to discover America!

Goita-Nicolas claimed that early Basque explorers taught the Indians the Basque language and vice-versa. So, when later voyagers sailed through the Seaway, they were greeted by Indians speaking le langue.

Sr. Goita-Nicolas recounted a story about an American researcher who dug up every one of Christopher Columbus' relatives to see if their DNA was Basque. I didn't know bones could withstand the ravages of 500 years, but apparently they checked out. Those remains were definitely not Italian - of this he was absolutely certain.

They found grapevines on an island near Nova Scotia that matched the DNA of Basque vines.

Even the animals were DNA-tested.

As I was listening to this exhaustive list of accomplishments and connections, I began to ask myself: Why should I care? And then it occurred to me. Ah-ha! The Basques were the original Acadians who later ended up in Louisiana, playing accordian and doing fais do-do at Tipitina's on Sunday afternoons, no longer eating Cod, but instead crayfish and sucking the juice out of the heads.

Redhead history on a car
Similarly, this all-encompassing claim to Basque superiority reminded me of the Redhead Car, which lays claim to practically every discovery by redheads. Redheads, and perhaps redhead Basques, were first to create a roux. They invented wigs to avoid carrot-top jokes. They invented the thumbs-up and carrot cake.

Like Basques, redheads have been very productive and widely traveled. 

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget- redheads also invented googly-eyes!