Bells of Ituren
The Bells of Ituren and Zubieta
Once a year, during the last week of January, the hefty, taciturn young men of the village of Ituren in Navarra dress in a traditional peasant outfit: a simple shirt, blue pants tucked into the galtzerdiak or socks, and the rubber zatazak. Around their waist they wear a white skirt, decorated with red or blue laces, that reaches the knees. They place a sheepskin over their broad shoulders and half way down their back, two small bells are attached, and then two large bells are tightly fastened around the waist so that they stand out almost perpendicular so that they ring more easily. Around the neck they wear a coloured scarf; and on their head they wear a two foot tall ttuntturoroa or cone-shaped hat decorated with laces and chicken feathers. In their right hand they carry the isopua, a short engraved stick to which is attached part of a horse’s tail.
In this disguise, which was supposed to scare evil winter spirits, they are known as txuntxurros or joaldunak, in Basque. The txuntxurros from the neighbouring village of Zubieta dress up in the same odd way except that they wear their sheep-skins round their hips.
“Joaldunak” (Carriers of bells)
On the eve of the fiesta the boys kill a calf which they will consume after the accomplishment of the bizarre annual rite. This is very simple indeed. Men from each of the two villages, armed with horsehair whips which they brandish threateningly as they go, hop heavily in single file backwards and forwards along the path that separates Ituren from Zubieta, swinging their hips to make their sheep-bells boom. Every so often they pause at the end of a course to consume a meat broth.
Traditionally, most of these men were woodcutters with many of them taking part in the summer log-felling or chopping competitions held in Navarra and the Basque country in various localities; the ‘spirit-chasing’ rite provides a mild winter form of diversion which they appear to enjoy.
This Basque carnival tradition was preserved almost exclusively by the inhabitants of Ituren and Zubieta and almost died out but now it is better known and replicated in other villages and towns in the region.
Click here to find out more about this traditional Spanish festival (in Spanish).
Read about other traditional Spanish Fiestas here.