Accepted Paper:

The Moor's parade: political (in)correctness in the transformation of a Basque tradition  


Margaret Bullen (University of the Basque Country, Donostia-San Sebastián)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the process initiated by the municipal government and taken up by the local Basque community to change a tradition perceived by some to be racist and politically incorrect. It looks at the role of the anthropologist in the sensitive process of interfering with a people's cultural heritage.

Paper long abstract:

Following a series of criticisms aimed at the figure of a Moor captured in battle and brought back by the triumphant troops, acted out in the annual parade and play which marks the high point of the local summer festival, the townsfolk of Antzuola (Gipuzkoa, Basque Country) had decided it was time for change. The decision corresponded with a general sense of unease with the military style parade which accompanies the play in a town where many people have resisted inscription into the Spanish army over the years and which votes on the whole in favour of the Basque nationalist Left. Anti-military feelings and a concern with accusations of racism at the way the "Moor" was depicted mingled with the desire to defend an age-old Basque tradition and the fear that it would die out if the young people did not identify with it. This led to the initiative of the cultural councilor and the parade's organizers to request an anthropological and historical study to sound out the history of the parade itself and people's feelings about it.

This paper discusses this process and the implications for the application of anthropological theory on the invention of history and tradition to a community initiative to transform, modernize and make more acceptable their intangible cultural heritage. The discovery that history, like tradition, is constructed by its makers and thus susceptible to change, was a liberating force in enabling people to contemplate modifying aspects of the tradition thereto considered in essentialist terms as untouchable.

Panel P06
Intangible heritage and the challenges for the theory and practice of anthropology