The “makila” is the traditional basque stick that besides its practical use, is a cultural symbol of authority and strength. For example, it is used in political appointments in the Basque Country. The head of the Basque state, the lehendakari, is sworn in and given the “makila”.
Beñat Alberdi from his workshop in Irun he continues the tradition. His grandfather started the trade in 1948, then his father and now he has decided to continue the family tradition.
The handcrafted production of these pieces is not easy and requires time. The process begins in the depths of the Pyrenean forest. In these forests you can find the much appreciated nispero wood. The most appropriate branches are carved in life so that the plant begins a natural tattooing process on the wood. This process can take about a year and that’s when the branch is cut. The “tatoo” is well visible along the entire length of the pole.
Cut in winter, it is debarked in the oven, dyed with quicklime and straightened with heat. Once prepared, the rod is covered at the bottom by a brass, alpaca or silver ferrule, carefully chiselled by hand with Basque motifs. The upper part is crowned by a horn handle that takes shape in a threaded tube covered with braided leather. For the makila called of honor, the hilt is entirely made of silver or alpaca.
Honour and respect
It is a gift that is made to honor another person and show your respect for them. On the upper part of the handle you can carve some typical phrase of the Basque tradition as they are:
“Hitza Hitz” The word is the word
“Hitzemana zor” what is promised is debt
“Ihes etsaiak” escape enemies
“Nerekin beti zuzen” with me always straight
“Nere bideko laguna” my friend traveler
“Nere laguna eta laguntza” My partner and support
Famous people from history
The custom of the Basque people to give away makilas as a symbol of friendship has very old roots. After the First World War, Marshals Foch and Petain and President Clemenceau received makilas. Through these gifts, the Basques of the North of the Pyrenees showed their gratitude. The makila of Marshal Foch had a map of Verdun and on it printed: Hemendik ezin da pasa (From here you do not pass).
A long list of personalities from political, social and sports life have been given the Basque makila. Here some examples; The Pope Juan Pablo II, Ronald Reagan president of the United States, Juan Carlos king of Spain and more.
Here i share the link to the website of these Basque artisans. The last makila artisans.