You get nothing but the wider world

I went to the El Caserio Museo Igartubeiti yesterday in Gipuzcoa, Spain, as I traverse the Basque Country in Spain and France doing some exploratory research for a screenplay.

In much of my reading and research, people have noted that the Basques have always been adventurers and explorers — they’ve fanned out around the world and were eager to move to the Americas and the US.

I’ve been wondering about why this is, I mean why would some cultures be more eager to move thousands of miles away from home — it’s hard enough now, but imagine doing that in 1620 when you had never been on a boat (if you lived inland, many Basques were incredible sailors and shipbuilders) and maybe had never even seen the sea and certainly hadn’t been on a long boat voyage or seen any other country or culture apart from your own.

You’d have to be pretty… crazy. Or brave. Or, maybe it was because of their inheritance laws!

I found out that they had a system where the oldest son (or daughter! imagine that!) received the majority of the inheritance. For a non-wealthy family, that would mean the land (e.g. el caserio).

So basically, one child gets the cider press and the surrounding land. The rest of the children get token items and some words of encouragement and they set off on their own, which would seem to encourage high-risk, adventurous travels and endeavors and Wiki agrees:

In contrast to surrounding regions, ancient Basque inheritance patterns, recognised in the fueros, favoured survival of the unity of inherited land holdings. In a kind of primogeniture, these usually were inherited by the eldest male or female child. As in other cultures, the fate of other family members depended on the assets of a family: wealthy Basque families tended to provide for all children in some way, while less-affluent families may have had only one asset to provide to one child.

However, this heir often provided for the rest of the family (unlike in England, with strict primogeniture, where the eldest son inherited everything and often did not provide for others).

Even though they were provided for in some way, younger siblings had to make much of their living by other means. Before the advent of industrialisation, this system resulted in the emigration of many rural Basques to Spain, France or the Americas.

Harsh by modern standards, this custom resulted in a great many enterprising figures of Basque origin who went into the world to earn their way, from Spanish conquistadors such as Lope de Aguirre and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, to explorers, missionaries and saints of the Catholic Church, such as Francis Xavier.

Interesting that the English had a similar system of inheritance and also a penchant for sailing around the world and mucking things up.