Bernard Etxepare

Bernard Etxepare (pronounced [berˈnart eˈtʃepaɾe]) was a Basque writer of the 16th century, most famous for a collection of poems titled Linguæ Vasconum Primitiæ ("First Fruits of the Basque Language")[1] he published in 1545, the first book to be published in the Basque language.

Bernard Etxepare
The title page of Etxepare's book
The title page of Etxepare's book
BornBernard D'echepare
ca. 1470, Bussunarits-Sarrasquette, Navarre
DiedDOD unknown
Notable worksLinguæ Vasconum Primitiæ

Spellings of the nameEdit

His first name is also spelled Bernat or Beñat in Basque, he himself used Bernat. His surname is spelled Etxepare in modern Basque but the variant Detxepare is also occasionally encountered, in Basque or Dechepare in Spanish, both based on the French spelling D'echepare. He himself used Dechepare.


Very little is known about his life. He was born c. 1470–1480[2] in the area of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Lower Navarre. His birthplace is the Etxeparia farmhouse in Bussunarits-Sarrasquette,[3] and he spent the majority of his life in the valleys of Cize, working as rector in Saint-Michel at the church of Saint-Michel-le-Vieux and vicar in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.[3]

Etxepare lived through a period of war and upheaval from 1512 onward with the Castilian conquest of Upper Navarre. In one of his poems, Mossen Bernat echaparere cantuya, he confesses to having spent time in prison in Béarn, although the reasons for his detainment are not very clear. According to some, he was accused of having taken the side of Castile in its conflict with Navarre, not least of all due to religious reasons.[3] Others, however, think that the reasons for his incarceration were moral rather than political. Either way, Etxepare maintained that he was innocent.

The date of his death is unknown.

Linguæ Vasconum PrimitiæEdit

In 1545 he published a book in Bordeaux, the Linguæ Vasconum Primitiæ, generally assumed to be the first book ever printed in Basque. It contains a collection of poems, some religious in nature, some love poems, one about his life, some extolling the virtues of the Basque language and others. It has been suggested by Oihenart in his L´art poétique basque from 1665 that some of his prestigious contemporary Basque writers such as Joan Etxegarai and Arnaut Logras who were famous for their pastorals might have been published too. However, if they were, any evidence has been lost.

It is written in the Lower Navarrese dialect of Basque, using a French-influenced orthography and the metre and style of writing suggest that Etxepare was a bertsolari, a type of Basque poet known for producing sung extemporised poetry.

The book contains:

  • Foreword
  • Doctrina Christiana "Christian Doctrine"
  • Hamar manamenduyak "The Ten Commandments"
  • Iudicio generala "General Judgement"
  • Amorosen gaztiguya "The Disappointment of Lovers"
  • Emazten favore "In Defense of Wives"
  • Ezconduyen coplac "The Couplet of the Married Couple"
  • Amoros secretuguidena "The Secret Lover"
  • Amorosen partizia "The Separation of Lovers"
  • Amoros gelosia "The Jealous Lover"
  • Potaren galdacia "Asking for a Kiss"
  • Amorez errequericia "Requesting Love"
  • Amorosen disputa "The Lovers Dispute"
  • Ordu gayçarequi horrat zazquiçat
  • Amore gogorren despira "Contempt for the Harsh Mother"
  • Mossen Bernat echaparere cantuya "The Song of Mosén Bernat Etxepare"
  • Contrapas
  • Sautrela
  • Extraict des regestes de Parlement

The following example is the Contrapas, which is a poem that broadly sets out Etxepare's motivation for producing this book and his hopes for the language. Etxepare explains that he is the first Basque writer to have his work published in print. He calls for the Basque language to "go out" and become more widely known, for the Basques to blaze new trails and make themselves known to the world.

Original text[2] Text in Standard Basque orthography English
Heuscara ialgui adi cãpora. Euskara jalgi hadi kanpora. Basque, go outside.
Garacico herria
Heuscarari emandio
Beharduyen thornuya.
Garaziko herria
benedika dadila
Euskarari eman dio
behar duen tornuia.
The town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
be blessed
for having given to Basque
its befitting rank.
Heuscara ialgui adi plaçara. Euskara jalgi hadi plazara. Basque, go out into the square.
Berce gendec usteçuten
Ecin scribaçayteyen
Oray dute phorogatu
Euganatu cirela.
Bertze jendek uste zuten
ezin skriba zaiteien
orain dute frogatu
enganatu zirela.
Other deemed it impossible
to write in Basque
now they have proof
that they were mistaken.
Heuscara ialgui adi mundura. Euskara jalgi hadi mundura. Basque, go out into the world.
Lengoagetan ohi inçan
Estimatze gutitan
Oray aldiz hic beharduc
Ohori orotan.
Lengoajetan ohi hintzen
estimatze gutxitan
orain aldiz hik behar duk
ohore orotan.
Amongst the tongues
in little esteem (you were)
now however, which you deserve
honoured amongst all.
Heuscara habil mundu gucira. Euskara habil mundu guztira. Basque, walk the world at large.
Berceac oroc içan dira
Bere goihen gradora
Oray hura iganenda
Berce ororen gaynera.
Bertzeak orok izan dira
bere goihen gradora
orain hura iganen da
bertze ororen gainera.
The others all have
ascended to their splendour
now it (Basque) shall ascend
above them all.
Heuscara Euskara Basque
Bascoac oroc preciatz?
Heuscaraez iaquin harr?
Oroc iccassiren dute
Oray cerden heuscara.
Baskoak orok prezatzen
Euskara ez jakin arren
orok ikasiren dute
orain zer den Euskara.
All praise the Basques
though not knowing the Basque language
now they shall learn
what Basque is like.
Heuscara Euskara Basque
Oray dano egon bahiz
Imprimitu bagueric
Hiengoitic ebiliren
Mundu gucietaric.
Oraindano egon bahaiz
inprimatu bagerik
hi engoitik ibiliren
mundu guztietarik.
If you have until now
were without printing
you now shall travel
throughout the world.
Heuscara Euskara Basque
Eceyn erelengoageric
Ez francesa ez berceric
Oray eztaerideyten
Heuscararen pareric.
Ezein ere lengoajerik
ez frantzesa ez bertzerik
orain ez da erideiten
Euskararen parerik.
There is no other language
neither French nor another
that now
compares to Basque.
Heuscara ialgui adi dançara. Euskara jalgi hadi dantzara. Basque, go to the dance.

Note that the above rendition into Standard Basque contains several words which would be spelled like that but are rarely used. Instead of lengoaje "language" the indigenous terms mintzaira or hizkuntza would be most widely used today for example.

The only surviving original copy of the book is kept at the National Library of France in Paris. Irrespective of its literary value, his book has enjoyed enduring fame amongst Basques. Especially the last two pieces of his book, or excerpts thereof, are frequently quoted or used otherwise in the Basque scene. During the 1960s for example the Basque musician Xabier Lete produced a musical score to accompany the Kontrapas. More recently, a newly developed speech recognition software tool has been named Sautrela after the final poem in Etxepare's book and a Basque literature series in Basque Television is also named Sautrela.


  1. ^ Linguae Vasconum Primitiae : the first fruits of the Basque language, 1545. Worldcat. Translated by Pagoeta, Mikel Morris. Foreword by Pello Salaburu; Introduction by Beñat Oyharçabal. 2012. ISBN 9781935709336. OCLC 967842846. Retrieved 2 May 2017.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b Etxepare, B. Linguae Vasconum Primitiae, Egin Biblioteka 1995.
  3. ^ a b c Etxegoien, J. Orhipean - Gure Herria Ezagutzen Pamiela 1992

External linksEdit