Slaying of the Basques whalers

Slaying of the Basques whalers

The Basques began whaling off the coast of Iceland during the summer early in the seventeenth century; thus having various dealings with the natives. An Icelandic-Basque lexicon has been preserved, indicating some trading between the two nationalities. The dealings were not always without conflict, and in the autumn of 1615 the so-called Spanish Killings occurred. They were a series of tragic events, costing over thirty stranded Basque whalers their lives. "Many were killed by orders from Ari Magnússon from Ögur near Ísafjörður, by decree of the king of Denmark, but by then the whalers had lost their ships and were unable to return back home," says Sigrún Antonsdóttir who wrote the text to a travelling show on these events in 2015. That year marked four hundred years since the Slaying of the Spaniards, but the exhibition was a part of Sigrún's final project in applied studies in culture and communication. She is herself of Basque descent, but her father's name was Anton Galan and was born in Donostia, or San Sebastian in Basque Country. He moved to Iceland in 1984 to work here as a marine biologist at the Marine Research Institute. "My dad worked on whale research at the Marine Research Institute and his work included diving. He was also very interested in finding the Basque ships that perished in West Iceland but he did not live long enough," said Sigrún. 
 
She learned young of the Spanish Killings in the Westfjords, but her interest in the subject became real when she studied archaeology at the University of Iceland. She has thoroughly studied the dig at Strákatangi north of Hólmavík, but it is thought that the Basque whalers had base camp there. 
"My experience in the past has been that people do not know about the Slaying of the Spaniards. This is why I wanted to shed some light on these event whilst honouring the memory of my father." 
 
The idea with the travelling exhibition, according to Sigrún, was to present the Spanish Killings to the public as these events must never be forgotten. Sigrún wrote the text on the exhibition cards but they are illustrated by the Basque artist Guillermo Zubiaga. 
 
"The cards have been on display in a few museums both in Iceland and abroad, but they are in four languages: Icelandic, English, Spanish and Basque. I also put up a website on the Spanish Killings in Icelandic www.1615.info 
 
When asked about the reasons behind the killings Sigrún says that she does not believe that poor tenants or farmers took it upon themselves to kill in cold blood. "The authorities were responsible for these killings 400 years ago." Not everyone agrees though. There are assumptions that persons from the Westfjords committed these deeds due to hunger and fear that the whalers would simply eat all of their food. The reality is, however, that the Basques were mostly self-sufficient as a part of them had recently hunted a whale when they were murdered. 
 
Supervisors: Már Jónsson, professor at the Faculty of History and Philosophy, and Ólafur Jóhann Engilbertsson.
 
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