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  • Interview With Joxe Agirre Esnal
  • Laxaro Azkune

Joxe Agirre Esnal (Oranda) was born in an Oranda country house in the outskirts of Azpeitia on April 13th, 1929 into a family with six siblings. Esnal is now married and has four children of his own. Throughout his life he's worked as a farmer, cart-maker, stonecutter, and bertsolari, among other professions. His first performance as a bertsolari occurred on the balcony of a bar in 1952. Since then he's traveled throughout the Basque region, improvising bertsos and adapting continuously according to the four generations with whom he has shared the stage.

As a bertsolari with substantial technical proficiency, Esnal has been recognized largely for his keen instincts as an improviser. Although he's earned important prizes, championships have generally not been his strong point. Despite this fact, he has won the affection and admiration of the bertsolari community and a book has been written based on his life and work.1

What are some of your memories from childhood?

As a child I had very bad health, to the point that my family once thought I had died and left me in the cradle, but after a while, by chance, I began to recover. The first memory I have from my childhood, from when I was about three, is that I had to learn how to walk again. I remember my uncle grumbling at me, asking me to do things in order to make me walk. That's the earliest memory I have.

How large was your family?

After the war there were 13 people in our house—six brothers and sisters, my parents, grandparents, two uncles, and one of my mother's sisters. At the time of the great hunger, there were 13 mouths to feed. [End Page 157]

What kind of friends lived nearby?

In the closest country house, Oranda-Goika, in Abeta, which is a little further down . . . we used to play with several of the kids. We didn't have any toys compared to children nowadays, and we would do whatever possible to enjoy ourselves. Wooden bicycles and so on.

Did you have time to play?

Yes, we used to play. But when we were around nine or ten years old, we had to help a lot with the housework. I was very young when I started to cut the grass with a scythe.

What kind of games were you used to playing?

Catch and go, blind man's buff, and other games that usually consisted of us covering our eyes while the rest would hide . . . . Another of our favorite games was to look for birds' nests. We used to climb trees better than they do now . . . .

Did bertsos have a special place in your games?

I've been an enthusiast of bertsos since I was little. My grandfather had some special bertsos he had composed during a hard winter that killed several sheep and left those still alive really damaged. He composed around 12 or 14 bertsos, in minor bederatziko.2 He didn't like to sing his own bertsos, though; he used to sing bertsos created by Udarregi and others that he knew by heart. By that time I already had some interest in the bertsos and I would ask him to sing whenever he played with me, but he never sang his own bertsos. I feel sorry not to have remembered them. According to what I've been told, they were really good, but since he didn't know how to write he neither wrote them nor taught them to anybody at home. They were lost. He died when I was 12. He suffered so much his last years; he lost his mind, he would cry for fear of hell. He said that if the priests were right he wouldn't find salvation.

What were your school days like?

I mostly hung out in Lasao, a neighborhood of Azpeitia. I started school when I was nine and left at 11. Mine was a quick career. And during those two years I didn't attend class half of the time. At that time we already had to help at home and there was...

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pp. 157-168
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