NSights Blog

Reno and Boise Basques share their roots with 'Tree of Gernika'

Second-generation sapling gifted to Basque Studies from Basque friends in Boise

The University of Nevada, Reno is about to put down some Basque roots. A special oak tree will grow on campus, a symbolic gift that is shared between Boise and Reno Basques. The oak tree carries deep meaning for all Basques, from the Basque Country to the United States, and beyond.

The new tree planted at our university is a second-generation sapling from a tree that once stood in the town of Gernika, a village that was nearly obliterated by Francisco Franco and Adolf Hitler when they orchestrated the horrific bombing of Basque civilians during market day April 26, 1937. The town was reduced to rubble and ash from the air-dropped bombs, incendiary bombs, and machine-gunning that ensued. A single oak tree in front of a portion of the assembly house miraculously survived the bombing that leveled Gernika.

The Gernikako Arbola, or Tree of Gernika, has held great significance for Basques for centuries, even prior to the bombing of Gernika. For centuries, the town of Gernika was the provincial meeting place where Basques would meet to solve civic problems and conduct state business through the democratic tradition of independent self-government. In 1853, Basque bertxolari and composer Jose Mari Iparragirre sang "Gernikako Arbola" for the first time, which became the Basque national anthem. The first Juntas Generales (General Assemblies) of Bizkaia continued until 1876, which were always held around the Tree of Gernika. This location continued to be a central gathering place for Basques, and the oak tree has always been considered a sacred symbol of Basque sovereignty and freedom.

Thirty-one years ago, Boise received a gift: a first-generation sapling from the Gernika tree. On March 16, 1988, Basque Lehendakari (President) José Antonio Ardanza Garro presented this sapling on his first visit to the United States, and Boiseans planted it that very same day at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. That tree now stands proudly in front of the Museum's historic boarding house on Boise's Basque Block. Boise's Tree of Gernika is producing daughter saplings, and these offshoots carry the same significance as the Basque Country oak.

The Basque Museum and Boise State University's Basque Global Collaborative have in turn, gifted this second-generation sapling to the University of Nevada, Reno's Center for Basque Studies as a symbol of shared roots, and the collaborative efforts that continue to bind Reno and Boise closely to one another.

Special thanks to the following who made this transfer of history and culture possible: Patty Miller, Basque Museum & Cultural Center; Jerry Aldape, Boise Gernika tree horticulturalist; Boise State University, Basque Global Collaborative: Drs. John Bieter John Ysursa, Dave Lachiondo, and Ziortza Gandarias Beldarrain, Professor Nere Lete, Argia Beristain Dougherty, and Meggan Laxalt Mackey; University of Nevada, Reno, Center for Basque Studies: Drs Xabier Irujo, Joseba Zulaika, Sandra Ott, and Iñaki Arrieta Baro, Kate Camino, Carly Sauvageau; University of Nevada Reno, Arboretum Board Chair Serenity Smile; Assistant Director, Grounds Services, Marty Sillito; and Dennis Mackey, Boise, Idaho.


First Stanza: Original Gipuzkoan text, Euskara Batua (unified dialect), and English translation
Guernicaco arbola
Da bedeincatuba
Euscaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatuba:
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Munduban frutuba,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santuba Gernikako arbola
Da bedeinkatua
Euskaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatua:
Eman ta zabal zazu
Munduan frutua,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santua. The Tree of Guernica
is blessed
among the Basques;
absolutely loved.
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
Holy Tree.

(Editor's note: Meggan Laxalt Mackey is author of "Lekuak: The Basque Places of Boise, Idaho," published by University Nevada, Reno, Center for Basque Studies Press, 2018.)

Meggan Laxalt Mackey