Gurutzi Arregi, by William A. Christian Jr.

Gurutzi Arregi Azpeitia (1936-2020), Guru to her many friends, was an energetic scholar, a consummate organizer, and a generous colleague. The books she wrote, the scholarly projects she coordinated, the associations that she helped found or served, and the fond memories in those who knew and loved her, will long survive her.

She was the only daughter among six siblings, and growing up with five brothers must have sharpened her skills in self-assertion. Her grandmother was the first head of the Basque Nationalist woman’s association in Villaro/Areatza, and her parents moved to Durango after the Civil War. But, like the majority of families in Durango at the time, her parents did not speak Basque, and Gurutzi learned it on her own.

A visit in 1972 by José Miguel de Barandiarán to Deusto, where Gurutzi was studying, led to her to help found the Bizkaia section of the Etniker, and to her lifelong vocation as an ethnographer and a coordinator of ethnography. This calling took over her life to the extent that in 1980 she gave up her seat on the Durango Town Council, along with the firm option to be candidate for the Spanish Parliament.

Her three-volume labor of love, Ermitas de Bizkaia (1987), may be the most comprehensive survey of shrines and chapels for any province in Europe. She compiled it on the ground, «pateando» as she insisted was the true way, faithful to the Barandiarán dictum that one fact is worth a thousand theories. It became the basis for a brilliant doctorial thesis at the University of Deusto (1996), published as Origen y significación de las ermitas de Bizkaya (1999), which distilled her findings and compared them with the shrines of other regions in a historical perspective.

In addition to being the secretary of the Instituto Labayru, she coordinated, with Ander Manterola, the massive and quite unique Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia (1991-). This required her organizational skills on two fronts. The first was helping to coordinate the skilled, systematic and dedicated citizen-ethnographers of the Etniker groups initiated by Barandiarán, who produced the material for the atlases, as well as the professional staff at the Labayru who translated, edited and standardized the material. The second, which required additional, more overtly political skills, was helping to ensure collaboration in the financing of the handsome, lavishly illustrated volumes of the Atlas from governments in Euzkadi and Navarra.

She was also instrumental, again in tandem with Ander Manterola, in helping Aita Barandiarán in his later years, in the establishment of the Bandariarán Foundation, in ensuring that José Miguel could die «at home, at home»–«etxean, etxean,» as he wanted, in the preservation of Villa Sara in Ataun, and in the organization of the annual Barandiaran research grants.

Arregi had strength and power; she moved mountains. She had an extraordinary network of contacts and collaborators. She was also deeply attentive to family and friends, and had a delight for, and delighted, children. The death of a brother and a sister-in-law, the decline of her mother, deeply affected her and somewhat darkened the enthusiasm and joy for life that characterized her.

I first met Gurutzi in 1987, and greatly admired her work on shrines. She subsequently visited us in Tafira, and later introduced me to the collections at the Labayru library, which provided a granular cultural context for the study of the visions of Ezkioga. Through Guru and Ander I came to know the work of the Etniker groups, the Atlas, and the Barandiarán Foundation. Over two decades we met time and again, in Las Palmas, Derio, Deusto, Algorta, Mundaka, Ataun, Aránzazu, Vitoria and Urueña, and everywhere she introduced me to others who also helped me with my work. She was thoughtful and generous, and I am extremely grateful for the years I and my family knew her, and the works and organizations she has left behind. Her friendship was one of those that act as anchors to who we are and what we know. She has moved on, but the anchor remains.

  William A. Christian Jr.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria