Jon Onatibia

1974, April 14, Easter Sunday - Jon Onatibia in the Anaiak Danok reception at the Basque Center, Boise, Idaho. JUCH - bk 25 - 00166.

Jon Onatibia was an influential promoter of the Basque culture for a large part of the twentieth century. He was born in Oiartzun, Gipuzkoa, in 1911 and passed away in 1979. Even though he was not a Basque-American, Onatibia, as a skilled txistu player, was greatly esteemed as a teacher of txistu during the NABO Music camps of the 1970’s in the western United States. Under his tutelage, many future Basque-American txistu players such as Alain Edorzaincy and Cathy Clarkson got their start. For this reason Onatibia is fondly remembered as a musician and key figure in the preservation of Basque culture.

Aside from his music, Onatibia was a strong political activist, defending the Basque Government in exile and its interests, through his efforts to keep the Basque culture alive. As a young Basque Nationalist he fought for democracy and freedom against Franco’s rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

After the fall of Bilbao in July 1937, he went into exile in Paris with many other cultural figures who had supported the Basque Government. There, in 1937, he became part of the folkloric performance group Eresoinka, a cultural outreach, which promoted the Basque culture as well as political positions through dance and music performances in different European capitals. This group included other notable Basque figures such as the tenor Luis Mariano, the archeologist Jesus Elosegui, and the painter Jesus Maria Ucelay, all directed by Manuel de la Sota. The performances from 1937-1939 in different European capitals were great successes. They even had plans to sail to America when WWII broke out in Europe. 

When World War II began, Onatibia, along with other Basques fled to South America, living in Venezuela within the Basque community of Caracas. In the1950's he travelled to the United States to be the representative of the Basque Government in New York, at the request of the Lehendakari. There he took part in and directed the Basque dance performance group Euzkadi!. They toured several U.S. cities at the end of 1951. This initiative was influenced by his previous work with Eresoinka.

Onatibia’s contributions to Basque music, politics and culture are many, but he is most fondly remembered in the Basque communities of the western United States for the role he played in educating the younger generation.



1951- Euzkadi! production poster, with the Eresoinka oak leave logo. Jose Villanueva collection.

1951- Euzkadi! production panflet . Jose Villanueva collection.


1974 - Spokane, Alain Erdozaincy student of Onatibia, and Onatibia playing txistu and drums.

1974, April 14, Easter Sunday - Jon Onatibia in the Anaiak Danok reception at the Basque Center, Boise, Idaho. JUCH - bk 25 - 00166.

Text by Eneko Tuduri.