The Evolution of the Makila

The makila is the traditional walking stick of the Basque people and has existed for many centuries. Its development is largely attributed to the people from Zuberoa and Lower Navarre. It is in this part of the Basque Country where the wild medlar grows, which is the wood used to create the makila. Many rituals related to the makila have emerged throughout the Basque Country. It was an element of great importance in Paleolitic communities and is tied to the qualities of power and respect. Prehistory has left us with staves of unknown purpose. Some interpretations conclude that they were used to piece together animal skins for clothing, as hunting trophies, as instruments of witchcraft or as a symbol of authority. The size and elegance of the makila distinguished the chiefs of different tribes; they were typically made of deer antlers. In contrast, nobles in ancient Egypt were identified by their beautifully decorated wooden staves, which ranged from four to six feet. These staffs differ from the makila in that they are topped with ball or hook-shaped handles, many of which can be found in the Louvre today. Until recently, the makila had been an essential part of the traditional clothing of the people of the Basque Country.

The Symbolism of the Makila

The makila is a sturdy, gnarled, resistant, and yet carefully handmade walking stick crafted from medlar wood. As a symbol, it signifies nobility, justice, respect and authority. As a tool, the makila serves as an inseparable companion and protector through every journey. The shepherds of the mountains carried longer staves than the ones used in more developed areas, exemplifying the diverse evolution of the makila. Although some have considered the makila to be a weapon, its hidden tip was more of a complementary element as opposed to a defensive tool. Until the turn of the century, one could hardly imagine a Basque person going on a trip or watching a game of pelota without their traditional red belt and makila in hand.

The Makila as a Gift

Giving the makila as a gift is both a symbol of friendship and respect as well as an ancient tradition of the Basque people. After World War I, the marshals Foch and Petain as well as Prime Minister Clemenceau were honored with makilas. It was through these gifts that the Northern Basques showed their gratitude. For example, the makila of Marshal Foch carries a map of Verdun with an engraved message that reads: Hemendik ezin da pasa (Through here, no one shall pass). Most of the orders that Iñaki Alberdi receives become gifts for occasions, such as retirements, weddings, birthdays and other events. The Alberdi workshop has produced makilas for notable figures such as Pope John Paul II. During his visit to the Basilica of Loyola, former Basque President Carlos Garaikoetxea presented the Pope with an ornate leather makila. The same Pope later received a silver handled makila of honor from the representative of Alava during his visit to the Vatican for the beatification of three nuns from Alava. The King of Spain accepted a makila during his 1986 visit to the University of Deusto in Bilbao to celebrate the school’s centenary. The list of politicians, athletes, and other noteworthy people bestowed with an Alberdi Makila is long, much like the history of the makila itself, which stretches back through eons to the origins of the Basque people.