I met Liza who runs the Ainciart-Bergara family workshop, in Larressore in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. She represents the 7th generation who is at the head of the workshop, which sustains the tradition and know-how of Makhila..
Liza’s project is mainly to promote this object, its know-how, and use. It is part of a lineage of women who had an essential role in the transmission and development of the workshop, founded during the early 19th century. Liza succeeded her mother Nicole, who succeeded her father Charles Bergara, himself trained by his mother Marie-Jeanne Ainciart.
A symbol of the Basque Country
The Makhila (stick in the Basque language) is above all a walking stick.
It is also one of the symbols of the Basque Country. It appears in many watercolors from the early 19th century. This stick has an ancient history, but the origin of this tradition is not precisely known. During the 19th century, it was used to defend oneself. It now accompanies trekkers all over the world.
Each Makhila is unique, made to measure and personalized, according to the morphology of its owner.
I like this unique or rather traditional relationship with the object that I shall immortalize with Carré Royal. Our own creations last and accompany their owners for a very long time. A mutual loyalty has been established.
It consists of a chiseled loquat stem, a knob in horn or different metals, ferrules, braiding, a wrist strap and a metal tip.
Rare know-how & materials
Now let’s explore its different components.
These loquats grow in the forests of the Basque Country and Béarn.
Shrubs are incised around their 9th to 10th year. The wood will then heal and is cut after one plant year. The wood is then fired and debarked. Following which, it is colored using an ancestral technique. The coloring is quite unpredictable, each wood reacts in an original way.
During these different stages, the workshop team selects only the “very beautiful” wood.
The craftsmen of the workshop cut out metal plates (brass, nickel silver or 1st grade solid silver) then decorate them by engraving, chiseling, punching.
Each ferrule is unique. It is engraved by hand, with the signature of Maison Ainciart-Bergara, la Fougère, rather present in the moors of the Basque Country.
The metal parts are made according to the wood’s diameter.
Metals are also used in the manufacture of pommels.
The leather comes from a tannery in the Basque Country. It is used in making the braid and the strap of the Makhila.
Braiding requires a very particular know-how, passed on from generation to generation. It takes place through a succession of rather unique gestures.
Some pommels are also made from zebu horns.
Once the different elements are ready, the Makhila is assembled: the parts are adjusted by interlocking wood and metal. This is a very meticulous operation.
The know-how of the Ainciart-Bergara workshop is listed in the UNESCO inventory of Rare Crafts.
Xavier Retegui, a member of the team for more than 20 years, has just been recognized as a “Master of Art”.
The workshop website:
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Cambo-les-bains, near Larressore: the beautiful house of Edmond Rostand:
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