Homage to Juantxo Ziganda Zilbeti: Non-Native Basque Speaker, Professor, Translator
Xabier Olarra, Fernando Rey

Translation: Kristin Addis


Juantxo Ziganda Zilbeti died recently and relatively young, given modern life expectancy, a year and a half after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

He faced his illness with a certain humor, which did not abandon him even at the end: «As long as they don't tell me to pack my bags for Berichitos...» (the neighborhood of the cemetery in Pamplona).

And also with a certain resentment toward science: «If X-rays burn everything, why can't they burn all these cancer cells!»

He was a non-native Basque speaker who learned Basque in his youth. His father was from Beuntza and he had family in Atetz-Imotz-Odieta-Ultzama. Thus, his Basque had the High Navarrese flavor that also appears in the works he translated.

After initial opposition to the creation of the Translation Unit of the Navarrese Government, which was established under the 1986 Law of Basque, he entered the organization in 1988 as a translator. He also worked for a time as a Basque language expert for the General Committee on Linguistic Policy and was a key figure in the establishment of Line D (instruction given primarily in the Basque language) at the public school of Ave Maria de la Rochapea.

Like many others, he began translating Basque with small texts and neighborhood pamphlets and, after several years of hard work as a translator of legal and administrative texts, he made his debut in literary translation with two unforgettable texts by crime novel authors Jim Thompson and Boris Vian: The Getaway (Basque title, Ihesa) and J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Spit On Your Graves; Basque title, Ttu eginen dut zuen hilobietan), both of which were published by Igela, in 1991 and 1992, respectively.

He is gone but something remains, for he was too great a man to leave entirely.