THE “TXO”: The young Basque cabin-boy
Authentic. Picturesque. Charming. Happy. These four adjectives reflect the spirit of Algorta Old Port. Many agree that this pretty enclave, the true essence of the seafaring spirit, enamours any passer-by who ventures into its steep, cobbled streets. Its traditional whitewashed fishermen’s cottages, restaurants and typical bars, surrounded by the southern waters of the Cantabrian Sea invite us to imagine how its inhabitants, inshore fishermen and Algorta pilots who helped ships enter and leave Bilbao, used to live.
Who was the Txo?
Like many other fishing ports in Euskadi such as Bermeo and Lekeitio, seafarking crews from Getxo included a young apprentice or cabin-boy who was the youngest crew member. On the Basque coast, this young fishing apprentice was given the nickname of “Txo”, an affectionate diminutive of the popular expression “mutiltxo” (boy in Euskera).
What were his duties?
Over a century ago, being a Txo was a very typical job in the southern waters of the Cantabrian Sea. His tasks, before reaching the rank of fisherman or arrantzale included waking up the crews at dawn by calling from door to door, as well as ringing a bell located on the balcony of one of the humble homes in the Old Port or Portu Zaharra. It was also he who gathered volunteers and pilots from Getxo to help ships dodge the sandbanks in the Bilbao estuary mouth.
With no time for a break he had to mend sails and do what the skipper ordered, and as the Txo gradually learned what to do, getting ready to be like the rest of the crew, when the sea was calm he was allowed to take the helm of the vessel.
The grandparents or aitites fondly recall this figure, as he embodies the essence of an Algorta seaman: Plainness, versatility and responsibility. In a poem, Miren Larrea explains the hard life of a Txo in the early 20 th century:
“ Children, a child was the Txo,
at three in the morning
he had to get up
call from door to door,
to then go out to sea”
This emblematic location in the town of Getxo wanted to pay tribute to the figure of the Txo, creating today’s symbol of the district’s popular festivities - a handmade dummy. This is hence how, every summer, in the Algorta Old Port festivities (San Nicolás’ Day, 12 August), the figure of the Txo becomes the festivity icon when it reaches the port by boat. As a finishing touch, it is burnt on part of the town wall to bring the festivities to a close until the following year.
*Fotografía sacada entre 1918- 1920 y cedida por Marcos Bretos, dueño del bar Txomin, al Ayuntamiento de Getxo. En ella aparece su abuelo, José Bretos Lauzirica, arrantzale y marino de profesión (a la derecha con el jersey al hombro) con sus sobrinos grumetes.