La Makila, Basque Walking Stick

By Simona Palenga

For the first time, this week, I got to see with my own eyes a medlar tree. The fruits are slowly growing and will be ready to be harvested ripe, only in autumn.

In the Basque Country, this tree is not valued as much for its fruits, but rather for its wood, used to create the typical stick of the region, la makila.

Its origin goes back various centuries and its manufacturing process starts right in the forest, while the branch is still attached to the tree.

It is quite fascinating how an artisan carves over the warm months the branch so that the overflowing sap produces a design. The branch will only be cut in winter when the decoration of the stick has naturally appeared.

The fine work is done with heat, to smooth and straighten the wood.
Braided leather is used to cover the handle that is then topped by a metal grip and a horn knob.

The tip that touches the ground is made of steel. The handle hides a point made also of steel, that might comes in handy while walking the mountains and encountering wolves or bears (for example).

The metal parts have traditional Basque motifs and are used for an engraved short dedication.

These sticks are usually offered as a gift to mark an important event, be it the coming of age of a youngster or visit of a president to the region (Reagan was offered one as well as Pope John Paul II).