Musician: Juan Mari Beltran

Soinuenea, 1999

Baratzeko pikuak (zatia). Juan Mari Beltran. Oiartzun, 1998.


Arrabita-Rabel. Errioxa (JMBA bilduma, 0559)

Arrabita-Rabel. Polaciones (JMBA bilduma, 0043)

Arrabita jotzen. 1999.


The rebec is a rubbed chordophone. The arrabita in Basque not only refers to this chordophone, but also to the violin. Surely, the violin acquired the former function of the arrabita (rebec), causing the confusion of s.

Description of the instrument

The rebec usually has a wooden resonance box and neck. The lid of the box can be both wood and leather. Two or three strings of horsehair, gut or metal can be stretched from the headstock to the bridge.

Way of playing

The neck of the instrument is held with one hand, so that the fingers press the strings to give the notes. The bow is grasped with the other hand, and its strings rub the strings of the arrabita. The instrument can be placed on the arm against the chest or vertically on the knee.

Looking at the instrument from the front, the left string usually gives the bottom note (pedal) and sets the rhythm with the movements of the bow. The right string gives the melody of the song. The melodies that are played with the arrabita usually have a small range. This instrument is often used to accompany singing.


There is a significant presence of rebec players in the iconography of the Basque Country. We can find them, for example, in the following places:

In Álava, in the old cathedral of Vitoria, in Santa María of Laguardia and in the parish of Tuesta.

In Bizkaia, in the parish of Lekeitio and in the church of Andra Mari in Ondarroa.

In Gipuzkoa, in the parish of Santa María in Deba.

In Lapurdi, in the cathedral of Baiona.

In Navarra, in the church of Artaiz, in the church of Santa María in Eunate, in the cathedral of Pamplona, in the church of San Miguel in Irurtzun, in the monastery of Leire, in the church of San Miguel in Estella, in the church of Santa María in Olite, in the church of San Martín de Tours in San Martín de Unx, in the church of San Pedro de Etxano in Baldorba, in Santa María of Sangüesa and in the Monastery of Oliva.


Father Donostia (1952) gives some details about the of these rubbed chordophones,: "Arrabit = violón, rebec; arrabitari = who plays the violin; arrabit-egile = luthier, string instrument; xirribita = violin, rabel; xirribitari = jotzen duena.// Baita ere "soinu", "Soñu" (Son). The same term is also used to refer to ttunttun and "music" in general. "Sun.", "Sonülari" = Violinist people "(p. 283 ).

At present, arrabita is almost totally accepted as a synonym for violin, but in view of the old documentation, it is evident that two similar instruments are mixed with this denomination (the rebec and the violin).

We believe that, as happened in other cultures around us, the rabeles were spread in our territories in former times, but later the violin would occupy the function that the old instrument had. This could be the cause of the confusion of s in later times. Here we will try to limit ourselves to the rebecs (arrabita).

Continuing with the work of Aita Donostia (1952), we find some mentions on the ancient use of rabeles:

"In year 1507 in Tudela: «to Sancho the rabetero .... two reales.» 1529. «3 gold florins to tambourines and a rabiquete.» 1532. «to two psalteries and a rabiquete ... 3 salaries .» 1566. At San Joan feasts in Hernani, «Tamborin and Rebete and Atabalero ...» were there for 6 days. In Hernani also, 1569. Day of the Ascension, «Pedro de Hecheverria and Miquele el ciego, tambourine and rabete served». Lequeitio, 1571, «they gave two men playing instruments, a tambourine and an arc rabel». " (p. 284)

"In Balmaseda, 1571, «they gave two men who played tambourine and arc rabel instruments, for two days that they occupied themselves in playing in the rejoicing of the Birth of the Prince Our Lord, 470 maravedies»." (p. 268)

“Witches of Hondarribia. Trial of the 17th Century. 1611. 6th of May. In Hondarribia, a witness tells he saw many tanbolines and Rabeles instruments playing at the dho Puesto ”. (p. 306)

“Iruñea, 1643, came / / Anton Gorri and Basque-French companions with two psalteries, a rabel and two dancers. 1697. / / ringing the julares, psaltery and rabel”. (p. 275)

In the work of Jesús Ramos (1990), referring to the 18th century, we can see the list of musicians who came to the feasts of Pamplona. The following refers to the of the player, the instrument, the origin of the musician, the year and sometimes even the type of group (pages 102 to 118):

  • Pedro Arizpe - Rabel, salterio y violín - San Juan de Pie de Puerto - 1708, 1716 ac(5r).
  • Beltrán de Aróstegui - Rabel - San Juan de Pie de Puerto - 1708.
  • Pedro de Bidagain - Rabel - San Juan de Pie de Puerto - 1701, 1704, 1708 - ac(r+4salterios, 3r)
  • Fernando Cildoz - Flautas y rabel, chirimía, trompetilla - Aizoáin - 1770-74-75.
  • Bernardo Echeverría - Rabel - Baigorri - 1702,1707.
  • Domingo Hermendi - Rabel - San Juan de Pie de Puerto - 1708.
  • Juanes de Recarte - Rabel - San Juan de Pie de Puerto - 1707-08.

These musicians appear in many ancient documents up to the 19th century in almost all Basque territories.

Iñaki Irigoien (1994) also collects information on the following instruments: «(XVIII.) Taken from Zarate, he speaks of a high mountain in Gipuzkoa where they made their sacrifices: "Also in old fashion their biguirias, dancing to the sound of rabeles, albokas, and tambourines" (p. 53).

In 1997, after seeing and hearing an instrument of this type, the famous singer Manex Pagola, deputy director of the Basque Museum of Bayonne, commented: "An old man from my town told me that in his childhood the music of the town's carnivals was played with a cord".

It is evident that these sound instruments have been widely used in all our territories; alone, with the tambourine or as it appears many times, forming a group with the tabor-pipe player (xirula-txistu / danburi).



BELTRAN, Juan Mari. (1996). Soinutresnak euskal herri musikan. Donostia: Orain.

DONOSTIA, Aita. (1952). Instrumentos Musicales Populares Vascos. Obras Completas del P. Donostia. (II. alea, 257-309). Bilbo: Ed. La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca.

IRIGOIEN, Iñaki. (1994). Dultzaina-gaita Bizkaian. Bizkaiko Dultzaina-La dulzaina en Bizkaia. Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia.

RAMOS, Jesus. (1990). Materiales para la elaboración de un censo de músicos populares de Euskal Herria, a partir de los instrumentistas llegados a Iruñea en el Siglo XVIII. Cuadernos de Etnología y Etnografía de Navarra. (55. zk. 91-138). Iruñea: Institución Principe de Viana.

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