Probably few among us know what a makhila, unless of course they have Basque ancestry. It is a traditional walking stick made of red medlar wood and equipped with a steel tip, a metal handle, and a strap to hold it securely. However, it is not just a "walking companion," but a true symbol of Basque culture, often also used as an honorific, collector's item, or gift as a token of affection.
The Ainciart Bergara workshop in Larressore, in the Basque region of France, has been an artisan excellence in traditional makhila making for seven generations and has an intriguing history that seems straight out of a novel. In fact, the workshop's birth dates back to the years of the French Revolution, by master craftsman Gratien Ainciart and his son Antoine.
Today, nearly two centuries later, the work of Ainciart Bergara continues with the same wisdom inherited from the ancestors in the hands of Charles Bergara, now over ninety years old, his daughter Nicole and granddaughter Liza. Over the course of time, the workshop has supplied its renowned makhila to such prominent international figures as Pope John Paul II, Prince Philip of Edinburgh, actors Charlie Chaplin and Vincent Cassel, President Ronald Reagan, and none other than General Charles De Gaulle.
While remaining true to tradition in the making of their prestigious walking sticks, family members have evolved their way of working from a perspective of environmental sustainability, respect for the workshop's indoor air and protection of their own health.
Ainciart Bergara has been equipped for years now with a Coral Iperjet DF cartridge vacuum unit with an air flow rate of about 4,000 cubic meters per hour, which is used as an "all-rounder": inside the Larressore workshop, the Iperjet DF filter system is responsible for purifying the air of dust from metal grinding (mainlysteel), dust from woodworking, and residues from the cutting and treatment of leather used for makhila belts.
Photo credits: Ainciart Bergara