Jose Antonio Azpiazu, Ph.D., is a humble man. He introduced himself to me in February 2014 as an “amateur historian,” but after speaking with him, and learning more about his work, I discover he is the author of numerous books about Basque history and a well-respected Spanish sociologist.

I met with Dr. Azpiazu at the Navel Museum located in the Donostia/San Sebastian harbor to interview him about traditional ways Basque people manage conflict in their families, their farms, and in their communities.

My meeting with Dr. Azpiazu was facilitated though law professor Gemma Varona Martinez who is a researcher with the Basque Institute of Criminology.

During my stay in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain from December 2013 to March 2014, I worked with the Institute of Criminology, which is part of the University of the Basque Country, to learn about the Basque and Spanish justice systems.

The Basque County (Basque: Euskal Herria) is the name given to the home of the Basque people in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast” (footnote omitted). “The Basque People” have been described as “an indigenous ethnic group who primarily inhabit an area traditionally know as the Basque Country“. “Basque genetic uniqueness predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, about 7,000 years ago.” The Basque people have migrated to many different parts of the world, including Newfoundland, Canada and Boise, Idaho. Like many people today, some of my ancestors are Basque.

Spain’s constitution and history of its governance are unique. There is a Basque “autonomous community” of Spain as well as 16 other autonomous communities in the country.

Dr. Jose Luis De La Cuesta is director of the Institute of Criminology and was instrumental in helping me with my research and learning about the traditional ways Basque people have managed conflicts. Besides the legal system, what people did do prior to the development of the courts of law? What were the Basque people’s original informal ways for managing conflict before the legal system?

As Dr. Varona Martinez explained these conflict management practices may not have been included in codified laws and statutory history. Informal methods would may have not have deemed worthy of inclusion in the official record informal by the people who compiled history.

Dr. Azpiazu explained the importance of notaries in recording and documenting agreements in Spain’s history. Every century all the notarized documents in the country are collected: “From the beginning of the 1500 century, more or less, the bargain or sale contracts are written in the notary, and conserved for 100 years, and then the contract documents are translated to the county (Provincia de Gipuzkoa) general Archives, which are in Oñati.”

The European Judicial Network discusses Spain’s notary system: “Notarial records are particularly important. The originals or protocols of documents authorized by notaries are kept by them for 25 years from the date of issue. These protocols are then sent to the relevant District Records, which are also kept by notaries. After 100 years they are sent to the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Provincial Historical Records. Notarial consular documents are kept in the General Protocols Archives in Madrid.”

Dr. Azpiazu said the notary documents, the “Notarious Protocol Archives,” are stored in the Oñati Sancti Spiritus University building.” Housed in this same building is the renowned International Institute for the Sociology of Law (IISL). IISL’s “socio-legal library is one of the most extensive in Europe.”

Dr. Azpiazu kindly undertook a cursory review of the Archives in Oñati concerning informal Basque conflict management practices. His research showed that there were notary reports until the early 1906 about case agreement recorded including sexual assault and pregnancies.

In over 100 notary reports he found that amigables componedores (translates from Spanish to “friendly reconciliators” in English) assisted people with conflicts outside of courts.

The amigables componedores, explained Dr. Azpiazu, were respected and honorable people who acted in the capacity of a voluntary referee for the parties. They were often priests or other respected people in the community, and they included women.

Dr. Azpiazu efforts found that the notary reports showed that the referee system, and this informal way of managing conflicts, was successful in finding solutions and keeping people out of court. Often parties agreed to pay money or marry to address some of the problems, which the referees suggested. The agreements reached in the referee system, and their terms, are part of the documents that the notaries prepared, which the parties signed, and are available for public inspection at Oñati.

Cases of sexual assault should not be considered as conflicts, but are serious incidents of wrongdoing. In my discussions with Dr. Azpiazu I failed to use the term wrongdoing, which may have yielded a different outcome in his research. When I have the opportunity to go to Oñati in the future, I will frame the query using wrongdoing to see if it produces different results than what was found using the term conflict.

Another area of problems frequently settled by referees was land disputes. To this day, in the 21st century, says Dr. Azpiazu, some land disputes continue to be addressed by this informal system in Onati. The amigables componedores who referee land disputes have vast experience in understanding land ownership and boundaries and yet, according to Dr. Azpiazu, they “may not know how to read” or have other skills many people of the twenty first century possess.

Dr. Azpiazu also gave me information on how business and maritime problems were addressed by the referee or the amigables componedores method.