Big Man from Altzo
Our Big Man introduces himself
Migel Joakin Eleizegi Ateaga (1818-1861), Altzoko Handia
Eleizegi The Giant around the world, the Big Man from Altzo in the Basque Country, and Our Big Man in Altzo. There's a mark on the church wall of where I used to sit. They took me around the world. Not for me to see the world, for the world to see what I was like: a big eater, a great drinker, a smoker… When they showed me in theatres people were astonished and terrified. One small queen told me I was a fine-looking lad. They mentioned me in the papers. But, all of a sudden, the world grew tired of me. That was when my high life came to an end.
Notes for our big man´s chronology
- 1818 Migel Joakin Eleizegi Ateaga was born at Ipintza Haundi farmstead, Altzo Azpiko.
- 1830-32Acromegaly disease: the pituitary gland creates too many hormones. Migel Joakin started to become Our Big Man.
- 1841 Businessman Phileas Taylor Barnum opened a museum in New York for freak shows and ethnic shows.
Our Big Man in Madrid. A portrait with his father and brother.
- 1843 Migel Joakin Eleizegi signed an agreement with a company which would exhibit him in public for a year in Donostia, Bilbao, Zaragoza, Madrid, Lisbon…
- 1844 They brought a group of Botokudo Indians to be examined by anthropologists at the Paris museum.
- 1845 Our Big Man at Paris, exhibited at the Montesquieu Hall.
He appeared in a play called Le Petit Poucet. During the interval, Iowa Indians danced.
Juan Inazio Iztueta died before finishing his Gipuzkoako Kondaira ('The Story of Gipuzkoa') manuscript. Our Big Man "travelled around the whole of Spain, Portugal and France".
- 1846 He reached Toulouse, where he received visits during two weeks at Hotel Joly.
The artist Lujol drew his portrait.
He was mentioned in Italy: "Eleizegi the Giant is becoming increasingly famous in Paris". Second appearance in Madrid.
- 1847 He appeared in Iztueta's Gipuzkoako Kondaira: The first description of the "Basque Giant" in the Basque Country.
- 1850 In Paris, at the Jardin d'Hiver, with prince and princess Colibri.
Eleizegi, along with all the others, is being exploited in a shop window", the press said.
Our Big Man in London, at Cosmorama Hall in Regent Street.
- 1851 At London's Crystal Palace they built "A Street in Cairo".
His third appearance in Madrid: “Non plus ultra”.
- 1853 He wrote his will. He had a bit of money.
Thirteen Zulus went on a tour of Europe.
- 1854 Our Big Man in Majorca.
- 1859 Struck by Acromegaly disease, he was unable to work and tried to get the money he had lent people back. He asked for financial help. The regional government turned his request down.
- 1861 A new will, with a shaky signature.
Migel Joakin Eleizegi, Our Big Man, died.
- 1867 He is mentioned the guide book to Altzo as Eleizegi the Giant.
Eduard Garnier mentioned them in his book Les Nains et les Géants ('Dwarves and Giants'): Our Big Man became part of the story of giantism.
The big drum in London
They said I ate for three people, and drunk for four. They must have been right. By the time I started to grow, there were eight of us in the family, and we had no money. My brothers Juan Jose and Jose Antonio emigrated. That was when they showed me the contract, and I signed it. A man from Altzo will see the world!
The shows I gave! It was clearly written that I would not cross the sea, but it seemed they needed me in London. How the ship swayed! Bad cabins on the sea. People around me said there was a lot of money in London.
My hands in Paris
Me so big, them so small. They were certainly well-known in Paris. Prince and princess Colibri were said to be brother and sister. The girl danced on my hand. Then I played the ogre and, frightened, she hid in my boot. And it was a real commotion. I lit a cigar and offered it to the prince. More commotion.
I was a success wherever I went, Iztueta wrote. Apparently the greatest success was my hands, which were very fine. Finer than Franz Liszt's hands. He was supposed to be a musician, a pianist. They took me to the famous Susse ironworks. They put my hands in plaster and told me to wait. Then they carefully cut the plaster and used the mould to make bronze copies of my hands.
I felt awful when I saw my hands in the shop window at Susse. It was as if they had cut them off me. A piece of paper said they were Eleizegi the Giant's hands. I no longer felt like the owner of my body. I wanted to buy them, but they told me that wasn't the deal. I felt unwell for quite a while.
Me and my bones
Migel Joakin, the vicar said to me, to the cross, like Christ! I held my arms out in front of our Salbatore church, and they drew marks. Then they used a stick to measure between the two marks. The marks are still there in the stone. You'll wonder if the line isn't rather low. Bear in mind the earth was lower down in my days. And the poet Imaz, from Legarre, always used to tell me I needed legs that reached down to the earth.
The London Doctors' Association had a museum. So we went there to see the famous James Toller. Naked, he was quite a sight, his long, large bones lying there. And my question was: "Are they going to sell my bones?" Please don't say things like that. So nobody could steal them, it seems they buried them in Eynesbury church. But then they brought poor Toller to the museum. They buried me in the cemetery up the stairs next to the church. I'm not there now. I lost my great days, I lost my essence and lost my hands and all my things. They stole me, and I don't know where I am.
Manuel Antonio Imaz planted a beech tree when I was eighteen. "You're tall", he said to me, "but this is going to be tall and wide!" Imaz's beech tree is still tall, wide and strong. Me, on the other hand… I met many small people who had more to them than me… I covered half the piano keys with my two hands, but how could I play music?
And I said no
In Paris, at the Café de Mulhouse, I lit the gas lamps hanging from the ceiling with a cigarette. People came to see me. Once I saw Le Géant Eleicegui on a piece of paper. And a lot of words under it, a lot of text. I asked a journalist friend to explain it. What he told me made me think.
“As with everyone like him, they keep Eleizegi under a crystal canopy, as if he were a piece of cheese. A sad way of life. He would be better off as a drummer in a regiment. That's a real piece of advice. That's what's on that piece of paper, Joakin… They're exploiting you. Do you know what 'exploit' means?”
They took us from Montesquieu Hall to the Jardin d'Hiver. There, too, Tom Pouce and I were under the glass bell. We were going to have lunch together. People looking at us, making bets about how much I was going to eat. They had some scales and they weighed our food. I had to keep on eating, always hungry, and people had to end up thinking that I was going to eat Tom Pouce… That's when I said no, I was tired of it all.
I wasn´t myself
When I had the noose around my neck, looking at that evil little man, I remembered when I had been a normal child. Pulling the bell in this hermitage: a chime for each year on your birthday. They brought us here when we were babies for Saint Barbara to stop us from having speech problems. But the world didn't need me to speak: I had to shout, to make people afraid… I wasn't myself. They kept me like a piece of cheese under a bell, something to be ashamed of.
Hey, Big Man, where've you been? On the sea and on the land. Hey, Big Man, what's the world like? The sea's sweet, but the land's bitter. Hey, Big Man, what do they say in the world? This is what they say in the world: ni, ni, c’est fini Eleizegui! The world needs new things every day. For instance, Goliath, Hercules, Frankenstein…
le Géant Eleizegi!
give us less of that glee.
Grand Géant Eleizegi!
c’est fini la comédie
nothing left for me!
Artwork: Juanba Berasategi
Writting: Koldo Izagirre