Category Archives: Cultura indígena

Using Stellarium in Archaeoastronomy

Canopus’ heliacal rising simulation (circle right above the horizon) in 1478 seen from the coordinates of modern Las Palmas de Gran Canaria city. Simulation landscape does not correspond to the real location (source: PROYECTO TARHA).

In our previous post we showed two videosimulations of the solar eclipse that took place on April 29th, 1478. This time we shall discuss a piece of software used to perform those simulations: Stellarium.

Stellarium is multiplatform, free software which works as a planetarium. As such, we can use it to simulate the position of celestial bodies visible from any geographic location on Earth at a specific time and date, accurately enough even for astronomical events two or three millenniums before our Era, which makes it very valuable in the field of archaeoastronomy.

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The solar eclipse of 1478

Visibility of the solar eclipse happened on July 29th, 1478. Yellow ovals determine the areas in which part of the eclipse took place below the horizon. The blue curve path “flies” over locations from where maximum occultation of the solar apparent surface could be observed (source: Xavier Jubier).

[…] They got into a fortress called the Ansita, which is in the parts of Tirajana. As the Governor knew it, he left with all the people on horseback and on foot that he could take, and went to the said fortress and surrounded it; and he had it surrounded in such a way they came to an agreement to save their lives and keep them from captivity and go to Castile, which were agreed. And the next day the faycán and the other Canarians came out of the fort, and brought them, and became Christians, on which day the Sun made a great eclipse, and afterwards it rained and a great wind blew; and over that island flew many birds that they had never seen before, which were cranes and storks and swallows, and many other birds they do not know their names.[1]MORALES (1978), p. 508. Translated and adapted from old Castilian by PROYECTO TARHA.

This curious passage, at the end of Chapter XXXVII in the Chronicle of the Catholic Monarchs written by Diego de Valera, shortly narrates the end of the conquest of Gran Canaria associating it with an astronomical phenomenon of undoubted transcendence for most of the ancient cultures: a total eclipse of the Sun.

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The Essentials (VIII): The Comedy of the Reception

Comedia del Recibimiento. Cover of the 2005 edition by Professor Oswaldo Guerra Sánchez.

DORAMAS

Guanda demedre tamaranone tasuguiet besmia

mat acosomuset tam obenir marago, aspe anhianacha

aritamogante senefeque senefeque.

CURIOSITY

What does he say, sister?

WISDOM

He is inviting us to lunch; and he says

he will give us many potages, Canarian style, and he asks us

to sit down.[2]CAIRASCO (2005), p. 34. This translation by PROYECTO TARHA.

Although not being a core work to know the ancient history of the Canary Islands, joining this to our Essentials is justified by its literary and philological significance.

Composed between 1581-1582 by Canarian canon, musician, poet and playwright Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1538-1610), the so-called Comedia del Recibimiento (Comedy of the Reception) is a small stage play whose destiny was to be represented to welcome the new bishop of Canaria, Fernando de Rueda. In this play, six characters –five allegorical: Wisdom, Curiosity, Invention, Gáldar and Guía, the two latter representing the homonymous Grandcanarian locations, and one historical, Canarian warrior Doramas– introduce the Archipelago virtues to the Prelate.

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Footshapes at Teguise

¡Tindaya no se toca! (Don’t touch Tindaya!) campaign logo showing a pair of footshapes (source: www.lacasademitia.es).

Footshapes are rock carvings showing what appear to be human feet plants. Although present in different cultures, on the Canary Islands they were an artistic expression of Maho indigenes common to both the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, whose exact function is enigmatic by now but does not seem unreasonable to think they were related to magical-religious rituals.

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On tarjas and pintaderas (2/2)

The famous dragon-tree at Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife. This tree-like plant (Dracaena draco) was used by ancient Canarians to make the shields that some authors called “tarjas” (fuente: Wikimedia Commons).

In more or less plausible relationship with the pintaderas cited in the first part of this post, ethnohistorical sources mention the use of badges or emblems among Gran Canaria indigenes. Let us quote some relevant texts.

From Antonio Sedeño‘s account:[3]MORALES (1978, pp. 367, 369). Translated from old Castilian by PROYECTO TARHA.

[…]  they brought bucklers taller as a man, made of rough light wood from a tree called dragon. The sword they called Majido and the shield tarja; swords were thin and pointed; they brought their badges painted their way in white and ochre red over the bucklers, played the sword with great skill.

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On "tarjas" and "pintaderas" (1/2)

Partial view of the pintaderas studied by Professor René Verneau (source: VERNEAU (1883), pr. VI).

The indigenous artifacts known as pintaderas are some of the most remarkable objects of study and analysis to the Canarian archeology. These are small tools made of baked clay –terracotta– or wood, featuring geometric patterns of varying complexity –triangles, circles, rectangles, broken lines– being either incised, excised and/or printed on a round or polygonal flat surface called field, and generally provided with an appendix, often perforated by one or more holes.

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The 520 splendours of the Moon

Indigenous pitcher found at Agüimes (Gran Canaria), kept at El Museo Canario, catalogue number 260, featuring two shapes presumably depicting a sun and a solar eclipse (source: El Museo Canario).

To the Canarian historiography the legendary episode of the raid over the indigenous village of Agaldar (Gran Canaria) by Portuguese captain Diogo da Silva de Meneses is a well-known one.

After landing under cover of the night, the Luso-Castilian expedition, composed of about two hundred troops, tried unsuccessfully to raze the islander village at dawn getting trapped in turn by a threefold contingent of fighting men. Sieged inside a large facility surrounded by high walls of dry stone, the invaders remained locked there for two days and one night until the Guanarteme -chieftain- of Agaldar, uncle of the future Fernando Guanarteme, agreed to parley with Diogo da Silva. Chronicles tell that after berating the Portuguese his audacity and contravening the desire of his own warriors to end the lives of all the besieged, the indigenous leader pretended to fall into the hands of the Europeans to facilitate their release, who as a result of this supposedly pious act began to name him Guanarteme the Good.

But here we are not interested in describing the different versions of this story, from the shortest, most sober offered in the Cronica Ovetensis[4]MORALES (1978), pp. 116-119. to the novelistic rewriting by Leonardo Torriani,[5]TORRIANI (1959), pp. 120-126 but to draw attention to a curious datum provided by this Cremonese engineer in the baroque speech he makes the islander leader pronounce. This particular passage is as follows:

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The statute on killing the girls

indigenas-gc-torriani

Indigenes of Gran Canaria as per recreation by Leonardo Torriani (16th century) (source: Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra, catalogue number Ms. 314, folio 36v.)

In thriving societies, population control is a topic that inspires debates subjected to ethical, moral and religious considerations, often distorted by the conjuncture of a welfare state that is supposed to hold an indefinite durability. But in human communities subject to limiting factors, whether temporary or permanent, either of productive –scarceness of drinking water, arable land and / or pastures–, environmental –plagues, epidemics, droughts, floods, fires– or political nature –wars– the survival of these could depend largely on the application of restrictive measures on the birth rate, while it is true that, in many cases, these measures seek to promote the interests of the privileged classes by means of eugenics or selection of individuals deemed most convenient.

In the Canarian historiography, specifically in Gran Canaria, the so-called statute on killing the girls is paradigmatic, so named by its best known reference, Brother Juan de Abreu Galindo:

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Canarian slaves at Valencia (A tribute to Vicenta Cortés Alonso)

Professor Vicenta Cortés Alonso in Colombia among some yagua indigenes in 1959 (source: Archivo Histórico Nacional – Archivo Vicenta Cortés).

As it has been repeatedly emphasized, the conquest of the Canaries is like the test tube in the first reaction between two elements that were to intermix very soon and in greater proportions as the large oceanic routes unfold: the European and the aboriginal, each with its own material and spiritual baggage.

Vicenta Cortés Alonso[6]CORTÉS (1955), p. 501. (This translation by PROYECTO TARHA)

Past the International Archives Day‘s celebration, we would like to pay a humble tribute to Professor Vicenta Cortés Alonso (Valencia, 1925), a tireless master of archivists, recalling one of her most significant work for the Canarian historiography: The conquest of the Canary Islands through the sales of slaves in Valencia.

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The Essentials (IV): Description and History of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands

mapa-canarias-cancer

The notorious map of the Canary Islands related to the zodiacal sign of Cancer, by Engineer Leonardo Torriani in the late sixteenth century (source: Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra, catalogue number Ms. 314, folio 8r.)

In 1584, King Philip II of Spain commissioned one of his trusted technicians, Engineer Leonardo Torriani (Cremona, Duchy of Milan, c 1560 -. Coimbra, Kingdom of Portugal, 1628), to design and build a keep and a dock on the island of La Palma. This mission, which lasted about two years, was extended by re-hiring the Cremonese in 1587 to carry out a more ambitious project: the inspection of all defensive infrastructure of the Archipelago with the drafting of a comprehensive report on them including expansion and reform proposals.

His stay in the Archipelago lasted about twelve years, until 1596, during which he was provided with the opportunity to acquire a deeper insight on various aspects of its culture and history. Fortunately, in line with the prevailing Baroque style in Italian culture, Torriani decided that a simple technical report would be too arid for the monarch’s taste:

Having been ordered by Your Majesty, in past years, to make the description of the Canary Islands, I felt such small lands, detached from Africa and so lonely, by the smallness of the case, could not be more than scarcely welcomed by You. And so, finding in the monuments of letters how to embellish them, I determined myself to add the story and events that happened on them, until our times, with the views and drawings of their strongholds.[7]TORRIANI (1959), p. 1. This translation by PROYECTO TARHA.

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