Category Archives: Etnografía

The Essentials (XIII): Alfonso de Palencia's Fourth Decade and his lost work on Canarian customs and religions

An excerpt from folio 548v. of the Universal Vocabulary in Latin and in Romance (1490) by Alfonso de Palencia where he declares having written a work on the customs and religions of the Canarian people (source: Biblioteca Virtual de Andalucía / PROYECTO TARHA -boxes-).

Unfortunately all this does not make up for the lack of Alonso de Palencia’s work, a loss that we will always deplore due to the the first-hand Canarian news it would provide and for being the first Castilian information on Gran Canaria’s indigenous customs.

Prof. Juan Álvarez Delgado (1963) –Alonso de Palencia (1423-1492) y la historia de Canarias, p. 77–[1]This translation by PROYECTO TARHA.

He negotiated in the name of the Catholic Monarchs the capitulations preceding the royal invasion of Gran Canaria, supervised and coordinated the logistics of the conquest expeditions put under the command of Juan Rejón in 1478 and 1479, and shortly thereafter personally proposed Pedro de Vera as the most qualified man to end the war of Canaria, entrenched from the beginning by the interpersonal quarrels of the Castilian captains and the strong indigenous resistance.

With this background, no one would suspect that Alonso or Alfonso de Palencia (Palencia, 1423 – Seville, 1492) was the author of the first monographic study devoted entirely to the culture and religion of the ancient Canarians. And it is true that a brief analysis of this character and his extensive literary production makes it hard to find in the Castile of his time a better connected and prepared individual to face a work of this kind.

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Taxanicuvidagua: The Pass of the Staff

Risco Faneque, in Agaete (Gran Canaria), one of the highest sea cliffs in the world (source: PROYECTO TARHA).

Fortunately, the project […] that aimed to turn the valley into a tourist exploitation has been paralyzed for the time being. However this threat, anti-ecological and made of irrational modernization, looms over what is called to be an archaeological-natural park, and not one of those horrifying tourist condensation spots.

Celso Martín de Guzmán (The ethnohistorical sources and their relationship with the archaeological surroundings of the Guayedra Valley and Tower of Agaete (Gran Canaria), 1977)[2]This translation by PROYECTO TARHA. 

To the people of Agaete, Artenara and La Aldea (Gran Canaria) in support of their advocacy of their natural, cultural and historical heritage.

One of the most important legacies the ancient Canarians left to us is the rich indigenous toponymy treasured by the Islands. The cause of this survival would have to be found in the innocuousness of these place names from the perspective of the European invaders, to whom only the customs related mainly to the islanders’ religious cults and rituals would be intolerable, being obviously incompatible with the imposition of Christianity.

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The Ganigo of Guadajume (1/2): A colactation pact on La Gomera?

Idealized statue of Pedro Hautacuperche located at Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, by sculptor Luis Arencibia. He is holding in his right hand the Ganigo of Guadajume, already broken, and in his left hand the weapon with which he killed Fernán Peraza the Younger, giving rise to the uprising of La Gomera in 1488 (source: Erik Baas / Wikimedia Commons).

To the Gomeran people, brave and beautiful, with love and respect.

November 1488. A man dressed as a woman falls murdered in the vicinity of a cave. Soon after, on the wings of an ancestral whistling language, the echo of the deep ravines on La Gomera carried a war cry: “The Ganigo of Guadajume is broken now”.

The victim was Fernán Peraza the Younger, Castilian lord of the Island and Doña Inés Peraza’s favorite son, who a few months before had constituted in the second of her male offspring the entail of the Seigneury of the Isles of Canaria, which had been de facto extinct for more than ten years before. The executioner, Pedro Hautacuperche, a pastor who shepherded his flock on Plan de Asisel, in front of the imposing massive Agando Rock.

Tradition among Gomeran natives states that theirs was the only one of the Canary Islands that was never conquered by Europeans. But the truth is that the death of the Castilian chief was met by one of the most cruel retaliations carried out on the Archipelago ever.

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The Pact of Calatayud (3/3)

Northeast view of Gáldar Mountain, Gran Canaria. Was it by surprise or his own free will, in an unknown cave near the ancient indigenous capital Guanarteme Tenesor Semidan was captured by Castilians (source: PROYECTO TARHA).

In this third and last part of our series devoted to the so-called Pact of Calatayud we are dealing with one of the mysteries this event raises: the identity of the anonymous guanarteme who paid obedience to the Catholic Monarchs. Let us note that, for the moment, the lack of official documentary evidence –starting with the petition letter presented by the Grandcanarian embassy arrived to the Aragonese town in May 1481– makes it impossible at present to dispel such anonymity. However, in this post we present a list of four names we consider to be the most likely candidates to embody this enigmatic character.

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Mareta: the elusive origin of an imported word

Parque de la Mareta in 2016. This playground for the children was built upon the old Gran Mareta’s site at Teguise, Lanzarote (source: PROYECTO TARHA).

The Spanish we speak in the Canary Islands owes its exceptional wealth not only to the contributions of the different languages that make it up –fundamentally Castilian, Portuguese, French and Island Tamazight– but also to the preserving action that the relative physical isolation has given to the Archipelago for centuries, unfortunately put in danger in relatively recent times by a phenomenon that, in personal opinion, we tend to interpret as the result of a desire for recognition and modernity in some misunderstood ways.

It is precisely this preservation that has allowed the survival of numerous archaesms that have disappeared, in whole or in part, from their original languages and, as an example, today we want to offer a modest and brief study of a term closely linked to the field of island agriculture and society. We refer to the word mareta.

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The "Aicá Maragá" and "Mimerahaná" dirges

Promo poster of the Vanishing Voices concert, an initiative by teacher Isaac Stone (source: The Big Idea).

Every day brings its own surprise and that of some days ago was very good news: Isaac Stone, young musical director of New Zealand choir Supertonic and a music teacher at a public high school, Tawa College, is carrying out an ambitious project; a concert in which the choir he leads will perform vocal pieces chosen from seven cultures of the whole world with a common nexus: to be written in both endangered and extincted languages. Vanishing Voices: Music honouring our endangered languages includes lyrics in Australian Aboriginal, Inuit, Navajo, Welsh, Nahuatl, Maori, and… Guanche.

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The Essentials (X): The Accounts on the Conquest of Gran Canaria

In 1966, as a result of an investigation encouraged by Professor Antonio Rumeu de Armas, then doctoral student Miguel Ángel Ladero Quesada published in Anuario de Estudios Atlánticos the transcription of some surprising documents that shed new light on the royal conquest of the Canary Islands which at the same time raised new questions. This valuable information appeared in three expense accounts, a kind of document whose arid and routine nature does not invite to presage any interesting data. Nothing further from reality.

The first account, dated between 1481 and 1482, right in the middle of the conquest of Gran Canaria, was signed by Pedro de Arévalo, supplier of the conquering army. The second relation of expenses was signed by Juan de Frías, Governor of the Palace of Córdoba –not to be confused with his namesake Bishop of Rubicón–. Finally, the third account showed the rubric of Antonio de Arévalo, son of the former, designated payer of the Castilian hosts that participated in the War of Canaria after its ending.

Puerto de Las Nieves (Agaete, Gran Canaria) in 2015.  In the distance, Mount Amagro, a sacred place to the ancient Canarians. On the right, Roque de Las Nieves, known in the past as Antigafo, likely an indigenous toponym. The Tower of Agaete was built at the foot of this geological landmark between July and September of 1481 (source: PROYECTO TARHA).

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Tarha: new database on the Ancient History of the Canary Islands

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QOX4balxGE&feature=youtu.be[/embed]

On the verge of celebrating PROYECTO TARHA‘s first anniversary, we could not but celebrate publishing the first prototype of which we announced as one of …

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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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