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[1]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 (V): History of the Seven Islands of Canaria

marin_de_cubas-1694

The 1986 edition of Tomás Arias Marín de Cubas’ History of the Seven Islands of Canaria (source: Memoria Digital de Canarias).

[…] History by Marín de Cubas, critically read, therefore constitutes a solid foundation for the knowledge of the prehispanic past of the Canary Islands.

Preface by Professor Juan Régulo Pérez for the 1986 edition of Historia de las siete islas de Canaria[2]ARIAS (1986), p. 28.. This translation by PROYECTO TARHA.

Despite its limited spreading, we are facing what is probably the most important surviving work on the world of the ancient Canarians, right after the work by Brother Juan de Abreu Galindo, even surpassing this in some key aspects.

Written by Dr. Tomás Arias Marín de Cubas –or Marín y Cubas– (Telde, Gran Canaria, 1643 – Las Palmas, 1704), who also holds the merit of being the collator of the oldest known transcripts of the accounts by Antonio Sedeño and Gómez Escudero, History of the Seven Islands of Canaria is a work that never ceases to amaze researchers approaching themselves to its pages because, apart from several historiographical mistakes committed by the author, this opus provides us with interesting, previously unpublished data on the indigenes and some vivid accounts of known episodes of the Conquest showing that the author had access to information outside that in other surviving writings dealing with the topic.

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Diego García de Herrera's signature

Signature by Diego García de Herrera, consort Lord of the Isles of Canaria, in 1457 (source: Archivo Municipal de Burgos, catalogue number C3-3-16-27, fol. 5v.).

Studying public documentation is extremely useful when reconstructing historical events, since it provides us with an officially attested vision thereof. Unlike chronicles and histories, being these accounts written from the subjectivity of either an observer or, at most, a remote-in-time inquirer, public documents, being drafted by such a group of professionals in writing data down –scribes and notaries–, offer a direct testimony by those events’ main persons or at least by firsthand informants.

This is why in the course of our research we try to locate a larger quantity of public deeds, and although some of them are not directly related to the history of the Canary Islands, the possibility that these end up providing unknown, unnoticed or at least curious data always does exist. This is the case of the testament of Pedro García de Herrera, Marshal of Castile and father of the last consort Lord of the Isles of Canaria, Diego García de Herrera.

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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.[3]TORRIANI (1959), p. 1. This translation by PROYECTO TARHA.

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The death of Guillén Peraza

Possible remains of Guillén Peraza, marked number 4, discovered during archaeological excavations conducted by Professors Bertila Galván Santos and Juan Francisco Navarrro Mederos in the Church of the Assumption, San Sebastián de La Gomera (source: PÉREZ (2005), p. 294).

Between 1979 and 1980, a team of archaeologists led by Professors Bertila Galván Santos and Juan Francisco Navarro Mederos executed an excavation of urgency in the Church of the Assumption (San Sebastián de La Gomera), a building that would be subjected to a major reform. At the deepest level of the burials located in the former Main Chapel, beneath the remains of other dead, the experts discovered the skeleton of a young man who had a lateral skull fracture and who was lying in an oblique orientation relative to that of the temple’s nave. The presence of a blanca –a Castilian coin minted during the reign of Enrique IV– at a level just above that of the remains allowed to date the burial as possible before 1471. Fragments of Andalusian tiles and stone-and-mud rubble ventured the existence of an ancient chapel, oriented differently from the current church, which would explain the unusual position of the body.[4]NAVARRO (1984), pp. 588-590, 593-594.

Even without the modern techniques of genetic identification, evidence suggested a name in an almost incontestable way: that young man was likely to be Guillén Peraza, only legitimate son of Fernán Peraza the Elder.

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The Essentials (III): History of the Conquest of the Seven Islands of Gran Canaria

Front cover of the 1848 edition of the History of the Conquest of the Seven Islands of Gran Canaria, by Brother Juan de Abreu Galindo (source: Memoria Digital de Canarias).

It is true that many have claimed telling something about these islands; but they chose whatever suited their matter, and some of them, not having full news about, went brief and although what they said was very little, […] it has been a great argument to mean that not so low karats was the renown of the Isles of Canaria […].

Brother Juan de Abreu Galindo (Prologue to the History of the Conquest of the Seven Islands of Gran Canaria) –1848 Edition–

Leaving little room for doubt, this is perhaps the best known and influential work of the Canarian historiography.

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The Guanil herds

Gathering goats (apañada) at San Juan de Sisetoto, Fuerteventura (source: Revista BienMeSabe).

Still hot in the media and social networks the controversial measure adopted by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria consisting of exterminating the guanil goats living in a number of protected natural areas on the Island, we deal here with the origin of such an autochthonous term.

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The Essentials (II): Le Canarien - French Chronicles on the Conquest of the Canaries

Front cover of the first volume of Le Canarien 1959 edition by Professors Elías Serra Ràfols and Alejandro Cioranescu (source: Biblioteca Virtual Viera y Clavijo).

Le Canarien (The Canarian) is the oldest of the known Canarian chronicles. Originally written over six-hundred years ago, it is the first specific account almost entirely devoted to the European conquest of the Archipelago. Its initial authors, two French priests: Jehan Le Verrier and Pierre Boutier, chaplains to the conquest expedition assembled in 1402 by Norman Baron Jehan IV de Béthencourt and his partner, Pictavin Knight Gadifer de La Salle, as both of them admit:

[…] Gadifer de La Sale and Jehan de Béthencourt, knights born in the Kingdom of France, have undertaken this voyage to honor God and for maintenance and increasement of our holy faith, to parts of the South, to certain islands that are on the side thereof, which they call islands of Canaria inhabited by infidels people with different laws and different languages, […] with the intention of turning them and attract them to our faith; That is why this book is called the Canarian. And we, Brother Pierre Boutier, monk of Saint-Juoin-des-Marnes and Mr. Jehan Le Verrier, priests and chaplains and servants of the knights named above, have begun to write down all the things that happened to them from the beginning and the whole form of their government, of which we could have had true knowledge, since they left the Kingdom of France until […] Béthencourt arrived here at the islands; and thereafter came the writing in other hands, that will resume it with all the truth until the end of their conquest.

Le Canarien (text G) –SERRA (1964), pp. 14-16– (this translation by PROYECTO TARHA).

Truth is that those other hands were not as accurate as the original authors expected. In fact, having either the original or originals dissappeared, the two oldest known copies of this account are perfect examples of hagiographic manipulation.

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