Tomorrow is the day of the Canary Islands. It is a local holiday, and we will be joining it by honouring our Guanche ancestors. Since everyone in the island will be partying, bbquing and going to the beach, we will stay at home – we have been thinking of some traditional crafty activities besides the usual offerings, but to be honest our activity plans (baking bread, spinning some yarn, gardening) sounded like every other day of our lives; proof that we are already as traditional as we can be (LOL).
Realizing this, I won’t deny it, made us really proud, because we were both raised to run after money and accept slave jobs just as anyone else, and making the change into a more conscious, self-sustained life took a very real and long effort, and even though now it seems completely natural for us, it wasn’t always like that. The understanding of the real value of owning your time, of working with your own hands, of creating an environment of sustainability, are priceless pieces of wisdom that change you slowly and quietly, turning you into a new person almost without noticing. And then, one day, you realize you have actually changed, and that you won’t see the world again with the same eyes.
So, to start celebrating the day of the Canary Islands, I am going to add to this post several Canarian legends – I published this text on our Newsletter last year, so some of you may have already read it; but for those of you who haven’t, well, here it is!
The Garoe Tree
In the island of El Hierro, there was a tree considered specially sacred by the Guanches, the Garoe Tree. A giant specimen of this tree, an Ocotea Foetens, was worshipped at the Tinor Mountain, its trunk having five feet in diameter. Its branches were so high that they would pick up the mist of the low clouds and create a phenomena of rain dropping slowly from the condensation on the leaves. The Guanches had built a fountain at its root to collect the water, and all the ground around it was used as a farming are because the earth’s fertility was superior to the rest. Offerings and sacrifices were made at its feet.
The existence of this magical tree was widely documented by the Spanish – in 1610, a hurricane uprooted it and a deathly drought fell on the Bimbaches, the inhabitants of the island. It is believed that the Bimbaches hid the location of the sacred tree from the Spanish conquerors, but a young Guanche woman, in love with a Spanish soldier, betrayed the secret – as the Spanish knew of it, a curse fell on the Bimbaches, and the end of the Garoe Tree was the beginning of the curse, that ended in many Bimbaches dying of thirst during the drought.
Photo: the alleged location of the original Garoe Tree.
The Island Of San Borondon
The Island of San Borondon (Saint Brendan) belongs to that series of myths about hiding or disappearing islands like Avalon. Allegedly placed on the north of the Islands, the myth is tracked back to Greek authors like Ptolemy; it got its name from Saint Brendan of Cluainfort, who claimed to have arrived to the island on the year 512 with a group of monks.
As it happens on many European fairy tales, Brendan and the monks believed that they had been only one week on the island – discovering after the went back home that they had spent a whole year on the island, which was described as a paradise on earth. As in the Avalon myth, the island was supposed to be hidden by a thick mist that made it invisible to other ships.
I have to say that, even today, there is hardly a family in the islands that doesn’t have a member that claims to have seen the island, or that know someone who has seen it first-hand. As fishing has been one of the main sources of income for Canarian families, legends about the sea and its magic are still alive; sadly, traditional fishing has been taken over by industrial fishing, and it is very likely that this belief will die in the next generations.
Photo: 1707 map – the island of San Borondon is the little yellow point at the left of the Canary Islands.
The Guanches believed that the sons and daughters of Guayota, the evil deity that lived in the Teide Volcano, were the Tibicenas, which had the shape of huge, hairy black dogs with fiery red eyes. The Tibicenas were born out of the dark, endless night that followed the abduction of Magec, the god of light, by the god Guayota. Guayota hid Magec inside the Teide, and in the complete darkness the Tibicenas came out from the deep caves and ravines that surround the volcano.
The Tibicenas had to be placated with offerings of honey and milk, placed in the deeper spots of the ravines, to prevent them from ravaging the Guanche villages. Their howling during the night was considered a bad omen – I don’t know if this tradition is related to the Tibicenas, but my mother-in-law told me that in her hometown, an area with plenty of very deep ravines, you must turn your slippers upside down (sole showing up) to make the howling dogs quiet during the night, as the howling is considered an omen of death.
Photo: Canarian Presa mastiff, emblem of the islands.
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