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Silbo Gomero refers to a whistled form of spoken language, which can be used to communicate between large distances, taking advantage of the orography of the island. With favourable wind conditions, a whistled message can travel up to three or four kilometres.
It originated with the Berber population that predated Spanish colonization. Later Spanish was introduced and gradually, century after century as the language of the colonizers replaced the old Gomeran language on the island it even became the codified language in Silbo Gomero. The technique basically consists in spelling out syllables with whistles with the help of fingers placed in the mouth: that is, Silbo is a codification that could be adapted to any language, communicated phonetically (with four consonants and 2 vowels). This adaptability has made Silbo a passion of linguists.
Despite its great linguistic and cultural value, the significant changes that Gomeran society has undergone throughout the 20th Century have had a negative impact on Silbo and today it is danger of extinction. This decline has been fought by introducing Silbo into the primary and secondary school syllabus on the island.
Silbo Gomero is a powerful expression of La Gomera’s popular culture, representing a hallmark of the island. Its value has been acknowledged by UNESCO, which included it in its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in September 2009.
One of the most impressive elements of the Gomeran landscape are its paredones, thick walls of dry rock that support the terraced land needed for cultivation. The islanders constructed thousands of kilometres of such walls in a spectacular feat of engineering that can be seen scaling even the most difficult slopes. In Valle Gran Rey you can see many examples everywhere.
The andenes, which is how these terraced plots of land are referred to locally, were born of the population’s need for land to cultivate. Terraced landscapes exist wherever agricultural human populations were faced with a lack of horizontal land, but La Gomera stands out for the profusion and variety of terraces that fill the island’s landscape. This is partly due to the scarcity of horizontal terrain on the island, but also because since 1489 the land property system caused the best land to be used to cultivate products for export. These areas, which brought great profits to lordly coffers, were reserved for the noble house or ceded through distributions for engagements, whose descendants would end up becoming a large part of the wealthy upper class in later centuries.
Although the paredones began to appear practically at the beginning of colonization, they multiplied during periods of economic growth and population spurts. The situation exploded in the 20th Century after the Spanish Civil War when, due to large population growth, the need for new areas for agriculture increased, creating the definitive landscapes littered with andenes that we know today: Guadá and Taguluche are perhaps the best examples, but during those years stone walls appeared in practically every corner of the municipality to overcome the scarcity of land.
Today, because these agricultural terraces have fallen into disuse their supporting walls are gradually being torn down. However, many of these andenes should be maintained and recovered to preserve the Ethnographic and Landscape Heritage of the municipality and La Gomera.
The municipal fiestas (holidays)reflect how the inhabitants of Valle Gran Rey preserving its traditions, while maintaining an open mind for adding new proposals to their celebrations.
For example, in some of the fiestas of Valle Gran Rey there is an interesting cultural tradition: the offering of El Ramo. A ramo is basically a framework constructed from sugarcane shoots that is completely decorated with flowers, fruit and sweets and carried at the head of a procession to honour a saint. However, this brief description hides behind it an entire world of traditions and rites related to the land and community.
In Arure, the ramo is associated with two fiestas: La Virgen de la Salud (15 July), which is celebrated together with that of San Buenaventura (14 July), and San Salvador (16 August), which is celebrated with the fiesta of San Nicolás (17 August), which is different than other fiestas in that over the years the ramo is passed from neighbour to neighbour, from home to home, a very interesting aspect of the ritual: a family creates the offering as payment for a promise, and during they have an open house for everyone who wants to participate in the celebration. The ramo is carried in procession to the rhythm of drums and chácaras (a type of castanet)as an offering to the sanctuary and then delivered to the family who the next year will be in charge of continuing this unusual tradition.
This custom of offering the ramo as a form of gratitude has transcended to other municipal festivities. For example, in Taguluche it appears in the fiesta of La Virgen del Buen Viaje (the last weekend in August). In Valle Gran Rey a ramo is also created for the fiestas of Los Reyes (6 January) and San Juan (24 June).
In addition to those already mentioned, other notable fiestas are:
In all of these fiestas, folkloric dance music with drums accompanies the processions. The drum dance is at the same time ancestral singing and dancing, and it is considered unique in the Hispanic world for the archaic combination of singing romances with a dance that features two lines facing each other. The lyrics of the songs are derived from narrative epic romances that retell an entire story. At night the characteristic music of Gomeran orchestras delight revellers.
Traditional Gomeran artesanía (craftsmanship) is another example of the capacity of its inhabitants to adapt to the resources available on the island in time periods when provisions from abroad were very limited. Wood from mountain trees or chestnut or mulberry trees for utensils or musical instruments; strings from banana crops to create decorations; material from Canarian palm trees to make mats or baskets; or ceramics crafted without a lathe, using mud, sand and red ochre, which combine the wisdom and simplicity of traditional Gomeran culture in its engravings…
And today in La Gomera there are alternative crafts associated with new ways of understanding creative processes, using recycled material and influenced by other cultures.
In the Municipal flea market, held in the plaza of Lomo del Riego every Sunday, you can find examples of both traditional and alternative crafts.