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El Balcón de Santa Ana

Playa de Santiago, La Gomera

La Gomera's secret language

Posted by Luci Ackers on Nov 14, 2016
La Gomera's secret language

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the smaller Canary Islands. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, this charming little island is of volcanic origin, meaning the landscape is characterised by deep ravines and slopes, steep hills and luscious areas of beautiful forest.

Thanks to the fertile soil and the nature of the land, the island is able to support the Garajonay National Park, 70% of which is composed of rare laurel forest (laurisilva) and protected as a World Heritage Site.

Silbo Gomero

Though the beauty of the island is a huge draw for visitors, it is not the only thing that makes this place so special... La Gomera is the home of an extraordinary form of ancient communication that is still practised by the local people today. Silbo Gomero is an incredible whistled speech that has been spoken on the island for hundreds of years, the technique passed down from one generation to another.

Silbo Gomero is incredibly unique. Although there are a small number of other communities that have a form of whistled communication, silbo has been studied the most and seems to be the only one which is taught in school.

The whistled language has been referred to as 'substituting' the natural language which means it is a representation of the Spanish spoken on the island and uses whistled vowels and consonants. It is adapted to work perfectly with the lay of the land, bouncing and echoing off the deep valleys and can travel up to 2 miles in distance! It was a great form of communication for those living isolated lives with the need to pass messages without travelling.

A little bit of history

It is largely believed that the whistle was originally bought across with the early settlers from Africa, and that it was adopted into the indigenous language of the Guanches, who were the island's early inhabitants.

As the European settlers began to arrive in the 15th century, silbo was adapted into the Spanish language and became reasonably widely spoken. From the 1950s there was a steady decrease in the amount of people who knew this wonderful language; emigration meant those with the skill were moving away and later, from the 70s onwards, the mobile phone robbed silbo of its practicality. There was no longer the need to communicate by mouth over great distances.

More recently, however, there has been a drive to reignite the interest in its practice. Teaching the art of silbo in primary school was an idea put forward in the 90s to reinstate its use to the community. As a general rule, only those born before 1950 or who attended school after 1999 are able to speak the whistle. Hopefully this new generation will rekindle the process and continue to pass the skill on to their children.

Many of the people of La Gomera who do know this fantastic skill are happy to demonstrate their talents to visitors, and in this picture we can see a gentleman sharing his expertise with the holiday makers of El Balcón de Santa Ana. For more information on La Gomera you can receive a brochure by entering your details at the bottom of the page. Discover the interesting culture of La Gomera for yourself!

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Luci Ackers
Author: Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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