"Whistling in La Gomera" reveals the secrets of the unique and amazingly rich “whistling language” developed by inhabitants of La Gomera (Canary Islands).
La Gomera is the only Canary Island that does not have an active volcano, although itself is of volcanic origin.
As the last eruption took place here probably 2 to 4 millions years ago the island’s landscape is a mixture of volcanic “creativity” and erosion.
Strange rock formations pointing to the sky, massive ridges, deep ravines and rifts, steep cliffs abruptly falling to the ocean... This picturesque landscape shaped by the Mother Nature hand and blended together in the small area makes this island a “very difficult place to live”.
These days La Gomera prospers from tourism - mainly in its “one day form” abundantly fed by ferries from nearby Tenerife. However the hardship of the past still can be witnessed by a multitude of narrow terraces glued to the slopes in most improbable places across the island.
And here starts the story that Whistling in La Gomera wants to share with you – a story about why this unique language was developed by inhabitants of the island.
La Gomera - view from Tenerife. The characteristic cloud over the island is the source of so-called "horizontal rains".
La Gomera from close - steep cliffs and rugged terrain is mostly all you can see there.
Typical Gomeran's landscape with the terraces in every possible and impossible place on the slopes.
Spending most of the day in remote locations (and to be honest even these days with the existing network of roads most of these terraces are still in “remote locations”), they developed a way of communication to keep the contact with their families and friends.
Apparently whistling, enhanced by reflections from ravines, can be audible in the distance of up to 5 km (3 miles). Given the shape of the landscape it could spare hours of climbing at those times (we often keep forgetting that wireless phones did not exist since forever).
Obviously, the whistling language did not provide privacy, but at those times people were living in communities where they knew each other, not much was hidden from the public eyes and ears and eavesdropping was not a major concern.... :-). Certainly, at those times people were closer to each other than we are today (despite having the modern communication technology)....
La Gomera: Typical landscape
Close look at countless terraces laboriously carved in rocky slopes
La Gomera: No wonder, who is going to walk each day back home after already hard working hours in the "fields"?
We were lucky to witness the demonstration of communication skills in "whistling language".
Our tour guide exchanged several items between group members (around 40 people) – things like rings, eye glasses, camera, bracelet, watch etc…temporarily changed the owners. Then the whistler had a task to convey the ownership information to the local girl (absent at the moment of exchanging these items). We were really stunned seeing how perfectly she was guided by whistler to first recover the items and then give them back to the original owners.
Our "whistler" gave a shocking evidence of the power of human creativity: Whistling Language
It turns out that the whistling language by changing the pitch and modulation of the whistle basically “spells” character by character. In other words a skillful whistler can “pronounce” any word, (even in a foreign language without the knowledge of its meaning) similarly as we can do in our “spoken languages”. For sure it requires a lot of training to properly articulate the “whistled” characters and words. Usually those with best “diction” have quite “well-developed” facial muscles…as nothing comes free.
In order to preserve this interesting way of communication, the whistling language is part of the mandatory school programs in La Gomera. The language was also designed as a protected part of the Human Heritage by the UN.
As it can be seen, La Gomera is hardly accessible for massive tourism, hoards of backpackers or hikers and that's probably a blessing helping island to preserve its wonders of nature and local culture .....
Unfortunately as any sound, Gomeran’s “whistling” language cannot be presented in pictures, but it certainly adds a lot to the folklore and charm of our world.
I hope that "Whistling in La Gomera" brought to your attention something very unique and unexpected, yet wonderfully amazing. I also hope that these pictures with writing incited your curiosity, maybe even motivating you for the next step – a visit to La Gomera?
Continue the tour --> La Gomera Horizontal Rain Park
If you want to make a tour of Tenerife, see pictures of old colonial towns, feel the atmosphere on the streets, taste local potatoes, get friendly with animals in Loro Parque, experience the bird's view of the island when paragliding, visit the secluded village Masca or drive through the El-Teide Volcano National Park or marvel at the "rose flower" formed by lava - then just click any of the following links:
If you enjoyed this visit, then please share your experience with friends :-)
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